John Clayton: Times are changing, and so is Seahawks’ Legion of Boom
The Legion of Boom is undergoing a strategic upgrade.
Since Pete Carroll put together one of the best secondaries of this era, the Seahawks’ defensive scheme has been pretty basic. It’s Cover One, Cover Three, incompletion or interception. Execution topped creativity. The formula has been successful.
But times change. Opposing teams have had four years to attack the Seahawks’ defense. Though it remains one of the best in football, top quarterbacks have had some success. Opponents’ QBR numbers against Seattle have risen from 28.3 in 2013 to 44.2 in 2014 to 55.3 last year.
Fortunately, defensive coordinator Kris Richard is ready for a response. The Seahawks are building more complexities into their defense. Cover One and Cover Three are still the heart of this scheme, but this year, the Seahawks will implement more matchups against varied formations.
“We are recognizing how teams were putting their packages together for us,” Richard said. “Teams have come in and changed things up for us.”
Tom Brady and the Patriots come to mind the most when discussing how to attack the Seahawks’ defense. Brady is a master of working the middle of the field, throwing to tight ends or receivers in crossing routes.
“I believe the biggest thing teams were doing was maintaining control of the football,” Richard said. “The Patriots were trying to preserve as much time with the ball in their hands.”
Opposing quarterbacks were getting away from attacking the Seahawks with deep passes. Smart thought. Throw a fade on Richard Sherman and he may have a better chance of catching the ball than the intended receiver. What happened was more teams tried getting tight ends or pass-catchers in what they thought would be small holes in the defense.
Tight ends, for example, caught 71.4 percent (75 of 104) of passes against the Seahawks, the 10th-highest percentage in the league. The best way to stop that is to make adjustments.
Richard’s first mission is getting defenders to pay more attention to recognizing formations and situations. That plays to the team’s strength. Seahawks defenders are students of the game. Sherman watches hours of tape daily. Earl Thomas reacts to formations and quarterback tendencies better than any safety in the league.
What Richard plans to implement is more matchups against specific formations. The Seahawks had particular problems covering tight ends. One solution was trying Brandon Browner in a hybrid safety-linebacker position. After losing Bruce Irvin to Oakland in free agency, the Seahawks needed to be creative.
“Bruce is 6-3, 260 pounds and ran a 4.42,” Richard said. “But the one thing we have is awesome competition. We have guys who are tall, have the arm length and they all have speed. We have options who we place over there (at strong-side linebacker).”
Browner can match up against big pass-catching tight ends or big receivers in the slot. Kevin Pierre-Louis could still be an option. They can go anywhere from Cassius Marsh to Michael Morgan to Eric Pinkins, a former safety turned linebacker.
The key plan is to match up against offensive skilled players and their formations.
“You try to match up against the hybrid tight ends,” Richard said. “They really are wide receivers and big bodies and they are featured. If you put a corner out there, the corner might be small. If you put a linebacker out there, they may be too slow.”
Richard knows there is no need to panic. He has one of the most talented defensive group in football, and some of the young additions are making this one of the deepest defenses in football. Not going to the Super Bowl last season was looked at as a missed opportunity.
“Last year was a humbling experience because of the missed opportunities,” Richard said.
His defense has returned with more focus and intensity on the practice field.