Thomas, Mebane emerge as the best of injury-plagued unit
With five games left in the regular season, and an improbable shot at a division title at 5-6, the new-look 2010 Seattle Seahawks look a lot like any other start-up voids are often filled with frantic positioning (witness their hyperactive approach to roster construction), and there are times when you have to go live before the paint is dry. So it has been for the Seahawks in the first year of the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era.
The new football brain trust in Seattle had to begin their efforts by blowing out the failure of the past administration, which it did with a vengeance. And while that cut-cut-cut approach made sense in both the long and short term, it has also led to offensive-line combinations in which one would swear the players dont know the names of the guys lining up next to them, and some very inconsistent results from individuals of varying talent levels.
But hey were doing the start-up drill here at Sportspress Northwest; we feel their pain. Heres a two-part by-position look at what must go right and coalesce from now through the end of December if the Seahawks are to extend their efforts after Jan. 2 The review of the offense is linked here; well now look at a Seattle defense that has taken a lot of lumps in the last month.
Mebane is the stalwart of this line; through the changes from 4-3 malaise to multiple (if not always effective) fronts, hes been the paragon of effectiveness. Alternating primarily between one-tech (shading the center and/or guard) and 3-tech (shading the guard and/or tackle) depending on the front and system, hes allowed just 0.8 yards per running play on the 15 plays that have gone his way, per Football Outsiders metrics.
Cole, the ostensible ideal nose tackle (right over the center), has missed the last four games due to an ankle injury, and his absence has been felt a fact that well take a closer look at soon. Siavii has replaced Cole in the middle of those fronts, and while he provides some dynamic interior penetration, he isnt really the same kind of hole-plugger that Cole is the kind so necessary in defenses with 3-4 principles.
Terrill has been winning the game of Seahawks: Survivor for years, making rosters most of the time and being asked back whenever he doesnt. More a backup 3-tech in a straight 4-3 scheme, Terrill does have a very useful, specific skill his seven blocked field goals ranks second in team history to Joe Nashs eight. Richardson, who was signed in early November to take up some of the line attrition, plays inside more often than not, though he is listed as a defensive end.
When discussing Seattles defensive ends, one must start with Red Bryant, the former afterthought fourth-round pick who was taken from roster purgatory to his ideal spot as the 5-tech end in Carrolls defense. Providing edge containment opposite Clemons pass-rushing, Bryant led a defense that allowed 2.9 yards per carry in the first seven games of the season, and 5.0 in the weeks since. The primary difference? Bryants residence on the injured reserve list. Balmer has been Bryants primary replacement, and hes done a decent job, but he doesnt have quite the same stopping power hes allowed 2.7 yards per carry on running plays in his direction as opposed to the 1.4 on plays in Bryants vicinity.
The Leo position, the hybrid 3-4/4-3 pass rush spot occupied by everyone from Willie McGinest to Clay Matthews in the last 15 years of Pete Carroll defenses, has been ably handled by Clemons this season. The trade of Daryl Tapp to Philadelphia for Clemons was one of GM John Schneiders more worthy acquisitions Clemons leads the team with 7.5 sacks, plus another seven quarterback hits. Brock, perhaps best-known for the absolutely ridiculous roughing the passer call against him in the Saints loss, is an able backup and complementary player. Davis and Geathers are developmental guys.
There have been many questions about Tatupus continued effectiveness, but it must be remembered that the former second-round pick has always played his best when there is more and better size up front, allowing him to split gaps to make plays, and drop into coverage as opposed to having to read gaps and take care of run fills.
Curry was drafted fourth overall in 2009, but its the undrafted Hawthorne who has been the revelation over the last two seasons. Tim Ruskell didnt do a lot right, but he scored big-tine when he signed The Heater as an undrafted free agent. In 2009, Hawthorne led the team in tackles while replacing Tatupu for 11 games, and he currently leads the team in tackles having replaced Leroy Hill on the weak side.
Curry has the kinds of physical tools for which most linebackers would give large coin, but his demon speed is not accentuated by assignment-correctness – -he is too often out of place, still struggles to get home as a pass rusher, and is inconsistent in his sideline-to-sideline efforts.
Herring and McCoy can back up the main players in a pinch (Herring in particular outside), but theyre both on the roster right now as products of Carrolls and Schneiders mission to improve special teams.
In 2009, Trufant was toasted to a crisp by enemy receivers (particularly Andre Johnson in an embarrassing loss to the Houston Texans), but he was playing through a back injury that probably should have shelved him for the season. Healthier and in a better scheme in 2010, Trufant has returned to his old form, at least to a large degree. He can still be taken out by quick changes on intermediate routes, and the Giants targeted him as such. Hes never been the shutdown corner expected for his pay grade, but hes played well most of the season.
Jennings, relegated to nickel duty in last years mess of a defense, has done well this season the new defense is a good place for his trail speed and closing quickness. Schneiders history with Green Bay would seem to inform a need for bigger, more athletic cornerbacks, and thats a likely trend over time.
Thurmond and Lewis have played well in spot duty, especially when asked to defend short to intermediate passes to the flats and seams. Thurmond, who may have been a first-round pick had he not been derailed with a terrible knee injury, has the most potential of the backups.
When asked after the first day of the 2010 draft why the Seahawks took Thomas with the second of their two first-round picks, Carroll immediately and definitively pointed to the Texas stars rare speed from sideline to sideline and ability to play center field (the back third of a defense) in Seattles new schemes. And as good as Russell Okung someday may be, its easy to argue that so far, Thomas has been the new regimes best pick by a crushing margin.
Thomas has the kind of athletic ability that had a lot of teams looking at him as a cornerback. Its changed what the Seahawks can do. His five interceptions (tied with Michael Boulware for the Seahawks’ rookie record) is matched by at least as many near-picks and seven pass deflections. Like certain rangy shortstops who get penalized by official scorers because they get to balls that others simply cant, those groans of disappointment from the fans when Thomas doesnt quite get there on a ball should be curbed by the notion that there are very few safeties in the league who would even make it close.
Because Thomas has the back end of that pass defense so well in check, Milloy has been freed from the bench and turned loose in seemingly infinite ways hell do everything from playing run at the tackle position in the Bandit defense, to stellar intermediate coverage, to delayed blitzes and more. In a way, Milloy has taken to the role played by Troy Polamalu and Taylor Mays in the USC defenses coaches by Carroll those safeties who often act like linebackers by using downhill tackling. The difference is that the Seahawks dont pay by taking one safety out of place, because the other can cover so well.
Babineaux has seen his role change back to that of nickel defender ,and thats the best place for him; the unselfish veteran is a good corner/safety hybrid who is now optimized by proper planning around him. Chancellor, a great athlete who looks like a medium-sized linebacker, is an intriguing prospect.