RENTON, Wash. – When Pete Carroll took over as head coach of the Seattle Seahawks in January, he quickly realized the players he inherited didn’t give him the option of doing everything he was used to at USC.
While he’s slowly been able to mold the offense to resemble what he had as coach of the Trojans, the defense needed attention to develop a scheme that would best suit the players he had on the roster.
Carroll had to go back to his experiences with the San Francisco 49ers in the mid-1990s. Carroll and defensive line coach Dan Quinn each learned from former 49ers assistant coach Bill McPherson and decided to try out a scheme that they got while serving under him.
“Mac (McPherson) taught us some stuff and when Danny (Quinn) and I were here and came together, now we brought the expertise to at least be able to explore it,” Carroll said.
The switch involved moving 323-pound tackle Red Bryant to defensive end and switching from a “one-gap” strategy in which the defensive linemen try to penetrate through the offensive line and get up field, to a “two-gap” strategy in which the linemen hold the point of attack, read the play and then react to the ballcarrier.
The bigger line has commanded more double-teams and allowed the linebackers to be freed up to more easily flow to the ball and make plays.
“When we hit it with Red Bryant, that was really a big deal,” Carroll said. “He was a big factor. Then Colin Cole has had that transition and he’s done a nice job of transitioning into the style of play.
“It was just something that we know and we really like it, so we’ve been coaching the heck out of it.”
Seattle was ranked 24th in the league in total defense a year ago and 15th against the run. With the changes along the defensive line, the Seahawks find themselves with the second-ranked run defense in the NFL, allowing just 70.4 yards per game. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers have done better.
Bryant and Cole, combined with tackle Brandon Mebane and defensive end Chris Clemons, bring more than 1,200 pounds of beef to the starting defensive front.
While Bryant isn’t a big pass-rushing threat, the ability the Seahawks have shown to stop the run has forced opponents into predictable passing situations where defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has dialed up several different blitzes and packages to confuse opposing quarterbacks.
“When we go into the game, our first objective is to stop the run,” Clemons said. “Once we get them in that position to be in a passing situation, it’s not just about blitzes, we have a lot of four-man rushes too. It’s just a matter of everybody up front being on the same page and being able to get to the quarterback.”
With the offense still trying to find its identity with first-round pick Russell Okung returning from injury and Marshawn Lynch and Brandon Stokley still getting acclimated, the run defense has been the one thing the Seahawks have been able to hang their hat on this season.
“It’s a team effort,” Cole said. “Yeah, it’s the guys up front. We make a lot of things happen but it also takes everybody.”