The Seahawks' defense only recorded one sack in their Week 13 matchup against the Saints. However, that doesn't mean that Seahawks did not effectively rush the passer. An effective pass rush is not only judged by the amount of sacks recorded but can also be judged by how many times the defense can make the QB move "off the spot", or in laymen's terms, how many times the defense can force the QB to have to adjust at the end of their drop back to escape pressure and then set back up to deliver an accurate throw.
Sacks, forcing the QB "off the spot," hitting him while he throws, or forcing him to make an off balanced throw are all categorized as pressure on the QB. As has been well documented, pressure on the QB is something that is vital in today's NFL and is something that the Seahawks must repeat to aid in a victory on Saturday.
The first signs that the Seahawks' pass rush was going to be effective against the Saints occurred on the Saints' third offensive play from scrimmage. Still tied 0-0, the Saints faced a 3rd and 7 from their on 23 yard line. The Saints ran a flood concept to the right, Drew Brees tried to hit Robert Meachem, who had a step on Richard Sherman, on a go route but the pass was deflected.
Notice where Meachem is running the route and where the ball is eventually thrown. Brees should have thrown the ball more towards the sidelines and ahead of Meachem, instead he threw it more so to the numbers and a little shorter than ideal. Brees was inaccurate on his throw at least partly because the initial pressure from Michael Bennett and Clinton McDonald collapsed the pocket and forced Brees "off the spot." By the time Brees set back up to deliver a throw, McDonald was able to disrupt his throwing motion just enough for Brees to have to throw off balance, which hindered his accuracy.
Also, Sherman deserves huge amounts of credit for making a terrific play on the ball and not getting one of those uncoordinated pass interference penalties that some defensive backs make whenever they are beat initially on deep passes. Go routes on Sherman have to be one of the least successful plays in the NFL; I don't even know why teams still test him.
Back to the pass rush, the next pressure example was the most exciting defensive play of the night because it resulted in a TD. Down 3-0 with 6:37 left in the 1st quarter, the Saints were on their own 25 yard line and faced 3rd and 5. They ran curl and out route combinations on both sides out of a bunch sets and the Seahawks countered the bunch formations with their cover 3. The result of the play was a forced fumble by Cliff Avril and a TD for Michael Bennett.
Brees had Graham open for a 1st down but the pressure from Cliff Avril first caused Brees to move "off the spot", which messed up the timing of the play, and then Avril ultimately got a strip sack which was returned for a defensive TD. There is nothing that shifts momentum more than a defensive TD in a close game. It is absolutely demoralizing for the offense.
The third pressure example occurred at 5:20 in the 3rd quarter. The Saints were down 34-7 at this point and were facing a 2nd and 10 from their own 45 yard line. Brees tried to hit Graham, who was isolated one on one with Kam Chancellor in man coverage, on a seam route. Again, the pressure messes up Brees' accuracy and the result is an incompletion.
First, notice the jam that Kam Chancellor got on Graham. Graham was supposed to run a go route up the seam but instead ended up running it by the numbers which threw off the timing and spacing of the play. Second, watch how McDonald chucked away the LG, took advantage of a lapse in the protection scheme and delivered a big legal hit on Brees. McDonald has been the most improved player from last season - he finished this season with 5.5 sacks, the same amount as Ndamukong Suh.
Lastly, the final pressure example occurred with 14:00 left in the 4th quarter. The Saints were still down 34-7 and faced a 3rd and 10 from the Seahawks' 32 yard line. They again tried to attack from a bunch formation that involved Stills on a curl, Marques Colston on an in and Graham on an out. The Seahawks again countered with their nickel package and dropped into a Cover-3. The play resulted in Stills getting open on his curl route but he dropped the pass for an incompletion.
First notice how Graham initially chipped Chris Clemons before he released into his route. When Graham is spending an extra second to chip the defensive end before running his route, it is a sign that the Saints are having a hard time handling the pass rush. The Saints don't want Graham blocking, they want him running routes and dominating.
Second, notice how the pressure from Wagner again moves Brees "off the spot" and forces him to drift left. This in turn affects his accuracy and his pass drifts slightly to the middle of the field. This forces Stills to make a diving attempt on the ball, which he dropped. Again, it was the initial pressure from Wagner that forced Brees to move in the pocket and deliver an inaccurate pass
Hopefully, this Saturday will be another dominant day rushing the passer for the Seahawks' defense. Expect the Seahawks to first try get pressure with just a four man rush with the back seven dropping into a cover 3 zone. If the front four are not getting pressure then expect the blitzes to start coming from the LBs and possibly even the secondary. When the Seahawks blitz, they tend to run more cover 1 which is a coverage that they also excel it. It is so nice having the best secondary in the league.
With that said, ideally the front four will get it done and the Seahawks can just take a business as usual approach on defense. However they decide to do it, they must get consistent pressure on Brees for this is paramount to defeating an elite QB. If the pass rush is out in full force on Saturday, the Seahawks will be just one step closer to a Super Bowl.
Big Up to Danny for the GIFs!
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