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Cowboys Game Plan Week Six: Preparing For The Seattle Defense

After looking at what Rod Marinelli might consider doing against the Seattle Seahawks offense previously, let's see what offensive running game coordinator Scott Linehan may do to account for the Seattle Seahawks defense.

Cliff Avril
Cliff Avril
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys will have their hands full in all three phases of the game against the Seattle Seahawks. Pete Carroll believes in having a philosophy in each and then getting the right coordinators to teach and implement that philosophy. We have already looked at what his offensive philosophy was and what the Cowboys defense needs to think about and prepare for, so now let's look at what his defensive philosophy is and what the Cowboys are going to be thinking about when the Cowboys are on offense.

Week Six

Opponent: Seattle Seahawks

Head Coach: Pete Carroll

Defensive Coordinator: Dan Quinn

Defensive Scheme: Mixed. Mostly 4-3 man-to-man, cover-3  and sometimes cover-1 with man-free, occasional 3-4.

Projected Starters:

  • LDE - Michael Bennett - # 72  Weight - 274
  • LDT - Tony McDaniel - # 99  Weight - 305
  • RDT - Brandon Mebane - # 92   Weight - 311
  • RDE - Cliff Avril - # 56   Weight - 260
  • LOLB - Malcolm Smith - # 53  Weight - 226
  • MLB - Bobby Wagner - # 54   Weight - 241
  • ROLB - K.J. Wright - # 50   Weight - 246
  • LCB - Richard Sherman - # 25   Weight - 195
  • RCB - Byron Maxwell - # 41   Weight - 207
  • SS - Kam Chancellor - # 31   Weight - 232
  • FS - Earl Thomas - # 29   Weight - 202


When analyzing any defense, you start with their philosophy and then examine how they play the three main components: defensive line, linebackers and defensive backs and also determine if there is anything special there.

For an in depth look at their defense, see this very fine article from the Seattle Times. And this one by Ben Muth over at SB Nation.

First the philosophy. On defense they have four bullet points they stress:

  1. Eliminate the big play.
  2. Out-hit the opponent on all plays.
  3. Get the ball - make the interception or strip the ball.
  4. Make the opponent one-dimensional.

I will start with bullet point number four. They attempt to make a team one-dimensional by trying to initially stop the run. If they can stop the run, then they have made you a passing team and they can focus on stopping the pass. With their "keep everything in front of you" mantra they have what we have heard called the "bend but don't break" type of defensive mindset.

The thing that surprises me is that because they have the type of players that can do it, they go against the first rule of any scheme and that never be predictable. They are actually fairly predictable. Over at Field Gulls in this article by Danny Kelly we find the above four bullet points and this quote where Matt Hasselbeck told a local Seattle radio station:

I think people want to talk about Peyton Manning at the line of scrimmage (in the upcoming Super Bowl) but there's nothing for Peyton Manning to do at the line of scrimmage. The Seahawks aren't tricking anybody. You know the two coverages they're going to play the whole day. They're kind of Pete's mantra - "Hey, we don't care about the opponent, it's all about us."

The [Seahawks] line up, they play Cover-1, they play Cover-3; the thing that I'd guess Peyton will study is the matchups. I mean, there is a matchup differential just from Maxwell to Thurmond to Sherman, to obviously the safeties, who are very, very good, but they're different kind of guys.

The linebackers, you could find matchups there, but, it's not about coverage, it's not like he's going to be up there going, you know, "Blue 80, Blue 80 Hut-hut-hut-hut!".... "oh, now we're going to do this",  "now we're going to do that!"

I mean, it's going to be the same (play). I mean, he can do [the line of scrimmage cadence and audibles] as many times as he wants, it's going to be the same play.

The only difference will be press-man bump and run vs. press-man bail. Really, that's what the [Seahawks] want to do - they want to bail, they want to give you flat routes all day, and just say hey, we dare you to have the patience to just dink and dunk it down the field. [emphasis added mine]

They dare you to try to make 11 - 12 play drives because of their intimidation with the way they apply the second bullet point above, which is to out-hit you. Below is an example of how they apply that concept.


For a more complete look at how their philosophy was formed, be sure to read this excellent article over at Field Gulls by Davis Hsu.

One of the things that makes this defense so good is seldom talked about and that has to do with what I put in italics above, "they have the type of players that can do it" and by that I mean that the linebackers are somewhat unique in one aspect....they are all athletic enough to play like strong safeties and not your typical linebackers. Smith even has a similar weight to a strong safety.

So, how do you attack them? Since their defense is geared to entice you to dink and dunk when passing and to try to take away the run, there are three things you need to do.

  1. Don't give up on the run, just up the pace so they can't rotate their front four so you can tire them out.
  2. Give them multi-layer routes and keep them guessing which one your going to throw to, but throw to the deeper one as often as you can.
  3. Put a smaller, quicker wide receiver in Sherman's area by using motion so he can't be jammed, and then the slower Sherman will have to deal with his only shortcoming, and that is the inability to cover the quick, small guy.


Let's again look at their last opponent to see what is meant by multi-layer depth routes. In FIG 1 below, you can see that Roy Helu will leak out of the backfield and take the five yard underneath route. This is just what the defense wants you to do since they are playing their coverage anticipating that you will. Kirk Cousins is worried about the rush so he does not do the correct thing which is to watch Helu to suck the defenders toward him, and that will clear out the area for the deeper route that is run by Andre Roberts.

I can't help but think that with our offensive line blocking the way they are, that Tony Romo will have the time to do it correctly and get the ball to the deeper man and move the chains. So Cousins goes to Helu, (see location "1"), instead of going to Roberts, (see location "2").


In Fig 2 we can see how open Roberts was able to get, but that Cousins did not come off of Helu to even look at Roberts because he was too worried about the possibility of getting sacked.



There are cracks in the 'Hawks armor, and the Cowboys can take advantage of them if they can protect the pocket long enough to allow Tony Romo to go through his reads. Scott Linehan has been calling the games extremely well and with the Cowboys' growing confidence, the play-calls should be the ones that are needed to attack this excellent defense. It will be important for Linehan to call some deep plays to loosen up the coverage and take advantage of the fact that the job gets harder as you get closer and closer to the goal line.

So will the Cowboys play like they are capable of or will they become tentative and try to become too careful?

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