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This Week In Defense: Bears at Seahawks, Preseason Week 3

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Guys, it's good to be back in the swing of football analysis and I have waited for weeks in anticipation of this piece. It has been a blast doing the This Week In Defense series the last year and the response at times has been overwhelming. Thank you for being so kind and helping me help us understand football just a bit better than most fans of pro football.

Be warned: This is a warmup piece There are only five highlighted plays, all from the first half of the Seahawks' win over the Bears. The usual format of ten plays will return in the Week 1 article when the season opens. For those that are new here, you can find the mission statement post explaining the structure and intentions of these articles here.

Narrative of the game:

There was quite the national narrative coming into this game, which is rare for a preseason game. Chris Carter, famous for calling Seattle's corps of receivers "appetizers" during the playoffs last year, went on ESPN's Mike and Mike radio show and predicted this game would be full of flags with the new emphasis on the rules. This would be something to watch. Well we know the Seahawks disappointed in this regard as the 1st string defense failed to draw a single flag despite obviously murderous attempts to do so. (Sarcasm)

To tell the truth, I didn't even consider it, and despite the size advantage of the Bears receivers, I was more focused on the offensive approach this week. I did key on the D-line and Jeremy Lane specifically though in my selection process and so I hope this helps you get ready for a season that I think is set to be better than last year.

I'll provide descriptions of each play and include a few gifs, but I'd also suggest following along with Game Rewind or DVR if you have the ability.

[1st quarter 8:53 1st and 10 Pass incomplete intended for Brandon Marshall (dropped)]

I like Marc Trestman a bunch. The Bears' head coach is one of those guys that is a true offensive mastermind and uses Jay Cutler better than Mike Martz did when he used to run the offense in Chicago. The Seahawks were a bit on their heels on this drive, and a quick pass approach and a good string of diagnoses by Cutler had moved the Bears into Seattle territory.

This play is a nice design by Chicago, with Marshall in tight and Michael Spurlock and Josh Morgan stacked up on the right side of the formation. Martellus Bennett is on the left side lined up as an extra blocker. They wind up with a great look against a single high look from the Seahawks defense. The Seahawks have an interesting allignment, with Kam Chancellor down as a de facto fourth linebacker. Mike Morgan is actually further out wide, challenging with a press against the stack of Spurlock and Morgan.

The Bears fake with a play action to Forte which succeeds in freezing Kam a bit, and winds up clearing space for Marshall to catch a pass on a simple streak route. Unfortunately, the Bears weren't counting on Brock Coyle being able to get back and force himself into the throwing lane late. This caused Marshall to drop the ball. Also of note, is Earl Thomas aggressively coming down to clean up the play barely a second after the drop.

This is pretty typical of the Seahawks' defense the last three seasons or so. The Bears have a solid drive going and then bam, suddenly a play gets disrupted and all the sudden the rhythm gets hung up and has to reestablish, like a bike where the rider got out of the rhythm of pedaling. This lead to my next highlight...

[1st Quarter 8:40 3rd and 15 Pass incomplete intended for Alshon Jeffery broken up by Byron Maxwell]

The Seahawks are in a nickel formation with Jeremy Lane, Malcolm Smith and it looks like Mike Morgan. (Hard to tell from the pictures I have available). Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell are pressed up on either side of the formation and both safeties are back at the snap. Sherman is on Josh Morgan and Maxwell is on Alshon Jeffery. Brandon Marshall is in the slot, and Martellus Bennett is matched up on Mike Morgan.

Now, I'm not sure who makes the mistake here but I think it's Maxwell based on his reaction at the end of the play. Let me walk you through it:

At the snap Maxwell, spins outside toward the sideline and releases inside leverage to the receiver. (Inside refers to routes that move inside toward the middle of the field.) Where the play goes south is that Maxwell is expecting help from Earl Thomas inside but Thomas has already committed to an underneath crossing route by Martellus Bennett, leaving Byron with a heck of a climb to get back into the play against his man. He does somehow, though, and uses his strong hands to break up the pass as it reaches Jeffery's hands.

I've commented on Maxwell's strength before against Anquan Boldin but this is even more impressive to make up ground from  a poor trail position to impact the reception. I heard some calling for his head against Denver in the first preseason game and I think part of his laugh may just be intended for those folks too.

[2nd Quarter 5:30 1st and 10 Jay Cutler sacked by O'Brien Schofield loss of 11 yards]

Really, I was very underwhelmed by the first team D-line against the Bears until this point. There had been no real pressure on Cutler, some passes were quick, but it was a very "meh" performance by the whole crew that operated against the Bears' ones until midway throught he 2nd. There were a few bright spots, though, and this sack by Schofield is really key in making sure he earns a spot on this team.

The whole D-line kind of wakes up after this sack, and there is a lot more pressure moving forward. Lets walk through the mechanics of the play:

In order to properly understand a rush, you must first look at how they are aligned vs the offensive line. Since this is first and ten, the Bears are actually giving themselves away with the fact that the O-line is standing up. There are only two types of plays that can be run from this position: A pass or a delayed draw, because a designed run will be dead due to the inability of the O-line to get leverage to run block properly. Seattle's D-line is as follows:

Bennett (LEO), Mebane (NT), K. Williams (3-Tech), Schofield (5-tech)

Kevin Williams creates a fantastic rush lane for Schofield by using his strength to force the right guard down toward the center. This opens an inside rush lane for Schofield, who attacks it instantly and has a great finish for a sack of Cutler. There are the rare guys who can just win one on one when rushing the passer, but the more common plays are ones where guys work together to create a good rush.

This is why I loved the thought of Kevin Williams on early downs. This is also a rare early down sack for Seattle that hasn't really produced a lot of those even during it's Super Bowl season. If Williams brings this to Seahawks this year the defense will be better.

[2nd Quarter 4:05 3rd and 8] Jay Cutler sacked by Cassius Marsh loss of 4 yards]

I am a unabashed mark for Cassius Marsh. I have been since Seattle drafted him and if you follow me on twitter (@Darthkripple), I am so sorry, I can't help it. I love this guy a ton. So let's go over what scheme Seattle chose for its "fun" down.

First thing you'll notice is how the D-line is positioned -- both Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett are pinched together on the right side of the line and Marsh is split a full 3 yards off the left tackle -- and Schofield is standing in the gap between the center and left guard. Make note of that bit: This is something Seattle showed with Bruce Irvin in the stand up role.

At the snap, the center, right guard, and right tackle move to the right together. This leaves the left guard to defend the space vacated by the center against Schofield, if he indeed brings pressure. The left tackle, mind you, who has been looking in at the ball because of the noise, has to first make sure he doesn't retreat too aggressively and leave his left guard all alone with Schofield, who would then have an ungodly space advantage to rush. The left tackle then must find Marsh, who is in his blind spot.

It's a no win scenario for the left tackle, who gets pushed back by Marsh just as Bennett and Avril clear the right side and apply pressure. Marsh actually holds the tackle off with one arm as he starts to wrap up Cutler. This kid is stronger than his frame suggests and the fact that he can even play inside scares me because now my job on these fun looks is going to be so much harder.

[2nd Quarter :30 2nd and Goal Pass Intercepted by Jeremy Lane intended for Joshua Morgan]

The Seahawks and Cutler are both confused by this play. Cutler, because he didn't expect the snap, and the Seahawks, because Richard Sherman and Jeremy Lane almost collided defending a combo route (not a pick play) where Brandon Marshall and Josh Morgan cross up the coverage in an attempt to create a throwing lane.

What saves this from disaster is Jeremy Lane stutter-stepping near Sherman, and as Sherman drifts to finish his Cover-3 from the looks of it, Lane sees the ball come out, tracks it and picks it off. Seems simple on TV, but it was almost a TD with two Hawks smacking each other or put another way, two little baby steps from giving Jay Cutler something to celebrate instead of giving him something to make him blame all his teammates.

(Edit: I made this sound really dramatic here. Instead of editing it down I thought I would simply add in what actually happens. After I posted this, I looked again and this actually seems like something Lane and Sherman were aware of the whole time. If you watch their execution it's like they sold the idea they were going to smack into eachother because of the combo route. What actually happens is that they both stop as the receivers cross each other and Lane watches for the ball while Sherman gives ground continuing a cover 3 drop.

The Pause between Sherman and Lane on the play is just enough to "Sell" the idea that the concept worked. Lane keeping his eyes on Cutler as he moves gets right into the path of the ball because in Cutler's already panicked mind Lane was still occupied on the other side with the 2nd receiver.

I kept my original post and assessment in there because it's a prime example of a "baited" result. I was so sure they would crash into each other that until I looked at it with a clean approach, I saw exactly what Sherman and Lane wanted Cutler to think he saw.

Overview Of The Game:

I liked the defense, mostly. The pass rush was disappointing, but the play calls were solid and allowed the defense to respond really well to the Bears' offense, and specifically the big wideouts. So much for a flag fest in Seattle, as predicted by Chris Carter -- Seattle's first team wasn't flagged, period. The pass rush picked it up near the end of the second quarter, with Michael Bennett flashing consistently with about five-and-a-half to go.

Game Ball:

Byron Maxwell

The dude is gonna be the most thrown-at corner in the NFL by season's end. I wrote once that he was very strong but slow footed, and his technique off the snap was too raw when he was a rookie. Now, he's Seattle's most physical DB outside Kam Chancellor. He's a vast upgrade over Brandon Browner and I look forward to a big year of unexplainable, impressive INTs. His pass breakup is, I think, a precursor of things to come.

Needs Work:

Pass Rush

I talked about this a lot but with so much to replace in Chris Clemons and Red Bryant, I don't think Seattle saw enough from the ones in terms of rush. Some plays were made, eventually, but I think it's entirely reasonable to worry about this area of play going forward, especially facing who they are coming out of the gate in Aaron Rodgers.

A Few Important Notes

- TWID will be a little bit different this year in format, as Danny Kelly's workload has increased at the dot-com, he should be able to GIF about two plays each week for TWID (at least he hopes so). I originally had planned to just post text breakdowns using the time stamps, to allow people to watch the game along with my notes. When Danny offered the GIFs, I saw it as a bonus. But, I am not currently able to do GIFs myself, so, I have a couple of questions for you:

1, Would you guys mind if the articles were just text based? and 2, perhaps one of you has experience with making GIFs and would be willing to help?

(If you're able to help please get in touch with Danny Kelly or myself through email.)

My email: Darthkripple@Hotmail.com

TWID Live?

I'm looking at streaming some of the process of producing TWID weekly. This would be through YouTube and the goal would be to bring in an audience that would want to talk defense and watch plays with me. This wouldn't mean that I would stream the game, as that is copyright-no-no-time, but it would mean that anyone that DVR'd the game or otherwise had an easily accessible copy could watch plays as I did and learn the process I take week to week.

This would not change TWID. Streams will only be about an hour and the articles will still be on a regular schedule. I want to gauge interest in this idea though, moving forward so I know if it's something I want to invest some time in. I want to create as many levels of participation as I can and grow audience access to a more direct interaction outside of stationary comments which I sometimes have trouble keeping up with when the season is in full grind. Let me know your thoughts, good bad, or indifferent All input is welcome.

Fridays At The Whiteboard

A series idea based on "Chalk Talk" by Brock Huard. I wanted to shrink the complexities of NFL offenses to something a little more tangible for fans. Not just how plays work but how a QB makes them go. This should have a demo piece out in the next week or just before the season starts and I hope you find it informative.

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See you in a couple weeks for Week 1!

While you wait, here's a fun trailer I made as a promo for TWID season 2!

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