Steven Bisig-US PRESSWIRE
In Part I of our Q&A with Field Gulls' Danny Kelly, we looked at the timetable and mechanisms of the Seahawks defensive transformation. Here in Part II, we'll look at how they molded their Front Seven for clues as to what Monte Kiffin might look to implement in Dallas.
For Part I of the interview, go here.
BTB: One of the counterpoints I saw raised when we discussed Kiffin wanting to emulate what Carroll was doing was the fact that Dallas doesn't currently have any players that weigh over the 300 lb mark, save for Josh Brent (who probably won't play in '13) and Brian Price who hasn't suited up for us before. When looking over Seattle's personnel, we know you have a behemoth in Red Bryant outside as a DE and also have had Alan Branch and Brandon Mebane on the inside. The way they are used is a little interesting to me. Bryant (328 lbs) as a DE seems to struggle a bit, in my humble, while you have 310 lb Mebane as the 1-tech and 330 lb Branch as the 3-tech. When I look at your rotation guys I see most of your other D-Lineman are in the 270-290 range, like ours. What are your thoughts on "space-eaters" in your defense?
FG: I think the space-eaters thing is a little unique to Carroll's defense, and is a departure from what Kiffin would normally do - it's probably more in line with what Bill Belichick is doing out in New England - with his hybrid 4-3/3-4 defense. From what I understand, Kiffin's defenses have been one-gap schemes that call for explosive athletes with speed - gap penetrators, if you will. Get to the quarterback and let your rangy and athletic linebackers clean up any gaps in the assignments.
With Carroll, he runs a lot of two-gap stuff in addition to the normal Kiffin one-gap stuff, so the linemen are naturally a lot bigger in order to handle both responsibilities. I'm not sure why he has gone to this -- the pass rush is pretty bad to this point, to be honest -- but that's what he likes to do. It's why many have said that Seattle runs a 4-3 defense with 3-4 personnel, and while that's maybe a little misleading (Seattle is a 4-3 team, make no mistake), the defensive line gap assignments are pretty fluid, and you see Bryant, Mebane, and Branch either one-gapping or two-gapping, depending on the defensive call.
To be honest, I don't know if Kiffin will go this route. He'll probably be looking for a bit smaller, more explosive guys to run his scheme with one-gap responsibilities, as I understand it.
As for the defensive line rotation that's currently on the Seahawks' roster - I wouldn't say they're all in the lighter range, actually. During the season, Seattle pretty much always carried a 315-320 pound nose tackle backup type that could fill in for either Red Bryant or Brandon Mebane (or Alan Branch), but those have been practice squad guys that come and go fairly often (Hebron Fangupo, for instance, was on the roster for several weeks toward the end of the year; he's 6'0, 324).
Jason Jones and Greg Scruggs are two guys in that 270-280 range, but were used primarily in nickel packages where they were looking to defend against the pass and get to the Quarterback from the interior. Clinton McDonald was the primary backup at NT and 3-tech, and while he's listed at 297, I'd say he plays a little heavier (my guess is that he runs at around 310), and Jaye Howard was a 2012 Draft pick that didn't get a lot of time. He's listed at 6'3, 301. This is a big defensive line.
It's probably influenced a bit by Seattle's desire to match up against the Rams, Cardinals, and 49ers, who all play smashmouth styles of ball. Get punched in the mouth? We'll punch you right back. Well, the Rams and Niners can punch you, anyway. The Cardinals' identity isn't as obvious to me.
BTB: One of the discussions I came across on FG was discussing weakside and strongside LBs. There was a nice discussion on the actual roles KJ Wright, Aaron Curry and LeRoy Hill were playing despite their designations. In Dallas, we are definitely looking forward to having Sean Lee and Bruce Carter roaming in space, but there is a lot of talk about which would be better fit to play Mike and Will, and we have no clue what we have for the Sam spot. Can you give some insight into the skillsets that your guys have and how they are implemented into the roles in various situations?
FG: I think the most important variable here is speed. Seattle likes their linebackers to be rangy and instinctive, and flow to the football as a running back is kicked out behind the line or through an open gap, and also have the ability to run with receivers, tight ends, or running backs in pass coverage. Lee and Carter should both be good matches for this defense because they both seem to have those skills. As for the Mike and Will -- they're actually fairly similar in required skillsets. The Mike may have to have the ability to disengage and shed blocks - he's going to take on blocks from guards and tackles more often than a Will linebacker would, so the Mike has to be strong in that area. He has to be instinctual and know where the ball is going. The Will has an easier job when it comes to knowing which gaps to fill, but he has the harder job of running with better athletes in pass coverage. The Will linebacker should be your best athlete, probably. The Mike, -- most instinctive, and a bonus if he can blitz.
As for the Sam, he has to be able to come up on the line on the strong side of the formation, off the tight end's shoulder, and absorb any blocks, get off of it, and maintain his gap to that side -- he's the force player when the Seahawks are playing the Under front, so he has to funnel things back inside and avoid getting blocked by the tight end. It helps to be bigger and stronger -- Aaron Curry did this for a while for the Seahawks and now K.J. Wright is the man at that position. Long, tough, and strong linebackers play the Sam in this scheme, but again, speed really helps. I haven't watched a ton of the Cowboys, but Bruce Carter, at 6'3, 240 - seems like a good candidate for this job.
Now -- with the Seahawks, when they shift to an over front, the linebackers just become designated to a side (ie, they don't switch sides based on the offensive strength). K.J. Wright becomes ROLB and Leroy Hill becomes LOLB, for instance - and what this means is that really, it's pretty key that every linebacker in this scheme can play either the Sam or Will spot. K.J. Wright can play Mike too, and he started there his rookie year. Versatility is key.
In general though -- the Will should be a bit smaller and faster -- he'll flow to the ball carrier and get a lot of tackles as the line plugs their gaps. The Sam will be a force player to the strong side so he has to be bigger and stronger. He'll take on tight ends and have to maintain his C-gap to the outside of the TE. The Mike needs to be smart, athletic, rangy, good in coverage, and an ability to blitz is a bonus.
Obviously Dallas is far away from having a roster full of space eaters like what Seattle employs. It will be interesting to see how the Cowboys navigate the waters of talent acquisition, starting with whether or not they are going to resign Anthony Spencer. That of course will cue the roles of players such as Jason Hatcher and Tyrone Crawford, change the emphasis of free agency and the priorities they place on certain positions in the draft.
Remember the Kiffin quote from Part I:
"We've kind of played that scheme... they do play some single-high safety, they have some good corners that can bump. You know, we play cover-2, they play cover-2... so that's where you hear about the Seattle deal... but we're also very much the Buccaneers, Chicago Bears, without a doubt."
I have a strong feeling we'll still be seeing a majority of 1-gap play similar to what he did in Tampa and what Marinelli has been doing in Chicago. But that's the great thing about smart people, they know how to evolve what was done right and make it better.
As far as the linebackers go, what Dallas does at the Sam spot will be less key, but still important. Minnesota's Sam LB Chad Greenway stays on the field the entire game while both Chicago and Seattle remove their Sam when they go nickel. As you can see above, Seattle uses their LBs interchangeably. What Dallas chooses to do will most likely be of the low cost variety.
All in all, we received some great insight from Danny and I'm very thankful he gave us this much of his time. As I said in Part I, make sure you become a frequent guest over at Field Gulls, and don't spend your entire time there looking for ways to find out where Golden Tate lives.
Being the good guy that he is, Danny wanted to offer up some additional reading material on the Seahawks defense. Here's a rundown of the posts he feels folks would get the most out of. While my feeling is that the team will eventually have more of a Bears feel than any other current version, these are a great starting point to see which philosophies Dallas might be in a position to utilize early in the transformation from their 3-4 personnel.
Author Note: For those unfamiliar, the Leo End is the role that is most synonymous with DeMarcus Ware's role as a 3-4 OLB; 2 point stance, one the line of scrimmage in a Wide-9 position.