Another week, another primetime matchup for the Kansas City Chiefs.
This week, the Chiefs travel to the northwest to take on the vaunted rushing attack of the Seattle Seahawks. However, unlike the Baltimore Ravens matchup from a couple weeks back, Seattle is capable of moving the ball through the air with its passing game. It’s going to be a stern road test for the Chiefs defense.
Like we do every week, we’ll go through the opposition’s personnel, then dive into some of the things that showed up on the tape and where the Chiefs can find success in this week’s matchup!
The Seahawks offense
Quarterback Russell Wilson continues to put up solid season after solid season. Throwing for 31 touchdowns and six interceptions on the year, Wilson has been relied upon to make timely throws off of the stellar zone-read run game. His 66.3 percent completion mark and six interceptions show that he’s taking care of the ball when he is asked to throw.
Running backs Chris Carson and Mike Davis have amassed over 1,500 yards on the ground already this season. Carson is a physical player with good agility who is able to break tackles from top-notch linebackers, let alone the Chiefs linebackers who struggle with it. Davis has been the primary beneficiary of the zone-read implementation early this year, and he’s also been excellent catching the ball out of the backfield on screens. Rookie Rashaad Penny feels like a longshot to play on Sunday night.
At wide receiver, the Seahawks boast a good duo of Tyler Lockett and Doug Baldwin. Baldwin has finally returned to the fold and will likely be the target hog in the Seattle passing offense. Lockett is a great route runner and can do serious damage out of the slot. Second-year pro David Moore is the “deep threat” for this offense. Nick Vannett is the primary pass-catching tight end, but he and Ed Dickson are both great blockers in the run game.
The Seahawks offensive line is all outstanding run blockers. Left tackle Duane Brown has had an outstanding year opposite Germain Ifedi at right tackle. Seven-year vet J.R. Sweezy starts at left guard with Justin Britt at center. The question mark on the line this week comes at right guard with D.J. Fluker trying to return this week after two games out due to injury. His replacement last week — Jordan Simmons — was put on IR, and new backup Ethan Pocic has been poor in replacement. The Seahawks utilize a large amount of tackle-eligible formations, meaning swing tackle George Fant sees many snaps as a sixth offensive lineman. While this group is made up of great run blockers, they struggle as a unit to pass protect. The Seahawks are sixth in sacks given up despite being 18th in pass attempts.
How to defend
Heavy run packages
One of the tough parts of defending tackle-eligible 13 personnel is that good blockers can get advantageous blocking angles against any front. Against this over front, SEA is able to block down and get a backside kickout, leaving Carson to beat a S and a CB against an 8-man box. pic.twitter.com/56c2nnIWl4— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) December 21, 2018
Like the Ravens game, the Chiefs will have to stay on top of their keys against the zone read rushing attack — which Seattle uses more than any other team. Unlike that Ravens attack, the Seahawks implementation of their sixth offensive lineman and a tight end or two make them a different obstacle to overcome in the run game.
As I said above, the Seahawks like to use Fant as an extra blocker/tight end in some packages. By lining up in this tackle-eligible 12 and 13 personnel, they force the front to become stretched and spin safeties down into the box to help in run support. The Seahawks have good run-blocking tight ends, and getting to keep them attached and kick them further outside the tackle box gives them — and Fant — better angles to block down and open up a backside kickout.
Even though defenses will force the Seahawks to run against eight-man boxes, the running backs they implement have the agility to cut back outside of the tight ends in their zone running scheme, putting a strong runner like Carson into the secondary against weaker tackles. The Chiefs will have to gain penetration from their three-techniques this week and set a strong backside edge with their outside linebackers. It is paramount that the Chiefs keep the running game interior this week — where Seattle will still get yards — to limit huge plays bouncing outside.
SEA likes to go tackle eligible, and they use it to help block for their longer-developing screen game. Against a 4-down front, SEA is able to chip and leak both OG's w/ this protection into the flat while the WRs drive across the formation to pull the LB's out of position. pic.twitter.com/DDfYvvmmAx— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) December 20, 2018
The Seahawks tackle-eligible formations aren’t just used for run-blocking purposes. They love to throw out of it, and it helps set up their screen game. By having another blocker in line that Seattle trusts to be able to handle good pass rushers, they’re able to implement longer-developing screens that utilize flood concepts to pull defenders away from the screen.
The above play is a prime example of the Seahawks utilizing Fant against a four-man front, allowing both guards to leak out into the flat without allowing a free rusher in Wilson’s face. Wilson is able to hold on to the ball while the boundary wide receivers drive across the formation, pulling the linebackers out of position and leaving the back wide open in the flat.
The Chiefs inside linebackers and safeties will have to key off of the guards and have proper communication to pass receivers off as they cross zones this week. With Fant not being a receiver — although he has caught a pass this year and runs the occasional route — the safety opposite him has the potential to cheat to rob a route in the middle of the field or green dog when the blocker stays in to force a quicker throw.
Verticals from the slot
The Chiefs have struggled to defend verticals in the slot against man coverage, and the Seahawks aren't afraid to take a deep shot on 3rd down out of it. Smash 7 concept, Lockett sells the double move at the sticks, forcing the slot CB to bite, then runs the corner. Big gain. pic.twitter.com/TpSmY9OcuK— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) December 20, 2018
Since they have a good rushing attack, the Seahawks find themselves in lots of third-and-short/medium situations. In the Chiefs’ case, this usually means that they keep an extra safety in or near the box to help with a potential run threat, rather than the Cover 2 look that they like to implement on third-and-long.
With that in mind, Seattle will take deep shots in these single-high, third-and-medium situations. A third-and-4 shown above calls for a Smash 7 concept, with the strong No. 1 in the 3x1 alignment running an in route at the sticks. Lockett sells an in route of his own at the sticks, and after the cornerback bites, he runs a corner route. It’s a lot of ground for the single high safety to cover to beat the throw to Lockett, and Wilson puts it on the money.
Chiefs cornerback Kendall Fuller has struggled to carry vertical routes out of the slot in man, and even with Eric Berry potentially back as a single-high safety, this is a tough ask in coverage. The Chiefs may want to mix in Cover 3 looks at the Seahawks on third and mediums to help with these shot plays and still keep the extra safety in the box. While the Smash concept is targeted to beat zone coverage, Fuller carrying the vert in man has been a recipe for disaster this season — just look at last week. Giving up the underneath yardage and living to fight another day might be a better recipe for success this week.
The bottom line
This is a big test for the Chiefs safeties and inside linebackers.
We saw Anthony Hitchens step up and play one of his better games of the season against the Ravens zone-read attack, and he’ll need to be able to get sideline to sideline in much the same way that he did against Lamar Jackson. While Wilson doesn’t keep the ball nearly as often as Jackson does, he’s still a constant threat to run and to scramble out of the pocket.
Expect to see plenty of base defense against the Seahawks with tackle eligible 12 and 13 personnel. That will likely force Reggie Ragland on the field at linebacker, and the Chiefs could have trouble in the flats with him in coverage.
At safety, it’s the right time for Eric Berry to be back in action. With the Seahawks run game and play-action passing, having a member of the secondary with plus identification ability will be key. I still expect him to show plenty of rust, but his willingness to play downhill and take on blockers will be a boon to a struggling run defense. Coupled with his pre-snap adjustments and quick play ID, he may be able to help the Chiefs net a couple stops they otherwise wouldn’t.
The Seahawks are going to move the ball on the ground and through their short passing game. If the Chiefs can limit the explosive shot plays and get a couple of early holds for field goals or punts, they might be able to force Seattle into throwing the ball more. With how poor the Seattle offensive line is in pass protection, the Chiefs could tee off with their excellent pass rush and put the game away to keep their playoff seeding high.