Plays of the Day: Seattle's Defensive Line

Seahawks.NET
Posted Sep 12, 2007


In the first installment of this weekly postgame analysis, Seahawks.NET’s Kyle Rota analyzes the Seattle Seahawks’ ability to bring the pressure that harried and harassed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into throwing for under 200 yards in Seattle's 20-6 victory.

To even a casual observer, it was obvious that Seattle's defensive front seven did a fantastic job against Tampa Bay's offensive line, notching five sacks and holding Tampa Bay to 194 total yards passing, with no touchdowns. But what was the cause of this stalwart defensive performance? Were the defensive ends, who notched four of Seattle's five sacks, the heroes of this game? Did the defensive tackles - chosen for their pass-rush ability - pull their own weight? Did Seattle use blitzes to keep Tampa's line off-balance? Or did the defensive line simply look good because the secondary covered everybody like a glove? This weeks "Spotlight" attempts to answer those questions.

Ironically, I originally intended this article to be an analysis of Seattle's blitzing tendencies: Had Defensive Coordinator John Marshall learned to involve linebackers LeRoy Hill and Lofa Tatupu in the blitz-scheme, or was Julian Peterson the only blitzing threat? Unfortunately for this question, Seattle blitzed a whopping four times over the course of the game, making it impossible to draw any conclusions from this game. For the record, Seattle was fairly effective blitzing, on three of the four plays Seattle forced an incompletion, but the other play was a big gain for a first down to Ike Hilliard after Seattle sent all three linebackers.

Interesting note as far as blitzing goes: Perhaps in an excess of chivalry, Seattle did not blitz once with the lead - including when inexperienced backup Luke McCown entered the game for the injured Jeff Garcia.

With the blitz being all but abandoned against Tampa Bay, I shifted my focus to the defensive line, who had a great game against the run and the pass. Before I start throwing some numbers around, I should explain how I reached these numbers. Using the miracles of digital video recording, I was able to go back and analyze almost every pass play (no play-action passes, since it is nearly impossible to distinguish between a blitzing linebacker and one who simply fell for the fake) and note things such as who had a "Star Play" (a play that was noteworthy for its' excellence), who was double teamed, what the result of the double team was, along with other more minor information.

Now, as they say, onto the good stuff - the individual performances.

The "Thanks for Winning The Game" Dept.

Patrick Kerney was the newest big-name addition to the Seahawks through free-agency, and he made Seahawks President Tim Ruskell look like a genius after Sunday's performance. He made 5 "Star Plays" to go along with his 1.5 sacks. As a defensive end, he drew only 2 double-teams and had minimal success against them, although on one pass play he was double-teamed for a three-step drop and probably couldn't have reached Garcia even if he was completely unblocked.

As a defensive tackle (where he saw extended time, primarily after Tampa started employing the shotgun formation) he had 1 "Star Play" (where he caused Garcia to throw the ball away while being tackles) before drawing consistent double-teams, against which he struggled. His most important contribution was early in the game when Garcia was flushed from the pocket several times and Kerney kept containment.

Any time you find yourself with two sacks, you did a pretty good job, so take a bow, Mr. Peterson. Unlike Kerney, Peterson's impact was relegated primarily to the two sacks, with only one other "Star Play" as a defensive end. Some of this is due to the Tampa Bay team: short passes requiring only 3-and-5-step drops (a staple in the West Coast Offense Tampa Bay runs) make it harder for defensive ends to beat their man with pure speed, which is Peterson's strength. That Peterson lined up against a very athletic (albeit jumpy) tackle in Luke Petigout did not help Peterson's attempts to provide an "edge rush".

The other name on this list did almost nothing for his personal statistics but had a fantastic game. Were it not for the heroics of Lofa Tatupu against the run, DT Rocky Bernard would have been the runaway choice for the game ball. Not only did he notch seven "Star Plays" (playing limited snaps in the 4th quarter, when Tampa was in pass-mode) but he also beat three of the four double teams he faced, and caused a lot of problems for Tampa Bay RG Davin Joseph, an athletic player himself. Against a veteran quarterback with the ability to scramble, it's even more important to have interior pressure than normal, and Bernard supplied an abundance of interior pressure.

The "Earning Their Paycheck … and Nothing More" Dept.

DT Craig Terrill earned a lot of playing time at the end of the game, and for somebody who was considered a possible training-camp cut, he did a very acceptable job. Due to the extended snaps he saw, he drew a whopping nine double-teams (leading the team) and even managed to beat a couple of them. In typical Terrill fashion, he earned one of his two "Star Plays" in unconventional fashion - knocking down a pass in the 4th quarter. Overall he was fairly boom-or-bust, where he would provide absolutely nothing on several plays.

The "Why'd you Even Suit Up?" Dept.

Ah, the invisible men. Not surprisingly, the team’s only "two technique" tackles - Chuck Darby and Brandon Mebane - both wind up on this list. While Darby was officially credited with .5 of a sack, the quarterback was already being tackled by Bernard before Darby arrived to the ball. The rest of his play was uninspiring, being double teamed five times, with all five resulting in comments such as "owned by the double team" and "taken completely out of play". Brandon Mebane saw very few snaps against the pass – again, not surprisingly - but didn't exactly do much with the snaps he got. He was shown a decent amount of respect, being double teamed twice, but he applied zero pressure on the Quarterback over the course of the game.

I hesitate to place either Darryl Tapp or Bryce Fisher in this category, for they didn't perform poorly at all. Tapp had a couple nice plays, including a deflections, while Fisher only saw so few snaps against the pass (which makes sense in retrospect), it doesn't seem fair to place him in the same category as Chuck Darby, who saw more snaps and was less effective. But this is the category for guys who were pretty much invisible all game, and for the most part these guys fit the description. The most interesting thing Tapp accomplished was causing Tampa to get hit with a penalty (chop-block, of all things) while facing a double team. Fisher had one nice play where he flushed Garcia into Kerney for a sack, but that was about the extent of his contribution to the passing game.

Great Pass Rush, or Great Coverage?

In addition to noting the individual performances of the defensive line, I also noted whether or not the quarterback had ample time to go through his reads. To do this, I focused only on plays where the Quarterback eventually felt pressure - eliminating a lot of statistically useless three step drops. Unfortunately, this provides no winner or loser - of the 16 pass plays where I deemed the QB felt pressure, 8 were attributed to the pass-rush (7 to the line, one to Deon Grant) and 8 I attributed to great coverage that forced the Quarterback to hold onto the ball. It should be noted that the defense would get credit for "coverage" even if the Quarterback scrambled and completed the pass, because I am not attempting to grade the coverage of the defense, just whether the coverage gave the line enough time to pressure the quarterback.

Conclusion


The defensive line played great, especially the ends. One thing that really stood out was how often Garcia was forced to step up in the pocket before making a pass. The other thing that stood out was how often Garcia could step up in the pocket before passing. While Rocky played the game of his life, the rest of the defensive tackle rotation did almost nothing against the pass, oftentimes not even moving the linesman backwards. To give props to the secondary, it would definitely appear that the coverage is much improved over last year, which is benefiting the defensive line.

Kyle Rota writes for Seahawks.NET, and he can frequently be seen on our message boards under the handle “Rotak”. Feel free to e-mail him here.



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