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Gallant: Why Seahawks should embrace the blitzing that beat SF

The Seahawks amped up their blitzing Sunday, and Bobby Wagner had two sacks. (AP)

“What are you prepared to do?”

It’s a question from one of my favorite Sean Connery movies, “The Untouchables.” The late Connery, playing Chicago Police officer Jimmy Malone, asks Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness just how far he’s willing to go to take down Robert DeNiro’s Al Capone.

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Ness gives Malone a by-the-book answer, replying, “Everything within the law.” To a cynical Malone, that’s a mistake. “The Chicago Way” – going beyond the law and fighting in a way that gets your hands dirty, even bloody – is the only way to stop Capone.

Pete Carroll’s Seahawks defense preaches the idea of “staying on top.” Playing it safe. Against Dallas, we saw how disastrous things can get when they fail to do that.

But if the Seahawks’ defense is going to WIN them games? It’ll sometimes need to break that “stay on top” law. It may need get aggressive, and maybe dirty along the way. To do something it’s traditionally been uncomfortable doing.

To blitz.

Seattle’s pass rush has been largely nonexistent the past two seasons, but that sure changed on Sunday. The Seahawks pressured the two 49ers quarterbacks on 38% of their drop backs, the most for a Seattle team since Oct. 14, 2018 against the Raiders. And they did it by blitzing an obscene amount. Seattle sent at least one extra pass rusher on 51% of San Francisco’s drop backs, over double this season’s 24%, and their highest rate since 2010. The result? Arguably the Seahawks’ best defensive performance of 2020.

From the sound of things, that blitzing will continue.

“With Jamal (Adams) coming back next week, it’s going to happen some more,” said Pete Carroll at his postgame press conference. “You’ll see that happen as we enter him back in.”

He hinted at more blitzing with us on Monday’s Pete Carroll Show.

“It’s just playing to the nature of our crew,” Carroll said. “They want to play aggressive. They want to be aggressive. We started off the season that way. And then we drifted away from it a little because of personnel.”

But can you win by dramatically changing your defensive philosophy midseason? Especially when shifting to a style that leaves you so susceptible to big plays? And if you keep gambling by sending extra rushers, won’t the house eventually win?

Thanks to Football Outsiders, we can take a look at blitz and pressure rates over the last three years. How successful were each season’s top 10 blitz-happy teams?

2019 Blitz % Pressure % Pts allowed Pts scored W/L
1. Ravens 48% 51% (3) 282 (3) 531 (1) 14-2
2. Buccaneers 40% 39% (25) 449 (29) 458 (T3) 7-9
3. Cardinals 39% 42% (19) 442 (28) 361 (16) 5-10-1
4. Browns 35% 45% (12) 393 (20) 335 (22) 6-10
5. Steelers 34% 45% (11) 303 (6) 289 (27) 8-8
6. Bengals 32% 44% (16) 420 (25) 279 (30) 2-14
7. Jets 31% 39% (24) 359 (16) 276 (31) 7-9
8. Patriots 30% 49% (7) 225 (1) 420 (7) 12-4
9. Saints 29% 55% (2) 341 (13) 458 (3) 13-3
10. Dolphins 28% 30% (32) 494 (32) 306 (25) 5-11

 

2018 Blitz % Pressure % Pts Allowed Pts scored W/L
1. Ravens 39% 41.9% (20) 283 (1) 389 (13) 10-6
2. Browns 37.2% 39.6% (24) 392 (21) 359 (20) 7-8-1
3. Cardinals 35% 45.2% (15) 425 (26) 225 (32) 3-13
4. Steelers 34.8% 42.1% (18) 360 (17) 428 (7) 9-6-1
5. Broncos 34.8% 36.5% (31) 349 (13) 329 (24) 6-10
6. Panthers 32.4% 47.1% (13) 382 (19) 374 (15) 7-9
7. Jets 29.4% 37.2% (30) 441 (29) 333 (23) 4-12
8. Packers 28.1% 52.2% (4) 400 (22) 376 (14) 6-9-1
9. Patriots 28.5% 42% (19) 325 (7) 436 (4) 11-5
10. Vikings 27.6% 52.4% (3) 341 (9) 360 (19) 8-7-1

 

2017 Blitz % Pressure % Pts allowed Pts scored W/L
1. Panthers 42.7% 44.1% (16) 327 (11) 363 (12) 11-5
2. Browns 38% 45.5% (14) 410 (31) 234 (32) 0-16
3. Saints 37.9% 45.8% (11) 326 (10) 448 (4) 11-5
4. Broncos 36.1% 47.1% (9) 382 (23) 289 (27) 5-11
5. Jets 35% 42.6% (18) 382 (22) 298 (24) 5-11
6. Rams 34% 39.6% (23) 329 (12) 478 (1) 11-5
7. Packers 33.2% 39.5% (24) 384 (26) 320 (21) 7-9
8. Texans 33% 34.1% (29) 436 (32) 338 (17) 4-12
9. Cardinals 32.4% 41.8% (22) 361 (19) 295 (25) 8-8
10. Titans 32% 42.5% (20) 356 (17) 334 (19) 9-7

 

I had a hard time finding a pattern through all of those numbers. There’s no correlation between blitz rate and pressure rate, nor between pressure rate and points allowed.

“Congrats on your cute little excel spread sheet PAWL, but you only wasted your time… and mine!”

But then something jumped out to me, and it made so much sense. Blitz-happy teams that scored the most points had the best regular season records:

• 2019 Ravens: 14-2 with the No. 1 blitz rate and No. 1 scoring offense
• 2019 Patriots: 12-4 with the eighth highest blitz rate and seventh highest scoring offense
• 2019 Saints: 13-3 with the ninth highest blitz rate and third highest scoring offense
• 2018 Patriots: 11-5 (and Super Bowl champs) with the ninth highest blitz rate and fourth highest scoring offense
• 2017 Rams: 11-5 with the sixth highest blitz rate and No. 1 scoring offense
• 2017 Saints: 11-5 with the third highest blitz rate and fourth highest scoring offense

And why wouldn’t they? When you have an elite offense, you’ve got complete confidence in your ability to outscore the opposition. So, if you’ve got a middle of the road defense, why not force the other team into an uncomfortable, pressure-heavy, possibly painful shootout by sending the house over and over?

The Seahawks might have the league’s best offense. They just scored 37 points in a game with no running backs. And while their defense has issues getting after the quarterback with a four-man rush, we saw just how dangerous it can be when they unleashed Bobby Wagner and newcomer D.J. Reed on the quarterback.

Sitting back leaves you open to a dink-and-dunk death by a thousand knife wounds. So to quote our departed friend Sean, don’t “bring a knife to a gun fight.” Let that defense loose.

RIP Sean Connery.

Follow Paul Gallant on Twitter.

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