Seattle's run-pass combination under the microscope
Posted by Danny O'Neil
Casey Greer put together an interesting assessment of Seattle's offseason transition of defensive and offensive schemes in this column at BleacherReport.com.
Here is the fundamental thrust of Greer's assessment:
"One thing that has proven difficult across the league, is to pair a heavy run-pass ratio with an emphasis on Cover Two defense, and have elite success."
-- Casey Greer, Bleacherreport.com
He then looks at those teams that primarily use a Cover Two defense like Indianapolis, Chicago and Tampa Bay and comes to the conclusion that playing a run-heavy, field-position offense is a bad pairing with a Cover Two defense. Here's his rationale:
"The Cover Two is a 'bend but don't break defense.' Like chess strategy, it concedes defeat on occasion. The Cover Two isn't great against the run, and is inherently at its most effective when the team running it has the lead.
"By contrast, a run-first offense concedes that a defense, given enough cushion, can hold whatever slim lead or field position advantage the team may have.
"Field position football is a bad way to obtain a sizable lead, and Cover Two is a bad scheme for holding a slim one."
It's something that's interesting to think about. The Colts certainly have an explosive offense that they have paired with that defense, and when the Bears went to the Super Bowl it was with Rex Grossman at quarterback. Rex was a lot of things. Inconsistent. Error prone. Capable of producing a QB rating that could be confused with a shoe size. But one thing he was not was afraid of taking a stab at the big play. The man was allergic to the check-down throw, and in 2006 that paid off with the big plays that made the difference in the Bears' Super Bowl run. That touchdown pass he threw to Bernard Berrian in the divisional playoffs against the Seahawks was as pretty a pass as you will have seen thrown.
A few months back, I wrote about the Seahawks' desire to pair a formidable defense with a run-heavy offense much like Tennessee and Baltimore did this past season. I cited Tim Ruskell's success with the Bucs' Super Bowl team in 2002. I threw in a reference to the ground game with Mike Alstott and Michael Pittman, and presto, I'd proved the point, right? Well, editor Scott Hanson kept me from looking like a doofus on that occasion by pointing out the pesky fact the Bucs averaged 97.3 rushing yards per game that season, which ranked No. 27 in the league. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. The Bucs ranked No. 15 in passing yards.
Now, this is not to dispute Greer's primary thesis, which I find very interesting. I consider this more of a continuation of the discussion with a couple of points.
1. I don't think the Seahawks will be adopting a Cover Two scheme wholesale. Gus Bradley has that background at Tampa Bay, but the Falcons weren't beholden to that Cover Two defense under Mora. I think it's possible there will be more of a hybrid given the input. DB coach Tim Lewis and defensive line coach Dan Quinn have a background in the 3-4 defense have some input, and the defense will bear Mora's fingerprints in terms of its level of aggressiveness.
2. The weight of the run in Greg Knapp's play-calling may have been influenced upon the quarterback(s) he had over the past five years. Michael Vick was one of the best running quarterbacks in league history and in Oakland there was a parade of Daunte Culpepper, Josh McCown and a not-ready-for-primetime JaMarcus Russell.
You have to go back to 2003 to find the last time Knapp had a proven, Pro Bowl quarterback under center. That was in San Francisco with Jeff Garcia and the 49ers threw more passes than rushes in 2003 and 2002 while Knapp was calling. That might be the better precedent to look to in what the Seahawks' play-calling diet will look like.
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