Why Seattle is giving up so many big plays

Sam Monson explains what the biggest issue facing Seattle's defense is.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

(AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

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.

| Senior Analyst

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

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  • Paddy

    Yeah, it’s been bad. I think they all need to be much more accountable from the coaches to the players. It appears Sherman and Wright were in the correct coverage based on other articles, but for some reason the call didn’t get relayed. What I don’t have a clue on is why that communication wasn’t relayed and who should’ve relayed it. Was Sherman supposed to make a signal? Were the safeties and the rest of the secondary just not paying attention? Did the call come too late? The fact Seattle is getting slaughtered by TE’s again like they were in 2012 and before has me very concerned.

    • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

      the call into the LB’s helmet receiver was different than the hand signal relayed to the secondary players who didn’t join the huddle. lesson: huddle up and get the right call to all 11. it’s not like carolina is some no-huddle, hurry up team afterall

      • Paddy

        Makes sense. They seemed completely confused. Still, they should be capable of getting lined up even if the offense is in hurry up. Teams like the Eagles still go pretty quick and they were fine against them last year. I agree though. If they’re having trouble, maybe they should group before the play to ensure they’re on the same page from the onset.

        • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

          coaches gotta be on the same page as well, but yea, agreed

  • John Huber

    Somebody need to school both their coordinators on the use of a TE. Both are getting straight F’s.

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    • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

      graham had a really good game against CAR, +3.0

  • Jim Winslow

    I think their defense geta gased in 4th quarter possibly due to the fact that cannot run the ball as well as they used to.

    • Brent B

      I think this makes sense only if you are saying that our defense was never quite as good as we thought it was (in other words, our defense got too much credit and was benefiting from a good offense, basically the opposite of common wisdom). There might be a little bit to that, because the offense has bailed out the defense on many occasions when they collapsed in the 4th Quarter prior to the SB. But out defense hasn’t been on the field any extraordinary amount. TOS was basically 50/50 prior to the defense giving up two long 80 yard drives back to back. It wasn’t like the offense put them out there for 5 possessions in the 4th Quarter or something.

      • Jim Winslow

        Good point I was just making assumptions I wasn’t looking at the actual time of possession. Teams also with good to great tight end play seem to screw them, up I mean they struggled against new englands offense san diegos offense the bengals offense, and now carolina’s offense.

        • Brent B

          I think it is possible that Seattle’s lack of dominance in the running game and their terrible O-Line has played a role in the defense’s troubles. But, if you accept that as the case, you have to give the Offense much more credit for the last three years than they have usually gotten. That would basically mean the stout defense was predicated on a good offense and not the other way around. Which is possible, we did have the best run offense and a top 10 scoring offense each of the last three years.

          • Jim Winslow

            once again football is a team sport and I think the fact that they no longer can run people over at will has hurt them in a big way.

    • saroeup tuy

      You have a point but prior years there were good substitution from Thurmond, maxwell, lane.etc.. this year it’s mainly the starters and they play the whole game and Kerby Williams has better technique than maxwell but maxwell was faster and more physical than a aging williams.

    • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

      if they’re gassed, which i don’t buy, it’d be more likely due to the fact that they’ve played into february for the last two years

  • baz

    Justin Britt sucks really bad put glowinsky in

  • baz

    Patrick Lewis is good. Britt is missing so many blocks time for him to sit. Okungs getting burnt too, even though everyone says the right side is worse. Swezy is Medocore compared to last season but will get better. And I think carry should compete with any other cb. Can’t wait for Paul rich to be back.

    • Hellifuknow

      Kawaan Short knocked Lewis on his ass a coupe of times. Not sure how that is “good”

  • Geaux Hawks

    Leadership is important for any organization. Perhaps we’re all under-estimating the loss of not only Dan Quinn, but also Ken Norton Jr. We’re painfully watching DC Richard learn OTJ.

  • Seatowns206

    I’m not sold on it being the Dan Quinn departure. We appreciate the idea but Seattle has been doing this more often at bad times than people seem to be understanding. eg. 2012 playoffs vs Atlanta. 2013 vs San Diego. Unfortunately the scheme works great unless the offense isn’t spending much time on the field late in games because of complete failure to extend drives.

  • saroeup tuy

    Personally I think the offensive line has improved alot. Offensive line can and needs improvement but they played good defense until the 4th quarter. I don’t believe at all that this Seattle team isn’t capable of winning the superbowl but what I’m starting to also believe is that the level of respect and communication on both offense and defense is the major issue here. When Wilson got graham involved against the panthers, he failed to get baldwin, Tyler and jermaine kearse involved. On defense cam couldn’t pass for his life but without wagner Seattle were getting beat by Carolina run game. If Seattle wants to save the season they have to start capitalizing on turnovers instead of losing yards on penalties and setting for a fg. The main reason why I never been a big fan of bevell is because you got both Lockett who’s speed is second to none being used for seam routes instead of quick slants. Why use jimmy graham on a quick slant? Airing it out to kearse hoping for a penalty? Why not use Matthews or graham or Lockett? Kearse is the slowest wr on the team. Good hands but slow

  • Hellifuknow

    Seattle made a big mistake by not hiring a new secondary coach to replace Richard. Instead, they decided it was better to let Richard continue to serve as de facto secondary coach in addition to being DC, and go with 2 assistant secondary coaches – 1 for the safeties 1 for the corners – neither of whom has coached in the NFL before.

  • Judy Eastham

    Some blame has to go to Russell, in the last 3 games I have noticed that he isn’t seeing the open guys, and he either gets sacked trying to scurry too long or he just throws it away. He only went to Baldwin last game one time in the game, and Kearse maybe once or twice. One trick play that worked well and it was back to the same run run throw plan. Too predictable. The ball is taking way too long to leave his hand too. Don’t get me started on the defense, compared to how our guys played the last two years it’s like these guys are pod people in there to fill spots and not get injured. NOBODY is afraid of Richard Sherman anymore, I’ve been saying this for some time now. Where is the guy who was brash and cocky and stuffed his receivers. This is not the same guy at all. Money has changed the whole attitude of this team, and not for the better.

    • timmh67

      your right Judy, Sherm is not even close to the same player he once was… He is playing fradgle and non eventful to the opposing team. Just getting by for the most part.

      • Worldstar Police Dept.

        “fradgle” LMAO it’s fragile*

  • Tim Andrews

    We need that 2013 team back! Every time a team wins a super bowl they let the very people go who was a part of the championship season. IF IT WORKS DON’T FIX IT!
    Tim Vancouver,WA