Thursday, July 23, 2009

4-3 and 3-4 Defenses, Part Four

by: Matthew Heuett

Linebackers in the 3-4

Just as the 4-3’s keys to success were the savvy of its middle linebacker and the production of its defensive ends, the 3-4 relies heavily on the endurance and immovability of its nose tackle and even more on the play of its linebackers. After all, if you’re going to yank out a D-lineman to bulk up your linebacking corps, then those linebackers had better be doing some pretty special things for you.

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The 3-4 uses two types of linebackers: inside linebackers and outside linebackers. The outside linebackers carry the same names as the two outside linebackers in the 4-3, Sam (for the LB on the strong side) and Will (for the one on the weak side), but that’s about the only thing they have in common. While 4-3 OLBs blitz only occasionally, 3-4 OLBs are the defense’s main pass rushers. One or both OLBs will rush on every down from the 5-tech (the Sam will blitz occasionally from the 7-tech as well), although sometimes they will disguise their intentions by lining up a few yards off the line of scrimmage and blitzing from there or by lining up in the 5-tech and dropping into coverage instead of blitzing.

Players who excel as 3-4 linebackers are typically what pro scouts would call “tweeners”-- a bit too small to be a 4-3 defensive end, but a bit too big to be a 4-3 outside linebacker, either. This gives them enough size to shed blockers en route to the quarterback (the Sam tends to be slightly bigger than the Will, since he has to deal with the tight end more often), but not so much that they aren’t maneuverable enough to be effective in coverage. Before the 3-4 became popular, most tweeners had a better chance of being struck by lightning than being drafted by an NFL team, which brings us to one of the hidden benefits of running a 3-4: with fewer teams competing for the players you need, it’s easier and cheaper to fill your roster with highly talented players than it is for 4-3 teams. This benefit been mitigated somewhat in recent years, now that roughly a third of the NFL runs a 3-4 base defense (and several more teams running a hybrid 3-4/4-3), but the difference is still great enough to matter come free agency and draft day.

As you might expect, Seattle doesn’t have many tweeners on its roster. Curry, whose pass-rushing skills prompted this article in the first place, is on the light end of the scale at 255 lbs (the sweet spot for tweeners is roughly 255-265 lbs), but he could still conceivably do the job. However, who would work as Seattle’s second 3-4 outside linebacker? The next heaviest linebacker is Tatupu at 242 lbs, and the best proven pass-rushing LB on the team, Hill, is even lighter at 238 lbs. When players are asked to blitz a handful of times a game, being a bit light isn’t much of an issue, but the more times they’re asked to rush the passer, the bigger a problem it becomes. The team would likely have better luck using one of its defensive ends for the position. Atkins (268 lbs), Tapp (270 lbs), Jackson (271 lbs), and Kerney (272 lbs) are heavier than ideal, but one of them could do the job if his pass coverage skills were adequate for the task, and if the team would only be using a 3-4 front a few times a game, they might not have to play in coverage at all. One of the other DEs, Brandon Miller, is exactly the right size at 259 lbs, but since he’s a long shot to make the team he isn’t a likely candidate for the job.

The inside linebackers come in two flavors: the Mike, who lines up closer to the weak side, and the Ted, who lines up closer to the strong side. These names are a bit less definite than other position designations (some 3-4 teams reverse the names, some leave the names alone but reverse the job responsibilities, some call them something else entirely like Jack or Buck or late to dinner) but in general the Ted linebacker is the one that’s most like the Mike in the 4-3. The Ted tends to be the least athletic of the four, so he isn’t a game-breaker, but he is a sure tackler, a big hitter, and a smart leader. It’s the Ted who handles the defensive audibles. By contrast, the Mike is one of the best athletes on the team -- he can stop running backs cold, he gets to the passer when he blitzes, and he’s effective in coverage. Together, the two of them make the middle of the field a scary, painful place to be for the offense.

Tatupu’s intelligence and instincts would serve him just as well at the Ted position as they do at the 4-3 Mike, but the 3-4 Mike is a harder fit. Hill is arguably the best pure athlete of all the linebackers on the team (although he might now have to hand that crown over to Curry), but while he’s great at stopping the run and rushing the passer, his coverage skills have always been a liability. The other linebackers aren’t much better choices; D.D. Lewis is good in coverage and run support, but he isn’t much of a pass-rusher, and most of the others are either one-dimensional or simply haven’t played enough for us to know how well-rounded they are. Tatupu and Curry are likely the two best fits for the Mike position, but they can’t play two positions at once -- if one of them steps in as the Mike, then who would take over for them at the Ted or Will positions?

And that right there highlights the main reason I don’t think we’ll be seeing the Seahawks utilizing a 3-4 package. If one position were only a partial fit at best I could see it being viable, but when you have question marks at not just the Mike position but also in the two most important positions in the 3-4, outside linebacker and nose tackle, then you have to seriously question the usefulness of spending precious time in training camp working on a defensive package you know will be hamstrung at best and completely broken at worst.

3-4 Strengths and Weaknesses

The lifeblood of the 3-4 is its unpredictability. On passing downs, the pass rush could be coming from the Sam, Will, and/or Mike position, and the offensive line should be so busy dealing with the those three big D-linemen that the offense will have to hold back a tight end and/or a running back to use as blockers, which means the remaining three or four eligible receivers have to contend with anywhere between five and seven defenders. On running downs, the D-linemen and their two-gap assignments make running between the tackles dicey, and the four linebackers are ready and waiting to flow in whatever direction the run is designed to go in order to take the running back down for zero or negative yards.

In practice, however, the 3-4 didn’t work quite that perfectly. While its highly mobile four linebacker scheme was effective against the run, especially against faster, more athletic backs that 4-3 defenses and its four slow defensive linemen typically struggled to contain, over time offenses began to counter with more creative blocking schemes designed to free up offensive linemen to use on the linebackers at the second level.

3-4 defenses also began to struggle against another new offensive trend. Through the late ’80s and early ’90s, teams began to shed the slower play-action oriented passing game for much speedier variants of the West Coast Offense. Against the WCO’s short drops and quick passes, 3-4 teams found that three defensive linemen simply weren’t enough to reliably collapse the pocket. This allowed the quarterback to avoid the pass rush from the outside linebackers for a few extra seconds by stepping up into the pocket, and that was all the time the QB needed to get the pass off. Unpredictable blitzes don’t matter much when none of them can get to the passer in time.

And that’s why, despite the success of the 3-4 in the ’70s and ’80s, only a handful of teams were still running it by the mid-’90s. It may be more difficult to find and keep top-level talent to run the 4-3 front, but even with average linemen it still proved better at collapsing the pocket than the 3-4.

NFL Defenses Today
How the 3-4 Got Its Groove Back

So then, if the 3-4 was game-planned into obsolescence, why are so many current teams using it as their base defense today? Well, there are two answers to that question, and the first one is named Dick LeBeau. Most of you know and revile LeBeau as the current defensive coordinator of the Steelers, but back in the late ’80s he was the defensive coordinator for the Bengals, where he was dealing with the same mounting problems as every other 3-4 DC in the league. But rather than transition over to a 4-3 front, his solution was to make the 3-4 even more unpredictable--why let the linebackers have all the fun? Why not let the safeties and cornerbacks blitz? And while we’re at it, why not really screw with the o-linemen by taking that defensive end they were getting ready to block and drop him back into coverage? And just like that, the zone blitz was born. Lebeau’s imaginative defensive schemes helped the Bengals get to the Super Bowl in ’88, but many people ignored his innovations when Cincinnati failed to stop San Francisco’s last minute drive for the win.

One of the guys who did pay attention is the second reason why the 3-4 has made a comeback in recent years, and his name is Bill Belicheck. As defensive coordinator for the Giants from ’85 to ’90, his 3-4 schemes helped New York win two Super Bowls and earned him a head coaching position in Cleveland where, for personnel reasons, he chose to run a 4-3 defense instead. However, when he took charge of the Patriots in ’00, he wasted no time in installing a 3-4 defense filled to the brim with zone blitzes.

Five Super Bowl rings later -- three for Belicheck and two for LeBeau (yes, I remember ’05, and no, I don’t want to rehash that here) -- it’s hard to argue that the addition of zone blitzes has failed to make the 3-4 relevant and competitive again. And for 4-3 teams like the Seahawks that’s a good thing, because the more teams switch over to 3-4, the easier it will be for Seattle to land the next Patrick Kerney.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

If there is downtime...

by: Chris Sullivan

Hey all, switched the nameservers, site should switch at anytime... if there is downtime, check us out here --, I'll update if anything goes wrong or delete this when it goes right, haha. FINGERS CROSSED!

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O. Schmitt Pleads Guilty to Reckless Driving

by: Mike Parker

Owen Schmitt can breathe a sigh of relief today after pleading guilty to a reduced charge of reckless driving, stemming from a June 25 arrest on suspicion of DUI.

Schmitt was sentenced to 365 days in jail, but 364 of those days were suspended. The remaining one day in jail was converted to 24 hours of community service, and Schmitt will pay $2,130 in fines, fees and costs. He'll also serve two years of probation.

On the night of the arrest, the fullback known as "The Runaway Beer Truck" allegedly blew a 0.151 and a 0.161 after his Jeep was seen swerving and tailgating in Black Diamond, WA. Danny O'Neil reports that per Schmitt's lawyer, Diego Vargas, there were "issues with the accuracy and admissibility" of the Breathalyzer results. (In other words, it was either the worst equipment in the history of breath-test equipment, or this guy is the reincarnation of Johnnie Cochran.)

Either way, Schmitt got off easy on this one. I hope the league won't be too harsh on him, but at least Goodell has been distracted lately with a more high-profile player's eligibility for reinstatement. (No, I'm not going to mention it here because I honestly think I might set myself on fire and run into traffic if I have to hear another update on either Vick or BrutFarr again.)

Hopefully, Schmitt learns from this experience and realizes that even professional athletes are mortal. With the signing of Justin Griffith and the installation of a new system, I hope Schmitt will begin to shift his focus from stupidity and back onto football. His role in this offense remains to be seen, and this incident doesn't help his stock.

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Coutu working out with a legend

by: Chris Sullivan

Word from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (one of the best remaining newspapers around) is that Seahawks kicker and eyebrow model Brandon Coutu has been working outwith former Atlanta Falcons kicker, and NFL all-time scoring leader, Morten Andersen. Coutu, a University of Georgia alum, was arguably the best placekicker coming out in the 2008 draft, but eventually lost the starting job to Olindo Mare. In order for Coutu to see any playing time this year, it is clear that he going to need to step up his game a bit, and that is where Andersen comes in, saying:

“With all due respect to special-teams coaches, they are schematic. They are great at scheming. Not a lot of them are really good at teaching the art of kicking and what it takes. There are a lot of misconceptions and misnomers about what it takes to be a kicker. It’s very detail-oriented. It’s a high-performance business. A lot is demanded of the position.”

While Andersen ran Coutu through a number of field goal drills and gametime situations, the focus inevitably turned to kickoffs, the determining factor in 2008.
“Kickoffs are the thing right now for him,” Andersen said. “We’re trying to get more power through the kickoff, better hang time and better distance. His ball-striking on his field goals is exceptional, but in order to be a complete NFL kicker you have to both of those skill-sets. The field-goal skill-set I’m pretty confident with, and I’m adding some of the mental specific things, putting him in tough situations.

You might recall that Coutu's only knock last year was his kickoffs. It is fantastic that they are working hard on improving that skill-set. As bad as our defense was last year, Mare did everything he could to help them with field position, getting 31% of all kickoffs into the endzone -- that's in the top 5, as it usually is for him. In a league where field goal percentage is essentially random year-to-year (Mare was top 5 in 2006, worst in the league in 2007, top 5 or so in 2008), kickoffs are where a kicker can truly prove himself and earn his keep. Looking forward to seeing Coutu and his caterpillars come August 3!

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4-3 and 3-4 Defenses, Part Three

by: Matthew Heuett

4-3 Strengths and Weaknesses

To recap, the 4-3 wins by putting more players back in pass protection than older schemes without becoming weaker against the run, and then augmenting the effectiveness of its pass coverage by putting pressure on the passer by collapsing the pocket with the nose guard while the 3-tech, both defensive ends, and the occasional blitzing linebacker rush the quarterback. Having a middle linebacker who can alter the defensive scheme on the fly to better counteract the offense’s plays doesn’t hurt, either.

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However, the success of the 4-3 depends on the pass rush to such an extent that (as we all saw last year) the rest of the defense tends to fall apart if the pressure isn’t getting to the quarterback, and that pressure depends most of all on the defensive ends. Which leads us to the scheme’s main drawback: good 4-3 defensive ends are rarer than red emeralds. There are a lot of teams out there trying to run a 4-3 but there aren’t enough Jason Taylors and Jared Allens to go around, which means that several of those 4-3 teams are trying to make it work with inferior talent manning one of the scheme’s key positions.

For me at least, that bit of information really puts Kerney’s value to the team in perspective. Yes, the guy’s been hurt a lot lately and is on the downward slope of his career, but he also has the ninth most sacks of all active players in the league. What other defensive end on the team is going to replace that level of production? Even if he’s only seventy or eighty percent of the player he once was, he’s still an upgrade over all of Seattle’s other options.

More importantly, if Kerney and his production at DE is lost for the season again, will it matter if the offense and the rest of the defense is better than its 2008 incarnation? Who will replace him after he’s used up the last few seasons left in his tank? There’s no guarantee that another pass-rushing prodigy will show up in the draft or free agency anytime soon, and even if they do, there’s no guarantee that Seattle will be in a position to draft or sign that player.

I’m not saying these things to rain on everyone’s parade -- far from it, actually. I’m just trying to emphasize the main drawback of running a 4-3 defense: a great deal of your team’s defensive success rests in your ability to sign and hold on to a particularly rare and highly sought-after type of player. For that matter, above average 3-techs and nose guards can command pretty high salaries, too (Haynesworth, anyone?). As Wade Phillips put it during an interview conducted during the NFL league meetings back in ’07,
It’s harder to find defensive linemen to play a 4-3 and pay for all of them. In this day and age where salary cap is so important, D-linemen are the highest-paid guys and to get the guys we had in Philadelphia with Reggie White and Jerome Brown and Clyde Simmons, there’s no way you could keep those guys.
Without prime talent on the defensive line, 4-3 teams are forced to augment their pass rush by blitzing linebackers on nearly every down (sound like the ’08 season of any team you know?). This means 5-6 players are being committed to the pass rush, leaving only 5-6 guys in the defensive backfield where there should be seven. No matter how you try to shift coverage to compensate, there will be more opportunities for the offense to exploit, whether through passes to zones the remaining personnel can’t cover effectively, or through draw plays that allow the running back to slide right on by those blitzers into a field that now has fewer tacklers to evade.

So, now that we’ve gotten an idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the 4-3 (and how well Seattle can field the scheme with its current roster), let’s take a look at the other main base defense in the NFL.

The 3-4 Defense

The 3-4 defensive scheme is actually a bit older than the 4-3, having been developed in the 40s by college football hall of fame coach Bud Wilkinson, but it didn’t migrate over to the NFL until the '60s. Once there, it was used by some of the best teams of the era, including the ’72 and ’73 Dolphins under defensive coordinator Bill Arnsparger and the ’69 Chiefs under head coach Hank Stram, but only as a changeup -- each still used the 4-3 as their base defense.

The guy that changed the perception of the 3-4 in the NFL was Chuck Fairbanks, head coach of the Patriots from ’73 to ’78. Using the 3-4 as the team’s base defense, Fairbanks took the Patriots from a perennial sub-.500 team to playoff appearances in ’76 and ’78. Other coaches took notice, and the 3-4 became the base defense of some of the best defenses in the NFL, including the Broncos’ Orange Crush defense of the late ‘70s and the Giants’ Big Blue defense that helped the team win Super Bowls in ’86 and ’90.

As we’ve seen so far, new football defenses were developed largely by pulling more defensive linemen off the line to add players to the defensive backfield, and the 3-4 is no different. It just takes the process one step farther than the 4-3:

In terms of numbers, the difference isn’t that great: three d-linemen and four linebackers for the 3-4 versus four linemen and three linebackers for the 4-3. However, in terms of how the defense operates, that shift of a single player changes things completely for the front seven (the only significant change for the defensive backs is an emphasis on more physical play, so 3-4 cornerbacks are more likely to jam receivers at the line).

Defensive Linemen in the 3-4

Now that the d-line is outnumbered five to three, their priorities have to change -- they simply don’t have enough bodies to pull off any of that one-gap, pressure-and-disruption business that is the heart and soul of the 4-3. Instead, the 3-4 defensive linemen focus on two things: occupying offensive linemen, and keeping an eye on two gaps at once. The nose tackle (basically a specialized name for a nose guard when he plays in a 3-4) lines up directly in front of the center in the 0-tech and watches both A gaps, while the two defensive ends line up nose-to-nose with the tackles (although depending on the play the DEs may line up in the 4-tech or 3-tech instead) and are responsible for the B and C gaps. The job takes bigger, heavier players who can handle plenty of double and triple teams without budging. The ideal nose tackle is close to 350 lbs (although most weigh quite a bit less -- the college ranks don’t produce many true 3-4 NTs), while the defensive ends (some teams prefer to call them defensive tackles instead of ends) weigh somewhere around 300 lbs.

3-4 defensive ends are much easier to find than their 4-3 counterparts, and indeed any of the defensive tackles on Seattle’s roster (especially the 3-techs) would probably do reasonably well manning the position. Nose tackle is a more difficult position to fill, plus it’s notorious for being one of the most physically intense and demanding jobs in football. However, if the Seahawks were only planning on running it a few times a game, the extra strain would be minimal. In any event, there are two players on the roster who might work: Brandon Mebane, who’s done an outstanding job at nose guard the past few seasons, and Colin Cole, whom the Packers tried their best to re-sign so they could plug him in as a nose tackle in their new 3-4 scheme. Red Bryant is a third possibility at nose tackle, depending on how well he does as a 4-3 nose guard.

Being a 3-4 d-lineman is not glamorous. They don’t get to make many tackles, and sacks are even rarer; players like Cortez Kennedy, who managed plenty of sacks from the nose tackle position, don’t come around very often. On top of that, if something goes awry in the 3-4, most of the time it’s because one of the three d-linemen missed a gap or let one of the o-linemen get loose. Still, it’s their hard work and sacrifice in the trenches that makes the linebackers’ jobs possible.

Tomorrow in part four we’ll take a look at how linebackers are used in the 3-4, examine the strengths and weaknesses of the 3-4 scheme, and finish off with a look at how and why the 4-3 and 3-4 are able to coexist in the modern NFL.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

An Announcement...

by: Chris Sullivan

Hey there faithful Addicts,

Just wanted to let you know that we've got some big news to share with you: over the past month or two I have been working on some big changes to the site. Sometime in the next 48 hours (I'm leaning towards next 15 hours, but I've got a fair amount to finish up), Seahawk Addicts will have a new look and feel. While I'm very tempted to give a sneak preview, I think that the best thing would be to hold off until the new site officially launches either tomorrow or Thursday morning.

The site will look better and more professional, but it won't do so at the expense of the usability or underlying performance of the site. (For those who have been wondering why we've been posting a little less frequently lately, it's because I've been dedicating about 2-4 hours a day to this project for the last month or so.)

There will be a fuller explanation upon launch of the site, but I hope you guys are excited for it. Also, you should add us on Facebook if you haven't already done so, as those guys got advance warning of the launch... you know you want to be on the inside track too!

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Seahawks + Gambling = Addiction Surplus

by: Chris Sullivan

The Washington State Lottery will make an announcement today revealing the nation's first "professional football scratch ticket," Seahawks Winning Play Scratch. The tickets are expected to be available immediately. Top prize is $50,000, and other prizes include a "dream trip," all expenses paid to Miami for the Super Bowl. Eric Williams has the scoop:

The Seahawks already had a business partnership with the state lottery in place, allowing the state agency to advertise at venues like West Field, so the deal is seen as the next step in the partnership between the two sides, said league spokesman Brian McCarthy.

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First Year Coaches - Singletary

by: Chris Sullivan

Michael Lombardi over at the National Football Post has a nice write-up on first year coaches, focusing his aim on Mike Singletary. Now, if you've been reading for awhile you know that I love Singletary; I think his pants-dropping Vernon-kick-off-fielding hijinx are exactly what the undisciplined 49ers needed last year. Singletary was an incredible player with an incredible sense of what football is and should be, play in and play out. At one point, I advocated for the firing of Nolan and his replacement with... Mike Martz. Then I was hoping Singletary would be pissed and take our Defensive Coordinator job. Well, that didn't happen, and I'm happy with Gus Bradley, but it does shed some light on my thoughts about Singletary.

Lombardi discusses one of the problems with Superstar athletes: they make crappy coaches. In general, most superstars are intrinsically blessed, he argues, and the amazing things they do don't come through hard work -- though they do work hard of course. They come from talent. And when another player doesn't have that talent, they can get impatient with them, 'Why can't you catch the flippin' ball!?" So what about Singletary? Lombardi:

Mike had a superstar career, but his drive and his work habits were that of a plodder. Singletary made himself a great player through his preparation, his work habits and his determination -- the same qualities that are needed to make a successful head coach.

The bulk of the article continues discussing the surprises that come and the adjustments that are needed, and so forth. It's actually a very interesting article, and continues to go back to Singletary to show the examples. Gotta love literary devices! Here's some more to take you into the sunset:
Since Singletary does not call plays on either side of the ball, he must understand both sides of the ball in terms of game planning. He must know the personnel on each side of the ball, its strengths and weaknesses, without having to glance down at the depth chart. (This is a pet peeve of mine. When I watched pregame warm ups, I would always look to see if the opposing GM or personnel director had a flip card for the game in his hands. If he did, I knew he hadn’t watched much tape on our team; if he had, there would be no need for him to carry a depth chart. The numbers on the backs of players’ jerseys would have been all he needed.)

What do you guys think Mora's biggest challenge will be this year?

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4-3 and 3-4 Defenses, Part Two

by: Matthew Heuett

Defensive Ends in the 4-3

The defensive ends both line up in similar positions (on the outside shoulders of the tackles in the 5-tech), and both are primarily pass-rushing positions, but not many people know that the two DE positions require somewhat different players. But before we get to that, it helps to keep in mind that the right defensive end lines up across from the left tackle, while the left defensive end lines up across from the right tackle. A bit confusing, I know, but those left and right labels depend largely on whether you’re looking at things in the same direction as the offense or the defense.

The right defensive end, lining up as he does on the weak side, gets a steady diet of one-on-one matchups. Unfortunately for him, those matchups come against the left tackle, who is typically the best offensive lineman on the team since he has to protect the quarterback’s blindside. To compensate, the right DE is generally the fastest player on the d-line, combining a quick first step with enough moves and savvy to get around the left tackle to pressure or sack the quarterback.

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Daryl Tapp is fast and athletic enough to be a good right DE in the 4-3, but he tends to run hot and cold. If he’s going to earn the starting job then he needs to produce on a more consistent basis. Lawrence Jackson will be his main competition for starting right DE, but he too needs to step up his production, as the measly two sacks he managed in his fourteen starts in ’08 just isn’t going to cut it (in his defense, ’08 was his rookie season, and DEs don’t typically put up big numbers their first year in the league). In a recent article by Clare Farnsworth for, the other d-linemen listed for the right DE position are Nick Reed, who seems to be fast enough for the job, but very light at 247 lbs (4-3 DEs are typically 260-290 lbs), and Cory Redding, who seems like an odd choice for the speed-intensive position. Granted, Redding did start his NFL career as a 4-3 DE for the Lions, but that was at left defensive end, not right. Who knows, perhaps it’s just a typo on Farnsworth’s part, or maybe the Seahawks’ coaches know something about Redding that we don’t -- we’ll just have to wait and see how things shake out in training camp.

The left defensive end lines up on the strong side, so he needs to be a bit bigger and stouter than the right defensive end. Even so, the left defensive end almost always registers far more sacks than the faster, more explosive right defensive end. Seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? I’d explain, but John Morgan over at Field Gulls beat me to it with a post he wrote last year on the same subject:
Traditionally, the left defensive end is the stouter, less pass rush-oriented compliment to the explosive right defensive end. Despite that, left defensive ends like Patrick Kerney, Julius Peppers, Jared Allen and Aaron Kampman are consistently among the top sack producers in the NFL. Some of that might be a simple, meaningless confluence of talent at the right defensive end position, not indicative of any larger trend. But some it might also be explained by the changing nature of the tight end position in the modern NFL.

. . . .

Back in the days of the Flying V, the tight end was little more than an extension of the offensive line. Blocking has stayed an essential duty of the tight end until recently. More and more “tight ends” do not play the tight end position. Players like Dallas Clark and Antonio Gates are as much slot receivers as tight ends. Despite a de-emphasis on blocking by tight ends, most teams still put their inferior pass blocking offensive tackle on the right side. Therefore, left defensive ends typically face inferior competition.
So, there you have it: the right defensive end is faster but has to face elite left tackles, while the left defensive end faces less-talented right tackles and tight ends who are more like receivers than blockers these days. Patrick Kerney is the clear-cut starter at right defensive end, and hopefully he can return to the same level of production he had for Seattle in ’07. We’d better hope so, because the backups listed for the position in Farnsworth’s article are Baraka Atkins, a third-year player who is decent in run and pass defense but hasn’t shown much in the way of pass rush skills, and Brandon Miller and Michael Bennett, both of whom are more likely to be practice squad prospects than serious contenders for the active roster. Unless either one of the latter is a Strahan in the rough, I would expect to see someone on the right DE depth chart moved over to fill the position before either Miller or Bennett got the nod.

Linebackers in the 4-3

Linebackers in the 4-3 come in three flavors: the middle linebacker (also known as the Mike linebacker), the strong-side (or Sam) linebacker, and the weak-side (or Will) linebacker. Let’s start with the middle linebacker, since it’s one of the main innovations of the 4-3. Along with assisting the d-line with some bone-crushing, run-stuffing tackles, the Mike linebacker is the quarterback of the defense, altering everything from individual defensive player assignments to coverage schemes on the fly to adapt to the offense’s game plan. Combine those traits with the pass coverage responsibilities that later became a part of the position with the development of the Tampa-2 and you’re looking for a player with a rare combination of power, athleticism, leadership, above-average football instincts, and a willingness to spend hours upon hours studying film.

Luckily, Seattle already found just such a player in the ’05 draft: Lofa Tatupu. His main backup last year (actually, he was the main backup for every linebacker position) was D.D. Lewis, who may not be as good a Mike as Tatupu but still did a serviceable job in his week nine start versus the Eagles (of his seven tackles, three were for zero or negative yardage, one was after a 3 yard gain, and three were after 5-6 yard gains). Second-year man David Hawthorne is listed on the depth chart as a Mike, but while he’s shown the physical tools to be a good linebacker in the NFL we simply haven’t seen enough of his play to know if he has the instincts and discipline to lead the defense effectively.

The strong-side linebacker usually lines up either behind the line of scrimmage somewhere opposite the tight end or directly on the line of scrimmage in the 7-tech. His main job is to make life miserable for the tight end, whether that means wrestling through the TE’s block to tackle the running back or swatting down any pass he tries to catch. However, since the position focuses more on stoutness, hitting and strength over speed and ball skills, the Sam linebacker tends to be the weakest of the three LBs in pass coverage. For this reason, the Sam is almost always the linebacker that gets replaced by an extra defensive back in nickel packages. A slot receiver can pose a difficult challenge to the Sam, especially if the Mike is too busy elsewhere to help him out in coverage, but his ability to intimidate receivers with punishing tackles helps even the odds somewhat. The Sam is used in blitzes periodically, but not as often as the Will or Mike linebackers.

Leroy Hill is a prime example of the archetypal strong-side linebacker: strong, tough to block, and loves to leave an imprint of his facemask on the chests of anyone who tries to carry or catch a ball in his vicinity. Unfortunately, he also fits the mold with his deficiencies in pass coverage (in particular, he has a tendency to bite on routes designed to lure him away from his zone of responsibility), but he balances that with an above-average ability to wreak havoc in blitzes (7.5 sacks in blitzes off the strong side in ’05). More concerning is his durability, as he’s missed several games due to injury over the last few years, including the last four games of the ’08 season.

Hill’s backup D.D. Lewis performed admirably when called upon (he was the starting Sam in Seattle before Hill took the job from him, after all), but he has durability concerns, too--he spent most of the ’04 and ’06 seasons on injured reserve, and last year he missed the last two games of the season. Lance Laury is listed on the depth chart as a Sam, but when both Hill and Lewis were out in weeks 16 and 17 last year, the team opted to start Will Herring over Laury despite Herring being more of a weak-side linebacker. Read into that what you will.

The weak-side linebacker typically lines up in the backfield behind the right defensive end and the 3-tech. His job is more coverage-oriented than the other two linebackers, so Wills usually have the best ball skills of the three and tend to be lighter and faster than the Mike or Sam. Along with covering outlet receivers in the flat and slot receivers in the weak-side middle, sniffing out screen passes, and taking down running backs on runs to the weak side, the weak-side linebacker also blitzes far more often than the Mike or Sam. Why? Well, partly because of the Will’s greater speed, and partly because the o-linemen on his side of the field should be too busy dealing with the right defensive end and the 3-tech to block him. Even if he doesn’t get the sack, a Will who continually puts pressure on the quarterback forces the offense to commit another player to block him, either with a tight end on the line or a running back to play bodyguard in the backfield, hopefully leaving one less potential ball carrier for the rest of the defense to worry about.

The starting Will linebacker for the ’09 season will be Aaron Curry. His play in college proved he has the speed and coverage skills necessary for the position, and his ability to rush the passer (based on reports from the OTAs) completes the package. His potential is exciting, but right now it’s just that: potential. Curry needs to be able to produce in regular season NFL games, and hopefully we won’t have to wait too long to see him do just that. D.D. Lewis was the main backup for the Will position last year (hell, at this point it might be faster to point out who Lewis wasn’t backing up last year), although I’m not sure if he’s ever played the position. However, if his career stats are anything to judge by (one sack in seven seasons) then it doesn’t appear that Lewis excels at rushing the passer. The other two potential backups for the Will linebacker are Will Herring, who has shown excellent speed and coverage skills in his limited opportunities on the field (remember, he did play safety for most of his college career), and Dave Philistin, an undrafted rookie free agent who is competing for a practice squad berth.

Okay, that’s enough for one day. Tomorrow in part three we’ll look at the strengths and weaknesses of the 4-3, introduce the 3-4 defense, and examine how defensive ends and tackles are used in the 3-4. Also, I hope you’ve all been taking notes, ‘cause there will be a test on this later (sorry, teacher humor).

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Link for Housh on ESPN Radio

by: Mike Parker

Updating a previous item, you can hear TJ Housh on ESPN Radio with Colin Cowherd here.

I'll let the link do the talking, but Housh mentioned he's boycotting Madden NFL 2010 due to low player ratings on his part. Prove 'em wrong this year, Housh, prove 'em wrong.

[Chris' note: Uh, he's the sixth best NFC WR in the game. What more does he want? A 91 is huge in Madden 2010, where they intentionally spread the points out way more to set superstars apart. Just sayin.]

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Preseason Preview -- Mansfield Wrotto

by: Chris Sullivan

When Mansfield Wrotto was drafted a couple years ago, few Seahawk fans knew a whole lot about him. Two years later and that's pretty much still true. Though Wrotto did get a few starts last year (and successful ones at that), he still is thought of primarily as depth on the line with few making the argument that he is going to be starting any time soon. While that may be true, he is a lot closer than many are giving him credit for, which is why he is our first Player To Watch this preseason.

Wrotto comes from Georgia Tech where he spent his first three years starting as a defensive tackle, then moved back to his high school position on the offensive line. Wrotto has an excellent nasty streak, is very aggressive, and has good anticipation of what the defender is about to do. While he played Tackle primarily in his one year at college, he was a guard in high school and knows that position best. He has been thought of exclusively as a guard by the Seahawks. While he's not the most athletic lineman, his feet are sufficient and his strength is good. Wrotto's talent lies primarily in his leverage and anticipation.

In his four starts (seven games total), Wrotto did not give up a sack. He had one false start penalty and three holding penalties. If he can work on his discipline and technique a bit this year, he should quickly move himself into the second depth position at right guard, though that largely depends on how Seattle views Ray Willis.

A number of people have commented about how Wrotto is probably our best suited lineman for the zone blocking system. Whether he's the top of the list or not, it does seem like a good fit. Technique, discipline and good feet are the keys to a lineman's success in the ZBS, and Wrotto has those three things in spades. Knowing intimately how a defensive tackle thinks and attacks should serve him well in forcing the tackles to the part of the field that he wants them. Expect the Seahawks to implement a lot of counter runs and, if in the mix, you can expect Wrotto to be leading the charge and directing the DTs away from the play.

Will Wrotto be a starter? Probably not this year. He will, however, make the cut, and with Spencer and Sims both being UFAs at year-end (barring labor dispute issues), Wrotto is the future of the guard position in Seattle. Might as well start watching now. Read More!

Big Walt Talks 2009 and "Whatever's Next"

by: Mike Parker

After the dust settled from the tornado of suck that was last season, there were a lot of questions that remained.

Some of these questions were as uncertain as the times we live in, while others were answered the minute Jim Mora began speaking at his first press conference with the team.

One of these questions remains, however -- and that is the health of perennial left tackle Walter Jones.

Jones recently spoke with John Clayton on KIRO 710 AM, and's Scott Eklund has the writeup here. Mostly, Jones talked about his recovery from microfracture surgery and how his affected knee is recovering, but he also touched on a few areas on which we haven't heard him speak much.

"Once I got to 10 years I said I was going to take it one year at a time and I think that’s helped me out by just being ready for that one year," Jones said. "I just pray that I can get through this season and be healthy and then I can sit down and make a good decision saying ‘do I want my body to go through this again?’. Every year I make that decision because it’s a tough season and what I went through last year was even tougher so you still have to sit down and weigh your options."
Big Walt also talks about how his potential successors are panning out going into training camp. He says Sean Locklear, Rob Sims and Ray Willis are ready to play at a high level, because they've had the experience and the cohesion as a unit to really play at a high level this year. I still question Sims' ability to stay healthy and show competence on the field, but maybe with the addition of upstart linemen, he'll step up his game a notch. Or he'll sprain something and get cut before Week 1. Either way, he needs to show a lot more than he has. I'm excited to see what Unger can do, both at guard and center, and I sincerely hope Jones is onto something about Sims and Locklear. Strangely, the least of my concerns is Ray Willis, as I think he's shown the best overall skill level of the three veterans mentioned here.

But what Jones ultimately gets at in this interview, it seems, is his future. Many have speculated that Jones could fizzle out this year and be supplanted immediately by a protege (Locklear), but if he comes back healthy, the sky really is the limit -- especially with a new zone-blocking scheme being installed.
"It’s a lot different than what we used to do with coach Holmgren, but I still think we have to be accountable for what we do out there, but everybody is protecting everybody, Jones noted. "The backs are reading two blocks and once those guys make the decision where to go and they go, then that should make things easier for us."
There may still be many questions that will linger until a few weeks into the season, but one thing is certain: Walter Jones' mind is still right where it should be. It's up to his body to follow suit.

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Housh on Cowherd at 10 am

by: Chris Sullivan

Hey all, just a heads up (thanks 12th Man in AZ!) that Housh will be on The Herd with Colin Cowherd at 10 am this morning. You can get that online or on the radio, 710 ESPN. Enjoy!

Update: Did any of you listen? I was stuck in a meeting. Comment below!

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4-3 and 3-4 Defenses, Part One

by: Matthew Heuett

[Note: I'm getting married on the 25th, so I will be gone from the 21st through the 31st. If I've set things up correctly, parts one through four of this article will be automatically posted each morning.]

One of the more intriguing bits of information to come out of the Seahawks’ recently concluded OTAs was that Aaron Curry was getting plenty of practice in pass rush drills. Speculation about what this could mean for Curry’s role in the defense only intensified when (as Mike Parker reported here) Curry said in an interview with KJR’s Mitch Levy that he “plays linebacker and defensive end.” Given the glut of defensive ends on the roster, many of us began to wonder if this could mean the team was thinking about using Curry not just as a blitzer in the Seahawks’ base 4-3 defense, but also as a pass-rushing outside linebacker in a potential 3-4 alignment package. (Chris Sullivan was kind enough to start the conversation on the possibility of a 3-4 being used in Seattle here.)

But in order to properly evaluate that, we need to understand not just the differences in how personnel are used in the 4-3 and 3-4 defensive schemes, but also what the benefits and drawbacks of each are along with how well Seattle’s roster fits the specific needs of both schemes. Besides, we’re currently stuck in the offseason doldrums anyway, so I figured this was as good a time as any to do another explanatory article (for those who missed it, you can read my previous article explaining the wide receiver positions here).

My original plan was to do all this in one article, but by the time I was done it was so long that I decided to split it up into four installments (I suppose I could have trimmed the length down some, but I’d rather not cheat you guys on information). Today we’ll focus on some defensive scheme history, introduce the 4-3 defense, and take a look at defensive tackles in the 4-3. In part two on Tuesday we’ll examine defensive ends and linebackers in the 4-3. In part three on Wednesday we’ll look at the strengths and weaknesses of the 4-3, introduce the 3-4 defense, and look at how defensive ends and tackles are used in the 3-4. And in part four on Thursday we’ll finish off by looking at linebackers in the 3-4, the strengths and weaknesses of the 3-4 defense, and look at how and why the 4-3 and 3-4 are able to coexist in the modern NFL.

To continue, click

It’s History Lesson Time, Hooray!

I don’t know about you guys, but I have a much easier time grasping concepts when I know how things got to the way they are today, so let’s start with a bit of history so we can see how the 3-4 and 4-3 developed. Back in the early days of football everything was focused on the running game, and for good reason -- forward passes weren’t legal until 1906, and until 1934 the balls used were much rounder, making them harder to throw accurately. As a result, defenses were relatively simple, with nearly every team using the 7-box scheme:

As you can see, the defense used the same personnel as the offense (players went both ways back then). The tackles and ends were the key positions in the 7-box; the ends protected against runs to the outside, and while they did that the tackle had to slide over and stonewall another blocker without letting the offense open up a running lane between him and the guard. The fullback and quarterback worked as linebackers, and the tailback and wingback were used as defensive backs. On those rare occasions when a passing play was called, the quarterback would drop back into deep coverage to work as a safety.

After the shape of the ball changed, the forward pass became a more viable option. As passers like Arnie Herber and Sammy Baugh and receivers like Wayne Millner and Don Hutson began to rack up wins through the air, defenses adapted by switching from the 7-box to a 6-2 alignment:

The only real difference here is that the center now played linebacker instead of defensive lineman, allowing the quarterback to stay in the backfield as a safety. And aside from a few new wrinkles (like double and triple coverage to deal with guys like Hutson and using linebackers to run blitz between the tackles), the 6-2 was run exactly the same way as the 7-box.

The 4-3 Defense

Over the next few decades the passing game continued to gain popularity, so defenses (most notably the Giants in the 1950s under defensive coordinator Tom Landry) adapted once again by replacing two more defensive linemen with a second safety and a brand new type of player, the middle linebacker. And just like that, the 4-3 was born:

With four defensive backs standard now, the coverage schemes and tactics we all know and love (zone, man-to-man, cover-2, quarters, etc.) began to develop over time. However, the assignments and responsibilities of the cornerbacks and safeties in the 4-3 and 3-4 defenses are virtually identical, so we won’t be discussing the DBs much from here on out.

The first major strength of the 4-3 lies in the specialized duties of the defensive linemen -- when all four men do their jobs, they’re more than a match for five offensive linemen (plus a tight end or two from time to time). In order to get a better understanding of what these guys do, here’s a diagram labeling the different gaps and position assignments:

The numbers indicate the basic positions where a d-lineman will typically line up before the snap and are referred to as techniques. The spaces between the offensive linemen (i.e. the lanes through which a running back might carry the ball or a linebacker might blitz to get to the passer) are labeled by letter and are called gaps.

As long as we’re on the subject of terminology here, the right side of the line, which is where the tight end usually lines up, is called the strong side, and the left side of the line is called the weak side. If the tight end were to line up on the other side, those names would be reversed. Whether a player lines up against the strong or weak side of the line also affects the personnel requirements for those positions in the 4-3, as we’ll see when we get to the defensive ends and linebackers.

Defensive Tackles in the 4-3

The first defensive tackle is called the nose guard and usually lines up on the center’s right shoulder in the 1-technique position, although depending on where a play is expected to go, he might shift over to the center’s other shoulder. Since the d-line is outnumbered five to four, it’s the job of the nose guard to even the odds by forcing the center and right guard to double team him, thus leaving the other three defensive linemen in one-on-one matchups. He also clogs up one or both A gaps to deny the offense any opportunity to run there and is close enough to slant over to clog the B gap between the right guard and tackle if the running back tries to get through there.

In order to do the job properly, the nose guard has to be big (as in 6’1”+, 315-350 lbs) as well as strong enough to not only stand his ground against two 300+ lbs linemen but also shove them backwards to collapse the pocket on a regular basis. Last year’s starting nose guard Brandon Mebane (6’1”, 315 lbs) and the probable starter for the ’09 season Colin Cole (6’1”, 330 lbs) are the prototypical size for the position, as is backup nose guard Red Bryant (6’4”, 318 lbs). However, size alone isn’t exactly a hard and fast indicator of whether a player can man the position. Chuck Darby did a fine job as Seattle’s nose guard in ’05 and ’06 despite only measuring 6’0” and weighing 297 lbs, which is closer to the size you’d expect to see in the other DT position. The third player who appears to be practicing at nose guard is Kevin Brown, a 6’2”, 303 lbs practice squad player from last year, but most likely he’ll end up on the practice squad for another season.

The second defensive tackle lines up on the outside shoulder of the left guard in the 3-technique, which is why the DTs that specialize in playing the position are called 3-techs. Simple, is it not? Their job is pretty simple, too: shoot through the B gap and disrupt things in the backfield, whether that means sacking the quarterback on passing downs or taking down the running back for a loss on running downs. The idea is that the center and left tackle will be so busy dealing with the nose guard and right defensive end, respectively, that the 3-tech will constantly face one-on-one matchups against the left guard, increasing the possibility that he’ll be able to break through into the backfield.

Because the position requires much less in the way of standing firm and stonewalling o-linemen, the 3-tech favors a lighter (say, 290-310 lbs), more athletic player with an explosive first step. Departed starter Rocky Bernard (308 lbs) and perennial backup Craig Terrill (295 lbs) both fit the mold in terms of size and speed (well, Bernard did until groin injuries slowed him down last season). Mebane is a touch heavier than the prototypical 3-tech, but his 5.5 sacks last year -- a much more impressive stat when you consider the nose guard position he played doesn’t generally rush the passer -- proves that he has the speed and power necessary to get into the backfield and do some damage.

And that’s it for today. I'd like to give a big thanks to for helping me fill in some details on the 6-2 and 7-Box schemes (info on early football strategy is hard to find, and doubly so for defensive strategies). Tomorrow in part two we’ll look at defensive ends and linebackers in the 4-3.

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Community Milestone!

by: Chris Sullivan

Well, I always knew you guys were amazing, but I finally looked at the numbers. In the three iterations of our comments, the thousands of Seahawk Addicts out there have commented a lot. A whole lot.

In fact, on Friday, you guys broke a milestone -- 40,000 comments. WOW. That's in 534 days of this blog existing. That's in 2,554 posts. That, my friends, is the definition of ADDICTION. (For you stat nerds, that's 75 comments per day, every day, or 15 comments per post.) I just wanted to thank you all for keeping this great community going, even in the dreariness of the offseason. I also want to thank Michael Steffes for creating this site and trusting my blogging hands with it when he retired for life, liberty and the pursuit of golfiness.

So, again, thank you guys for reading out there and for helping us to get better each month. I've been working very hard the last couple of weeks to bring some much needed changes to the site and I think we're about a week away on that. I think you're going to like it, the few sneak previews I've shared with the other writers have all found it to be a big upgrade.

You guys kick ass and help make this an incredibly fun thing to do. Without the community and the comments, I can promise that all of us would have given up on this pursuit a LONG time ago. We're about two weeks away from life getting good again... I think we can, I think we can, I think we can.......

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Did Holmgren Mail It In Last Season?

by: William P. Tomisser

According to Colin Cowherd of ESPN Radio, Holmgren mailed it in as the Seahawks skidded to a 4-12 season. Mike Sando comments on the allegations here.

Said Cowherd on Holmgren:

"A source told me late, like Week 13 or Week 14 in the NFL season, a source that does not want to be identified on this network, that Mike Holmgren had essentially mailed it in. Very little energy, looking forward to retirement.
Putting in 9-5 hours. Bill Belichick is going 5-9 p.m. There was very little
cohesiveness. He was on his way out before Jim Mora took the job over. And it was sort of a un-energized last year in Seattle. Not that he mailed it in by
your standards or my standards, but by NFL standards, 17 hours a day, Holmgren wasn't there emotionally."

Did any of you Addicts feel that Holmgren had lost the fire later in the year when it became apparent that he wasn't going to be able to salvage the season? In your eyes, did Holmgren give up and just play out the rest of the season?

Another point that Sando brings up is that Holmgren was a teacher and much more interested in teaching new players his system than trying to tailor his system to the specific talents of his players. Sando suggests that as the reason it took Holmgren so long to get it going in Seattle. He needed to get players who could play his system on board and trained and it took him a number of years to do that. Says Sando:
"Holmgren was much more concerned about teaching his system than adjusting his system for the upcoming opponents. I thought this hurt the Seahawks during Holmgren's first few years with the team, before the talent level was sufficient to make that system work."

It was pretty obvious to everyone that Holmgren was worn out by the end of last season. You could see it on his face and that haggard look just didn't go away during the last few games. For a coach who had known great success wherever he went and in Seattle particularly, that must have been a huge weight to bear. It was supposed to be his swan song but it became his death march instead as far as coaching went. It would have been an almost superhuman effort to continue to push himself as hard as he could under those circumstances.

The question remains. Did Holmgren mail it in early last season when he saw that the season was lost? Sando concludes his piece with this thought:
"The last thing to remember is that the 4-12 season definitely wore on Holmgren. It wore on everyone. By the end, he didn't have a whole lot left. It was probably the most draining year of his career from a football standpoint. I'm sure that affected his energy levels during the season. Throw in his lame-duck status and I'm sure he wasn't as effective as he'd been in the past. I would not necessarily call that mailing it in."

So I'd like to hear from you Addicts. Did Holmgren mail it in last season as Cowherd suggests? Or did he just wear out and have an all too human letdown?



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Wallace still wants to start

by: Chris Sullivan

A "team report" on Fox Sports starts off with a little look at Seneca Wallace.

"You always have to have confidence that you can come in and be the starter on any team," Wallace said. "I always feel that way. I'm adamant about it. And I'm going to keep working to improve each day, and hopefully something happens."

They also discuss briefly Seneca's possible roles elsewhere on the offense. Check it out.

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The 3-3 Defense

by: Chris Sullivan

Last week, Eric Williams put together an awesome summary of the 3-3 Defense, a look that Gus Bradley has suggested the Seahawks would be sliding into from time to time throughout 2009 (amongst other looks including, most likely, a 3-4 -- so ha!).

Williams links this article, which is invaluable in understanding the concepts behind the 3-3. Basically, the 3-3 defense is a nickel defense (five defensive backs on the field). In the past, when the Hawks have dropped into the nickel, you would see one of the linebackers trot off the field and Josh Wilson or Jordan Babineaux take his place. Would you trade Aaron Curry or Leroy Hill for them? The 3-3 allows you to keep all three linebackers on the field and relies on the ambiguity of the formation to confuse the offense and get to the quarterback as often as possible. It also gives a defense the option of getting as few as three or as many as eight men in on the rush.

The 3-3 is not an every down formation, but it has some good applications (shown in this anatomy of the play, for example). Like other nickel packages, the 3-3 will come into play on passing downs -- 3rd and 4th and long, potentially some 2nd and longs. If you check out that video link, you'll see it also can be effective as a goal line defense.

What do you guys think of the 3-3? What other defensive packages would you like to see the Hawks slide into from time to time?

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

How bad were injuries in 2008?

by: Chris Sullivan

It's no secret that Seahawks fans have been complaining about the severity of the injury bug that hit the team last year. It's also no secret that everyone and their mother has been calling us a bunch of whiners. Well, how much did injuries really affect us?

I could do all sorts of research and statistical analysis, but relatively speaking, I'm an idiot. Let's leave the heavy lifting to the always excellent Football Outsiders. One of the measures that the stat-heads over there cover and follow is "AGL" -- adjusted games lost (due to injury). How did the Seahawks stack up in 2008?

We use Adjusted Games Lost to track how badly each team was hurt by injury in any given season, then break it down by offense and defense. We currently have this data going back to 1996, and no offense during that span can touch the 2008 Seahawks, whose starters had 66.3 AGL. No other team has more than 60 AGL from offensive starters; last year’s Bengals come close at 59.8. More than half the teams in that time span came in under 20. Seattle stands well ahead of the curve here

So, not only did it affect us obviously, our offensive injuries were the worst since at least 1996. It wasn't just that we had a ton of injuries -- which we did -- but it was who we lost to injury. I believe Jacksonville and New England both had more injuries than us, but they didn't lose their whole receiving corps, quarterback and offensive line in the same year.

What does this all mean? It means that we're right -- injuries played a HUGE role in us sucking last year. Now lets all agree to be satisfied with that and keep our mouths shut when talking to other fans -- fine, the Hawks sucked last year, fine, New England played well even with injuries, fine, the Cardinals were the greatest team in the history of the world last year. Whatever. It's 2009 now, and it's time for THIS Seahawks squad to re-assert themselves. Let the haters hate, in other words. GO HAWKS!!!

[Data from the Pro Football Almanac 2009 -- buy it here]
END Read More!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Is Mebane up to the task?

by: Chris Sullivan

If you've been reading the blog for awhile, it's no secret to you that Brandon Mebane is among my favorite players in the league. While he's not the perfect DT yet, the strides he has made since being thrust into the starting role in his rookie season have been substantial. In 2008, Mebane played in the nose tackle role and was very effective at gobbling up two blockers while also leading the team in sacks. Mike Clark, Seahawks strength and condition coach, spoke with Brock and Salk yesterday (audio link, check in at about the mid-way point), and singled out Mebane as needing to be "kidnapped" to get him out of the workout room.

It seems that Mebane is slimming down a hair and getting much stronger in anticipation of his role at three-technique tackle. Mebane has been strong but his main strength is his quick first step. He's very explosive and if he's left one on one there are very few guards that are going to be able to stop him consistently. Much of his 2009 success will be tied up in the Colin Cole experiment -- if Cole can consistently take on two blockers, he's going to leave Mebane free to disrupt the backfield.

Sando, another Mebane believer, points out that "[t]he team has turned him into more of an up-the-field defensive tackle. That should give him an opportunity to get more sacks as the Seahawks implement more of the Tampa principles that helped free up Warren Sapp." Now, it's a bit early to be comparing Brandon Mebane to Warren Sapp, but it's not such a far stretch. Mebane, unlike Sapp, was underutilized in college and was still a star on a Pac 10 team.

One of the keys of the 2009 season is going to be the play of the defensive line. In 2008, the line was nothing short of awful. We have sent Rocky Bernard off to pasture and added bulk in the front four with hybrid end/tackle Cory Redding and half-man, half-laundromat Colin Cole. The entire defense is going to hinge on the ability to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. With Kerney battling to stay healthy through a full season, and both Tapp and Jackson having some question marks, the ability to pressure the QB rests largely on the massive shoulders of Brandon Mebane. Is he up to the task? You know my answer, what do you guys think?

END Read More!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ten Reasons The Seahawks Will Win The West

by: William P. Tomisser

Ten reasons the Seahawks will win the West in 2009.

1) Hasselbeck and Walter Jones are cornerstones of our offense. Both played well below their capacity last year due to injuries and have been talked about from a number of sources as being washed up and ready to be replaced. Both have a lot to prove this season and both are being reported as well along on their rehabilitation. Both have expressed assurances that they will be ready to play this season. Both want to prove the critics wrong.

2) Mora was criticized in his first stint as head coach for becoming too close to his players and not maintaining discipline. After watching a future HOF coach in Holmgren coach for two seasons from a front row seat, Mora is primed to show he can build a tough football team who will as he puts it “suffocate the” opposition. Mora also has a lot to prove this season as he takes up the reins of the head coach for the second time in his career.

3) Tim Ruskell was said to be in a behind the scenes battle with Holmgren for recognition as the instigator of the teams success while winning 4 division titles in a row and getting to the Super Bowl in 2005. His draft choices have been called into question by some and certainly his handling of the Hutchinson contract negations and trading a number 1 draft choice for Branch have been heavily criticized. Now he’s out from under Holmgren’s shadow and has had the opportunity to hire his hand picked successor as the new head coach. It is now unquestionably Ruskell’s show from top to bottom and he’s got a lot to prove along with Mora.

To continue reading.........

4) Last season, even though the offense had question marks, the defense was back completely intact from the previous season in which it had made good improvement from the previous season. The result was that the defense played horribly and along with all the offensive injuries, contributed to the worst season in over a decade for the Seahawks. It was an embarrassing season for the defense and even though some of the problem was most likely the scheme that Marshall devised, the defensive leaders particularly Tatupu didn’t play well. For this season, the defense was revamped from front to back. The defensive line, linebackers, and defensive backfield were all upgraded. The defense as a unit has egg on their collective face from last season and they have a lot to prove this season. Listening to interviews from the defense, they all have talked about turning it around this year.

5) Burleson and Branch were going to be our big one two punch at wide receiver last season. Instead, Burleson got hurt right away and Branch wasn’t able to get back on the field until late in the season and both were much maligned in the press and by fans for being unworthy of their contracts. This season, Seattle finally brought in a blue chip veteran receiver in Houshmandzadeh and they are still counting on Branch and Burleson to compliment him in forming a high impact receiving corps for Hasselbeck to throw to. Branch and Burleson both have a lot to prove in 2009. Both have talked in interviews about proving up this season and both expect to make an impact.

6) Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett have also been criticized for not being worthy of their contracts and they have been characterized as ordinary running backs nearing the end of their effectiveness due to age. Although they are both reputed to be “one cut” backs well suited to the zone blocking system that Seattle intends to employ this season, neither has shown to be an elite level back in a conventional blocking scheme. Both have been interviewed and both are saying that under the zone blocking system they will be much more effective. The coaches believe they can do the job. The claim is that a good one cut back who can make the correct cut isn’t as easy to find as one might think and that both backs have proved that they have the vision and instincts to be effective in that system. It’s been speculated that both were brought in with the anticipation of migrating to the zone blocking system but under Holmgren last season, the new blocking scheme was never implemented. Obviously, both have a lot to prove this season. Both say they will do just that.

7) Spencer, Sims, and Wahle all had problems last season ranging from injury to mental mistakes. All are under the gun this season. Spencer is being pushed by Unger to prove he can be Seattle’s long term answer at center. Sims was hurt last season and hasn’t played well since his rookie season. Coach Solari has said that both should prosper in the new zone blocking system. Wahle had trouble with keeping his head in the game and made several mental mistakes which cost Seattle penalties at critical points in games last season. He also has injury problems. Add to that the fact that Wrotto has been around for 3 years now and hasn’t had more than a handful of snaps in real game action and most of those came last season when the entire offensive line who started the season ended up on injured reserve. Vallos looked as if he might have a future at center but since Unger came aboard in this years draft, he’s back to battling for a job along with Williams who got some snaps last season when the starting offensive line went on IR. Our offensive line is one of the biggest question marks for this season. Solari has stated that he thinks we could have a good offensive line and that the depth we have is good. He’s said that a lot of these guys will revitalize their career under the zone blocking system and become good offensive linemen for Seattle. That makes the entire offensive line a group that has a lot to prove this season. From interviews I’ve listened to, they know it and have confidence they can do it.

8) Colin Cole and Cory Redding both came from programs where they were expected to produce at a higher level and where they had some disappointment in doing so. Cole was going to be Green Bay’s nose guard in moving to a 3 – 4 alignment on defense and was said to be Green Bay’s number one priority for resigning from their unrestricted free agent pool. Redding was given a contract that put him in the top echelon of defensive tackles but didn’t live up to that contract last season in Detroit. Obviously, Green Bay felt that Cole could be an unmovable object in the center of their defensive line and that’s the role he is being asked to play in Seattle. While he’s somewhat one dimensional, that one dimension is just what Seattle has been lacking since Tubbs was unable to play. Redding played for Detroit. I think that’s enough said at this point. Detroit thought he had the goods to play at a higher level. Redding was willing to work for Seattle on a one year contract at a reasonable cost and prove himself before seeking a long term deal. He wants to prove himself first. That certainly speaks of having confidence in his abilities and is a refreshing attitude. He will play both inside and out on the defensive line in the rotation and the Seattle coaches think he will be able to help out at both positions. Both new defensive linemen along with Mebane who is at a new position as an interior pass rusher have a lot to prove this coming season. All three are ready to prove themselves and can’t wait to put on the pads and show what they can do. The two new defensive linemen are ready to prove that they are better than their play at their former teams would indicate.

9) Coach Solari has a burning desire to prove that the zone blocking system can be effectively implemented in Seattle and that it can make the running game easier to plug new components into and get them up to speed quickly. He has repeatedly expressed confidence that the offensive linemen Seattle has under contract now can become effective under the ZBS and that it will turn around the Seahawk’s running game. From the dismal results of the running game in Seattle over the last three years since 2005 when we were at the top of the league, it will be no small feat to put a ground game together that once again strikes fear into opponents hearts and that all starts with the offensive line. Solari has a lot to prove with his new scheme and how well it lends itself to bringing in new personnel and integrating them into the ground game. Solari says it’s going well and that Seattle will be able to run the ball effectively in 2009. Music to all our ears.

10) The injuries Seattle suffered in 2008 are already legendary. There has been speculation that some of the problem was that coach Holmgren was too soft in off season programs and training camp not wanting to get players hurt so as a result, the players weren’t in the best shape they could be and the resulting injuries were in some cases related to the soft training methodology. There were significant injuries in 2006 and 2007 also and the big difference in 2008 was only in the numbers of players injured. Mora has stressed conditioning and as a workout warrior himself, has influenced a lot of the players to get into the best shape of their lives as some have reported including Hasselbeck. His run up the mountain and recent climbing of Mt. Rainier have showed his commitment to being in great shape and he is preaching that the Seahawks will still be putting on the pressure in the fourth quarter where some games are won or lost based on conditioning. It won’t be Seattle that can’t put out maximum effort throughout the game. The new paradigm in conditioning for the Seahawks is one more thing that has to be proved for it to be believed.

Altogether, this team has a lot to prove from one end to the other. Most of it’s key players have a lot to prove this season and a lot of the Seahawk players have a chip on their shoulder this season from being heavily criticized for their play last season or being counted on to produce and having injury take away the opportunity to prove up. You could say this team from the GM on down to the 53rd player on the roster has a chip on it’s organizational shoulders to prove to the community as well as to themselves that last season was an aberration cause by a host of factors from having an unsettled situation for the coaching staff to the multitude of injuries unprecedented in even a coach of Holmgren’s experience. That chip on every shoulder and the need of every critical piece in the machinery of the team to prove themselves this season is going to make for a hungry team who will play more like a team who hasn’t been to the playoffs in a decade than a team who is recovering from one down year. I expect the Seahawks to become a band of demons this year on the field and fueled by the coaches and upper management’s enthusiasm, will play above their heads and take back the West from the Arizona Cardinals. If they can keep that need to prove up and erase the bad taste of the 2008 season at a high level throughout the season, I can see them making a good showing in post season play or even going all the way again. To do so, they will need to keep injury free and as I said maintain the chip on the shoulder attitude. I see a team who is banding together and getting ready to show the rest of the league that some respect is due. Some of you may see something different. Agree or disagree. The floor is yours Addicts.



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Speculation on T. Jones for D. Branch

by: Mike Parker

By now, the Seahawks' unproven backfield is no secret.

Julius Jones got off to an impressive start last year, but saw both a sharp drop in production and an increase in benchwarming as the year progressed. Holmgren stuck to a very one-dimensional approach with Mo Morris being the primary back, with TJ Duckett being brought out only to shoulder his way into short-yardage gains. Justin Forsett was sadly all but forgotten after being re-acquired from the Colts.

Evan Silva over at Rotoworld posted an NFC West minicamp review today, and, as predicted, makes some gloomy predictions about the Seahawks' 2009 season. Among them? The inefficiency of the passing game, due to Greg Knapp's infamous run-first approach (something he's already said he's not sold on doing again), which Silva says will particularly affect TJ Houshmandzadeh's numbers. He projects 88/940/5 for Housh at season's end, which I think is ridiculously low for a player like Housh, and also for what Ruskell is paying him. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think five touchdowns a year for $40 million really pays out. I'd say the team wants to realistically see something like 90/1,100/10.

But even though Silva underestimates Housh, he points out that Deion Branch could be in trouble. Remember those trade rumors we heard about Branch for Thomas Jones? Well...

Deion Branch still has his roster spot, even though he lost his position to Houshmandzadeh and didn't practice all spring while recovering from knee surgery. If GM Tim Ruskell gets serious about Thomas Jones, a straight-up swap sending Branch to the Jets makes too much sense...
I can't see this happening. Branch may have been a disappointment for the exchange of a first-round pick, but when he's actually healthy, he shows up. He didn't break 100 yards last season, much to everyone's chagrin, but he did put up decent numbers against his former team, the Patriots -- four catches, 88 yards and 2 TDs. Plus, he had another two-touchdown game at Arizona in the final game of the season. What I'm still hesitant to believe is if he can continue this streak.

Even still, would Ruskell really risk subtracting from what could be an elite receiving unit to add a running back who would have an uncertain role? Would adding Thomas Jones mean letting him fight it out in camp with his brother and TJ Duckett? Or does the team simply have too much invested in Branch to trade him away, even after a spell of injuries?

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Seahawk Addicts on Facebook

by: Chris Sullivan

Hey there guys and gals, after a few months of saying I was going to do it, I've done it! If you're on Facebook, you should add Seahawk Addicts as a friend. There isn't a whole lot to it at the time being, but in the coming weeks it is likely to become a good place to keep in touch with us. I'm working on integrating it and Twitter (zomg, follow us there too or else) with the blog more, and when you add to that a couple of forthcoming site changes/additions, I think the community is going to be enabled to grow a bit while operating more effectively.

Feel free to leave some comments on our wall, let us know what you'd like us to be writing about, shoot any articles you find our way, or just say 'whats up.' Looking forward to putting some faces to the names, guys and gals!

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Duckett wants to run

by: Chris Sullivan

TJ Duckett was on Mitch in the Morning yesterday and spoke about his desire to increase his role on the Seahawks' offense in 2009. Duckett said that he did not want to "settle with being a short yardage back," which he has been pigeonholed into because of his size. He seemed happy about his role in 2008, though would have liked to get the ball a bit more; still, "there's only one football to go around."

Duckett did discuss the zone blocking system at a bit of length, and said that the ZBS fits his style well. He is predominantly a one-cut back who can run hard downhill. He thinks he'll get a chance to run a fair amount more at different points in the game and not strictly third downs and fourth-and-short.

I wonder if Duckett looks at a guy like Brandon Jacobs and feels that he can be that guy. I don't know that he can, but I do believe he will see an increased role in Knapp's offense. Duckett is good at pounding the ball, but he does have a little bit of speed too. Key term there: little bit. Jacobs is a special (and injury prone) back. It's not likely that Duckett is going to put up career numbers this year barring an injury above him in the depth chart.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Spencer, Sims, Tapp would be RFA instead of UFA if 2010 remains uncapped

by: Aaron Weinberg

2011 NFL Work stoppage was reported to be as a "near certainty" back in March.

Not a heckeva lot has changed since then.

Background info
One of the major reasons was to implement a rookie salary pay structure, limiting what rookies can make. The union opposes this change and work stoppage appears imminent. If neither the players union or the owners can work out a new agreement, then 2010 will be an uncapped season and 2011 might not happen at all due to work stoppage.

An uncapped season might sound like doomsday for owners but they've set up new free agency rules in the event of an uncapped season.

1. Players can only enter free agency after six seasons in the NFL rather than the four currently stipulated.
2. Teams will get an extra transition tag and can use the two transition tags with their franchise tag, rather than choosing one or the other.
3. The teams that finished amongst the final four in the playoffs cannot sign an unrestricted free agent until they lose one free agent of their own.
4. The next four teams will have restrictions of their own in free agency, so they cannot afford any of the elite players in free agency.

This last rule was enacted this year but will carry over to the uncapped season.

5. A player's base salary can't raise more than 30 percent from one year to the next.

The uncapped year affects several Seahawks, including starters Chris Spencer, Rob Sims and Tapp.

Here's the full list. Bold indicates restricted free agent. Normal indicates unrestricted free agent.

Essentially, the rules under the uncapped year make it much easier for the Seahawks to re-sign their free agents. Starters center Chris Spencer, guard Rob Sims and off-and-on starter defensive end Darryl Tapp all would have been UFA in 2010. But, due to the rule change, they’ll be RFA.

Restricted free agents are much easier to retain because the old team the player was on has first right of refusal.

They can also sign the player to a tender, which means if another team signs the player to an offer sheet, and the old club doesn’t match the offer, the new club must give the old club compensation in the form of draft picks. The draft pick depends on how much money the tender was.

For instance, if the Seahawks tendered Chris Spencer and another team signed him to an offer sheet and the Seahawks refused to match the offer, the other team would have to compensate Seattle with a first round draft pick, corresponding with where Spencer was drafted.

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ESPN radio this afternoon

By: Chris Sullivan

Mike Sando will be on with Brock and Salk at 1:40 this afternoon, and an interview with Matt Hasselbeck will be re-aired at 2:25 or so. The interview is from a few minutes ago, I just missed it and you probably did too. Hah. If not, comment below folks... Read More!

Chris Spencer - Better than fanvertised?

by: Chris Sullivan

John Morgan at the always perceptive Field Gulls posted a very good article on Chris Spencer yesterday. Morgan sees Spencer as a strong, athletic, and improving offensive lineman who was, in his estimation, the second-best offensive lineman for much of the 2008 campaign. With one false start penalty and only 2.5 sacks allowed, Spencer did indeed avoid most mistakes (he also had no holding penalties). Here's Morgan:

Spencer again proved reliable at the point of attack and able to match against the most athletic and most powerful defensive tackles. In 2008, he did so consistently. He improved his ability to react to free rushers and protect the quarterback within the pocket. Spencer overcame his greatest deficit, his feet, and began to turn his athleticism and raw power into blocks in the second level. He improved his ability to sustain those blocks as the season progressed.

There's not a whole lot to disagree with there. Spencer struggled from the on-set as he was thrust into the starting lineup early in his career and was harangued by Coach Holmgren ("a boss that humiliated and underappreciated him" says Morgan). Spencer's development in year one under Mike Solari was noticeable, and with Mora at the helm, don't be surprised to see Chris Spencer take the next step to being a real strength in the middle of the line. Max Unger should push Spencer to be a better player, though it very much remains to be seen whether that will happen.

We've been hard on Spencer as a center and have long supported him sliding over to guard for precisely the reasons Morgan mentioned -- he is strong, very athletic, and his feet are getting better all the time. There are two big questions about Spencer though: 1.) Can he play up to his first round status this year? If not, look for him to sign elsewhere in 2010; and 2.) Can he stay healthy? Spencer has the injury streak of Porkchop, but in a more important and regular role and with harsher injuries. His health is of paramount concern going forward, and if he cannot prove that he can get through a 16-game season, it will be hard to sign him to a long-term deal (if his play warrants one).

What do you think, Addicts? Will Spencer be able to take the final step and earn a new contract? Did Holmgren ever give Spencer a fair shake (remember, he was Ruskell's first draft pick...)? Sound off below.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Training Camp Field Reporters Wanted!

by: Chris Sullivan

Hey there Addicts, the SA team is looking to you for some help. I know a lot of you are planning to attend training camp sessions (remember, you can register at 10 am on Thursday -- Season Ticket Holders can register as of this morning). If you head to camp this offseason, shoot me an email and write up a little bit about what you saw, who looked good, who looked bad, your general impressions of VMAC, Mora, Housh, whatever. Nothing super in-depth needed, but it won't hurt. I'll take some excerpts and throw them up at the end of the day (with accreditation to you, of course).

A lot of the readers are not local and/or not able to get out of work for three weeks at the beginning of August. I'm taking off work for one day to attend, but that's hardly going to take care of all the needs of true addicts, now is it? Anyway, drop a line in the comment thread here if you think you're going, especially if you know what day you're looking to attend. The schedule of practices can be found right here. The help in covering training camp would be very appreciated -- it'll get your name and prose seen by thousands, and who knows, there might be a free bumper sticker in it for ya if you play your cards right. And if we make bumper stickers.

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