Seattle Seahawks

How a new, switching Seahawks defensive scheme baffled Kirk Cousins, stymied Vikings

The Seahawks’ tall task was to affect quick-throwing Kirk Cousins before he got the ball to his lethal Vikings receivers.

But instead of trying to pressure Cousins, Seattle decided if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Join the ’em down the field. With even more coverage.

Seattle coach Pete Carroll, a defensive mind first, and coordinator Ken Norton Jr. had the Seahawks using an old-school scheme at key points Monday night against Minnesota: seven defensive backs. It was the first time this season Seattle used that scheme, one the Seahawks call “bandit” from Carroll’s first year leading the team. That was 2010.

“Bandit” robbed Cousins and the Vikings’ offense of their quick-strike rhythm, and ultimately any chance Minnesota had to win at CenturyLink Field.

It also helped get offensive coordinator John DeFilippo fired. The Vikings fired their play caller on Tuesday, hours after he didn’t effectively respond to the Seahawks defense.

“They really were saying ‘We’re going to dare you to work somebody else and we’re going to give you the time back there, but we’re going to cover everybody,’” Cousins said, sounding almost bewildered.

For long stretches of their 21-7 win that was a 3-0 game deep into the fourth quarter, the Seahawks made the self-assured quarterback with all $84 million of his contract guaranteed looked like a hesitant, $840,000 rookie backup.

On three different third downs, reserve cornerback Akeem King was Seattle’s seventh defensive back. That’s when was seven defensive backs versus four Vikings wide receivers, with Wagner covering any running back leaking into the flat underneath. Seattle won this numbers mismatches.

One time in the first half Norton blitzed King. He hit Cousins to force a wayward throw into the remaining six DBs and thus another abrupt end to a Vikings drive.

Twelve times second-year strong safety Delano Hill was the sixth defensive back in “dime” defense.

On 42 of 58 defensive snaps, 72 percent, Justin Coleman was the extra, fifth defensive tackle in “nickel.”

On any given snap Cousins didn’t know if Seattle was going to have five, six or seven DBs covering four or five receivers. The Seahawks often double-teamed wide receiver Adam Thielen, who had 98 catches entering the game, and it took him out of the game. He had zero targets deep into the second half.

Sometimes the Seahawks doubled fellow Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs.

Sometimes they doubled both Thielen and Diggs.

A few times, they triple-teamed Diggs.

“It creates problems. We able to put a couple guys on their best receivers,” Wagner said. “It creates confusion out there. You (as a quarterback) don’t know who is guarding who, who is doing what. That’s what we are trying to do is confuse them.

“And while we are confusing them, the D-line gets time to go and get him.”

The confusion caused Cousins to hold the ball far longer than he had all season while he was completing 71.5 percent of his passes, second in the NFL only to Drew Brees. The confusion allowed defensive end Frank Clark to get his career-high 11th sack of the season in the first half, continuing his rampage toward huge bucks when his contract ends this winter.

It allowed rookie end Jacob Martin to run down Cousins from behind and force the fumble late in the fourth quarter that Coleman picked up and return 29 yards to make it 21-0 Seahawks with just under three minutes left.

“We tried to switch up the game plan a little bit, just to cover some of their best receivers and kind of take them out of the game,” Coleman said.

“I think we did pretty well doing that.”

Pretty well?

Cousins was so flummoxed he couldn’t believe what modern technology was showing him on the bench between series.

“There were two third downs early where they truly were doubling Adam and Stefon in a way that they’re not going to get the ball. Shouldn’t get the ball,” Cousins said. “And, that was one down the middle to Aldrick (Robinson) where I was trying to work him down the middle in one-on-one because the safeties are so enamored with Diggsy and Adam that literally it’s like cover zero for Aldrick. Just right down the middle of the field, you can take it down the chute.

“One other one on the Microsoft Surface picture they literally dropped, it appeared, nine defenders. If they didn’t drop nine then they dropped eight and Diggsy was triple-teamed.”

Carroll seemed reluctant to talk about the seven-DBs scheme when asked about it after the game. It was as if he didn’t want to let a secret get out.

But it’s on game tape for potential playoff opponents to have to study and to prepare for in the days leading up to playing Seattle.

“It was a little change up,” Carroll said, after a brief pause to contemplate how to respond. “Something the defensive staff kind of came up with, Kenny, and the guys.

“I thought it was a beautifully-timed plan for these guys. That team is really good and they protect well and an experienced quarterback. I think he had them off kilter a little bit, and I think the mixes of the calls worked out quite well for us.”

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.
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