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What defenses are Seahawks set to face on 2023 schedule, part II
A look at the four types of coverages and Weeks 6-9: Seaside Joe 1550
On Monday, we got a lesson on “46 bear front” personnel from Rob Ryan and then went over the first four defensive coordinators on the Seattle Seahawks schedule next season.
On Tuesday’s episode of Seaside Joe, it’s Urban Meyer on the four types of coverages and the next four defensive coordinators. To not miss any more season previews, football explainers, upcoming origin stories (this week is Derick Hall for free subs and Zach Charbonnet for premium subscribers), or anything else, make sure you’re subscribed to the most daily newsletter in history:
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First, a word on the state of being a modern NFL content creator…
New-Read for Wednesday: The unbelievable TRUE story of Zach Charbonnet’s rise to the Seahawks
On those competing with the people who they cover
One of the big issues that 99% of content creators have run into lately is that they are severely outmatched in credibility by the top one-percent of their counterparts. This doesn’t actually make them less credible, as someone like Matty F. Brown, a Seahawks fan who creates Xs and Os content and who I hired for what I believe was his first paying gig in the industry, may be able to tell you as much about defensive formations as Rob Ryan.
But generally speaking, someone who grew up in an NFL coaching family and has a coaching career of his own that spans 36 years, will have the perception of more credibility on YouTube than someone who doesn’t have pro or college coaching experience. I emphasize YouTube only because the entry point to becoming a content creator in that space is literally so easy that anybody can do it, whether you’re one of the top people in the field or a high school sophomore. And sometimes in that space it means that the high schooler wins, as evidenced by TikTok, but it’s like the MasterClass can come from anyone, at any time, from any place.
It’s like saying that Gordon Ramsay’s famous recipe for scrambled eggs may not be as good as the eggs that your mom makes. But on the scope of “the whole world is watching,” maybe your mom doesn’t own a bunch of restaurants and host a deep roster of cooking shows and will struggle to get the same amount of access and attention.
I caught another example of this on Tuesday, as Eagles general manager Howie Roseman was on Chris Long’s podcast this week.
It’s weird how not-weird that statement is: Chris Long has a podcast. It wasn’t enough to be the number two overall pick, to make almost $100 million in his career, and to have untold sponsor and brand opportunities. Long, like many current and former athletes, also wants to have a podcast.
AND THAT’S FINE!
People are free to do whatever they want, for whatever reasons they have. Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, Taylor Lewan, Brandon Marshall, and Fred Taylor are just a few names off the top of my head that entered the podcast space in the last few years, in addition to Russell Wilson. The point I’m making is not to discourage—by all means, as a football fan and a writer looking for more interesting content, I encourage more athletes to get podcasts—but only to point out the obvious:
Howie Roseman isn’t going on 99% of Eagles podcasts. He will, however, make an appearance for someone he signed as a free agent in 2017 and won a Super Bowl with, so it’s an impossible task to try and now out-do the people who you used to cover on your NFL podcast instead creating an NFL podcast of their own.
I was first tipped off to the potential selection of Devon Witherspoon by the Seattle Seahawks not because of anything a Seahawks or NFL Draft writer pointed out, but because of a breakdown by Hall of Fame cornerback Ronde Barber on The 33rd Team. How is a non-Hall of Famer supposed to compete with analysis like that?
Again, this isn’t to say that someone with zero football playing or coaching experience can’t do better than a Hall of Famer. There are ways to catch up, as evidenced by someone like Brett Kollmann, but you better be prepared to go to work every day on a playing field that isn’t close to even.
I’d go a step further and say that most experts who put content on YouTube don’t even show much respect or effort for their audience; Rob Ryan’s videos look and sound like they were created by…Rob Ryan.
Rarely is $1 spent on camera, sound, lighting, or editing before any money is brought in. No writing, no prep work, no post-production. Virtually the complete opposite of the effort that was given to become experts in football in the first place. And yet when you can start your videos with, “My dad invented this formation” or “I won two Super Bowls with Bill Belichick because we…”, then you’re given front door access to places like this one.
Don’t think of this write-up as a condemnation or an endorsement, but merely observations of the world we’re living in today that I don’t see anyone else making. I have no fear of being wrong, I am only scared of being unoriginal.
Urban Meyer on Cover-1, Cover-2, Cover-3, and Cover-4
With that being said, let’s review the benefits of each type of coverage with former Florida and Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer. And because this video comes from the Big Ten Network and not Meyer himself, there’s actual production value.
I really couldn’t care less about Meyer’s reputation off of the field, any “improprieties” as a recruiter, or his lone season in the NFL. I don’t even follow college football closely enough to care and I never will. Can I trust Urban Meyer to explain football schematics? Because that’s all I care about and that’s all that we’re covering here today.
Meyer started coaching college football at Ohio State in 1986, became a head coach for the first time in 2001, and won three national championships. In this video, he explains why teams would use each of the four types of coverage and it starts with the most basic starting point: Know Your Personnel (KYP). Then Know Your Situation.
“The number you see in the coverages (Cover-1 vs Cover-4) is how many people are deep in the defense; for example, Cover-1 is man coverage.”
Cover-1: Strong against the run, strong against the pass, high-risk
Cover-2: Weaker against the run, strong against the pass, low-risk
Cover-3: Strong against the run, weaker against the pass, low-risk
Cover-4: Strong against the run, strong against the pass, high-risk (need elite CBs)
Because the Seattle Seahawks added Tariq Woolen in 2022 and then used a top-five pick on Devon Witherspoon in 2023, will that allow defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt to trust his outside cornerbacks to cover their receivers one-on-one? Do the Seahawks trust safety Quandre Diggs or perhaps someone else, similar to Earl Thomas a decade ago, to be alone in the deep secondary?
These are questions for Pete Carroll and Hurtt to figure out during training camp because remember it’s not about what the Seahawks want to do. It’s about what the Seahawks feel they are able to do with the personnel that they have.
Let’s continue with the Seahawks next four games on the schedule after facing the Rams, Lions, Panthers, and Giants prior to a Week 5 bye.
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Week 6 - Cincinnati Bengals, DC: Lou Anarumo
He was probably the second or third-hottest name on defense following the season, after Jonathan Gannon (who’s next) and DeMeco Ryans. Anarumo got his start at Wagner college in 1989, spent six years at Harvard with various roles, and then a long time at Purdue prior to taking his first NFL job with the Dolphins in 2012 when he was 46.
Anarumo didn’t became a full time defensive coordinator, at any level, until he was hired by Zac Taylor in 2019, when he was 53-years-old. Taylor was only 36. I only point that out because usually if you haven’t been an NFL coordinator by 50, it’s not going to happen. Now there’s momentum for Anarumo to become an NFL head coach in the near future.
How did his defense go from 30th in points allowed the year before he arrived to sixth in points allowed in 2022?
Bengals cornerback Eli Apple called Anarumo “a mad scientist” and perhaps is best known trait is that he’s not known for anything, constantly switching gameplans to confuse the NFL’s best quarterbacks:
The common ingredient in those performances has been Anarumo's willingness to experiment, tweak designs and ultimately adjust as needed to stop high-powered offenses. For as long as he can remember, he has valued schematic flexibility.
"Whether it's in college or now in the NFL, [when] you play elite quarterbacks, you just can't give them the same picture," Anarumo told ESPN. "You just gotta keep changing it and just attempt to keep those guys off balance."
In the 2021 AFC Championship Game, Anarumo's defense foiled Mahomes again. Kansas City's quarterback completed just 44.4% of his passes after halftime and was intercepted in overtime by Bell, setting up the game-winning field goal in the 27-24 victory that sent Cincinnati to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1989.
In the second halves of games dating back to the start of the 2021 season, the Bengals rank second in points allowed (8.64), first in defensive red zone efficiency (38.7% stop rate) and third in opposing QBR (36.3), according to ESPN Stats & Information. In the three games against the Bengals during that span, Mahomes has thrown zero touchdowns and two interceptions after halftime.
The Bengals aren’t known, even recently, for having elite or great defensive talents. Trey Hendrickson was the only Pro Bowl player on that side of the ball in 2021 and/or 2022. Cincinnati did use their first three draft picks (DE Myles Murphy, CB D.J Turner, S Jordan Battle) on defensive players. But it’s the type of success that any NFL team would like to replicate: Cost-effective talent playing well above expectations.
Anarumo’s in-game adjustments (also detailed here by Football Outsiders’ Derrik Klassen in January), and not necessarily his base defense or level of talent, could be the aspect of the Bengals defense that Seattle most fears.
Week 7 - Arizona Cardinals, DC: Nick Rallis
The Cardinals interviewed Anarumo before ultimately deciding on Jonathan Gannon after he helped guide the Eagles (along with “secret” defensive coordinator adviser Vic Fangio) to the Super Bowl with the top-ranked passing defense. Gannon then hired Rallis, a 30-year-old who spent the last two years as Philadelphia’s linebackers coach, to be Arizona’s next defensive coordinator.
Similar to the Los Angeles Rams amid a massive overhaul on the defensive side of the ball, nobody knows for sure what to expect from Gannon’s Cardinals this season. Only to be prepared for a potential top-three selection in the 2024 NFL Draft. In fact, the Cardinals were clear in the fact that they weren’t hiring Gannon for Xs and Os or because of the side of the ball he coached but because they were impressed with his leadership and communication skills, per ESPN:
He is a top-notch communicator. Edge rusher Haason Reddick is among Gannon's most vocal backers, crediting him with listening to his players and using their input to tailor the scheme to their strengths.
His overarching defensive philosophy is to prevent the big play and generate takeaways -- believing zone coverage is a good way to do so, as it allows defenders to have their eyes on the quarterback. Although that philosophy might be straightforward, Gannon is big on pre-snap disguises to muddle the picture for opposing quarterbacks.
The Philly fan base has mixed feelings about him -- his lack of aggressiveness his first year as DC, in particular, didn't mesh with the city's personality -- and the team's defensive performance in the Super Bowl left a bad taste, but his coaches and players back him up hard.
"I don't box ourselves into an alignment. We're going to try to play defense where we make sure we don't get the ball thrown over our head and keep the points down and take the ball away. Those are kind of the main stats that I'm concerned with," Gannon said.
"But everyone plays a hybrid of something or another, but I think you need versatility and scheme week to week to be able to take away their best players and that's how we'll do things."
Most importantly, don’t expect Arizona’s defense to resemble Philadelphia’s because that doesn’t make any sense; unless the Cardinals somehow acquire Darius Slay, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Haason Reddick, etc., that’s just not going to work. Instead, the Cardinals have Budda Baker (although he’s reportedly wanted out recently), Isaiah Simmons, Zaven Collins, and a lot of open competitions to start on defense.
Week 8 - Cleveland Browns, DC: Jim Schwartz
He’s back. 10 years after Schwartz was fired as head coach of the Detroit Lions, spending one season as defensive coordinator of the Bills, then five in that role with the Eagles, and the last two as an assistant on the Titans, he has replaced Joe Woods in Cleveland. The Browns have Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward and some talented players around them, but ranked just 23rd on defense by DVOA (28th against the run) in 2022.
Leading to Schwartz’ fifth career stint as a defensive coordinator or head coach. His first came under Jeff Fisher on the 2001 Titans. Here’s how BrownsWire described his defensive style:
Schwartz uses an aggressive 4-man front in the style of longtime Eagles coordinator Jim Johnson. His defenses rely heavily on generating pressure with just the front four. First with the Titans (2001-2008) as a coordinator, then with the Lions as head coach and subsequent coordinator stops in Buffalo (2014) and Philadelphia (2016-2020), Schwartz’s defensive units perennially ranked near the top in sacks and at or near the bottom in blitz percentage. Schwartz uses a barrage of twists, stunts, alignments within the four-man line and even some more advanced gimmicks like the asynchronous rush or the inverted line (ends inside, tackles outside). His expansive use of the Wide-9 technique with his ends is Schwartz’s signature.
He’s a coordinator who leans on man coverage outside and Cover-3 and Cover-1 in the middle. Schwartz knows how to mask and mix up his coverages too.
Cleveland’s priority, if they wanted to help Schwartz run his style of defense, was defensive tackle going into the offseason. Then the Browns signed Dalvin Tomlinson, a second round pick of the Giants in 2017, and drafted Siaki Ika out of Baylor in the third round. Next, the team traded for edge rusher Za’Darius Smith.
I expect a career-year for Garrett.
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Week 9 - Baltimore Ravens, DC: Mike Macdonald
Macdonald seems like one of those “fast track” coaching types, as he started out as a quality control assistant at Georgia in 2010, became an intern for the Ravens in 2014, was coaching Baltimore’s defensive backs by 2017, then hired by John Harbaugh’s brother to become Michigan’s defensive coordinator in 2021.
That year, Aidan Hutchinson finished second in Heisman voting and became the number two overall pick on a defense that also included David Ojabo, Turner, Dax Hill, Mazi Smith, and Mike Morris.
Macdonald immediately reverted back to the other Harbaugh in 2022 and was the youngest defensive coordinator in the NFL at 34. The immediate reviews were not very warm, including a 42-38 loss to the Dolphins in Week 2, but the Ravens rebounded to finish third in points allowed over the course of the season, helped by a midseason trade for Roquan Smith.
The fundamental impetus behind bringing in Macdonald was that Martindale’s blitz-heavy system is effective against lesser teams, but is simply outdated in trying to defend modern offenses with elite quarterbacks that shred those styles of defenses with ease.
Baltimore Beatdown continued this line of thought in February, as Macdonald is now more of a fan favorite than a scapegoat:
Macdonald presented offenses with a limited number of fronts and pressure looks, yet made it possible for any player to be blitzing or dropping into coverage. According to Pro Football Focus, the Ravens had 35 different defensive players rush the passer at least once. Only Macdonald’s predecessor, Wink Martindale, rushed more (36). While Macdonald’s reliance on five and six man rushes wasn’t nearly as high, the usage of bluffing and overloading pressure remained intact.
One of the things that stands out about Macdonald’s pressures are the way he lies to quarterbacks and their protection. So often the Ravens defense would show pressure outside to bring pressure inside, or show pressure to the weak side to bring pressure to the strong side. Extending further, in pass situations the Ravens frequently aimed to give a different post-snap picture than they presented pre-snap. The Ravens’ pressures typically dropped three deep coverage defenders accompanied by four underneath zone defenders. This put a lid on offenses ability to generate explosive plays, particularly blown coverages, while overwhelming one side of pass protection using first and second level players.
The Ravens were maybe not as aggressive in upgrading their defensive positions this year as in past offseasons, but they have already spent considerable draft capital and money to make it one of the best in the NFL: Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Williams, Kyle Hamilton, Odafe Oweh for starters. If Baltimore’s defense is as good in 2023 as they were after acquiring Smith in 2022, Macdonald will be the next Gannon and running his own team before he’s 40.