West Coast Defense – it's a catch phrase uttered in the latter stages of our interview with new Seattle Seahawks defensive backs coach Tim Lewis.
Lewis referred to the "dynamic" process the defensive coaches were going though in building Seattle's defense from the ground up, and used the term West Coast Defense to describe what Seattle's defense might be in the 2009 season.
Well, we've heard the term West Coast Offense used to describe the offensive system created by Bill Walsh in San Francisco and Don Coryell in San Diego, which relies on a quick-timing, passing game to move the ball down the field. But what's the West Coast Defense?
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I'm not sure exactly what Lewis means by that description, but I thought we could hit on some of the highlights head coach Jim Mora and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley used to describe the way they want Seattle to play defensively to try and figure out what this new West Coast Defense philosophy might be. The following are a few characteristics that Mora would like his defense to have next season.
Fundamentally sound – Mora said it's important that the Seahawks are sound, both in their reads and technique defensively.
"We're going to develop a scheme that is fundamentally sound based on technique and effort," Mora said recently during his press conference. "We're going to be a defense that plays with 'relentless effort.' That's a word you're going to hear me say a lot: relentless effort. We're going to be fundamentally sound. We're going to match our scheme to our players and be extremely demanding of them."
Fast, attacking defense – Both Mora and Bradley talked about Seattle's defense playing fast and attacking offenses during their separate interviews. Obviously, they want the Seahawks defense to play downhill and attack, instead of sitting back and playing a more read-and-react style. If players make mistakes, they want them making them full speed and not being tentative in their decisions. Similar to the West Coast offense, it appears Mora wants the team's defense to dictate tempo.
Here's what Mora had to say about the defense during his introductory press conference.
"Attacking doesn't always mean blitzing," he said. "It doesn't always mean sending extra guys. It's a style, it's an attitude, it's an emphasis, it's a passion. And it is also, at times, bringing extra people to affect the quarterback. What's incredibly important on defense is that you can rush the passer with four people and affect the pass with four people so you can play some zones, or you can double the Larry Fitzgeralds of the world that are causing so [many] problems for people in the league right now. So we've got to be able to rush with four, but at the same time, you got to be able to affect the passer with pressures."
Adaptability – Although Seattle will employ a 4-3, attacking, cover-2 based scheme, both Bradley and Lewis talked about giving offenses several different looks, including playing both man and zone coverages in pass defense and dialing up some man and zone blitzing, along with different line stunts up front.
So it sounds like Seattle wants to present a diverse defensive package based on the type of offense they will face each week, but still focusing on the things they do well as a defense.
A holistic approach – Both Mora and Bradley want players to know the entire defense. That means defensive linemen know the coverage schemes for the back seven and defensive backs have an understanding of line stunts and blitz pressures up front. It makes sense, and should help the defense play as more of a unit when everybody understands all 11 players role on the field. Here's what Bradley had to say about that.
"We're going to really tax our players mentally," Bradley said. "They've got to understand, if we're in a cover-two or a cover-four or an eight-man front, what the d-line is playing, how the linebackers are playing it, and how the secondary is going to play it.
"They've got to be able to know what everybody else is doing, as a safety, so that they understand the fit and how to make plays."
Bring the pain – You can't be an effective, intimidating defense if you don't hit. That's one thing I learned when I covered the Super Bowl recently talking to Pittsburgh's defensive guys each day. Basically, if you don't hit you don't play for the Steelers. That's what they're known for and that reputation helps them on the football field. Bradley wants to create a similar atmosphere in Seattle.
"Obviously you want guys that will have the ability to play man-to-man, have the ability to play cover-two, and also will come up and hit you," Bradley said. "I think there needs to be a presence on the field to [the point] where, a receiver, when he's coming across the middle, or if a safety's coming up to the line of scrimmage, he has the ability to finish at the pile and knock back. I think when a player gets up, a running back gets up, and he sees 11 jerseys around him, and they're all Seahawks jerseys, that sends a message."
Experience – With the defensive coaches in place the Seahawks have a wealth of experience to pull from. Lewis has been a coordinator in both a 3-4 scheme (Pittsburgh) and a 4-3 scheme (N.Y. Giants). Dan Quinn has worked in both a 3-4 (N.Y Jets, Miami) and 4-3 (Miami, San Francisco). Bradley knows the ins and outs of the 4-3, cover 2 scheme from his work at North Dakota State and Tampa Bay. Jim Mora and Zerick Rollins have a good grasp of what defensive scheme will work with Seattle's defensive personnel situation, so the transition should be an easy one defensively.
The defensive coaches also have different personalities, which is important for the makeup of any coaching staff. Mora is intense, high energy and driven. Bradley is those things, but offers a more humble approach and is a bit more reserved than Mora, so those two personalities should balance themselves out.
If you created a personality from scratch for a defensive football coach, Dan Quinn would be that guy. He's a bit gruff, and a no-nonsense guy. Quinn seems like he'll be a grinder who gets after it on the practice field.
Lewis is the elder statesman who's been around the game a long time and will bring a lot of knowledge to the group.
Whether a player is big enough, fast enough or strong enough to get on the field is important for Seattle's defense. But just as important is bringing guys in who fit the system and can get the job done on the field.
"If they can play, they can play," Lewis said. "And that's the most important thing: identify football players that can help you win football games on Sunday, Monday, whenever they play.
"[It's not about] raw athletes, raw skill. There's something to be said for that, you got to [mold] them some, but you better find really good players. You're better off finding good players that fit what you do, that know how to play, that understand the game, that they have a passion for the game. Those guys help you win more than the straight-line speed guys, or the guys that bench press the world, or the guys that are really tall or really whatever. I'd rather have the better football player."