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Ho Ho Ho It's Black Santa!

The world was not ready for Black Santa.

Michael Bennett confused Seahawks fans in 2009. He was weirdly large for his position--and quick! Not at all like Nick Reed--our new God and Savior. Where one might expect grit, fortitude and an obsequious deference to authority, Bennett was instead talented, raw and a bit goofy.

(And really how dare a young man make fun of stereotypes. Does he not know we live in a time of oppressive tolerance? Yet to give voice to impossibly backwards and offensive stereotypes by saying "I'm the Michael Phelps of eating chicken, man. I've got eight chicken medals, man. In Beijing!" For shame. Was it not Elie Wiesel who said "The opposite of love is not hate, it's innocence. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it's laughter. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's young men goofing off. And the opposite of life is not death, but preference for harmless fun over intolerant finger-wagging"?)

This was a heady time to be a Seahawks fan. The franchise was respectable and recently off a run of success in the playoffs. But deep beneath the surface rot spread. Mike Holmgren had retired the season before. His dark familiar, Jim Mora, had ascended to head coach after Holmgren's departure. This, inexplicably, we were excited about.

Tim Ruskell's strategy of bolstering an aging roster with expensive free agents and plug-and-play rookies, which is to say aggressively mortgaging the future, had earned the Seahawks no glory. And was about to send Seattle spiraling into rebuild. The team's final descent aided by an upside down jet pack named Aaron Curry.

It was not that we were unaware of how bad the Seahawks might be. Seattle had finished 2008 4-12. In fact and rather grimly, we seemed more aware of the sad future of our Hawks than the good people at Football Outsiders. Who predicted Seattle to win 9.9 games in 2009, in part because Seattle had been so wracked by injuries in 2008. Unfortunately, frail human bodies in a state of decay do not bounce back as predictably as outliers in a spreadsheet.

But a fan is a fan, and when rooting for a broken down, aged roster with little hope of contention, a fan often turns his or her fandom toward cheering for youth and development, flashes of brilliance in an otherwise trying season. Michael Bennett flashed brilliance.

Even this fool, some snot pretentious kid who could count his correct projections on a Menorah, sensed special potential within Bennett.

On the first play, [Michael Bennett] surged so fast and with such authority he knocked [Ryan] McDonald flat on his back straight off the snap.

Bennett tackled Michael Bennett for a loss of two against San Diego's left side and their attempted double team. He was unstoppable. Nick Reed, yes, with his moves and awareness, must be recognized, but if you're looking for the fringe talent that could establish himself and not only make the squad but potentially become that rare non-drafted free agent to become a star, that's Michael Bennett. The kid with the tools of a pro, but the performance of a nobody, is immature as an athlete and maybe a man, but immaturity and talent are kissing cousins, and if he can dominate in the regular season the way he dominated San Diego, he can don the burnt cork any day he wants.

And who doesn't remember Ryan McDonald and his stirring run with Tod Leiweke's Tampa Bay Storm? That one season, when they finished in fourth place. In the Arena Football League.

Point is: We were excited.

Ending careers proved not enough for Black Santa. Seattle eventually refused his gifts. Cutting Bennett and re-signing offensive tackle Kyle Williams October 10, and losing Bennett to Florida. Where he made an extended run at Pirate's World.

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He was good, but Tampa Bay was not. Eventually the Bucs would commit to a full Schiano. Black Santa did his best to be jolly, but there would be no Christmas in Greg Schiano's godless totalitarian state.

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By decree of the faceless capitalist oligarchy which not-so-secretly rules us all, no Christmas story may ever end sadly. Black Santa was set free. Black Santa brought his jolly, his joyousness, his magical bottomless sack of sacks to Seattle.

Where he replaced situational defensive lineman Jason Jones. And accomplished some lesser notable things of no interest to us. Before becoming the Seahawks starting strongside end in 2014. Where he played, sometimes rotating inside, until a very special opportunity emerged.

Black Santa and the Gift of Interior Pressure

The Seattle Seahawks had a problem, a very bad problem. Their top-ranked pass defense from a season before was no longer top-ranked. And all the boys and girls of Seattle thought for sure pressure was the problem. Without pressure on the opposing quarterback, even the legendary guard of the Legion of Boom could not gayly rip and rampage, steal and embarrass. Passes were completed. Drives, continued. And frauds were left unexposed.

Whatever could Pete Carroll do? "Maybe pass rush," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe pass rush ... perhaps ... takes more than four!" And what happened then? Well ... in Seattle they say, Black Santa's small part grew three sizes that day!

And the minute his role didn't feel quite so tight, he whizzed through blockers with nary a fight. And he brought back the sacks! And picks for the Boom! And he, HE HIMSELF! Black Santa brought Doom!

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This I think is the most accurate pre-snap look. Particularly because Bruce Irvin's role as a linebacker in a sort of hybrid 3-3 look is evident. He does not have his hand in the dirt. He will put his hand in the dirt. But his job is shall we say a bit nuanced.

First he will press Zach Ertz, delaying Ertz's release and allowing Bobby Wagner and Kam Chancellor to determine spacing, coverage, etc.

Second he will sort of runaround Jason Peters. Irvin doesn't have much of a chance running around Peters. So he chances not.

Third, once the three man rush has flushed Sanchez, and it will, Irvin is free and his open field speed suddenly matters.

It's odd. One can't help but feel a little cheated knowing how quick Irvin is yet knowing that he's not and likely will never be a premier pass rusher. But challenged to find ways to use that speed, Quinn, Carroll, Norton, & c. have found lots of creative and varied looks, and I'd be damned if--in terms of pure value--he hasn't surpassed most of his draft class.

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Here we see Irvin pressing Ertz. Let's take advantage of this shot to tease out what else is happenin. To Irvin's left you see Williams, Bennett and Avril looking every bit the three man rush. That means Bennett's the nose and Williams and Avril have to create something like edge pressure. If I were to spitball, attempt to guess how effectively this might work, I'd have many interesting things to say and be wrong.

One potential advantage of intense, high-competition practices, and solid talent throughout the roster, is that practice may become a laboratory for new ideas. I like Kevin Williams as a Red Bryant-type strongside end. He's done some work there, and like Bryant, he excels at controlling his blocker and narrowing--either the pocket or the running lane. It's not splashy. But it works well in concert.

Williams as a strongside end is child's play, tho. Bennett at nose is the really cool little wrinkle.

Black Santa's gotta be movin forward. Just the nature of Black Santa. But as a guy movin forward his force is intense enough that double teams are not like doom and death but like cookies and milk. He eats em up. All a-sudden your strongside end come passing down defensive tackle is Warren Sapp on the cheap. From this three man rush: quick, legit pressure leaking into a pocket so small Max Hall could could cook um candy canes within it.

The ball should probably be out here

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to Jordan Matthews, but Sanchize isn't looking there and a split-second later that's not going to be there. Byron Maxwell is impressively large on tape, and to a still sketchin QB-reclamation project, Max probably looks as big as the Maxx. Lots of failed and failing quarterbacks are loathe to throw to a receiver before the break.

In Nathan Ernst's excellent post, the terror of highly aware over-top coverage is explored. If fan analysts were making reads, even retroactively, half of the "missed opportunities" attempted would be picks, methinks. It is truly hell of a thing to learn how to recognize a defense pre-snap, isolate exact coverages seconds after the snap, anticipate multiple rates of movement--many of which are variable--and know which set is most advantageous to your receiver. Oh and throw accurately and with the draw of Billy the Kidd and the trigger of Lotulelei. John Lotulelei.

Mark Sanchez fails to do all this. Mark Sanchez does the vogue thing. Mark Sanchez attempts to scramble his receivers open. But first! A progress report on that three-man rush.

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That my friends is dope. Among the many curiosities of this approach is that Jason Peters is more or less rendered useless.

This is not that uncommon. It's uncommon for teams we think of as running a 4-3. But even very good pass rushing OLBs in a 3-4 will sometimes play a part in coverage; never really engage the (often exceptionally gifted at pass blocking) tackle; and then pass rush depending on where the creases and seams are, where the quarterback can or must go, where the quarterback is going.

Irvin's not there, but when the quarterback's releasing from the scrum into the open field Irvin can run to the ball carrier and his speed's exceptional.

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His pressure eventually precipitates this.

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Which ... Sherman and I are still disappointed Richard Sherman didn't pick that.

If this feels like I'm hyping Bruce Irvin disproportionate to his honest contributions, you may be right.

Not pass rushing, turning a good pass blocker into a decoy, closing in the open field, these are not sensational achievements (some may even believe them to be doublespeak), but it is true. Irvin's elite quickness in the open field nearly forces the pick. Because ...

Quite a luxury allowing the right defensive end, the presumed premier pass rusher in a 4-3, to press a tight end, futz about and mayb do somethin. It is. One might even call it a gift. The Gift of ...

Avril and Williams are singled up and both are working bull rushes. Coincidence? Yes, it may be. But if you'd rather it were not!

It is possible that Avril and Williams are bull-rushing by design. The bull rush succeeds at closing and constricting but typically requires another move to achieve separation. A lot of quarterbacks do not think much of pass rushers close to them so long as they're not free.

Sanchez in this way is not terrible. He's not delivering a shotput to Malcolm Floyd 28-yards down field and along the sideline, but he doesn't wig out and start scrambling madly into and in his own end zone, either.

For a little while he looks for an open receiver. Michael Bennett's close but he's doubled and Mark can ohchrist Bennett's frreee!!

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2.525 according to my online stopwatch--two point five two five seconds from snap to nose guard Michael Bennett flashing free up the middle and forcing Sanchez to escape toward the right flat, and within Irvin's strike range.

Many defensive ends can and do play as situational defensive tackles. Many are not very good at it. And most all are limited because of their limitations as a run stuffer.

Bennett may not be Brandon Mebane. He isn't toast against double teams, but does often end the play on the turf. But when given a gap or an angle, when asked to spill plays or channel them inward toward Bobby Wagner, he's surprisingly adept. Once in a while he'll even pulverize an entire drive.

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Elves Sanchez and Sproles--Dirty, swarthy and stretched tall through over-reaching, and Darren, a regular elf--wish to spread the Seahawks defense and create stress points. But a lone light leads Bennett on into the darkness of the Eagles backfield. Not a reindeer named Rudolph, no, but eyes locked onto the Ghost of Tackles Yet to Come.

Bennett slides off Sproles, but all remaining action is conducted sideways and in the Eagles' backfield. Jordan Hill is awarded the hustle tackle. It's for a loss of eight. One play later the drive stalls and Philadelphia punts.

One tackle. Second quarter. A missed tackle, even. 5% win probability.

It is this vital combination of quickness, power, agility, size and awareness that allows Dan Quinn and the Seahawks defense to play Bennett so often in the interior. And it's Bennett's ability to play defensive tackle in passing downs, and in nickel and dime packages that has led him to rank eighth-highest in snap counts among defensive linemen.

During Seattle's recent three-game run of dominance, in which Seahawks opponents have totaled 507 yards in 145 plays, and the Hawks have forced six turnovers, Bennett has played in 90.5% of all snaps. Interior pressure creates premature passes, bad reads, checkdowns, inaccurate passes and throwaways. Against Seattle, Drew Stanton, Colin Kaepernick and Mark Sanchez combined to throw 40/75 for 366 yards, one touchdown and six interceptions. Add in 10 pass attempts that ended in a sack, and subtract that sack yardage, and opposing quarterbacks have thrown for 0.85 ANY/A--or 13% of league average.

Over that same stretch, Seattle has tallied 10 of its 22 sacks. Sacks which look an awful lot like this.

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Interior pressure. Quarterbacks fear it. Great defenses thrive on it. Or, to put it another way ...

Now that Black Santa's pulling double duty, winter's become the violentest season of the year.

Shh ... Dan Quinn's really good

Back to Mora for a second. Having no great way of analyzing a head coach, and reading mostly bad comments from Falcons fans, I sought a method which seemed ... at least based on data. It didn't matter to me if Mora was unlikeable or known to burn bridges. The team was 4-12 the season before, and I was looking for signs of hope. So I judged Mora by his coaching hires. It was a damn good group consisting of many still familiar names.

Quarterback Coach: Bill Lazor. Retained from Holmgren's final season, and now the offensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins.

Offensive Line Coach: Mike Solari. Current offensive line coach of the 49ers.

But it's Dan Quinn and Gus Bradley we most remember. Bradley helped Seattle finish no. 1 in total defense in 2012. Quinn, taking over the next season, took that group, made it historically good and guided it to a dominant Super Bowl victory.

Bradley left to coach the Jaguars. That hasn't worked. And maybe Bradley's struggles have cooled interest in Seattle's assistants. I hope so. I can hardly think of another smart, young and sensationally successful assistant that has remained so anonymous. But all the better for us.

The first great act of Dan Quinn was saving the career of failed defensive tackle Red Bryant. Shortly thereafter, Seattle traded Darryl Tapp for Chris Clemons and a draft pick. This is an addendum to a post about Michael Bennett, so I won't continue. But my point is that Quinn has shown great ability to see potential where others saw none, and great ability to maximize that potential through creative sub packages, and simple scheme tweaks.

Quinn I credit with the gift of Bennett. Bennett I credit with the revival of the Seahawks defense, at least in part. And so long as Black Santa's tearing through interior linemen like so much wrapping paper, the picks are back, the dominance is back, the Seahawks defense is back.

Seattle's Union Gospel Mission is running a food drive this Sunday. Go donate. And tell`em Black Santa sent you.