Why Seattle is giving up so many big plays
The Seattle defense this season is shipping water over the side more than they have done in the past. In each of the past two games the Seahawks have been undone by catastrophic coverage busts that have gifted the opposition big plays at key moments — and in truth, cost them wins.
Communications breakdowns happen. They are inevitable when things are as complex as they are at the NFL level, but they seem to be happening more for the Seahawks since defensive coordinator Dan Quinn left town to become the Falcons’ head coach.
Last season the Seahawks were so good on defense it seemed like they only actually got beat for big plays when there was some kind of miscommunication in the secondary. PFF tracks total coverage busts, plays in which the defense somehow conspires to leave a receiver completely uncovered. Usually these come as a result of members of the secondary not being on the same page. For example, one player is running a Cover-3, everybody else is running Cover-2, so a hole gets created when the two schemes collide.
A year ago the Seahawks had a coverage bust on 2.6 percent of their passing plays on defense, for a total of 19 on the season. This season already they have 10, or almost double the rate (4.6 percent).
Against the Panthers and Bengals the busts happened to come at the worst possible time – late, with the game on the line – which must start raising questions about the lines of communication, organization and leadership structures there now compared with a year ago.
This week saw the Panthers snatch a win thanks to a late touchdown up the seam from Cam Newton to Greg Olsen. Olsen was wide open because the Seattle secondary was trying to run two different coverages on the same play. Most of the defense was running their regular Cover-3 look, but on the side Olsen was lined up on, CB Richard Sherman and LB K.J. Wright were running Cover-2. This meant that Sherman covered the flat, safety Earl Thomas settled in the hole and both players passed Olsen off to nobody, allowing the Panthers to snatch a win on one of the easiest big plays they’ll ever have.
As I said before, this type of coverage bust happens, and sometimes they happen at the worst possible times, but the data shows they have happened significantly more for the Seahawks this season through six games than they did a year ago. Perhaps Quinn’s exit has caused a fraying around the edges of a unit that was previously so well-organized.
Whatever the reason, the 2-4 Seahawks need to get it under control before it costs them too many games.