Behind Enemy Lines: Patriots-Seahawks I

Patriots Insider gets the inside scoop on the disappointing Seattle Seahawks from longtime Seahawks writer Doug Farrar. In this part, we find out more about Lofa Tatupu, Pat Kerney and the Seattle defense.

We catch up with Seahawks beat writer Doug Farrar for Part 1 of this three part series. Here are Doug's insights into the Seahawks defense. Be sure to check out Part 2 (offense) and Part 3 (special teams)

Behind Enemy Lines: Seahawks Part 1 (defense)

JS: The Seahawks defense was supposed to be much improved this season. What has happened to the unit, which is now ranked near the bottom of the league in yardage and points allowed?

DF: Yeah, this was a unit that was supposed to shut down the NFL – linebacker Lofa Tatupu predicted several shutouts before the season began, and it just hasn’t happened. The problem is that this is a defense that looks good on paper and falls apart on the field.

First of all, team president/roster architect Tim Ruskell fell in love with smallish defenses from his time as a scout in Tampa Bay. The Seahawks play different strains of the Cover-2 and Tampa-2 schemes the Bucs used to great effect early in the decade (and are doing so once again), but Ruskell has whiffed on quite a few moves in the draft and free agency. We’ll talk later about his offensive personnel sense (“walking disaster area” would be an apt description), but let’s go through his supposed area of expertise.

First of all, the Seahawks haven’t been able to generate any consistent heat on opposing quarterbacks. A defense that used to rank among the leaders in sacks every year currently stands 17th in Adjusted Sack Rate. None of the ends Ruskell has drafted – Darryl Tapp, Baraka Atkins, and Lawrence Jackson – have proven able to rush the passer with any consistency. Tapp and Jackson, the marquee draft picks, are basically hybrid guys who do a little bit of everything reasonably well and nothing spectacularly.

Because pass pressure has been an issue, Seattle’s secondary has been under siege. This may be the most glaring series of missteps Ruskell’s made in his time here. He drafted small cornerbacks Kelly Jennings and Josh Wilson, and signed safeties Brian Russell and Deon Grant. Jennings is a good speedy man corner in the Andre Dyson mold, but he will get schooled on any route that has a zig or a zag. His best NFL game was against Malcom Floyd of the Chargers in 2006, and that’s because he was facing a bunch of guys who were running 9-routes. Grant’s a decent, if overpriced, veteran, and Russell is the worst tackler in the NFL. I’m serious. At least once during the Patriots game, he’ll whiff so spectacularly, you won’t believe it.

After the brutal Thanksgiving loss to the Cowboys, several defensive players came out and told the media that they were less than impressed by the playcalling of defensive coordinator John Marshall. My sense is that the players should be looking at least as much in the mirror, and even if Marshall is the worst coach in NFL history, going public with that kind of stuff gives you a pretty good idea just how far this thing has dropped.

Pat Kerney, a force in 2007, done in 2008

JS: How have injuries impacted the Seahawks’ Defense?

DF: Injuries have sapped the effectiveness of Seattle’s two defensive pointmen. End Patrick Kerney was put in IR in mid-November with a shoulder injury. To indicate the pass rush without Kerney, the veteran ended his season with five sacks in seven games. Julian Peterson has tied Kerney with five, but nobody has surpassed him. That’s an embarrassment for a team that has invested a lot of money and draft effort in its front seven.

Middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu has been dealing with various injuries all season – we’ll talk about him next. It’s the usual bumps and bruises other than that, but this problem is more about personnel and scheme than injuries. I’m answering questions posed by a guy who writes about the Patriots – who would know better how teams can overcome injuries if they’re build correctly?

JS: Lofa Tatupu, son of former Patriot great Mosi Tatupu had an outstanding season last year, as did other Seahawk linebackers. What is different now?

DF: Tatupu’s played fairly well when he’s been on the field, but he has been playing hurt a lot. He can still drive to the ball and isn’t a liability in coverage. Like New England rookie Jerod Mayo, Tatupu can get washed away inside by centers and guards if he’s not careful. Julian Peterson and Leroy Hill round out the trio. Peterson is a good side-to-side tackler with excellent pursuit speed, a great edge rusher, and a real disappointment in coverage. Leroy Hill, the only one of the three in a contract year, is playing like it. He leads the team in tackles, which is unusual in that he’s not a middle linebacker. This is probably the one positive aspect of the 2008 Seahawks team – the linebackers are still strong, though their overall effectiveness has been muted by all the problems around them.

JS: Before last week Matt Cassel was able to post back-to-back 400 yard passing games against fairly solid defenses in the Jets and Dolphins. How will the Seahawks gameplan to slow down Cassel, Randy Moss, Wes Welker and company?

DF: The glib answer would be for the Seahawks to somehow get the Pats’ team plane to land in Montana and miss the game entirely, but it’s probably too late for that. The real answer is what the Seahawks don’t provide – pressure. I have been impressed with Cassel’s ability to move in the pocket and get throws off under pressure for his experience level, but he isn’t at Brady’s level of “unflusteredness” in the pocket. If Seattle can’t hurry Cassel, they’re in huge trouble. They don’t have anyone who can cover Randy Moss deep – the guys who can run with him can’t jump with him and vice versa – and they’re just as susceptible to the short pass to Welker with a safety in the box. The only hope is to keep everything in front of them, which takes away the blitz.

It would be really nice if the Seahawks didn’t have to play the Patriots a week after Cassel got filleted by James Harrison and the Steelers – this is an offense with something to prove, playoff positioning on the line, and a fairly easy opponent. I don’t anticipate a favorable experience for the 12th Man.

JS: Despite the record, some players do play well on bad teams. Who should we keep an eye on with the Seahawks defense and why?

DF: Tackle Brandon Mebane is a nice hybrid guy with the ability to plug holes and penetrate – he’s the best lineman with Kerney gone. All the linebackers have things to recommend them, and I think they will be able to keep New England’s iffy run game in check. Cornerbacks Marcus Trufant and the aforementioned Josh Wilson are playing alright, but Trufant’s game is especially dependent on pass pressure.

If the Seahawks liked to put Deon Grant deep in their Cover-1 formations instead of Brian Russell, Grant would be an intriguing option. Bt he’s the man in the box most of the time. Aside from those names, Seattle’s defense is currently a hodge-podge of role-players, stopgap solutions, disappointments, and kids who aren’t there yet. The idea that the Seahawks would ride to the playoffs on the strength of their defense proved to be a major miscalculation.

Look for Parts 2 and 3 coming soon

For more of Doug Farrar's analysis check out his work at Doug Farrar is a staff Writer for Football Outsiders, a Panelist for the Washington Post, and a contributor to the Seattle Times.

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