Charlie Todaro

Seattle Seahawks: Defensive Improvements Needed


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 Seattle's loss in Pittsburgh wasn't unexpected.

However, after giving up 421 yards of offense to the Steelers, it's clear the Seahawks' defense is not as strong as they appeared in Week 1.

The Steelers are one of the more dynamic offenses in the league when clicking on all cylinders. Seattle had opportunities to slow down Pittsburgh's attack, they just couldn't convert.

Improving on defense is a must heading into the home-opener, especially if they want the full support of the 12th man.

Tackling Needs to Be Sharper

After Week 1, Pete Carroll acknowledged that there were tackling problems around the NFL, partly because of the lockout.

In Week 2, poor tackling contributed to Seattle's loss

Pittsburgh's backs often found themselves running into the second level. David Hawthorne was underwhelming in his return and minus an early, strong tackle on Mendenhall, was largely a non-factor. Leroy Hill lost containment on a Mendenhall 9-yard run, possibly held on the play and finished with only two tackles.

Seattle needs these two to provide consistency in the middle of the defense

The receivers spent too much time zig-zagging across the field through Seattle defenders. Strong safety Kam Chancellor provided his usual heavy-handed hits, but was too often victim to the Steelers' fleet-footed players when tackling one-on-one.

On the third play of the game, a 3rd-and-2, Emmanuel Sanders juked Chancellor nearly off his feet. On Mendenhall's 2-yard touchdown run the next drive, Chancellor ineffectively hit a spinning Mendenhall at the line.

But the notable gaffe came on the Issac Redman touchdown run (see the video).

On special teams, Seattle gave return man Antonio Brown second and third chances; poor angles to the ball by Seattle tacklers contributed to Brown's success. Seattle was lucky not to have a repeat performance of Week 1's special teams meltdown.

The Steelers won the time of possession battle 38:44 to 21:16, partly because Seattle missed too many tackles on early downs and Pittsburgh went 8 for 15 on third down. The Seahawks need to wrap up and and finish the play; get off the field and give the offense more opportunities to gain a rhythm.

The Cardinals are allowing teams to have the ball for 42 seconds more than the Seahawks, good for second-worst in the league—Seattle is in the bottom five. Something has to give this week, and it's an opportunity for the defense to control the game.

Continued Contributions from Veteran Depth

 

Neither Matt McCoy nor Atari Bigby came into the season with high expectations, but both veterans were bright spots in Pittsburgh, and their play needs to continue.

Even though McCoy had a facemask penalty on a special teams tackle, he showed attitude and intensity a notch higher than in 2010 for the second week in a row.

He was one of the team's surest, most physical tacklers. McCoy was generally near the ball in coverage, seeing time as a nickel linebacker, and his play is an unexpected surprise.

Bigby proved as a Packer that, when healthy, he's a physical, versatile, active defensive back. The sack on Roethlisberger was nothing more than a veteran player taking advantage of a clear path to the quarterback, beating a rookie tackle in a crucial situation.

Bigby's only other tackle came on special teams. Though he didn't see the field much, he was a presence when given the opportunity.

Seattle's depth must continue contributing, even in limited playing time. Seattle will need to make up for their youth with experience—Leroy Hill subbed for Curry in the Nickel package in the second half. Bigby and McCoy are two players who deserve playing until their play declines and/or a rookie can compete for the job.

The Defensive Line Pressured the Passer, but Needs More Help from the Secondary

The Seahawks registered an underwhelming two sacks and three quarterback hits against Pittsburgh, especially in comparison with the Steelers' five sacks and eight quarterback hits—all of the sacks coming in the second half.

However, the numbers don't tell the whole story.

Seattle was able to generate pressure with four down lineman for much of the game. Raheem Brock and Chris Clemons were active on the edge, and the interior line got a much better push than in Week 1—Roethlisberger threw the almost-pick to Aaron Curry because the interior line was bearing down on him.

For much of the game, Seattle's defensive line had Roethlisberger on the move; the problem was Seattle couldn't get Roethlisberger on the ground and finish the play.

Minus the Atari Bigby blitz on the goal line, Seattle was largely ineffective in rushing Roethlisberger with their blitzers.

When Seattle created pressure with four lineman, Roethlisberger showed great pocket awareness and mobility, only being sacked once; when they blitzed, he usually made the right decision and got the ball out quickly.

Seattle's struggles to get Roethlisberger were compounded by the fact that the secondary provided little help for the majority of the game.

I highlighted Brandon Browner's struggles in the postgame recap. Seattle's secondary was out of position too often; Earl Thomas got caught cheating on a few occasions, but man he's fast. Roethlisberger had plenty of windows to throw in to, en route to completing 73 percent of his passes.

Simply put, the defense needs to be more effective pressuring the quarterback, and coordinator Gus Bradley needs to incorporate more creativity with blitz packages.

Furthermore, the defense needs to capitalize on chaos when the play breaks down, instead of allowing the opposing offense to find open space and move the football.

"4th Down, Goal Line Stand" Personnel Package Is Solid and Can Be Expanded

Seattle has found a personnel grouping that works on the goal line; Clinton McDonald joined the starting front four linemen, Matt McCoy replaced Aaron Curry—playing at middle linebacker, David Hawthorne on the outside—and Seattle used three safeties, Atari Bigby joining the starting two.

The Steelers ran four plays inside the 10-yard line on the opening drive. Their only positive yards came on a Ben Roethlisberger third-down scramble.

For the second week in a row, the defense came out with aggression and showed a backbone in the red zone. McDonald, Bigby and McCoy all contributed. McDonald clogged the hole, McCoy led the charge on first down and Bigby blitzed off the edge for a sack on second down.

Seattle played nickel on third down from the 8-yard line and went back to the goal line package for fourth down, when Earl Thomas went in motion with the tight end pre-snap, in front of the linebackers, and darted through the line of scrimmage to make the stop on Rashard Mendenhall. The linemen clogged the middle and sent the play in the direction of a slashing Thomas; it was a team effort.

The point here: Seattle's combination of size up front and experience in the linebacking corps allows the Seahawks to accentuate Thomas' speed in short-yardage. This group looks comfortable on the field together.

Seattle needs to stick with this group in goal line situations and experiment with variations in short-yardage situations. On Mendenhall's rushing touchdown later in the quarter (2nd-and-goal from the two), Seattle was in base defense with McCoy in for Hawthorne—Issac Redman's 20-yard run came against the nickel package.

A five-lineman, two-linebacker formation in more than just goal line situations could provide strength on the line of scrimmage and protection against the pass. Seattle needs to accentuate their goal line package and keep them on the field inside the red zone.

Create Turnovers

Pete Carroll preaches, "It's all about the ball," in terms of protecting the ball on offense, but also regarding creating opportunities on defense.

The Seahawks have forced zero turnovers and caused only one fumble through two games.

There isn't much to this; with the offense sputtering, the defense needs to give the offense opportunities.

While sound tackling is a start, getting unexpected possessions is key.

Pete Carroll acknowledged in his postgame press conference that he needs to do more, and the coaching staff needs help the players.

A crucial first step: more emphasis should be placed on getting the ball on defense.

Carroll won 53 straight games at USC when his team won the turnover battle; turnover margin is key for his football philosophy to be successful.

Regardless of the struggles on offense, the defense needs to step up and create opportunities, get hands up in passing lanes, knock at the ball when tackling—simply be more disruptive on defense.

This coaching staff needs to reemphasize the defensive formula in preparation for Week 3. After a 2010 performance in which Seattle forced five turnovers versus Arizona at home, forcing no turnovers this weekend is a recipe for an 0-3 start.

Charlie Todaro appears via Bleacher Report as a Featured Columinist

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