There's been a lot made of the Seahawks' inability to defend tight ends, and as Rich Hribar pointed out on twitter last night, Seattle has already Seattle "has already allowed 23 pass plays of 20+ yards this season after allowing 32 all of 2014 and 30 in 2013. 11 to opposing tight ends." It's obviously an issue. That problem showed up again on Sunday when unbelievably, Greg Olsen got wide open up the seam for the game-winning touchdown. Except in this case, it wasn't a schematic issue or a talent issue that gave Seattle fits in defending Olsen, it was a communication issue.
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The Seahawks' eleven defenders were in two different coverage calls, meaning assignments were completely screwed up. Richard Sherman and Kevin Pierre-Louis handed Olsen off to Earl Thomas believing that Earl had the deep half to their side in a classic Cover-2 scheme; instead, Earl was in Cover-3, where he's responsible for post and seam routes, and didn't get wide enough quickly enough to cover Olsen, who ran up the numbers (in between a seam route and a sideline route).
As Sheil Kapadia wrote about this morning over at ESPN, Sherman got the Cover-2 ("L.A.") call late -- just before the snap happened -- and said he simply had to trust that his teammates got it too. Earl Thomas confirmed that the defense didn't get the play call, and were playing in two different coverages.
"It just was a confusion about what call we were in," Sherman said. "There were a couple calls being signaled in that were different. And the game's at a fast pace, so you've got to make a decision."
If you've listened to our podcasts over the last few weeks, I've talked about football being controlled chaos, and this is just a great example of that. The playcall came in late (or was changed late) and the communication of the new playcall broke down. Sherman was right near the sideline so he could hear or see what call was given. The players on the backside did not.
"We had some people playing L.A. We had some people playing another [coverage]," said Earl Thomas. "I don't know, man. We didn't get it. We didn't finish. It's tough.
"Coach [Kris] Richard said he called "L.A." Sherm was playing "L.A.," which is true, and I was playing a Cover-3. Kam [Chancellor] was playing Cover 3 also. The whole back side was playing Cover 3. But I think Sherm was so close to the sideline, he got the correct call. But we didn't get the job done."
Here's what it looked like in All-22 (via @weightroomshoe):
The two main players to watch here are Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman. Sherman plays his cover-2 assignment correctly in taking the running back out of the backfield, who runs a flat route toward the sideline. In a cover-2, Sherman is responsible for the flats, with Earl Thomas responsible for the deep half of the field over Sherman.
Except Thomas was in a Cover-3 look, meaning he had the post and seam routes, and had Sherman been in Cover-3, he'd have carried Olsen deep because he was the outside receiver in this case. It's a little bit of a tweener route, but regardless, in a Cover-3 Sherman would've been deep, and I'm guessing Earl trusts Sherman on those balls.
Pete Carroll talked about the miscommunication this morning on Brock and Salk, saying:
"We didn't execute. The call didn't get to everybody the way it always does. There was some kind of a glitch in there that happened, unfortunately it gives them an easy touchdown. Our defense called for us to be rolled over on top of Olsen, and he never would've thrown the ball there. We'd have had a safety over the top with a corner underneath, and all that. So, we just didn't execute the call coming from the sidelines."
Smart Football's Chris Brown provided a glimpse into the Seahawks' playbook with the "L.A." call.
All in all, just a complete screw up, and the punctuation on the well-discussed issues Seattle has had in fourth-quarters this season.
In this case, I think you really have to ascribe blame first to defensive coordinator Kris Richard, for either changing the call late or getting the call in slowly. Second, you have to blame the players for not communicating. In both cases, these problems are fixable, at least. I wonder now if and how things will change for Richard and getting the calls in, and if the Seahawks will implement any changes in communication.
Either way, it was a little shocking to see two All Pro players screw up so badly, so it was immediately clear there was some sort of communication breakdown -- and it was interesting to hear the explanation after the game.
After talking to reporters last night, the players huddled together in the locker room and tried to figure out what went wrong. They'll have a short week to right the wrongs though, as the Seahawks travel to San Francisco to play on Thursday Night Football.