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Giants at Seahawks: What to expect from the Seattle defense

Seattle Seahawks v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The possibly Daniel Jones-less New York Giants have the pleasure of traveling to Seattle to square off against the 8-3 NFC West-leading Seahawks this Sunday. Seattle is a team that has revamped their defense via trade in 2020. Just before the start of the season, they traded for New York Jets’ star safety Jamal Adams, who wears a lot of hats for their defense. They also traded for Bengals underrated pass rusher Carlos Dunlap in Week 8. He had 13 pressures and a sack for Cincinnati; since arriving in Seattle, he has 16 pressures and 6 sacks.

The Seahawks are 15th in blitz percentage at 30.9 percent. They’ve been doing a solid job getting pressure on the quarterback this season; they have 209 total pressures, without a “blue-chip” EDGE player. For reference, the Giants have 177 pressures, and the Steelers have 248 (with one less game). Seattle’s ability to get this pressure is, in part, a testament to their defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.Adams leads the team with 27 pressures and also leads the team in sacks with 6.5. 1-Technique Poona Ford is second with 23 pressures, and defensive lineman Jarran Reed is third with 21 pressures. They’re 20th in pressure percentage in the NFL, and they’re 13th in knockdowns per pass attempt at 8.5 percent. It would be difficult for a hobbled Daniel Jones to operate the pocket against a team that schemes up pressure like this squad.

Seattle’s defense seemed figured out after the 44-34 Bills loss and the 17-point opening half for the Rams, but the defense stabilized in the next six quarters to only allow 27 points; 6 against the Rams in the 2nd half, and 21 versus the high powered Arizona Cardinals. The defense then put massive amounts of pressure on the Eagles and beat them 23-17, with a garbage touchdown at the end of the game. Seattle sacked Carson Wentz 8 times and put 28 pressures on the struggling quarterback.

The success of the defense can mostly be attributed to a confluence of events. Jamal Adams is now back healthy which helps the team’s pass rush, among other things. Carlos Dunlap is now getting more comfortable and has four games under his belt with Seattle. Shaq Griffin is now back healthy to help the porous pass defense, but he wasn’t exactly great when he was healthy earlier in the season. Even with these positive strides, the Seahawks defense has been exposed to blown blitz coverages.

Seattle runs three deep, three underneath, fire zone blitzes with Adams coming through the field side B-Gap. It’s an effective play, but teams like the Rams made them pay by using pre-snap motion to the blitzing side to overload while running a clearout/check down to the boundary flat that picked up 11 yards to Malcolm Brown which resulted in a field goal. The offense must confirm what they see in the pre-snap process, but that motion forces the boundary middle hook defender’s attention to the strength, leaving the boundary a bit exposed.

Arizona also scored a Chase Edmunds touchdown against Seattle on a blown coverage near the goal line. A third-and-3 mesh concept where Adams thought Diggs had Edmunds in man coverage led to the Cardinals touchdown. After the game, Adams spoke about the importance of execution and communication on defense. A lot of these missed assignments are on blitz plays, and they’re a product of missed assignments due to communication, rather than players that are unaccounted for pre-snap. Most of these blitzes are just 5 man pressure packages, so Jason Garrett needs to have plans for Colt McCoy, or whoever is starting, to confuse the communication of this secondary.

Seattle has been very solid against the run in 2020. Some of this is a product of teams abandoning the run and having to throw the football because of early Seahawk leads, but the unit is stingy nonetheless. They surrender only 89.3 rushing yards per game (RYPG) on the season, which is third-best behind New Orleans and Tampa Bay. In the last three games, they’ve been even better by only allowing 77.7 RYPG.

Another reason why Seattle is very good against the run is that they’re so bad against the pass, albeit they’ve been better of late. They give up 328 passing yards per game (PYPG) which is the most in the league. In the last three games, they’ve only surrendered 240 PYPG which is the 14th most. As far as scoring defense goes, Seattle ranks 26th by allowing 27.6 points per game. They’ve been better the last three games by only allowing 20.3 which ranks just out of the top 10 best.

Seattle employs a “Falcon” front that consists of two wide 9-Techniques, two 3-Techniques, and a nose. They’ll run a lot of Cover 3 concepts, mostly buzz, from this front with one of the wide 9 defenders being well wide to the field. He’ll employ sub-packages off these looks to get more linebackers on the field. Seattle runs 3-3-5 with a linebacker (Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, or Jordyn Brooks) as the 4th pass rusher in the “Joker” role.

The backend coverage is somewhat diverse. Zone and man pressure packages with cover 3 and Cover 1 mixed. Similar to the Giants, it doesn’t seem like consistent man coverage has worked for the Seahawks and that was exposed in the loss to Buffalo. Expect a mix of both zone and man concepts, but a heavier box to stop the run if Daniel Jones does not play.

Defensive line

The Dunlap trade has improved the unit as a whole and gives Seattle a good pass-rushing option. This allows younger players to receive less attention. L.J. Collier, a 2019 first-round pick out of TCU, is helped by the presence of Dunlap. Collier has 15 pressures and 2 sacks on the season, but he had a big sack against Arizona that helped secure the victory.

Jarren Reed is a quick twitch, 30 plus pound, defensive lineman that has been playing well against the run too. He has active hands and should be a challenge for Shane Lemieux in pass protection. Poona Ford is a 5-foot-11, 300-plus pound, nose tackle that also plays 5-Technique. He has a natural leverage advantage and could pose issues for Nick Gates, who is 6-foot-5. Ford has developed under Pete Carroll and has a pass-rushing upside; he’s a 2018 undrafted steal.

When Ford isn’t playing nose, Damon “Snacks” Harrison is filling in at the position. Snacks isn’t what he was when he donned blue, but he’s still immovable and will have a chip on his shoulder against the team that he still seems to love. He plays around 20 snaps a game depending on the game script. A former third-round pick out of UCS Rasheem Green has dealt with injuries all season but seems to be healthy now. Green is large, athletic, but still a bit raw. He has 7 pressures and a sack through 5 games. Seattle moves their lineman around a bit, but Green should be the main pass rusher against Andrew Thomas.

Linebackers

Arguably the most underrated player over the last ten years has been Seahawks MIKE linebacker Bobby Wagner. Easily one of the best linebackers isn’t the league, who is an excellent tackler and is used in that Joker role. He has 18 pressures on the season, and he must be accounted for at all times. A true difference-maker on the second level.

K.J. Wright is another underrated player who has been with the Seahawks since 2011. He’s typically aligned at the ROLB position, but will also play WILL. He’s a long defender that was a bit more effective in his prime. He’s used a lot in underneath zone coverage and is incredibly smart. Wright is just an all-around effective player, but he is 31 and not as quick as he used to be.

The rookie first-round pick out of Texas Tech Jordyn Brooks had a slow start to the season and is now in a situational role, playing about 25-30 snaps a game. He took a bad defensive pass interference penalty against Dallas Goedert in week 12, but he’s a good athlete who is long and physical. With that stated, I would like to see the Giants attack Brooks with Evan Engram vertical if they can get that matchup when Adams blitzes.

Benson Mayowa is a hybrid defensive lineman who plays the LEO position, along with an off-ball outside linebacker. He has three sacks on the season and 18 pressures. He’s a journeyman who is prone to some tackling mistakes and mental errors. Would have loved to see him play the zone read game against Daniel Jones.

Shaquem Griffin, a third-year player out of UCF, is mostly relegated to special teams. He has played 4 defensive snaps in each of the last few games. Alton Robinson is a rotational EDGE player who plays around 10-15 snaps a game as well. He has 2 sacks and 10 pressures on the season.

Secondary

Adams headlines the secondary and impacts the game in a multitude of different ways. He missed 4 weeks. Unfortunately, the Giants know full well what kind of impact Adams can have as a blitzer *shudders to think about the 2019 Jets matchup*. He’s a player that has to be accounted for at all times. Seattle does a good job disguising their intentions with Adams, but when he’s lurking around the line of scrimmage, the Giants must have him in their protection plan.

Fellow safety Quandre Diggs is no slouch either. He was a late-round cornerback coming out of Texas that is now an above-average starter at safety. At only 5-9, he’s a hard-hitting, sure tackling, type of safety who isn’t exactly liability in coverage. As I previously alluded to, there have been communication issues with the secondary, especially when the team blitzes, and that could be exploited. He’s also small, so again...Evan Engram matched up against Diggs may be advantageous for the Giants, but Diggs isn’t an athletic liability.

Shaquill Griffin, Shaquem’s brother, is the number one boundary cornerback that should see a lot of Darius Slayton and some Sterling Shepard. Griffin is an adequate starter, and Slayton, if healthy, can win this matchup. Griffin has surrendered 6 touchdowns in 7 games but completely shut down Preston Williams in Week 4, while also only allowing 4 catches in the last two games played.

Tre Flowers is the number two cornerback. He’s a big, long, physical, cornerback that reminds me of the good ole’ “Legion of Boom” days. However, Flowers isn’t as effective as those players. I hope to see Flowers matched up with Sterling Shepard. The quickness, route running, and precision of Shepard would be enough to take advantage of the bigger Flowers. He’s a player that isn’t scared to come up and hit either, so key wide receiver blocking will be necessary against a player like Flowers.

The nickel cornerback is Ugo Amadi, a 2019 fourth-round pick out of Oregon. He’s been solid for a young player and will see a decent amount of Golden Tate. He’s been targeted 41 times and surrendered 30 catches for only 234 yards and no touchdowns.

Final thoughts

This secondary has been a disaster all season and has been exposed by big plays, but they’ve been a bit better the last few games. The Giants have to be cognizant of Adam’s presence. I hope that Colt McCoy can assist the offensive line with their protections pre-snap because Jones and the line have been better with that in recent weeks. Explosive plays with McCoy may be hard to find, so the Giants have to mitigate mistakes and take advantage of every miscommunication that Seattle presents.