AbsolutAnalysis: Whose Line Is It, Anyway?

Returning from a long stint as the defensive coordinator of a Swedish all-girl university team (and dragged back to America kicking and screaming), our very own Matt Lathrop casts his analytical eye upon the Seahawks' narrow victory over the Lions last Sunday. Specifically, Matt comes not to bury Floyd Womack, but to praise him.

Hello and Welcome! For the first installment of AbsolutAnalysis, I am going to steer away from the Impact Plays angle I have taken in the past, and approach the game from a more general view. I will go over some concepts on both sides of the ball and explain how I got to my conclusions about the game from an X’s and O’s point of view. I hope you enjoy it.

To start, I’m just going to come out and say it: The Seahawks offensive line wasn’t really that terrible against the Detroit Lions on Sunday. The Detroit defense was really that good, the linebackers in particular. Admittedly, the Hawks OL certainly wasn’t stellar, but after going over the game a couple times I don’t think it’s fair to pin all the problems on their shoulders. Removing the emotional component of breaking down a game, it’s easy to see that the front five will be just fine. To be honest, the tackles gave up the most pass rush pressure, and the middle three consistently kept a strong front pocket. I also thought Chris Gray looked very good for a guy that was supposed to be cut every training camp for about 12 years running. Hell, he looked plain good regardless of his age. We’ve been pretty lucky to have this guy. He has a reputation of being a “long term stop-gap,” but he is simply our RG, and has been a guy who has showed up to play every week for years. He hasn’t missed a start since 2000 – this guy deserves some credit.

Back to the topic at hand. On more than a couple plays, Matt Hasselbeck was guilty of bailing out of the pocket prematurely. For instance, on one play the Lions brought a midline blitz on a 5 step drop. Hass saw the blitz and did not give FB Mack Strong enough time to step up and pick it up. Before Strong could get to the blitzing LB, Hass spun to his left and run smack into the Lions RDE. That accounted for one sack that wasn’t a result of poor protection, seeing as Strong stepped up and easily defeated the blitzing defender. Another sack was due to a protection error against a DT/DE twist. The RDE folded with the DT, which the Hawks left side failed to adjust to. Again, this wasn’t a case of poor OL play, rather a mental error.

I also know Floyd Womack has received the lion’s share of the criticism for the lack of offensive output. While he did give up a couple big plays, he was pretty solid against Shaun Rogers and especially against the other starting DT, Shaun Cody throughout the game. In fact, after the first quarter, Pork Chop had been dominating Shaun Cody – he looked pretty good. Actually, Womack made a great play coming off a combo block with C Robbie Tobeck onto a Lions linebacker. Detroit often gave the Hawks an under front look, and Womack owned the DT at times. I wouldn’t say the Lions D-Line abused the Hawks O-Line, but rather did a good job of gap control and not giving ground. This allowed the linebackers to fly around and make plays, which they did all night. The linebacking core of the Lions defense carried the team, not the defensive line. I think the play of the Detroit linebackers and secondary can be summed up in one phrase; there is a reason our fullback led the team in receptions. Outstanding coverage led to more than one sack and forced Hass to abandon the pocket on occasion.

Let’s switch gears and talk about defense for a moment – zone blitzing in particular. Early in the game the Hawks got beat in the middle of the field by a RB coming out of the backfield which resulted in a Grant Wistrom holding call. The Hawks ran a standard zone blitz, which essentially is a DL swapping duties with a LB.

The idea of a zone blitz is to get the QB to make a “void” pass, which is basically a hot route vs. the blitz. The receiver’s route cuts short to fill the void left by the blitzer, usually a short or slant right behind a blitzing OLB. By convincing the QB that the Defense is blitzing and playing man coverage behind him, you can force the QB into the void pass, and drop a DE into the void. It has worked for the Hawks a couple times, and has worked against us.

It is certainly more of a scheme based goal, not an athletic goal. Obviously, dropping a DL into coverage isn’t something a coach will do because the player is an outstanding cover guy. He will do it to confuse the other team, throw a new look at them, and to bait them into making a mistake by dropping declared rushers into coverage while still bringing pressure. And, if a RB is on a read which forces him to stay and block vs. a blitzing LB, the RB will stay in to protect when, numbers wise, he doesn’t need to.

Zone blitzing allows the defense to maintain deep coverage while still bringing 'extra' pressure; meaning, if the offense sees blitzing defenders it could keep an extra man to protect when it ultimately doesn’t need to. A blitz can change protection and force the offense into an adjustment. But with a zone blitz, the defense still has the ability to play cover 2 (for example) behind a blitz instead of man, by dropping the DL into an underneath zone. You can overload vs. a 5 man protection to force a quick pass and still get favorable match ups and take some pressure of your CB's that is applied when using traditional blitzing. Whatever the goal, above all is to hurry and confuse the QB. A defense can blitz but maintain underneath coverage, disguise coverages, and rotate coverages, zone blitz combinations are certainly abundant.

Another thing I saw a lot of NET Nation members discussing was the play of the game (arguably) by Maurice Morris in the 4th quarter that set up the game winning field goal. Mo took the hand off to the right side, trailing FB Mack Strong. Many have touted the success of this play to Morris’ “change of pace” hit-the-hole-in-a-hurry style of running. Shaun has a reputation as a patient back that waits for his seams to open while Mo contrasts by attacking the line and bursting into the hole.

However, on this particular play, Mo was very patient and kept his eyes on his defensive keys. On an outside zone such as this, the RB often eyes the DE as his indicator on where to make his cuts. Defensively, the Lions moved into an under front, which features a 7 tech DE (inside shade of the TE) and a Sam backer creeping up to the line of scrimmage. Up front, Locklear reached to the 7 tech and engaged in a combo block with the TE Itula Mili. As Locklear and Mili double the DE, they eye the Sam. If the Sam attacks the C gap, Locklear would slide off and fit up. But in this case, the Sam jumped the edge and Mili slid off, leaving Locklear inside to wall of the DE. Mo saw the dark colored jersey of the DE move outside, which is his key to cut up to daylight and “cram the hole.” Mack Strong was able to neutralize the Mike backer, and Mo slid between Strong and Locklear. Morris displayed great field vision and patience as he waited for his blocks to develop and for his proper key. For a guy that is used as a change of pace back, this was certainly a crack impression of Shaun Alexander.

That does it for this week. Thanks for reading, and I will see you again next week after the Hawks stomp the Cardinals. If you have any questions or comments, please email me. If you have any problems or complaints, please email my editor.

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