To say the Seattle Seahawks struggled in pass coverage last season is an understatement.
The Seahawks gave up 31 touchdowns through the air last season, tied for third-worst in the league.
Opponents averaged 250 yards a contest through the air in 2010, 27th overall in the league. Seattle gave up five performances of 300 yards or more to opposing quarterbacks, including San Diego’s Philip Rivers throwing for 455 yards in a 27-20 loss to Seattle at CenturyLink Field, which included two kickoff returns for touchdowns by Leon Washington to salvage that game for the Seahawks.
Here are a couple things that appeared to be an issue for Seattle. First, the Seahawks failed to get a consistent pass rush while rushing just four people in passing situations. The Seahawks finished with a respectable 37 sacks during the regular season, but 21 of those came when rushing five or more players, which means the Seahawks had to turn up the heat to get pressure.
Second, Seattle never adjusted well to Pete Carroll’s wish to play more press and off-man coverage. That means less emphasis on playing Cover 2 and corners reading the quarterback and seeing what is happening in front of them on the perimeter, and more of an emphasis on cornerbacks reacting to what the receiver is doing on the outside.
The result was less interceptions and pass-break ups in the secondary. Former Seahawks secondary coach Jerry Gray, now the defensive coordinator with the Tennessee Titans, talked about his players making that adjustment in this comment from last season. “The hardest thing is when you’re playing press man (to man),” Gray said. “You’re not going to get as many (interceptions). Most of the guys that play off, they’ve got vision to break (to the ball) and they … will get a lot more interceptions because, again, the rush is going to get there and they’re going to throw the ball faster. But when you’re playing … with your back turned, it’s hard to get picks.”
Carroll wants to play more press coverage because it takes away the quick, rhythm passing game and forces the offense to make tougher throws down the field and outside the numbers.
It’s one of the reasons Seattle drafted big corners in Stanford’s Richard Sherman and Clemson’s Byron Maxwell, along with bringing in Oregon State product and CFL Star Brandon Browner with a futures contract.
And it’s why the Seahawks chose to trade 5-9 defensive back Josh Wilson and likely will not bring back Kelly Jennings in free agency – Carroll wants bigger, more physical corners on the perimeter that can force opposing quarterbacks to make more precise throws on the perimeter of the defense.
“We like to play the aggressive style of coverage, to get our corners on the wide receivers so that we challenge the quick game and the easy throws that offenses can make, and make them have to push the ball down the field,” Carroll said. “That’s the basic premise of press. If you back off, then you’re allowing teams to throw quicker rhythm stuff, and have an easier time of completing it, and so we take them to a different level.
“When the corners are really good, then it makes it harder on the offense. There is no quarterback that wants to throw at those guys when they’re good and well equipped and well versed. If you’re lousy at playing press, then they throw the ball over your head and it doesn’t do any good. We have to get really good at it and buy into the philosophy and as we grow, we’ll have more opportunity to get players that make it a little easier for them to play that style, and we’ll see how these guys add to it.”
One example where Carroll’s philosophy seemed to work was against St. Louis in the final regular-season game of 2010, a game Seattle needed to get into the playoffs.
In that game the Seahawks played a lot of press coverage against St. Louis rookie quarterback Sam Bradford. Heading into that game, the Rams had relied on a short passing game to take some pressure off of Bradford and help him get rid of the ball quick, but the Seahawks took away Bradford’s security blanket in Danny Amendola by putting Earl Thomas on him most of the game. The result was a lot of throws by Bradford to running backs out of the backfield, and some deep throws that his receivers dropped to try and loosen up the defense.