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30 Jan 2006

Every Play Counts: Seattle's Defensive Tackles

By Michael David Smith

Two weeks ago, in an examination of Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, we mentioned one weakness in Tatupu's game, that he can't always fight off the blocks of offensive linemen.

This week we'll look at the players who prevent Tatupu from having to be blocked by offensive linemen. Seattle has quietly assembled one of the league's best defensive tackle rotations, and in the Seahawks' 34-14 NFC Championship victory over the Carolina Panthers, all four tackles turned in excellent games.

Although Chuck Darby and Rocky Bernard start and Craig Terrill and Marcus Tubbs come off the bench, Seattle rotates its four defensive tackles, and Terrill and Tubbs got the majority of the playing time against Carolina. (That's not just because the game was a blowout. Terrill and Tubbs got most of the snaps both in the first half and in the second half.)

In our examination of Seattle's defensive tackles below, we list them in order of the number of snaps they spent on the field against Carolina.

Craig Terrill (15 first-half snaps, 15 second-half snaps)

A second-year player out of Purdue, Terrill has come on strong during the playoffs. He has a great motor, once running about 25 yards to chase Jake Delhomme out of bounds. Even though he played the most snaps of any of the tackles, he looked fresh late in the game.

The Seahawks primarily use a 4-3 alignment, but they used a three-man line 11 times, mostly in long-yardage situations, and Terrill was usually the tackle in that formation. That's because most of his value comes in his ability to rush the quarterback. Although he didn't register any sacks against Carolina, he got close enough to Delhomme several times to rush his throws.

Terrill sometimes tries to get too cute, though. On a first-and-10 pass late in the third quarter, Terrill tried a spin move and never got close to Delhomme. Why use a technique like that when you've succeeded all day with simple straight-ahead pass rushes?

Marcus Tubbs (13 first-half snaps, 12 second-half snaps)

Seattle's first-round choice in 2004, the 324-pound Tubbs is by far the biggest player on Seattle's line. On a second-and-8 on Carolina's second possession, Tubbs clogged the middle of the line, not budging even though both center Jeff Mitchell and fullback Brad Hoover blocked him. When both the center and the fullback are occupied, it's easy for the middle linebacker to make the tackle, and that's what Tatupu did, taking running back Nick Goings down for a loss of two yards. (Terrill also got a great first step past Carolina guard Tutan Reyes, getting into the backfield immediately after the snap and forcing Goings to shift direction.)

Occupying multiple blockers was the norm for Tubbs against Carolina. On Carolina's third possession, on third-and-10, Delhomme tried to force a pass to Steve Smith, and Tatupu intercepted it. On that play, Seattle rushed only three and Carolina kept seven in to block, which meant that both ends were double teamed while Tubbs was triple-teamed by Mitchell, Reyes and Jordan Gross. Despite all that, Delhomme still felt pressure in the pocket. With eight Seattle defenders back to cover three Carolina receivers, is it any wonder that Delhomme threw into coverage?

Mitchell had a very difficult time with Tubbs. On second-and-1 in the second quarter, Tatupu stopped Carolina running back Jamal Robertson for no gain. On that play Tubbs knocked Mitchell flat on his back, leaving no room for Robertson to run. Again, Tatupu gets the credit for making the tackle, but it was the defensive lineman in front of him who made the play work.

A digression: Did any team have a better draft in 2004 than the Seahawks? They took Tubbs in the first round and Terrill in the sixth. They also selected starting safety Michael Boulware in the second round, starting offensive tackle Sean Locklear in the third, linebacker Niko Koutouvides in the fourth and receiver D.J. Hackett in the fifth. They even selected punter Donnie Jones in the seventh round, although they weren't smart enough to hold onto him. He was one of the best punters in the league for the Dolphins this year.

Chuck Darby (13 first-half snaps, 9 second-half snaps)

Darby is in his first year with Seattle after spending four with Tampa Bay. On Carolina's first play, Darby lined up over left guard Mike Wahle, then shifted before the snap and lined up as a nose tackle over Mitchell. Wahle and Mitchell double-teamed him, but he got around both of them and stopped Goings for no gain.

That was an atypical play for Darby, though. His contribution to the Seattle defense usually takes the form of freeing up Tatupu to make tackles, not making them himself. At six feet and 270 pounds, he's one of the league's smallest defensive tackles, but he doesn't play like a small lineman. Despite his size, he plays like a much larger tackle, the kind who absorbs double teams frequently but isn't fast enough to get to the ball carrier himself. On the evidence of this game, Darby is the worst of Seattle's four tackles, but that says more about the quality of the other three players than it does about him.

Rocky Bernard (10 first-half snaps, 7 second-half snaps)

Bernard is Seattle's best pure pass rusher. On a first-and-10, Bernard got a good first step on Reyes, who had to hold him to keep him from killing Delhomme. But Bernard stuck his arm out, grabbed Delhomme, and yanked him down with one hand. Bernard would have been credited with a sack on the play, but the play didn't count because Seattle accepted the holding penalty on Reyes. Reyes is lucky the season is over, so he doesn't have to go to film study and answer the question of how he could get called for holding and still allow his man to sack the quarterback.

Three plays later Bernard got a sack, and this time it wasn't nullified by a penalty. Seattle came out in a three-man line with Darby at nose tackle and Bernard at left end. Bernard pushed through Jordan Gross and Delhomme tried to retreat, but he couldn't get away in time and Bernard brought him down for a loss of 13 yards. Three years ago, Gross stepped in as a rookie out of Utah and played at an All-Pro level almost immediately, but this season he has struggled, and against Seattle he had a particularly bad game. Bernard beat him on that play, and Seattle end Bryce Fisher beat him on several others.

The versatility to play end in a three-man line makes Bernard a particularly valuable player, and after watching this game it's hard to understand why Bernard is rarely mentioned as one of the league's elite linemen. Perhaps it's because Seattle takes him out on so many plays. Although all four linemen are good, Bernard is the best of the bunch, and he should be on the field a lot against Pittsburgh. He'll certainly be well rested.

Praise like this for Seattle's defensive tackles naturally raises the question of whether Tatupu is getting too much credit, but there's plenty of credit to spread around when the front seven has come on so strongly during the latter part of the season. And there's another member of the defense who deserves credit: Seattle linebackers coach John Marshall, who took over the defensive game-planning after coordinator Ray Rhodes suffered a stroke. Even among hardcore fans, not many people know Marshall's name. If Seattle beats Pittsburgh, they will.

Each week, Michael David Smith looks at one specific player or one aspect of a team on every single play of the previous game. Standard caveat applies: Yes, one game is not necessarily an indicator of performance over the entire season.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 30 Jan 2006

76 comments, Last at 02 Feb 2006, 4:34pm by J.S.


by Todd S. (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 2:16pm

Woo-hoo! Some love for former Purdue players. Terrill and Koutouvides were excellent contributors in college; good to see them doing well at the next level. (Although I think Koutouvides is mostly used on special teams now, even though he started at LB last year due to injuries.)

by dave crockett (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 2:38pm


great write up. Seattle's front four is quite good. As Aaron said in his interview with Doug Farrar about the entire team, "they're kinda B+ at everything." Also, the tackle depth goes beyond those top four guys. If I'm not mistaken, Seattle has used ends Joe Tafoya and Rodney Bailey at tackle for a couple snaps this season. They're all high motor guys who keep coming at you for four quarters.

As for Tatupu being given too much credit... It wasn't your central point so I won't nitpick. But, I might change the framing just a bit. Tatupu is the perfect linebacker for this group of tackles, most of whom depend on positioning and technique to be effective. He gets them all in the right position prior to each snap.

Also, on punter Donnie Jones...

It ended up being a numbers game with Jones as I recall. Holmgren wanted to stash him on the practice squad his rookie year but was forced to play him due to injury. Unfortunately, this happened more than once and I think he may have exceeded the number of times a player could be signed from the squad and sent back; or some such odd roster quirk. It was a numbers game, as is often the case, and he was waived (if memory serves).

I think punter Chris Kluwe was a vaguely similar case. If memory serves he signed with the Seahawks and was well liked, but there wasn't a roster spot.

We lucked out like a son-uva-gun picking up Rouen after the start of the season and having him do a halfway decent job.

by pawnking (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 2:53pm

Well written and insightful, as always. Without a doubt, FO is lightyears ahead of any other general football site in quality of articles and content. This goes beyond DVOA, of course, as this article doesn't even mention DVOA, but having a good and objective evaluation tool help make your points well.

Please keep up the good work. You've become a must check several times a day site for me.

by dfarrar777 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 3:13pm

When I grow up, I want to be Michael David Smith. That is just quality in-depth analysis.

by dfarrar777 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 3:17pm

On Seattle's punters - Jones and Kluwe were jettisoned so that new special teams coach Bob "I'm loud, but that doesn't mean I'm good" Casullo could have his very own special punter, Leo Araguz. Let the record show that Araguz was so bad that he was released early on, and the Seahawks had to scramble to re-sign Rouen.

Araguz, to my knowledge, did not finish out the season on an NFL squad.

by putnamp (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 3:23pm

Several years ago Rocky Bernard was more or less a pass rusher only. He's really grown the last few seasons, but people were generally down on him on non-passing downs, and that may be why he doesn't get in as often; he may still be exorcising some old demons. He's certainly come on strong this year, though.

by Sara (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 3:29pm

Great piece. Watching the Panthers-Seahawks game, I couldn't figure out how Seattle could so consistently rush Delhomme while suffocating Steve smith downfield at the same time. Thanks for breaking it down.

by Jacob Stevens (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 4:17pm

Lovely write-up. MDS, care to comment about Grant Wistrom's contributions in occupying blockers, cutting off running paths and opening things up for his teammates? Everyone knows he doesn't give big numbers but is a high-motor player, and one of the leaders for the defense. That's all valuable, but is he worth his cap figure? One of the highest on the team, although that would be expected for a free agent defensive end, but how much is he really contributing on the field?

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 4:17pm

Another terrific piece. I think the rotation is the key here, and gives reason for Seattle to keep only seven in the box, and to welcome it if the Steelers accept the invitation to get into a duel of running games.

Am I alone in thinking that the tide of public sentiment is continuing to build in the Steelers' direction? Might this line get to 4 1/2, or even 5 points, prior to the game?

by Manteo (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 4:41pm

#9 - I don't think you're alone. Don Banks made the daring assertion that the Hawks might surprise the pundits by actually playing well. He's quick to assure us that he's not saying they'll win, but he's going against the grain to argue that a team at least marginally better than the Temple Owls will show up against the Steelers on Sunday.

by J.S. (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 5:01pm

RE: 10 and 9

Yes I have to agree with you on this. I think that this is going to be a much closer superbowl then every one else is expecting. I figure that if both teams truly show up. and I have yet to see any indication that Cower or Holmgren are preaching anything otherwise, then we should be in for one heck of a treat for a superbowl. remeber last year almost no one gave Carolina a chance and they almost pulled off a beautiful upset. anyway I can't wait to watch the game, just like last year since my team is not in it I am goig to root for the NFC Underdog's The Seahawks.

I have only recently started to read articles at FO and I must say all of you here at least take the time to write a well thought out article most of the time. Keep em coming

by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 5:17pm

remeber last year almost no one gave Carolina a chance and they almost pulled off a beautiful upset

Two years ago. Jeez, I know the Eagles disappeared this year, but last year did happen.

by Luz (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 5:36pm


well, don banks did have the seahawks picking 32nd in his mock draft... just because "he's not saying they'll win" doesn't mean he's saying they'll lose, either.

by Luz (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 5:46pm

also, the readers of this site are pretty intelligent so let's not fall into the trap of vegas setting lines by who they think is better (and who cares what vegas thinks anyway?) but what line they think will bring in the most money. there a lot of steelers fans out there and they garner more attention nationally than the seahawks.

it's bad enough when the listless mass media and football players act like the vegas line is the word of god.

by Manteo (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 5:59pm

10, 13 - When I wrote "Don Banks," I of course actually meant "Peter King." Apologies to both, as I'm sure my mix-up has been as source of major concern to them.

So Don Banks may think the Hawks will get that coveted 32nd pick, but King is only willing to spot them the possibility that they won't end up looking like a bunch of high schoolers.

by Björn (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 6:10pm

With the mock drafts, I think the pundits are all just plopping Seattle down as 32 because of their better record. I have yet to see a mock draft with Pittsburgh at 32.

by pawnking (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 6:17pm

Everyone slow down on the budding "No one is giving the Hawks a chance" thing here. True, some pundits are going out on the limb with ridiculous statements like 'The Hawks have zero chance' and stuff like that. However, most intelligent analysts are simply stating (correctly) that the Steelers have had a tougher road to the SB and may therefore be playing better than the Hawks.

Personally, I don't completely buy it, but it's a heck of a good point. Whatever you want to say about Washington and Carolina, they ain't the Colts and the Broncos. So you can in fact say without reservation that the Steelers are playing well right now.

Throw in the uncertainty about the Seahawks schedule, and you have more pundits than not picking a team they KNOW can play very well against a team which MIGHT play well.

While the outragesous pundits are going way out on the limb, hoping that no one will remember if they are wrong if the Steelers lose close, and everyone will remember they're right if the Steelers win big, and you've got a slight bias for Pittsburgh.

Overall, I judge the game more or less a push. I, too, cannot discount the fact that the Steelers have had a much tougher schedule to the SB, and have proven beyond any doubt that it is their good play, and not their opponenets' bad play, which is the reason for their SB appearance. While I believe the Hawks are a potent offense, the fact is undeniable they have not been tested like the Steelers.

The safe pick is Pittsburgh, no doubt.

by Manteo (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 6:31pm

pawnking - You're absolutely correct, I was just amused/irritated by King's weasley inability to even commit to saying that the NFC no. 1 seed might play well.

There's a fine line between judging (correctly) that the Steelers have more thoroughly demonstrated their prowess up to this point, and slipping into the whole coronation mode.

I agree that the Steelers deserve to be favored. But, and I guess it's the self-consuming nature of hype, the more people repeat a theory the more they tend to believe it as fact. And there's a difference between a good theory and a fact.

But that's what's so great about the NFL: everything ultimately gets put to an actual test.

by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 6:34pm


Where have I heard this argument before...

Personally, I don’t completely buy it, but it’s a heck of a good point. Whatever you want to say about Washington and Carolina, they ain’t the Colts and the Broncos. So you can in fact say without reservation that the Steelers are playing well right now.

Oh yeah!

Personally, I don’t completely buy it, but it’s a heck of a good point. Whatever you want to say about Minnesota and Atlanta, they ain’t the Colts and the Steelers. So you can in fact say without reservation that the Patriots are playing well right now.

Throw in the uncertainty about the Eagles schedule, and you have more pundits than not picking a team they KNOW can play very well against a team which MIGHT play well.

Therefore, I'm picking the Steelers by a field goal. :)

by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 6:39pm

I should note that I'm not criticizing - it just sounds ridiculously familiar to me. We should've learned by now - weak schedule does not equal weak team. I should also say take the Steelers for the win, but the Seahawks for the points. :)

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 6:50pm

Especially if the line gets to four and one-half, or five, points.....

by Kal (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 6:57pm

I'm getting more and more on the bandwagon of totally non-quantitative judging. For example, what makes a better story? If you were going to make a film about this season, who should win it all? What is better to talk about - the youngest QB ever to win a superbowl or a balding guy? How incredible would it be for a 6th seed to beat all the divisional opponents AND beat the #1 seed in the NFC?

Normally I despise such things as this, but big games somehow tend to have these kinds of stories. And while I'd like it to be wrong, Seattle doesn't have the stories. They've got the 12th man...and that's about it. And even that's being taken away.

Anyway, while I think that it should be a close game, it feels like for story reasons it'll be a blowout for the Steelers. Which sucks, because it means my parties are going to be real downers.

by Larry R. (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 6:57pm

Per Aaron Schatz (FO Mailbag) he stated: By the way, after the conference championships, Seattle now has the top weighted DVOA (43.1%) followed by Pittsburgh (39.2%). The top non-Super Bowl team is still Indianapolis (37.6%). .........Ok why are all you DVOA experts now jumping on the band wagon and saying the Steelers are the better team?????? I have been trying to understand the system all year long and now that we are at the Superbowl this does not count anymore?

by warnpeace14 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 7:01pm

Re: #8

I've also wondered about Grant Wistrom's contributions on the field. 3-4 years ago in St. Louis, it seemed like he was all over the field, often making plays on the other side of the field by chasing them down from behind. He doesn't put up great numbers and he did sign that HUGE contract so is it all worth it? I'd love to know more about Grant, what he does on the field, and how that impacts the game.


by MDD (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 7:07pm

Say what you want about the 2004 Vikings and 2004 Falcons, they ain't the 2005 Redskins and 2005 Panthers. So you can in fact say without reservation that the Seahawks are playing well right now.

Throw in the uncertainty about the Steelers swagger, and you have more pundits than not picking a team they KNOW has enough nastiness against a team which MIGHT have enough nastiness.

by Bowman (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 7:16pm


Remember that PIT played an additional 2 games against top DVOA teams, and SEA 1 game against top DVOA teams than IND. This will skew the DVOA for those teams. Unless it is an odd game, the winner of the SB will have the best DVOA for the season, because they played all of the tough teams, and the Strengh of Schedule modifier will be through the roof.

On a related note, when you compare the season's DVOA for the playoff contenders, how are you weighting the games? Are you weighing the non-playoff teams as normal at the end of the year, and cutting off the weightings of the playoff teams at the time that they lose? Or is there a weird weighting mechanic that weighs the non-playoff teams' games at a low weight, and only last week's games are weighted fully?

by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 7:17pm

Ok why are all you DVOA experts now jumping on the band wagon and saying the Steelers are the better team?

I'm not. 43.2% and 39.2% means one thing to me: "identical". Just like I wouldn't bet on last year's game in a million years, I wouldn't bet on this game, either. (note, however, that I predicted last year's result, and the point spread. and this was against my own team. bring it on. :) ) It also should be noted that the team with the higher DVOA doesn't always win - you have to look at how the two teams match up.

That being said, the one thing I would worry about as a Seahawks fan is the Seahawks secondary. In the Denver game, I told my wife "The Steelers game plan right now is simple. See that guy, Foxworth? Throw to whoever he's covering." In other words, I think the Steelers can exploit a mismatch, and the Seahawks' secondary will give them a bunch to choose from.

Which is kinda why I'd like to see an Every Play Counts on the Seattle secondary. They didn't have to do much last week. Put a couple of guys on Steve Smith, and that's all. Didn't have to do much the previous week, either.

If I was being held at gunpoint, and had to choose, I'd pick the Steelers - simply because the Seahawks don't have the personnel to exploit the biggest weakness the Steelers have - screens, passes to running backs, etc. - whereas the reverse isn't true.

by Nolan (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 7:20pm

Please tell me why you guys think Indy is such a great playoff team? have they ever played well in the playoffs? ever?
When denver beat NE how well did Denver play? I don't think anyone who watched the game came out of it saying wow Denver is one hot team did they? So while both of those wins were great wins on the road I don't think anyone should be too surprised neither team was playing well and got beat (Indy & Denver)
I think what Seattle did to a "Hot" Caralina team is equally impressive as PB,s win over an under performing Denver team. I think Pittsburgh can win a close game , but if there is going to be a blow out it will be Seattle who wins (Remember Pittsburgh is hot but Seattle is a better team)

by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 7:21pm

Apparently we're not correctly measuring "hotness" factor.

by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 7:23pm

Apparently we're not correctly measuring "hotness" factor.

Why does anyone think this will be a blowout? Anyone? I mean, I think Pittsburgh can take advantage of Seattle's secondary, and I still don't think it'll be a blowout, because I think Seattle will be desparately adjusting, and manage to frustrate a few times.

Then again, Roethlisberger is the inhuman sack-ignoring machine, so who knows.

by MDD (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 7:31pm

The Seahawks offense is good enough that they don't have to rely upon exploiting weaknesses in the Steeler's defense. They have, in fact, Scored 20 points with a goal line fumble on a Washington defense that's rated higher than Pittsburgh's and scored 34 on a Carolina defense that's rated higher than Pittsburgh's.

The Steeler's may have a favorable matchup against the Seahawks secondary, but if they aren't able to exploit something there they can not expect to get anything done on the ground against Seattle's top rated D-Line with their mediocre running game.

by Luz (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 7:37pm

the seahawks don't have to game plan for the steelers defensive weaknesses? i guess, joey porter is going to like that game plan.

well, in fact, pittsburgh managed to score on defenses rated higher than the seahawks and managed to shut down offenses ranked higher than seattles, so.... i guess we're all just stuck tuning into the super bowl to see what happens.

by Larry R. (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 7:48pm

re 27: Did not Carolina try to exploit Seattles secondary also? I hope they try the same thing and I think you will find that Seattle has a defense that addapts very well to a teams offense.

by MDD (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 8:18pm

the seahawks don’t have to game plan for the steelers defensive weaknesses? i guess, joey porter is going to like that game plan.

Straw Man.

The Seahawks will not need to be dependant upon exploiting Steelers defensive weaknesses in order to score. They will be able to go strength vs. strength and still score more than enough points to win the game.

by Luke (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 8:30pm


Who knows what Carolina was trying to do. They just looked hopeless and completely outmatched on both sides of the ball.

Same goes for Denver.

I think this game will be high scoring, simply because both offenses have been so good. Both Cinci and the colts were able to move the ball on Pittsburgh - and the Seahawks O is definitely of the same high calibre. The Seahawks D hasn't faced an offense as good and as balanced as Pittsburgh's since maybe the Giants. But they have made the teams they've played in the post-season look awful. So many 3 and outs in both games. Should be an absolute cracker.

Hawks by a Josh Brown 50 yard FG on the bell.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 8:36pm

#33: Did not Carolina try to exploit Seattles secondary also?

Emphasis on "try." I'm not giving Seattle's secondary much credit for shutting down the Carolina Steve Smith, no.

by Luz (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 8:38pm

RE 34

"They will be able to go strength vs. strength and still score more than enough points to win the game."

anything else nostradamus? what makes you so sure?

the steelers defense has fared pretty well against the chargers, bengals, colts and broncos. by any rating system those teams work out to be on par with seattle's offense. is seattles offense very good, yup. is the steeler's defense very good, yup. so while seattle's offense could get the better of pittsburgh's defense there is no more reason to expect that than there is to expect the steeler's defense to dominate the seattle offense.

where the mismatch in this game appears to be is the pittsburgh offense vs. the seattle defense. neither one of those units is dominant compared to the ones they line up across from in practice. however, the steelers offense appears to have the slight edge.

remember that no statistical rating takes into account gameplanning. while the steelers running game of this year is not on par with 2004 i would be comfortable with the steeler's run game vs. seattle's front seven. i can't recall a time this season where the steeler's weren't playing against an 8 or 9 man fronts. i think you'd be suprised with how well the steelers would run against a seven man front.

by Larry R. (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 8:48pm

RE 36: Seattle defense was that good, they made Washington and Carolina look bad! Yes give Seattles defense the credit they deserve it! They are that good!

by putnamp (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 9:20pm


No, no, no, no. This has been said before, and it's incorrect, although it's hard to tell from looking at this (or last) year's statistics. Seattle can and has run screen plays with Alexander in the past. In his early years they did it often, and he was fairly good at it - not spectacular, but good enough.. up until about two years ago, when they mysteriously stopped. Now, unless Alexander has forgotten how to catch a ball in those two years, there's absolutely no reason they can't throw simple screen passes and other dump-offs to Alexander.

Nobody's come up with a good explanation one way or the other why they've stopped throwing to the RB, but there's also 0 evidence that they can't start up if they so decide.

by Trogdor (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 9:20pm

I completely disagree with the premise of this article. These guys cannot possibly contribute anything to the defense. Consider the following evidence:

1) The announcers never talk about them. Therefore, they don't do anything.
2) None of these guys have foreign names that are fun to say.
3) Not a single one had a father with a similarly fun name who played in the NFL and was known primarily for having a cool foreign name.
4) None of these fathers played for every major writer's favorite team, the Patriots.

I think it's clear that none of these guys are worth anything, and that every good play on defense is entirely the work of one rookie linebacker.

So how should the Steelers go about attacking this line? Last week we learned that the unnamed MLB has problems shedding blocks from OLs, much moreso than from TEs or FBs. Do the Steelers normally try to get Faneca or the other guard to the second level quickly, or do they let TE/FB handle linebacker duty? How susceptible has Seattle been to bootlegs/playaction this year? If they're over-aggressive pursuing on the run, Roethlisberger can carve them up early, I would think. How about running a few counters, getting Tatupu running the wrong way and breaking back behind him? Can Pitt's O-line handle these tackles enough to make things like that happen? I haven't watched either team a lot, so I really don't know what either does too specifically. I'd love to hear strategy thoughts on this matchup.

by MDD (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 9:21pm

The difference between Seattle's offense and Pittsburgh's defense is about the same as the difference between Pittsburgh's offense and Seattle's defense, so I guess that's a mismatch, too.

Considering that the Seahawks weighted defense numbers cover a period where 2 of Seattle's top 3 CBs missed a combined 11 games, I don't see how you can give the edge to the Steelers. The last 3 times Seattle had all three of their top 3 CBs in the game together were the two playoff games and the Monday night game vs. the Eagles.

by Luz (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 9:31pm


it is true that seattle has been missing it's corners for a large segment of the year. you could counter that arguement for the steelers by saying that roethlisberger missed several games during the year and played several more while banged up. it wasn't until the start of their winning streak that he was (mostly) healthy.

even with tommy maddox dragging the steelers numbers down they still rank fairly highly. i believe that aaron said that if the maddox effect is removed the steelers would move up to a top 3-5 passing offense. don't quote me on that.

by Luz (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 9:33pm


well, i'm still not very good at reading line play but my feeling is that kreider (FB) and often a pulling guard are responsible for the LBs on any given play.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 9:36pm

#41 really points to what is missing in football analysis: easily accessed and understood metrics for a team's health, or lack thereof. Unless somebody pays close attention and follows multiple reports carefully, it is hard for the average fan to correlate team performance to which players weren't on the field, or were on the field, but far below full strength, due to lack of depth. There are exceptions for visible positions like quarterback, or for players who have been well-publicized stars for many years, but even at the Super Bowl level there isn't enough attention paid to who was hurt, when they were hurt, and how team performance differed during this period.

by MDD (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 9:46pm


Certainly. Since Roethlisberger missed his games around weeks 9-11 and Seattle's CBs missed their's around weeks 13-17, it'll show up more in Seattle's weighted numbers, though.

by MDD (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 9:52pm


It's hard enough just getting things straight when you do follow the team. What were the exact games he missed? Who did they start instead of him, again?

by Fnor (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 9:52pm

#38: I'll give you Washington. They have a decent D. Not great, but decent. I'm not going to give them any credit for beating Nick Goings and being the first team to realize that Carolina has nothing other than Steve Smith. There were guys open. Delhomme didn't throw to them. That was good planning on Seattle's part, but that's not how you play a balanced offence.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 9:57pm

re: #47
"They have a decent D." to
"They have a decent offence."

by Comrade Jason (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 9:59pm

#39--I also wondered about that. It's been a while, of course, but I seem to remember Alexander being a decent receiver in college. It seems like Seattle just pretty much stopped running screens, since they don't really do it with Morris, either. That being said, I'm sure the Seahawks will be smart enough to try a few screens during the game. And that the Steelers will be smart enough to know that the Seahawks will try a few, so who knows. I think it will be a good game, though.

by Larry R. (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 12:22am

re:49...... There are four good reasons why they don’t screen pass to Alexander very much any more and these are Jackson, Engram, Jurevicius and Stevens. Why throw to a 5'11" running back when you can throw a screen to a 6'7" tight end or a short pass to anyone of the other wide receivers. Or a medium pass or a long pass……..

by Doyle (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 12:56am

RE: #40

About Pitt's O-line From what I just read it seemed that LDTs were able to take advantage of the RG Tutan Reyes who is very similar to ORG Simmons of Pitt. I think the key to the trech war will be new Seahawks Fisher against the young and large Max Starks at RT. If Fisher warrants a double team with Heath Miller, you eliminate a huge threat to Seahawks as shown by the mediocrity in covering tight ends. I remember Ben troupe getting like 6 receptions for over a 100 yards this season. But, that was when half the secondary was hurt.

In conclusion, good gap presence of the run stopping Seahawk interior with the balanced help of Winstrom and Fisher addresses Pittsburgh weak run game and will allow the line backers to do their thing. Though the Seahawk secondary is young like Denver's, I don't see them being exploited like Foxworth was as Dyson and Trufant are skilled. When Roethlisberger has been able to own the safety it has been pretty much Pittsburgh. FS Manuel has to step up in this game.

by Larry R. (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 12:56am

Interesting tidbit: Steelers have but just one experienced Super Bowl player and Seahawks have 5.........

by putnamp (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 2:43am

An old pet peeve from my days on the ESPN Seahawks board:


Wistrom. No n.

by putnamp (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 2:45am

#42, if we're playing the injury card, you have to account for the stretch of games Seattle played without Jackson or Engram, as well - some against the best teams in the NFC. This would mean that the Seahawks offensive DVOA is deflated, as well as their defensive. So while they may not be giving up as much on defense they're giving up more on offense. This could continue ad nauseum, I imagine, so maybe we can call it a wash?

by James, London (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 9:00am

Another well-written intelligent EPC. How does the centre of the Steelers O-line match up with Seattles D tackles?

by Fnor (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 10:34am

#50: There's one good reason that trumps all those: the RB is open if you spread the defence, and those other guys aren't. If Alexander were a better reciever, they would put scheme passes to him, regardless of who their recievers are. If you have a weapon, it doesn't make sense to not use it.

by Trogdor (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 11:27am

I don't want to get too involved in this particular argument, but I just don't buy the "they don't throw it to Alexander because their other receivers are too good" line. I doubt the Seahawk receivers are better than Rice, Taylor, and Jones, yet the old 49ers (with the same guy calling the plays) always threw plenty of passes to Roger Craig. And Craig wasn't quite as dangerous as Alexander. Yet getting Craig singled up against a linebacker in the flat was a huge mismatch, and a big part of the SF offense for years. Wouldn't Holmgren do the same thing in Seattle if Alexander was a good receiver? Is there anyone who would honestly choose the TE screen over getting the MVP, a tremendous open-field runner, singled up against a linebacker on the outside?

There may be some reason other than "he can't catch" to explain why they don't use him this way. Maybe he's a bad blocker, so they bring him out on obvious passing downs, so he doesn't rack up the safety valve catches. I really don't know. But I can pretty well guarantee that "their receivers are so incredibly good" isn't it.

by Luz (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 1:46pm


i am more than willing to call it a wash. i was just answering the previous posts arguement that DVOA would under rate the seahawks. again, i could counter your reciever arguement by pointing out that porter and haggans were injured early in the year and farrior was injured in the middle of the year. again, i don't think either teams injury woes are very relevant but i wanted to point out you could argue injuries for either team.

by Luz (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 1:49pm

one thing i hope FO is going to address is the seahawks west coast offense vs. the steelers 3-4 zone blitz defense. lebeau created his blitz schemes as an answer to the short pass routes favored by the west coast style offenses. i was wondering if anyone who is more adept at X and O's had anything in regards to that matchup?

by B (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 2:02pm

59: I thought the Cover-two was the defense created to stop the West Coast offense. Anyways, it's been demonstrated in previous articles that the Steelers biggest weakness on defense is short passes to running backs, so I don't see how the Steelers defense can be described as specifically designed to stop the West Coast Offense.

by putnamp (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 2:14pm


Right. I assumed that just like Pittsburgh, it was a cascade effect if we pursued each injury, so eh, let's assume what most people don't pay attention to - that every team suffers major injuries somewhere at some point in the year. Happens every year, almost, to Seattle, and I have a feeling just about every other team can say the same thing.

by jim's apple pie (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 3:07pm

re: the 2004 draft

I would argue that, once you take the Eli Manning trade into account, the Chargers had a better 2004 draft than the Seahawks. These are the players that the Chargers ended up with one way or another via their 2004 draft picks:

Philip Rivers (a big ?)
Igor Olshansky (starting DE)
Nate Kaeding (kicker)
Nick Hardwick (starting center)
Shaun Phillips (back-up LB)
Michael Turner (back-up RB)
Shane Olivea (starting RT)
Shawne Merriman (starting LB)
Roman Oben (starting LT)

The Manning trade looks pretty one-sided, even though we have no idea how Rivers is going to fare as an NFL starter. But I'm sure that the Giants would prefer to have Rivers, Merriman, Kaeding, and Oben on their roster versus just Manning.

by putnamp (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 3:33pm

Merriman was a 2005 pick, right? Getting the picks in 2005 should count for 2005, I think. The question is who they drafted, not where they got the picks from. Of course, that doesn't erase the trade itself, which looks pretty good for San Diego when you consider that Brees has been playing so well.

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 4:00pm

Well, that's just a difference in considering whether you're saying "were the players they got for their draft picks good" or "did they utilize their draft resources well."

As another example, the Redskins may be able to say they did a good job in the first point (especially if Campbell turns out), whereas they did a horrendous job in the second part.

I have to agree with #62 that if you look at "what the Chargers did with the draft resources they had" they absolutely dominated the 2004 draft year.

by J.S. (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 4:00pm

RE: 30

I DON'T think it will be a blow out. (read my comment #11) and to #12, sorry but I missed that game due to deployment so I kinda lost track. Anyway I am prediciting that since both these teams match up so well(go ahead and argue the point but seattles O-Line and PB D-line are about equal in my eye right now) and have almost the same strenghts Jerome Bettis vs. Shawn Alexander. I feel that this will come down to a filed goal or even maybe even a missed extra point. Final score (remeber I am rooting for the "Projected" underdog) SEA 28 - PB 27

by Jerry (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 7:48pm

re: #60

I thought the Cover-two was the defense created to stop the West Coast offense.

The cover 2 dates back to the '70s (see article linked on my name). The zone blitz was designed with the idea that when a WCO quarterback read blitz and looked for the quick slant, a DL would be there to defend.

by J.S. (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 9:02pm

RE: #66

Very good article. I had also tought that the cover two came out around the same time as the "west coast" offense and the "run and gun" offense. Cool now I know a bit more about the game i love.


by J.S. (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 9:07pm

re: 40

sounds like we have a feeling that "maybe" the Seattle D is being disrespected. oh no now the SWAGOMETER (c) is going to go off the charts for seattle, no way they can loose now.

by J.S. (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 9:13pm

RE: 40
now for my serious post. If I were PB on Offense and was trying to stop the unamed MLB, I would put and extra G or T in at the TE position, declare them eligable put thier TE in the other spot and run a modified version of an I formation all day long. maybe add a 3rd reciever and go singal back on 1st down. force that unamed MLB to come through some big bodies to get to Big Ben.

by Paul (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 10:36pm

Maybe Holmgren anticipated making it this far and has been saving Alexander screen pass plays just for this game. Or maybe all year long he has been lulling the league to sleep by using Alexander so much, and he is going to spring Mack Strong on the Steelers...and actually, Strong v. Polamalu is one juicy matchup IMHO

by bengt (not verified) :: Wed, 02/01/2006 - 9:51am

Didn't Paul Allen (Mr. M$) bring an extra 'n' for Grant when he bought the team?

by J.S. (not verified) :: Wed, 02/01/2006 - 1:03pm

OK I just went and checked on the line in Vegas. It is still at four points and the over under is 47 1/2. I don't know I think it is going to be much close than that so I will take the Hawks to win and take the over on 47 1/2. However I have been wrong many times in the past. (i picked Indy and Cinci in the AFC Championship game with Indy going to Superbowl XL. I also had Chicago and Washington in the NFC Champion ship with Chicago going toSuperbowl XL). Oh well there is always 2006 (GO Green Bay - Brett Favre (who will be playing in Miami with TO as a wide out)) Jeez I listen to much Mike and Mike on ESPN.

by Sid (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 12:23am

Isn't it Chartric Darby or something like that?

I do remember that Tatupu INT. When the cameras showed the pass, I remember marvelling at how Seattle had so many guys back in coverage (looked like a modified zone).

by Sid (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 12:36am

RE: 8

Wistrom is a good player, but he's tremendously overpaid. No one offered close to what Seattle did for Wistrom, and there were even rumors that Seattle's offer went beyond what Wistrom's agent was going to ask for.

On Darby:

I still don't understand how a 270-pounder can be an every-down DT. And I thought James Reed was undersized.

by Sid (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 1:48pm

The line is now Steelers by 4.5. The over/under is 47. Give me the Seahawks and the under.

by J.S. (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 4:34pm

RE: 75

Wich gives me more reason to take Seattle and take the over