Early Tuesday morning, shortly after 3 a.m., I was asked to call into a show on the NFL Network called “NFL AM” to discuss the Seahawks’ Monday night win over Green Bay.
I knew they would have plenty of questions about the “simultaneous catch” but I thought I could squeeze in a sentence or two about the amazing performance by Seattle’s defense. When I did, the host cut me off. “No offense,” she said, and it was back to the topic of the catch.
Since then, the national media has descended on our peaceful little town, treated us like a bunch of hicks claiming to have seen Bigfoot, labeled us cheaters and asked our head coach to apologize for the win.
Lost in all the attention and focus on Golden Tate’s questionable catch for a game-winning touchdown is a defensive effort that will be scary to any future opponent. The national media may not want to take note, but rest assured offensive coordinators across the league are wringing their hands over how to generate points against a defense that has allowed an average of just 13 per game.
The prolific Packers offense had not been held under 300 yards in 18 straight regular-season games. Seattle’s defense only gave up 268 yards, including just 87 in the first half. The Seahawks’ eight sacks in the first half lifted them to fifth in the league in that category – the one that needed most improvement from last year.
Statistics aside, it’s the details that are most impressive and in any football game, the little things are what matters most.
• Pass-rush technique. Defensive line coach Todd Wash works on those little details every day – getting off the ball, anticipating the snap count, jab steps and hand fighting. Two little details helped both Bruce Irvin and Chris Clemons get to Aaron Rodgers.
Irvin’s first sack came on a speed rush up field and a quick counter back to the inside on offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga. But how in the world did the 250-pound Irvin push the 325-pound Bulaga down with just one hand? Bulaga had to quickly elevate from his crouched position so he could match the speed of Irvin’s charge. His rapid retreat backwards and high body position made Bulaga about 200 pounds lighter. All that was left to do was give Bulaga a quick shove, using his own weight against him, and Irvin was on his way to his first full NFL sack.
For Clemons, it was all about tight angles. Whether he rushes inside or outside, he is always stingy with space, meaning he leans and pushes and scraps for every last inch of space so that he can take a straight line to the quarterback. This is especially necessary on outside rushes where you often see offensive tackles push the rusher up field. Clemons doesn’t allow that to happen.
• Open-field tackling. As a linebacker in the NFL, there was no greater challenge to me than making a tackle in space. It’s one thing to tackle a ball carrier around the line of scrimmage where there are plenty of road blocks that funnel him back into your area. But out in the open, when it’s just you and the ball carrier and a whole lot of green grass, you feel naked.
This defense has some of the most accomplished open-field tacklers I’ve ever seen. Linebackers K.J. Wright and Leroy Hill, safety Kam Chancellor and cornerback Brandon Browner make it look easy. Again, it’s all about the little things.
The first thing any good coach will tell you in that situation is that job No. 1 is to close the distance between you and the ball carrier – immediately. That’s easier said than done. Even good players will make the mistake of widening their feet while moving into a tackling position rather than eliminating the space that separates them from the ball carrier. These guys do this so well that Wright will often not only make the tackle but square the guy up and make a big hit.
Ultimately, it’s about getting the guy on the ground and most guys like me are happy with a shoestring tackle. It’s all about wrapping up and getting your hands on anything you can grab onto. If nothing else, you slow the ball carrier down until the cavalry shows up. It helps when you have a 12-foot wingspan like Wright, Browner and Chancellor.
Chancellor’s open-field tackle of receiver Greg Jennings in the first quarter was a textbook example of grabbing cloth, and although he didn’t make a textbook tackle, he got Jennings on the ground.
• Discipline in coverage. How many times did we see Rodgers with no one to throw to? On pass plays in which he wasn’t getting sacked, he was on the move buying time with his feet. This usually leads to receivers getting open for two reasons: defenses can only cover receivers for so long. They’re typically the best athletes on any team and although the Seahawks defensive backs are good, those guys get paid, too. And when the quarterback scrambles, it’s human nature to put your focus on him and not on the receiver you’re supposed to cover.
Browner, Chancellor, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman are very disciplined in this area. It’s not something that happens all the time, but when it does, you have to be diligent and resist the temptation to follow the quarterback. Again, it’s a small detail that defensive backs work on every day in practice and it paid off on Monday night.
All those little details are reasons why the Seahawks defense ranks first in scoring and fourth in yardage through three weeks. So, the next time “NFL AM” calls, I expect they’ll want to talk about defense.