To blitz, or not to blitz: How should Seahawks’ defense play going forward?
To blitz, or not to blitz? That’s the question the Seahawks face on defense heading into Week 5 and the rest of the season after very different results between Weeks 1-3 and Week 4.
The difference between the first three games of the season and Week 4 for the Seahawks’ defense was incredibly evident, as Seattle opted not to blitz as much in Week 4 against the Dolphins compared to Weeks 1-3. In turn, Seattle allowed far fewer total yards and big plays through the air in Miami, but the defense also failed to generate much of a pass rush, similar to what happened in 2019 when it had the second-fewest sacks in the NFL.
Through Week 3, the Seahawks blitzed as much as anyone in NFL, which Seattle defenses historically haven’t done much under head coach Pete Carroll. The new level of blitzing was due largely to the presence of new safety Jamal Adams.
Opposing quarterbacks in the first three games were under more pressure than last year, even if the sack numbers don’t show it, but with less men in coverage, Seattle allowed a ton of big, explosive plays, especially Week 3 against the Cowboys.
But against the Dolphins, Adams was out with a groin injury that will keep him sidelined for Week 5 as well and we saw a Seahawks defense that, at least schematically, resembled what we’re accustomed to, as only three or four players rushed the quarterback while seven to eight would drop into coverage. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was sacked just once, but he was the only quarterback the Seahawks have faced who failed to exceed 400 passing yards.
“It’s very likely and certainly possible that those two things are related,” Danny O’Neil of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant said Friday when asked if Seattle allowing big plays early in the year corresponded with the team blitzing more. “Last week they blitzed less and they stayed on top of everything and they only (allowed) two plays of more than 20 yards given up in the game.”
So the defensive gameplan against the Dolphins worked in terms of limiting big plays at the expense of pressuring the quarterback, but in the first three games, quarterbacks faced ore pressure but found players for big gains. What should the plan be going forward? Or, at least, for Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings? Blitz like the team had in the first three weeks or play like they did in Week 4?
“Drop a million guys back and force Kirk Cousins to throw it deep,” Paul Gallant said. “And honestly, I feel like knowing Kirk Cousins, he will check it down to the safest receiver and he’ll have a lot of four-yard gains and five-yard gains and eventually, that’s just not going to (be able to) happen. Eventually he’ll have to throw an inaccurate pass or an interception. I just don’t think that blitzing against him is necessarily going to make things better for you defensively, especially given the issues that you’ve had the first couple of weeks.”
O’Neil said the Seahawks needed to “get that right” when it came to limiting long plays to opposing offenses, and whether or not they blitz more going forward depends on Adams.
“They weren’t going to keep blitzing if it meant giving up bigger plays,” he said. “I wonder, once they get that squared away, if they start becoming more aggressive and that probably relates to Jamal Adams’ presence, right?”
Adams has two sacks in two-and-a-half games for the Seahawks, which leads the team. Former Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu told 710 ESPN Seattle’s Bob, Dave and Moore he thinks the Seahawks should keep blitzing extra players, but specifically, Adams and another defensive star.
“I would keep bringing (Adams) and (linebacker Bobby Wagner),” Tatupu said. “Those are two of the best premier blitzing guys from the second level and from the linebacker position that I’ve ever seen … If you send (Wagner) a couple times a game, something good is going to happen. He’s just one of those players that makes something happen and Jamal, we’ve already seen what he can do when he blitzes.”
O’Neil was a bit conflicted on whether to blitz Adams a bunch going forward, but he thinks we’ll see the more of the typical Seahawks defense of not bringing extra pass rushers.
“It does look like Jamal Adams is one of your best pass rushers,” he said. “He’s also a guy that you want to count on to be part of your coverage. This is not a team that has ever blitzed all that much and let alone blitzed with safeties, which is what he is. So I think that’ll be something that they look at over the course of the season and I don’t necessarily assume it’s going to stay the way it was over the first three games or that they’re striving to get back to that spot.”
O’Neil later added, “If (Adams) blitzing more results in that many more big plays, he’s got to be blitzing less. And I don’t think that’s a condemnation of him … but Seattle’s defense can’t work if it gives up those big plays.”
Listen to the conversation at this link or in the player below at the 24:12 mark.