Seahawks’ secondary holds own against Brown, Bryant, but Wheaton shines

While Sherman and Shead contained Pittsburgh's top targets, the Steelers' receiving corps flashed its depth.

| 11 months ago
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Seahawks’ secondary holds own against Brown, Bryant, but Wheaton shines

Heading into Week 12, one of the most interesting matchups to watch was Seattle’s secondary against Pittsburgh’s receiving corps.

Would the Seahawks put their best cover-corner, Richard Sherman, on Antonio Brown, arguably the league’s best receiver? Or would they try and match him up with Martavis Bryant, a more natural physical analogue? Maybe Seattle would leave Sherman on his regular left cornerback island, and just play sides of the field. It was the great unknown.

As it turned out, Seattle put Sherman on Brown for most of the game, and it worked. Brown was held to six catches for 51 yards (three catches for 24 yards against Sherman), and the Seahawks won in a shootout, 39-30.

The Seahawks deactivated regular starter Cary Williams, making him a healthy scratch for the encounter, and instead backup DeShawn Shead marked the lanky Bryant for most of the game. Shead had started just one game this season, and that was at safety, so this was a bold strategy—but it paid dividends.

Shead and Bryant had a good back-and-forth over the game. Shead saw 14 targets, 11 of them going in the direction of Bryant, and while he did allow 69 yards, they came on just five receptions—one of them accounting for most (40) of the yardage. The 26-year-old defensive back also batted away three passes for incompletions.

Sherman was thrown at nine times when covering Brown, and allowed only 24 yards, notching an interception in the process. When Sherman was targeted in this game, he yielded a passer rating of 0.0.

That passer rating statistic was helped by a yellow penalty flag not being thrown by the official on his interception, when it easily could have been. Brown and Sherman were hand-fighting during the route beyond the 5-yard grace period from the line of scrimmage. The battle saw Brown fall to the turf, leaving Sherman as the only player in the vicinity of the pass for an easy pick.

Seattle’s game plan to neutralize Brown and Bryant was a pretty effective one, but it came at the cost of allowing Markus Wheaton—the forgotten receiver in Pittsburgh—to gash the Seahawks for 201 yards and a score on nine receptions.

Wheaton was essentially unaccounted for all day long, while the other two receivers drew the attention. He was targeted 12 times, and you only need to look at the players covering him on those attempts to see the difference in how the defense was playing him. Five different Seahawks were in primary coverage on Wheaton’s targets, showing Seattle did not account for him in their preparation.

Wheaton did the majority of his damage when he found himself matched up with linebacker Bobby Wagner, who surrendered a catch on all four of the targets on which he was the primary coverage defender, for 96 yards.

This game was a fascinating case study in game-planning. The Seahawks set out to take away Pittsburgh’s two biggest threats, and if you had told them pre-game that Shead would hold his own against Bryant, and Sherman would more or less erase Brown from the game, they would have taken that in a heartbeat.

The results also showed the depth of the Pittsburgh offense. The Steelers were able to adjust on the fly, tapping the next man in their arsenal. It was a good sign to see Wheaton repeatedly make big plays, even if the Steelers didn’t ultimately win the shootout.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • Yao ming

    outside of sherm, erbody got shredded… legion of boom aint the same no more, sign josh norman in the offseason

    • GorillaWrrior Billy

      Lol Norman.. I shouldn’t reply to this, as it shows your complete lack of understanding NFL, money, and we’ll, everything but Norman isn’t going anywhere.
      No one got shredded. Seattle chose to hold the NFLs best WR, and one of the most athletic in Martavis, let Wheaton beat them, and try a LB on him bc he hadn’t done anything in weeks.
      SEA Won. It worked.

      Norman is good.

      Sherman is still best.

      • Ike Evans

        Seattle won because the steelers secondary is trash….not because you stopped them on offense lol they dropped nearly 500 yards on your defense….they didnt stop anything but AB

        • GorillaWrrior Billy

          The SEA gameplan was to stop AB, MB, let Wheaton beat them. Seattle won. It worked.. hatin MF

          • Brandon Purdy

            I don’t think Seattle game plan was to allow 469 yards passing. The difference was that Sea had a QB he didn’t turn the ball over but was still able to produce.

          • mrbrightside3737

            Yeah, if there weren’t a number of easy drops it easily could have been 550 yards. Even with the actual result though, the DC will not see 30 pts allowed as a success.

        • Izach

          While I slightly agree Seattle defense did shut down the passing games 450 yards and 3INTs is shutting down, only reason steelers had so many yards passing is because we abandoned the run game and started throwing Hail Marys every other play in seats of actually trying to follow a game plan we just said “F” it lets bomb it

          • DonnieV

            Nah that wasnt good D, I think they planned on Sherman playing Brown one on one and living with the results. 3 ints right. One on a wierd fake punt… one on a questionable catch by Kam and one on a questionable push by sherman… I think the gameplan was to stifle AB and that happened. Brynat dropped two 30+ yard catches… and Wheaton feasted on LB and Safties. almost 500 yards passing is not good D and i do not believe they agreed on giving up 490 yards passing . No sacks in the first half. This was an all around bad Defensive game by both teams.


            D Will-88


            if thats good D… Hawks will be on the couch come Jan.

            5TDS by any QB wil have you on the couch in Jan as well.

          • Anonymous

            To be fair, as I eluded to earlier, they didn’t really “stop” Martivius, he stopped himself by dropping some balls (one resulting in Kam’s INT), another INT was on some idiotic fake punt and another was on a questionable call. The focus was on AB and rightfully so, but a better game from Martavius and Steelers win.

    • GorillaWrrior Billy

      You’re right about needing a good, speedy cb opposite Sherman though

  • Anonymous

    Curious to know what was Bryant’s game grade? Guy dropped 2 gimmies (one resulting in an INT for Kam Chancellor) and what that meant in terms of Shead’s grade?

    They obviously made a great move benching Cary Williams, just don’t know if Shead actually did a good job or how much he was helped by Bryant dropping some easy ones. Sherman did an excellent job on Antonio, but I was also surprised they didn’t throw the flag on his INT.

    I also thought Jeremy Lane made a difference as well in his first extended action of the season.

    • YouBarkIBite

      I don’t know if Shead is a long-term answer at CB, but he looked a lot better than Williams. He at least makes an effort to stay with the receiver and play the ball. Williams seems totally lost in the Seattle defense. Plays way off the receiver even in short yardage situations and frequently loses sight of the ball.

      Lane looked pretty rusty. Missed an open field tackle that would’ve stopped a 3rd down conversion, got burned on a deep pass, and ran out of gas/tripped on the interception return that could’ve easily been a TD. But that’s to be expected for a guy who hasn’t played in a game in 10 months. If he can stay healthy and round into shape, he is a quality corner.

    • GorillaWrrior Billy

      Yeah, thank God – Welcome back Lane! In style.

      If we were SEA Defensive Coaches and someone came up to us to start the week and said :

      “For week 12, to cover PITs No. 2 WR – playing opposite of the NFLs Best WR – How about we bench Cary and cover Martavis with a guy who’s only started 1 game, and at Safety? ?

      Therefore, Shead seemed to pay off; compared with how throwing a backup safety in at CB should have (or could have) ended up vs (when healthy) NFLs Best/Most Talented Offense.

      Even I was like :
      “Shead’s at CB, on Matavis WTF?!? He’s getting burned on this play ! ( *Drop*) –
      Oh.. Thank God. ” .Lol.

      But good question. I’d love to know how much it is on Bryant and wonder how Williams would’ve performed. Very happy Lane is back though.

    • gomer_rs

      Shead made the throws difficult (for the most part Rothelisberger was killing it with accuracy) so that’s all you can ask for in the circumstances.

  • osoviejo

    Brown could have been called for OPI. He fell down because he drove into Sherman and lost his balance when Sherman wasn’t there anymore. If Sherman had given Brown a meaningful push backwards, it might have actually allowed the receiver to keep his feet.

    • Izach

      Eh, I think Sherman pulled brown down more than brown push Sherman, but it was slight as a steeler fan I. Was ok with the no call, that’s football. The personal foul on Timmons tho IMO was the bigger issue you can’t call that if you don’t call that PI, Sherman was more aggressive on brown than Timmons was on Russel

      • osoviejo

        I agree the Timmons call was blown. On the other hand, the horsecollar foul on Chancellor was also a bad call. His hand never went inside the jersey, which is easy to see on the replay.

        Suffice to say, the league’s “official” problem doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon.

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      • Aaron

        Iirc, part of that call is the runner/QB running directly out of bounds, which from a prior game (don’t remember what game, might have been last year) where it was explained/stated that if a guy is just going out, and he’s right in front of the boundary, then they want defenders to just pull up rather than give any kind of shove on a guy who may have one foot in one foot out. After looking at the rulebook for roughness, it actually does allow for refs to flag it however they want (uses the phrase “including but not limited to:” then listing multiple different infractions.

      • GorillaWrrior Billy

        Players know anything slightly near a QB when hes out/going out-of-bounds – will be a flag. I agree with you, It wasnt bad (In replay, you can tell easily, maybe shouldn’t have been a call **but so were about 8 other QB hits from games during week 12. I’m Guessing NFL got on Refs about Losing Talent league-wide, told them to look/call anything close with QBs – Bennetts hit was definitely a flag, though.) Refs see Timmons is pushing RW, who’s going out and have a split second to decide; well, they’re trained to grab and throw flags. Timmons is aggressive and I like his style but.. You just have to pull back.
        I rewound the AB-Sherm play a few times, and felt Brown was the aggressor – but I’m also a SEA fan, so lol. I looked at it as – Brown is the NFLs Best WR and Sherman is the Best CB. As they both were involved in it, it good no-call in my opinion. I loved watching them matchup all game; This would make an amazing SuperBowl. I feel both will be NFC/AFC Wildcards

        • Izach

          Yea usually you either get refs who do call those penalties or don’t call them, not both. ref squads are usually consistent throughout a game on what side of fence they call penalties on, either you’ve got a squad that calls every hold, PI, personal foul no matter how “Ticky-Tacky” or you get a squad that “let’s them play” my beef is more on the swap in game. Good No call on Sherman INT, but same thing should have happened on Timmons play.

      • David Stinnett

        Looked like a push from sherman but didn’t look like he fell from that. It was a bit at arms length to be able to push much.

    • GorillaWrrior Billy

      Thank you, I said the same, especially after rewinding the play a few times and putting it in slow motion; they both were involved with Browm being the aggressor so I felt like it was a great no-call

    • Robert

      your incompetent

  • Vince

    You can throw eggs at seahawks secondary all day and deservedly so,but the pressure up front was non-existent for most of the game. Their interior linemen couldn’t do nothing against the steelers O-line or Big ben. Bennett and Avril can’t account for all the sacks and pressures themselves, they need some help from others guys on the D-line.

    • GorillaWrrior Billy

      How about our Big Man, signed from CLE, Rubin with the one-handed INT though? ? Impressive. Agree, SEA needed more pressure and could have used more effective stunts, blitz looks, packages.

  • Darnell

    Safe to say the ol’ “Force Wheaton to beat you” strategy almost backfired.