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Seahawks on tape: Preseason the chance for defense to get right

NFL: Preseason-Oakland Raiders at Seattle Seahawks Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The preseason is over! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we managed to make it through the exhibition games that precede the “actual” NFL season. While it’s fun to see shiny, new players out on the field and other young talent improving, the preseason often makes for brutal viewing. Sometimes it can be amusing too.

Mistakes are designed to happen in these fixtures. Talking about the other side of the football, Pete Carroll recently reiterated how important being “well-versed” in the playbook is. Learning the required alignment, assignment and technique on each play as a defender is crucial to success.

The Seahawks, with a young defense, made three errors on defense that were based in inexperience or unfamiliarity. These will serve as valuable learning moments for the real football that thankfully starts next Sunday. If you’re reading this as a lip-reading expert, please do get in touch with what the coaches were saying!

Week 1 v Broncos—BUZZ defender v Boot Action

Marquise Blair wants to get to the football. Against Denver, such a hunger for the ball was punished. When the Broncos attached a tight end to the formation, the strong safety often joined the SAM linebacker in a “down” alignment closer to the line of scrimmage.

Blair, the rookie 2nd round pick, was still assigned with being a “buzz” defender—a hook curl zone that sees him buzz to the flat if necessary. (This is one of the four underneath zones in Seattle’s 3-deep, 4-under cover-3 zone defense.) As Drew Lock faked the handoff to the running back and rolled back the other way on a bootleg, Blair attacked.

He’d already had success with this strategy, shooting past a down block for a tackle for loss on an adlibbed blitz. On this play Blair vacated the zone that the Broncos were targeting with the pass, leading to a huge pick-up for Denver.

The mistake led to a sideline conversation between Carroll and passing game coordinator Andre Curtis. Carroll appeared to be telling Curtis to keep Blair high, off the line of scrimmage and away from being sucked into run-fakes and such. It was from the higher alignment that Blair laid his booming hit.

Week 2 @ Vikings—Where is the SAM?

Formation substitutions can get tricky in the preseason, as there are so many players on the roster and so many different rotations. After Minnesota receiver Brandon Zylstra caught a pass for a first down, he left the field. The Seahawks, who had been in nickel personnel in response to the Vikings’ 11 personnel, needed to respond to Minnesota’s move into 21 personnel.

Kalan Reed left the field, the first stage of Seattle subbing into their base 4-3. Yet the Seahawks needed another linebacker: the SAM. Ben Burr-Kirven was left having to take a timeout after realizing that there were only 10 men on the field.

Russell Wilson was seen on the sideline questioning Bobby Wagner as to what was going on; Wagner responded with a bemused shake of the head and wry smile; Carroll was left searching the sideline for the missing man.

Eventually, SAM linebacker Juwon Young took to the field. Seattle had issues with their defensive front alignment in the entire game. Getting 11 on the field is always a smart start to each play!

Week 3 @ Chargers—Blitzer confusion

Lano Hill has been out of action for the Seahawks for quite a while, rehabbing his fractured hip in what sounded like a tortuous process. Here he and linebacker Austin Calitro couldn’t agree on run fits—presumably over who should blitz and who should cover. Being in-and-around the team would have made things tricky for Hill, and the opposing formation was unique for the NFL.

This play was weird from a Los Angeles Chargers perspective too. The headset of quarterback Cardale Jones appeared to be broken. Philip Rivers, on the sideline, appeared to be joking with backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor and then removed his earpiece—in disgust at the 4th down play-call or because he was interfering on the playcall line?

Fortunately for Seattle, Shaquill Griffin flashed his ability against the run. This was textbook play for how the Seahawks want their outside cornerbacks to play when involved in the fit. No, this was coaching tape for any FORCE assignment in general.

Griffin rocked the outside block from the outside in angle, diving underneath the block to make the tackle for loss while Barton was excellent as the run through defender in the fit. Seattle stuffed the 4th down attempt; Hill and Calitro were left talking the play over as the rest of the defense hollered.

Ultimately, these preseason mistakes could very well lead to plays made in the regular season. August is for working the kinks out, and now, it’s time for the regular season to begin.