BY Doug Farrar 05:43PM 12/27/2010

Pass coverage a concern at season’s end

Once again, Seattle’s greatest liability is its inability to stop making average quarterbacks look like Pro Bowlers.

Did Marcus Trufant's rough game against Tampa Bay spring from an injury issue? (Drew Sellers/Sportspress Northwest)

When you allow five touchdown passes to a second-year quarterback, it stands to reason that your pass coverage will be called into question. It’s certainly time for Seahawks observers to wonder what’s going on with their team’s aerial defense, but it has been for a while. Against the pass this season, Seattle has displayed the inverse of the usual mentality espoused by scholars of the Cover/Tampa-2 schemes; it’s a defense that breaks even when it doesn’t bend.

In the last four games before a 38-15 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in which quarterback Josh Freeman tied a franchise record with those five scores, the Seahawks gave up 233 (Kansas City), 152 (Carolina), 241 (San Francisco), and 168 (Atlanta) passing yards. However, they gave up four touchdowns against the Chiefs, three against the 49ers, and three against the Falcons. Seattle shut out the Carolina Panthers, a team that needs 14 points in their season finale to break the 200-point barrier, so that’s hardly cause for celebration. Looking at the bigger picture shows us that, as they have for most of the season, the Seahawks have given up more pass plays of 20 yards or more (59) than any other defense.

Key among the offenders against the Buccaneers was cornerback Marcus Trufant, who missed practice last Wednesday and Thursday with what he termed “back spasms”. When asked last Friday about whether those spasms brought back memories of 2009, when he opened the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list and struggled through a season that saw him give up far too many big plays, Trufant said that “it was one of the first things that came to my mind, but it wasn’t a lot of the same feelings, so after I got it checked out – after the doctors looked at it, I was pretty confident that I could come back.” It was a fluke thing – you can turn the wrong way, and get torqued the wrong way, and it can happen. I just turned a certain way, and it tightened up on me.”

Unfortunately, turning was a distinct problem for Trufant on the Buccaneers’ first two touchdowns. On the  first score, a 10-yard pass from Freeman to Kellen Winslow with 12:39 left in the first half, Winslow took an out pattern in the end zone past Trufant as Freeman made time by rolling right. As Winslow headed right to match Freeman’s movement, Trufant clearly got turned around, stutter-stepping his way out of coverage as Winslow got in front of him.

Then, with 6:27 left in the first half, Freeman got off an amazing throw in the face of a Seahawks blitz that had cornerback Walter Thurmond right in his face as he threw. Starting his route at the Seattle 20-yard line, Tampa Bay’s version of Mike Williams hit a dig route (a quick, sharp, inside cut), and Trufant, who seemed to be looking to the outside, got embarrassed when Williams made his cut.

Of particular concern was how long it took Trufant to recover to the route – he almost fell down as he tried to right himself to make the tackle inside the five-yard line. Again, this was unusual this season, and very reminiscent of the Trufant with a back problem – the Trufant that played just 10 games after missing the first six.

In those 10 games, according to Football Outsiders’ metrics, Trufant amassed the NFL’s most pass interference penalties with seven, and was the league’s second-most targeted defensive back (66 targets, or 23.1 percent of all targets to Seattle defenders). One can only imagine what might have happened had he played a full 16 games. Trufant has played much better this season, but this game was a return to that form, and it’s a legitimate question – should his injury situation have been more closely monitored in this game?

For Pete Carroll, the situation was more about performance than injury limitations, even in Trufant’s case. “Tru had a tough game,” Carroll said. “He really had a fairly routine play on Winslow on the first touchdown, because it was a zone, and he’s outside. As he’s looking in the backfield, (Winslow) snuck underneath him and made a nice play. The other one (to Williams) was a one-on-one, no help, nothing. Coverage on a full blitz, and the guy got inside him to make a nice play for the touchdown.

“We count on Tru to make those plays, and he knows that, and he’d be the first to tell you. But they did get him on those and so we wish like crazy he’d have come through and held outside leverage throughout the little scramble of the quarterback … he didn’t get it done, and those are the plays you get beat on.”

Providing farther drama for Seattle’s secondary is the fact that in the season finale, they’re set to re-experience rookie quarterback Sam Bradford at the worst possible time for them – after a three-game slump in which he did not throw a touchdown pass, Bradford completed over 75 percent of his passes against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, averaging a season-high 7.89 yards per attempt in the process.

It’s either an irresistible object against Seattle’s eminently moveable force, or an opportunity for the Seahawks to set their most glaring liability right. Time is short, and it will get shorter – a repeat performance of this type against the Rams will have Carroll doing his 2010 season exit press conference one week from today.


YourThoughts

  • Jeff

    a repeat performance of this type against the Rams will have Carroll doing his 2010 season exit press conference one week from today.

    Ask Mora about those last press conferences

  • rod belcher

    When watching Seahawk games on TV, with its many replays, it’s more than troublesome to note that opposing teams’ receivers often have a 5-yard separation from ‘Hawk secondary defenders. Conversely, it appears that Hasselbeck and Whitehurst are constantly throwing into coverage, because of abscence of separation. Has it been the receivers rather than the passers who are causing limited offensive success? And do the Seattle secondary defenders just simply not have the talent to prevent the opponents’ separation? Just asking.

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  • Doug McManus

    Letting Josh Wilson go was a huge mistake…second only to letting Hutch go. Kelly Jennings just is not getting it done. At this point in his career, Tru is only a solid, good corner.