Versus this two tight end set we went with a Nickel front instead of the usual 3-4. There are five guys playing at linebacker depth and I think it may have screwed with the Cowboys’ zone blocking. Fuller (lined up over the near TE) is playing as a quasi-safety. It was effective but ended up being just a one off.
Defensive Tackles: In the Nickel front McGee and Ion got the start on early downs, while Lanier and Ion got the start on late passing downs. Hood was used later on and finished the game with the second highest snap count behind Ion.
Linebackers: Vigil and Brown on early downs, Harvey-Clemons and Brown on late passing downs. As the game went on Vigil took some snaps from H-C. Spaight came in when Brown had to leave with an injury.
In the first half Offense and Special Teams screwed us. Defense played phenomenal despite the other two-thirds of the team acting as saboteurs.
In the second half, zone double teams wore us down. Ion and Francis struggled some while Hood and Lanier struggled a lot.
(FWIW Anderson needed to stay inside his block.) This half was the sequel to last game with most of the same characters up front.
After they softened us up they went to the air and picked on Breeland.
Because Eli likes to dink and dunk we loaded our underneath coverage with up to five guys. In the above pic we rushed three and dropped our defensive ends to get five in underneath coverage along with three deep.
Safeties: Everett subbed in for the injured Nicholson and played a lot of press coverage over their Tight Ends:
Against I-Formation that left him as the target of a Fullback Iso block. He got points for sticking his nose in there against the run.
Linebackers: Foster/Compton/Spaight’s replacement was handled by two guys:
Vigil got the early downs
Harvey-Clemons did a reprise of the Cravensbacker role on late passing downs; he was basically a hybrid between Safety and Linebacker.
Safeties: The Saints had hot reads and gadget plays to attack our flat zones when we went with a single high safety:
We played with 2-high safeties a lot more than usual to guard the flats against these types of plays.
When Nicholson was on the field we finally used him as something other than just a deep safety. We put him in the slot and in the box and because of his extra effort he was rewarded with a concussion.
Lining up: With Compton out Zach Brown handled lining guys up and there were a few struggles early on.
Against this “Split Zone” run Brown and Spaight needed to follow the motion of the HBack who was pulling across the formation, instead Brown (highlighted) lines up over and fires into the same gap as Nicholson. That left Spaight to guard the middle of the field and he was unable to fit his gap inside of Anderson:
Compton’s (and Foster’s) absence was felt two-fold:
guys not lining up properly (three times)
Brown played a little slower and out of position at times.
We played a lot of two-high safety when Hall was in the game then switched to mostly one-high after he got replaced by Everett. Last week I thought the 2-high switch was to keep our safeties from getting hurt but it’s probably due to DHall’s lack of range.
When we went with one-high safety, Minnesota attacked our flat zones with Arrow/Slant route combos:
and Outside Zone Play Action:
This is what most teams do to us: Flat zones are an area we give up so we can protect deep while adding a safety against the run. It’s a trade off that hurt us in Seattle but didn’t kill us in this game.
The only trickery of note was their empty set which drew Norman into covering a running back and left Brown and Hall to bracket Thielen:
Brown is still trying to figure out his assignment at the snap and Hall takes a bad angle:
We were able to dictate which gaps we wanted Seattle to run into:
We slanted Hood and McClain in opposite directions, opening the offensive line.
Compton widened out and drew the center from the line.
The RB took the bait and hit the gap we designed for him, Brown took care of the rest:
End Zone View:
Compton made plays away from the ball like this one all game long.
That was the basic bones of our run defense: bait the running back and let Zach Brown clean up. Most times it worked as planned and sometimes they got us with misdirection.
On this drive they ran back to back moving “Iso” runs. Basically, Iso is when the fullback slams straight ahead into the linebacker and clears a path for the running back. This was the third time they lined up to run Iso, so we answered with this:
McGee slants and takes the Left Guard with him.
This opens up a gap for Compton to smash into the fullback
Brown is free to clean up the running back.
But Seattle ran the “Counter” play instead and caught us in a bad defense. The running back fakes like it’s Iso with the first step, but then they pull the left guard and fullback the other way and the running back follows:
Slanting guys around is a chess match that will go both ways, fortunately in this game we won these match ups more than we lost them.
Like the previous week, we ditched the exotic formations. Deshazor Everett only got 1 snap even though Montae Nicholson was out for the game. That left DHall and DJ Swearinger to man the safety corps for the entire game; we played with 2 high safeties way more than normal.
Run defense was near perfect, but pass rush lane integrity and flat zone coverage were a problem.
We stuck to our base formations and got penetration against their zone runs with slants:
That’s our 3-4 with a huge gap inside of Smith; we are baiting them to run it there.
McClain and Hood slant toward the top of the screen widening that gap and Compton fired right into it. The scheme sets up Compton for a TFL or at the very least he should force the RB to cut it back, which is what ends up happening:
Notice McGee’s stunt (red), it looks like he’s getting punished off the line but he’s actually taking a defender with him and opening up a path for the guy outside of him to handle any cutbacks.
No defensive lineman playing middle linebacker like the last two weeks, just guys lining up where they normally do and stressing the offensive line with movement.
Turnovers and special teams overrode a defensive effort that was good enough to win the game.
Drive 1: Fumble.
Drive 2: This was the drive where they got us. They burned us with play action and set up on our 13:
Witten is coming across the formation and both our backers need to bump down a gap as an adjustment to that. Spaight (yellow) does so, Brown (red) does not:
Between the play actions and run fits, we downloaded what Dallas showed us on this drive and adjusted.
Drive 3: missed FG attempt.
Drive 4: Punt.
Drive 5: Started at the 1 yard line thanks to the blocked FG.
Drive 6: Punt.
Drive 7: FG.
Drive 8: started on our 26, gained -4 yards, ended in a FG.
Drive 9: Had to insert Everett into the line up and they picked on him right away. Still only gave up a FG.
Drive 10: Brown got a dumb Unnecessary Roughness penalty, still only gave up a FG.
Drive 11: Punt.
That’s one touchdown from a drive where we downloaded everything they did and four field goals, one of which came on a drive that lost four yards.
Against a playoff team without Breeland, Foster and Allen that is still a performance you can win with. Dallas shut it down on the last two drives with 13 runs for 48 yards good enough for 3.7 ypc. If Zach Brown doesn’t commit a boneheaded unnecessary roughness penalty both of those drives end in punts.
+ plays are good.
- plays are bad.
If it's a ho-hum play, like a 3 yard gain on first down, then usually nobody will do worse or better than -1 or +1. But give up a 64 yard touchdown (-4) or get a TFL/Sack (+2) and I go higher in either direction.
Pressure: Did the quarterback comfortably hold onto the ball for longer than 3 seconds: -1. Did the QB feel pressure in 3 seconds or less? +1
In the preview, one of the key match-ups was Ziggy Hood vs outside zone runs and the result in this game was that he struggled a lot.
The formula to open up a huge hole on our defense:
get Hood flowing sideways
then wham him with a second blocker:
On this next play Everett fails to come down in the box (and gets a scolding from DJ after the play) but also Hood gets taken out with the same formula as above:
we’ll see how he holds up next week, I’d imagine Seattle is going to run these stretch plays with a design to target him. FWIW McGee was inserted at nose tackle on the last drive and had similar problems.
Ioannidis and Allen were two of the best against these types of runs, it will be up to the linebackers to shut these down until we get them back.
Anthony Lanier had a sneaky good game at 3 and 5 technique. He’s not going to solve our issues at nose, but if McGee or McClain go down he looks more than able to pick up where they left off.
Martrell Spaight struggled with zone reads, here he just reads it wrong and thinks it’s a QB keeper:
and here he’s late bumping down a gap, ends up peeking inside and eats a block:
Normally run reads are Spaight’s forte, it’s tackling in space and coverage that he’s struggled with. Hopefully this game remains an outlier for the season.
While Spaight and the interior of the defensive line struggled, Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan continued to be matchup problems. Here is Smith wasting Witten’s block and meeting Brown in the backfield:
If there is any way to upgrade our defensive interior, we could easily be a top 5 rushing defense with the pieces we have on the outside.
-1.5: Minuses came in run D
-2: got beat early, recovered late
-3: looked lost out there
We got to see Nicholson play his first snap at something other than deep safety in a long time and while he was a little robotic with the technique, it was good enough bracket coverage for Dak to come off the read:
Everett was the only one with issues in coverage, everyone else was fine. Dunbar struggled early with Dez but got it together by the second half.
Predictions From Last Week
Preston Smith gets PFF’s highest grade on the defense
Yes, and finished with the highest grade for the whole team
Dez finishes with less than 50 yards receiving and under 10.0 ypc
4 catches for 39 yards, good for 9.8 ypc.
Dak pulls off one miracle downfield play
uh, no. He had a couple of QB keepers but those were on Spaight and not really miracles.
What Does It Mean For Seattle?
Expect to see plenty of outside zone runs as they test out Hood in the middle. Good news: they rank 28th in rushing DVOA.
Also expect at least a couple of zone reads when Spaight is in the game, just to see if he’s fixed whatever vision problems he had.
Outside of Doug Baldwin I’m not seeing any threats Norman, Fuller and co. can’t handle. But if the first two bullet points end badly for us, then play action becomes a problem.
They spread out our 3-4 defense a few times to where our OLB would line up over a slot WR with a safety behind him. This left 3 big guys to rush the quarterback, affording Alex Smith plenty of time. The only reason I can think of for this is we were trying to avoid crack blocks and also jam guys at the line so they couldn’t run their staple of “mesh” routes. Otherwise it was our regular 3-4 and Nickel the whole way except for one 3-3-5 we broke out on a 3rd down.
The Story: The first 3 drives ended in punts before the mismatches came into play. Fuller got stuck defending the run against tight ends and our 3-4 got spread out, shown above, which negated the pass rush.
Inside backer play was up and down. Brown and Spaight played like Pro Bowlers in the box, but they struggled in space with Brown having two left feet in coverage and Spaight missing open field tackles.
With a bye week approaching guys were hitting hard and selling out their bodies; big hits were followed by injuries to the back seven. Then the penalties came which cost us 7 points to open the second half. The snap count hit 76 (20 snaps more than previous weeks) and mental errors crept in as fatigue set over the last two drives. Uncharacteristic gaffes like Brown’s over-pursuit on outside zone and McClain tipping a stunt cost us two field goals.
Finally on the last drive Kerrigan blew contain which lead to a 37 yard play and Spaight voided underneath coverage for another 10 yard gimmie and that was enough to set up the field goal that put KC ahead 23-20.
Kerrigan’s first negative finish is due in large part to a failed pass rush that did not keep contain. He chose the right rush: Bull rush, but couldn’t disengage the RT before Alex Smith broke the pocket. That’s giving valuable extra time with a back seven reeling from injuries and fatigue.
Preston Smith would have graded out in the positive if not for penalties. The one at the goal line turned 3 points into 7 and earned him a -4. So both star ends would have had decent to good days if not for the bonehead plays.
Ziggy Hood’s negative total was a product of him get worked by their center. It’s one thing for a double team to get you, but when your nose can’t handle the center one on one that’s trouble since doubles can be doled out to guys on either side of him.
Matt Ioannidis diagnosed plays early and often. Against Philly he was the lone lineman to diagnose the trap blocking and last week he was the quickest to read the Shovel pass option play that KC loves to run: