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Under Pressure: Marcus Burley thrown into the fire at nickelback

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

For last week's Marshall Faulk Q&A, I talked about which Seahawk players are the most consistent. This week, the subject at hand is about which player is facing the most pressure to perform. I'd have to say that the answer to this question comes down to two players: punt returner Bryan Walters, and nickelback Marcus Burley.

Let's focus on Burley. The Seahawks played in their "nickel" defense with five defensive backs on 57 of their 62 defensive snaps, a clear response to Green Bay's "spread" looks with 3- and 4-WR formations. Burley came in for an injured Jeremy Lane in the 3rd quarter and played 25 snaps.

Overall, I thought he acquitted himself nicely, particularly because he'd been with the team for a week. He seemed comfortable for the most part in what he was being asked to do, and didn't do anything that was concerning from a coverage standpoint. He looked fast and physical.

There were a few instances where the Packers went after Burley once he subbed in, but really only the Aaron Rodgers touchdown pass to Randall Cobb was able to exploit the inexperienced and young defensive back. Obviously, that's seven points and a big play for the Packers, but I'm not really sure Jeremy Lane or anyone else would've played that snap much differently. It was tough. More on that below. First, let's just go through his snaps, one-by-one.

1. Burley's first snap.

On this play, he drops into the flats in underneath zone coverage. He heads out quickly at the snap to mark an area near the short sideline. The play goes other way.

2. His second snap is a run play to his side.

Burley, from the slot, does a nice job of keeping his outside arm free from the blocker that's engaging him, and he avoids getting hooked or driven into the sideline by receiver trying to block him. The Seahawks pursue Eddie Lacy down the line and make the tackle before Burley can engage, but he was in good position to force the play back inside or make the tackle himself (he spins off the block and is right there to blow up the run if necessary).

3. Pass breakup/Pass defensed.

The Packers finally realize a backup cornerback that has been with the team for a week is on the field, and decide to go at him. They draw a man coverage scheme from the Hawks and Cobb runs a simple sideline route.

Burley gives Cobb an inside arm jam and rides him up the field in trailing coverage. Cobb, for some reason, hesitates, and this throws off the timing. He mistimes his jump, and Burley manages to get his hand on the football ever so slightly to knock it away. He'll have to be careful about too much contact while trailing past five yards, but apart from getting his head around and looking for the football, he does a good job of not grabbing Cobb too much before the ball arrives.



4. Flats (zone coverage) - Rodgers pass complete up the middle to Cobb.

Burley takes the curl-to-flat in a zone coverage scheme (he drops to the outside flats area as the cornerback on the outside bails in deep-third or matchup man coverage). This was common, and it's something the Seahawks do a lot with their nickel cornerback (and sometime linebacker or safeties).

5. Quick Rodgers pass to the left, outside - quickly recognizes and runs to support tackle.

Burley not involved with the play, other than pursuit to support a tackle on the outside.

6. Curl-Flat (zone) - Kevin Williams knocks down a dump off to RB.

Burley drops to the curl-flat area in a zone defense. He is off the ball quite a bit but when Rodgers looks to dump the ball off to his running back underneath to his side, Burley looks to close. It doesn't matter though, as Kevin Williams bats the ball down.

7. Man coverage outside, defends wheel route well.

Burley is in man in the slot on this snap -- and follows Cobb as he runs a wheel route outside then up the sideline. Burley manages to peek in toward the quarterback a few times to keep an eye on Rodgers, who is drifting right (toward his side). Burley does a good job of looking back while sticking with his man. Rodgers tries to throw across his body 40 yards downfield, but it's broken up by Byron Maxwell.

8. Fourth down play.

Burley lined up in the slot. At the snap he carries Randall Cobb out then passes him off to Richard Sherman. It's good to see this passoff happen very naturally and easily, because these two haven't played together very long. In a zone coverage, this type of non-verbal communication is huge. Burley then transfers up to the outside receiver, who is running a square in at the first-down marker. This is Rodgers' primary option, from the looks of it. The hope would be that Burley sticks with Cobb too long and manages to sort of "screen" Sherman away from disrupting the pass.

He doesn't, and Rodgers doesn't make the throw because of a combination of good coverage and excellent pressure from Cliff Avril, who times the snap and gets into his rush at an absurd rate. Seriously.


Even if Rodgers had thrown it, there's a chance that Burley has a play on the ball (though, with Rodgers' velocity it could have been completed, too). Good awareness by Burley nonetheless -- this is the type of "route combination recognition" that Richard Sherman and the LOB talk about. You have to know what the offense is doing -- understand their goal -- and then react before the receivers are to where they need to be.

The Seahawks get the ball back.

On their next defensive series...

1. Buzz the flats (strip-sack fumble by Rodgers for safety)

Burley buzzes the flats here, again, in zone coverage. This is Seattle's go-to nickel defense. Michael Bennett gets a sack-fumble and the Packers recover it for a safety.

Next Seahawks' defensive series...

1. Man coverage

The slot receiver goes outside, Burley follows, and Aaron Rodgers throws the slant to the outside receiver, who is running inside over the top of Burley. Bobby Wagner drops into the zone Burley has vacated, and is *this* close to being there to intercept or deflect. It's a bang-bang play, but this is a concept that the Packers ran several times successfully.

2. Flats underneath (screen play opposite side)

Zone coverage. The Packers run a screen pass to the other side of the field.

3. Zone flats (draw play up the middle)

Zone coverage again.

4. It looks like either man coverage or matchup zone coverage

Cobb runs an out. Burley gets his hips flipped and gives up a little too much cushion so he doesn't defend pass, but he does end up doing a good job of making the stop after the catch is made for minimal yards after the catch. This is Seahawks football, and an acceptable play for what they try to do.


5. Zone flats. Dumpoff to the running back after Rodgers moves to his right. Burley not involved.
6. Matchup zone, pass goes the other way.
7. Zone flats. Run by the Packers. Burley could stand to be a little quicker in recognition of a run play, but that's tough from the slot when you're looking to ride the opposing slot cornerback out of your zone and pass them off..
8. Man coverage. Cobb runs a wheel/pick route, which is defended just fine by Burley. Pass comes in to the slant underneath. Same play as the one above.

9. Run play (in zone)

The Packers are now to the Seahawks 20-yard line. Burley is in the slot, he sees the run and looks to fill/force back inside. While closing, he gets blocked in the back EGREGIOUSLY by Jarrett Boykin, but gets no call. I'm not sure how they could have missed this, as it was right in the action. The Packers pick up big yardage afterwords too.


10. Run play, (Burley in zone).
11. Zone in curl/hook zone.

This is just a tough assignment for any cornerback. The Packers run a bootleg off play-action with Aaron Rodgers running to his right. Burley jams Cobb, looks to pass him off to Earl Thomas, but now sees that Rodgers is potentially threatening to run the ball in with his feet. In this case, with O'Brien Schofield in pursuit, Burley should've probably been more concerned with where Cobb went, but it's a bang-bang play.

Burley drifts slightly with the action, and Rodgers makes him pay.


Crazy good zip on this throw by Rodgers.


The Packers would have one more offensive drive in the game. Burley was on the field but nothing really went in his direction.

Overall, I thought he played well, especially considering the time he's had to acclimate to this defense. That touchdown above is tough. I think in hindsight, he should have been more sticky to Cobb for a few more seconds before getting himself outside to make sure Rodgers didn't run it in. I think his attempt to pass Cobb off came a second too quick, perhaps.

For his part, Cobb did a great job of settling in underneath Earl Thomas and expecting the Rodgers pass in the little pocket that came open. It's something that Burley will learn from, but ultimately it's a tough play.

One game down, and Pete Carroll has made it known that Burley is the next man up for the Nickel spot, so expect to see him get a lot of snaps this week against the Chargers.

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