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This Week In Defense: Cowboys at Seahawks

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Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Narrative Of The game

I know a lot of people had concerns about the Seahawks' defense heading in: lack of pass rush, lack of turnovers, the sudden penchant to give up huge plays in the passing game the last few weeks. The team hasn't looked tuned in and smooth the way it did in 2013, and folks at home are zeroed in a little more.

Key injuries to Kam Chancellor, Jeremy Lane, and now Byron Maxwell have left the secondary searching for itself despite some plays from Marcus Burley. It's been a tough road through five games and it appears there may be an identity crisis on defense as well as the offense. Top that sundae with the best shot from every team vs the Super Bowl Champs and you're Sonny Liston vs Muhammad Ali, wondering what the hell just happened.

[1st Quarter 9:22 3rd and 10. Pass complete to Beasley for a gain of 12 and a first down. Coverage by Burley.]

Dallas goes with four-wide here with a trips formation at the top and Dez Bryant singled up on Byron Maxwell at the bottom.

Seattle blitzes Earl Thomas, and Tony Romo has time to throw, but the man coverage down the field holds up. Romo elects to throw underneath and this is a play that Jeremy Lane would usually make, in my opinion. Burley is too tight with Cole Beasley here and overpursues to top it off. Burley has no chance of making the play. Lane usually would realize the route is tight and back off with his technique giving himself some breathing room knowing full well that Beasley has to make it 10 yards for the first. (Little details as Pete calls them.)

[1st Quarter 5:31 1st and 10  38 yard run by Joseph Randle. Tackle made by Richard Sherman.]

This is Seattle getting caught in a bad personnel matchup at the line of scrimmage: Bruce Irvin at Leo, Kevin Williams at nose, Michael Bennett at 3-tech, and Cassius Marsh at 5-tech.

At the snap, both Bennett and Marsh get smoked and Williams gets moved, and there is a huge lane on a cutback for Joseph Randle right up the middle. Seattle stuck with its base look a lot last week vs Washington on early downs, but mixed it up a lot up front vs Dallas in the first half rather than focus on denying the run first.

[1st Quarter 4:08  2nd and 7 Pass complete to Jason Witten for 21 yards tackle by Chancellor]

Not sure who to blame here, but Chancellor is in deeper coverage and the linebackers just turn Witten completely loose.

Something tells me some of the coverage schemes were adjusted to help limit Kam's exposure in coverage, but this is also an example of a scheme that lost for the 'hawks. Running some intermediate zone with the LBs is just asking for Tony Romo and this veteran offense to take advantage of you, and that's what he did for most of the first half.

Screens, crossers, hooks, and options all lead to Seattle LBs returning to man coverage shortly before the end of the first half, and then playing that exclusively the rest of the way. This is what I meant when I said identity crisis on defense too. They do run some zones infrequently, but here it was a staple and it really hurt them.

Witten basically splits Wagner and Wright (me or you), neither picks him up, and Chancellor has no chance on the play.

[3rd Quarter 11:37 2nd and 6 sack by Bruce Irvin for loss of 11 yards]

Seattle has an 8-man box here: Chancellor up, Wagner and Wright behind the D-line, and Irvin down on the line of scrimmage, matched up with #84. The reason I spotlighted this play is that Irvin finally gets home here. He played well as a rusher in this game, got several pressures and of course, the one that hits you in the heart on the 3rd and 20 play (one that I won't be subjecting you to in this post because Danny Kelly broke it down in detail here), but here is the perfect illustration of Irvin's growth as a rusher.

Kam bails into coverage, Wagner is keyed on Murray, Irvin is blitzing.

Over his first two seasons, Irvin had one mode: run into blocker. Didn't matter, he wanted to smash into the blocker and hammer through him for sacks. I like the attitude, but it's not logical when you have the speed, agility, capacity for leverage that Bruce does.

Watch as he takes on the block in classic Chris Clemons style and moves inside against the outside block move of #84. Here, it's so smooth that he has no chance to get his feet under him, and Bruce just uses his short burst to pull a great finish inside. It's a technical sack utilizing his tools and it's new to his game and it's a mismatch if he's a LB.

[3rd Quarter 1st and 10 Pass complete to Terrence Williams for 47 yards. Coverage by Marcus Burley.]

This was only a matter of time, and I understand getting beat deep. What I don't understand is a lack of detail or proper technique. In this case Burley has the right technique, turning to run, staying on top of the route, but his goal should also be to force Williams back inside toward Earl Thomas who is there to help.

If you watch Burley's position here he's splitting the sideline and numbers perfectly in half. This means Williams has plenty of space to work the sideline on a deep route and that gives Earl Thomas too much ground to cover to make a play on the ball or the receiver. Romo underthrows this and Williams makes a great adjustment but had Burley forced him closer to the numbers Earl has a chance to make a play.

Details guys, it's all about small details, and Seattle isn't understanding tracking or executing them on either side of the ball right now, due to injury or loss of key players, or whatever else we want to bring up. This team is not nearly as good defensively as it was a year ago, especially stopping big (explosive) plays.

Overview Of The Game

Seattle struggled early. I'm sure they were running a gameplan to try and limit the need for Kam to run around, especially around the line of scrimmage. This meant that they called a lot of zone, ran seven-man fronts and went away from their identity: challenging power running teams. I understand the reasoning to try and get Kam through a game, but so much of your identity is all about Kam Bam at the line of scrimmage or playing linebacker in nickel looks. I don't think Seattle can survive doing anything else against more talented squads.

The second half Seattle went with a more uniform approach. They also played big much more, with Kevin Williams playing the five tech spot as he did against Washington. I would expect that base look a lot more after Seattle showed the edges were vulnerable without him there as the buffer.

They also showed a lot more blitz looks and went to a three-man line a few times, once causing a fumble by Romo, who was trying to alter his play when he saw one of these looks. Pete and Dan are clearly looking for more ways to get pressure, as the loss of Clinton McDonald and perhaps the overuse of Bennett have contributed to one of the worst pass rushes in the NFL right now, as far as sack-production goes.

The injuries are mounting but they aren't at the LOS right now, so if they can get some things going I think some of these back end plays will clean up naturally.

Game Ball

I'll let you discuss this one. I honestly thought about just giving it to Kam Chancellor again for showing us what limiting his workload in the box does to this football team. Your thoughts?

Needs work

The pass rush needs to arrive without blitzes sometimes. One thing I would do immediately is suffer with Marsh at LEO and put Bennett and Avril back on the NASCAR circuit (I mean package) They are better together than running Bennett into the ground as the LEO or 5-tech and sapping what makes him good.

If you agree send me a tweet #GoWithMarsh to @Darthkripple. (I encourage irrational fan campaigns.)

GIFs are Courtesy Jennifer Chen. You can offer your thanks below.