This article will start with Earl Thomas, because every end is also a beginning. Let’s be clear, in my eyes the chance of Earl Thomas coming back next season is still there. If he doesn’t have the chance to prove himself this season, and with another injury in his repertoire it might make sense for him to sign another contract (even if it is cheaper) with the Hawks for the safety (no pun intended) he is looking for.
That’s all in the future though, we will see what happens there and there is also a distinct possibility we never see him play as a Seahawk again. The “now”, fittingly, goes by the name T2. He is definitely not a 2nd ET, more of a downgrade from ET III, but it could still work.
Why to be Pessimistic
Well let’s keep this section short and sweet because I prefer to solve problems than bitch about the obvious:
- he is not Earl Thomas
- he doesn’t have the range
- he doesn’t have the speed
- he has never been a starter in the regular season
- he didn’t always look confident, even in the preseason
Those are “only” 5 points, but they are significant enough to basically say: you are screwed and can no longer play the same way you played before.
Why to be Optimistic
So how do we change that into a positive? Not easily and not without a little creativity is the answer. But the answer, luckily, isn’t to do something completely new. In my opinion, it is the adaptation of something we’ve already been doing, especially in our last game.
How we used to line up
To look at change you have to start with what you used to have:
Earl Thomas’ unique ability to cover the whole of the pitch as a single high safety basically sets up how the Seahawks have played defence for the last years. I will let that sink in for a second…the whole defence was built up on the unique abilities of one player. Talk about all eggs in one basket. The problem is what while you might – and this is already ridiculously unlikely – find someone with the same speed / athleticism / playmaking ability, to find someone with all that plus the footballing intelligence of ET III it just doesn’t exist.
What it allowed the Seahawks to do, was relatively simple: cover the area where you usually use 4 guys with 3. From there it is a simple numbers game because it frees up a guy to go further downfield into the box. More numbers there, mean better coverage of the shorter zones creating more time for your DL to get to the QB because he has to wait for the game to develop and then he is looking at a daunting secondary.
Because the QB knows that your WR is basically always in double coverage: ET factoring in as a second to both outside and the nickle corner as well as having the ability to get to any of that space in front of him before the pass. I cannot highlight enough how crucial this point is. Because lets face it: ET will read, diagnose and get there and there is nothing much you can do about it.
After week 4
So with Earl Thomas out that opened up that changes a lot. On a very basic level it opens up a roster spot, but that wasn’t the only one. Kendricks finally got banned by the NFL – it was always going to happen and he was playing on borrowed time, even if he was great for us. Whether I agree with someone getting banned indefinitely for insider trading vs a couple games banned for domestic violence is something I don’t want to touch on here. All I will say at this point is that it opened up a second roster spot on defence.
Those two spots were not filled like for like, but in a more flexible way:
- T.J. Green – a Free Safety / Strong Safety hybrid
- Mo Alexander – a Strong Safety / Linebacker hybrid
To me that says: we need flexibility and we need to work it out. Give us some swiss army knives so that we can try some different stuff. Nonetheless, if we consider the roster moves without a scheme change, this is roughly what we are looking at:
The coaches have preferred Calitro to Griffin while Wright has been injured and rightly so because Griffin should be in the mix with Mingo and Martin on the outside rushing the passer. I have mentioned in a previous article that this is actually great because it makes Mingo a great trade piece for players at other positions or extra picks next Draft. Anyway so that’s the downgrade at linebacker -> Calitro is not as much of a playmaker or as experienced as Kendricks and in my eyes is made to be a very solid backup, not a starter. But he can do the job to a satisfactory level.
The downgrade at Safety is much more severe. While Thompson played ok in preseason it was evident to see that he was lightyears away from playing at the level of Earl Thomas: something we shouldn’t expect and should instead take into account and game plan for. The main disadvantage is that he does not have the same action radius as Thomas, does not yet have the confidence in diagnosing plays and trusting his judgement (he can be a bit hesitant) and doesn’t have the same presence.
The issue is that this does not just impact the FS position, but also the CBs and LBs. If I were an offence I would now be looking at the gaps that will open up just in behind the Linebackers – because T2 might not get there in time – and to attack Flowers the RCB – again because he will probably be more isolated. Flowers has played really good so far and you have Bobby Wagner leading the LBs and whole defence for that matter, but of course you can’t act as if the absence of ETIII will go unnoticed.
Don’t get me wrong, the players have all come out and said that they trust T2 to have their back, but there is nothing wrong with helping the guy out. Like I said before: he has never been a starter in the regular season.
I suggest a slight scheme change
What I suggest is making the core package something that has been used a little less often, but has been used in the last couple of games: a 3 Safety scheme:
This makes sense on a lot of levels:
- Having McDougald and Alexander a little further off the ball reduces the zones that T2 has to cover, which is the main issue at the moment. Also Alexander has played Will LB before as well as Safety and can therefore easily play this Hybrid position.
- With Alexander in a bit deeper you reduce the pressure on Flowers, because there is more coverage for those outside zones.
- This idea places a lot of responsibility on Wagner, something that he would not shy away from, on the contrary I think that he would only be stronger.
- When Wright comes back from injury you have even more flexibility because he and Alexander can switch depending on what the offence is doing.
The main concept behind this scheme would be to solidify the secondary and keep the play of the opposing offence underneath, thereby limiting big impact plays. This is one of the core principles of the Pete Carroll defence.
The negative of course is that something has to give. In this case you are weakening your D Line because they are not getting the help from 2 Linebackers but only one. However, I do not see this as a significant opposing argument. The reason is as follows: we have a rotation of 4 interior linemen (5 if you count Jefferson and if it gets really bad you can line up Green there too), on the outside you have a rotation of 5 guys as well (and you can add Martin into the mix there as well as Mingo in a pinch). If you consider rushing Mingo, Martin or Griffin this will also take a little pressure off the others. We therefore have plenty of depth, which – if managed right – should make having 1 Linebacker instead of 2 irrelevant.
I think this could be a great way to line up for a couple of games while they figure everything out with Thompson, who is definitely not bad, but when you have to replace such a high impact player you have to do it with the whole team not just like for like.
While we are talking defensive schemes
I was just having a quick think about the squad and what other possibilities it presents, especially because of the thoughts around the DL having to take a bit of a blow if you play with only one LB. I came up with this:
I won’t say too much about it, but my thoughts when putting it together:
- I was building off the DL. Ford can play nosetackle and often draws two blockers, Reed and Jones can both play well against the Run and get to the QB. This makes for a very versatile interior. Stephen makes a very solid backup to keep fit because he can line up as a NT (like he did at times for the Vikings) and is a better run blocker than pass rusher so he can come in for run downs. For passing downs you have Jefferson who has played on the inside before and can also rush the passer, both of these could also apply to Green on the other side.
- On the outside Clarke and Jordan would have more space – but also more ground to cover – coming from slightly further out. With a fair amount of backups led by Green as well as speed options like Mingo and Martin, everyone here should stay fresh and we should be able to generate a lot of pressure on opposing QBs.
- With more and more top receivers lining up in the slot, having Coleman in the starting defence just makes too much sense because he can trail them and make plays. If there are only two WRs on the pitch you can look at whether you want too keep Flowers or Coleman on with Griffin – that just depends on the matchup. If it is a run play then you can look at bringing on Alexander – who has a slightly more off the ball side – or Griffin if you want to be able to have speed to the QB or RB.
- The heart of this defence becomes Wagner and McDougald. Two player who are at the top of their game. The mantel of patrolling the inside of the field and making impact plays there would be passed to Wagner while McDougald stays outside him and can drop off into coverage while focussing on the edge and TEs as well as RBs. On top of that McDougald would be responsible for RBs splitting out to WR positions at the last minute if there is no CB there to cover. Naturally Wright would figure to rotate with these guys too depending on what the Offence is showing. He could even come in at the Coleman position for very run / TE heavy looks.
- Thompson has a slightly more reduced role because he is placed as a deeper insurance over speedsters / plays made over the top off RPOs that draw out the CBs, but the idea is that the plays don’t even get that far by throwing more pressure up front.
So yeh, I did end up getting a bit carried away with my ideas on that last one there but I hope you enjoyed it nonetheless. I look forward to seeing what the Hawks do vs the Rams and beyond that and hope you look forward to reading more of my articles. Have a great night.