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How the Seahawks’ slow defense got beaten quickly by the Bills

Seattle Seahawks v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

It took one play for the Seattle Seahawks’ defensive gameplan to begin falling apart. In four parts we are going to look at the Seahawks first four defensive drives. In these four drives Seattle lost 18.72 EPA. Through the rest of the game Seattle added 1.67 EPA on defense. In a nutshell, Seattle lost the game because its defense was trounced in the first half and its offense played poorly attempting to overcome that lead in the second half. Accounting for the relative strengths of the Bills, and the relative health of each unit, it’s arguable that despite scoring 34 points Seattle’s offense bears the brunt for losing. But I don’t have the time to fully analyze both units, and while Seattle’s offense may have had a bad day, Seattle’s defense has had a bad season.

Why? Maybe we’ll learn.

Almost nothing worked for Seattle in its first play on defense. What’s troubling is how little could have worked. Let me show you what I mean.

Seahawks play a cover four. Which is a coincidence because four of Buffalo’s five receivers flashed open. Stefon Diggs, matched in single coverage against Jamal Adams, could have scored a touchdown. He’s streaking deep. Opponents seem keenly aware of Adams’ struggles in coverage. Look how loose that coverage is. It’s self-immolating.

Luckily, I guess, Josh Allen goofs his progression. He looks away from Diggs just as Diggs is breaking free. He then looks a long time at the only receiver Seattle has effectively covered, Gabriel Davis. Finally he finds Devin Singletary. He has a long time to make a bad read.

The Seahawks pass rush was ineffective. Would you believe that Jarran Reed actually started the game at right defensive end? That resulted in a glacially paced defensive line.

Carlos Dunlap ran a 4.68 40 over 10 years ago. L.J. Collier ran 4.91, Reed 5.21, and Poona Ford ran a 5.13 at his Pro Day. It’s little wonder that Josh Allen looks almost insouciant in the pocket. If a four defensive end line can be called NASCAR, this line of two slow tackles and two big ends should be called bumper cars. Apart from Dunlap, the other three defensive linemen all had ten yard splits which hovered around 1.8. They’re not sudden but sluggish.

When Collier is able to break free from his blocker, Allen steps to his right, and Collier is forced left and away from Allen before being buried. Collier has now played 468 snaps on defense. His one sack was a cleanup sack after Kirk Cousins began to scramble away from Benson Mayowa. It was a sack in name only. Unless he was targeting his feet, Cousins was rushing. Collier, like Ford, has shown some ability to back down and steer a single block, and no ability to regularly separate or turn that separation into pass rush.

It should not surprise you if you’ve watched a few of his games, but Allen plays this whole snap poorly. By stepping away from the largely benign pressure of Collier, he steps into pressure by Dunlap. Having created pressure through poor pocket awareness, he then attempts a rushed throw. His form is awful. He is duck footed and throws off one while swinging the other.

The pass meanders right and dies, creating a surprisingly difficult catch. But Singletary is so open he catches it for an easy six. If the pass wasn’t poorly thrown, Quinton Dunbar is so far out of position covering Davis, Singletary could have done who knows what up the right sideline. He runs himself out of bounds securing the catch.

Next play: seven defenders are sucked in by play action. Bobby Wagner is schooled by Diggs. Once upon a time, Diggs and Wagner supposedly ran the exact same time in the 40, 4.46. Wagner ran his at Utah’s pro day. Which means Diggs ran a 4.46 and Wagner ran something.

The pass is inaccurate. Diggs has to slow and bubble backward. Which gives Wagner a desperation attempt at a tackle.

The route combination is a cover 3 beater. Cole Beasley runs D.J. Reed deep vacating the space underneath for Diggs to run into. It’s a tough spot for Wagner, but Wagner is a superstar middle linebacker known for his coverage skills. Speaking plainly, the Seahawks beat themselves by biting hard on the play fake. But Wagner is too damn slow. There is nothing at all impressive about his coverage here, and plenty of slot receivers could have effortlessly run away from Seattle’s middle linebacker. Diggs beat him, loses a ton of ground catching Allen’s garbage pass, and Diggs beats Wagner again. That’s bad.

The final play is the simplest. Tre Flowers completely blows his coverage. That’s it.

Before I show you that, consider this defensive line for Seattle. Ford is now playing end. His spot in the interior is manned by Bryan Mone. Mone ran a 5.53 at his pro day. The slowness of this line is staggering. We’ve downgraded from bumper cars to gridlock. I mean, look at this.

Ford looks relatively good, and if you have a keen eye, you can see how Ford can separate from his blocker completely and still be neutralized with relative ease. He’s walking in quicksand. Seattle’s defensive tackles are long since sucked underground. It’s one thing to game plan to stop the run. It’s quite another to forfeit all pass rush in the pursuit. Allen could have stayed in the pocket indefinitely.

He doesn’t have to. Flowers, having played over 2,000 snaps at left corner in the same system, is drawn shallow by a curl route. 2,000 snaps, and manning the deep third in a cover 3 on nearly every snap, and he completely misses the deep crossing route. Quandre Diggs has no chance of defending Isaiah McKenzie. It’s over. There’s no help to the outside. Repeating a theme, McKenzie is much faster than Diggs.

What a mess.

“[W]e had a real nice plan if they were going to run it,” said Pete Carroll. He also said “they made it look easy,” but to this I disagree. Seattle made it easy. By no measure is Buffalo a good rushing attack. By every measure they’re a good passing attack. By no measure is Seattle a good pass defense.

The Seahawks sacrificed pass rush to contain the run. They botch coverage resulting in a total bust. Everywhere, every unit every level, is slow. With lightning speed, the Seahawks were down for good.