New Grantland: Can Pete Carroll’s Defense Handle Washington’s Pistol Offense?

It’s now up over at Grantland:

That flexibility will certainly be required against the Redskins’ varied approach, but fortunately for Carroll, he not only knows his defense — he has the players to run it. Chris Clemons, Richard Sherman and a returning Brandon Browner each have the physical dominance to make well-designed schemes look ugly, but the most important player for Seattle is one arguably more dynamic than Griffin or Morris: Earl Thomas.

To match up with teams like the Redskins, whose quarterback is a threat to both run and throw, the safety must be able to both play deep (as he would against a traditional pro-style passing quarterback like Brady or Manning), and to play up at the line (as he would against an old-school triple team like old Nebraska squads). Fortunately for Carroll, Earl Thomas might be able to do it all, and the combination of his playmaking ability with big, physical corners like Sherman and Browner have me convinced that Carroll and the Seahawks have the recipe to deal with Washington.

Read the whole thing.


  • Paul Beyer

    If I had to pick a coach to have on my side for this game it would be Pete Carroll. He knows how to scheme for a scheme heavy offense. The @SEAHAWKS will prevail bc they excel at the key components needed for successful playoff run.

  • Kalon Jelen

    He kinda doesn’t, actually; he got handled against Chip Kelly’s worst team and then got wrecked against Stanford the next time. His teams looked completely out of place. This should be an interesting one that way.

  • mike Jordan

    Lets not forget what Vince Young did in the 2005 championship game. Where he had no answer for Young’s ability to run and throw. However, I think RG3 might still be hurt and not being at 100% could be a problem. Also Wilson is playing well in his own right.

  • IrishBarrister

    I realize that the headline was changed over at Grantland, but I think the answer to whether Seattle can stop Washington’s running attack is: yes, but it’ll be tough.

    Most people seem focus on the defensive end/outside linebacker when it comes to the zone read. It may be where the camera is, but its generally not the critical aspect for the defense. If the defensive end/outside linebacker executes his assignment and keeps contain, then the running back (Morris) will be forced inside on both “Bluff” and “non-Bluff” running plays. If you actually do see a defensive end/outside linebacker make a play on zone read, and his name isn’t comparable with Lawrence Taylor, the quarterback missed his read.

    If the running back is forced inside, then it all comes down to the remaining defensive players in the box. Given the numerical superiority of the offense in such a situation, you have to bring down the strong safety – and that’s where the game gets interesting.

    The Seahawks under Pete Carroll and Casey Bradley (the defensive coordinator) love to run what I know as a 3-4 Ryan, named after the coaching family who first began to use it, against strong running teams. The 3-4 Ryan begins with the backside DE and DT sliding over into 3-tech and 1-tech respectively, with an identity crisis DE/OLB playing on the back end, creating a 4-3 Under look. Then the strong safety drops down into the box on the strong side (generally) in what often looks like a homage to the 46 Bear. I think the best example of how Seattle runs it would be the Niners game a few weeks back.

    This gives the defense 8 men in the box and the necessary numbers to fight the zone read, but it requires a truly athletic strong safety to make it viable. That strong safety for the Seahawks is Kam Chancellor, who, given his performance the past several weeks, has demonstrated the necessary athleticism to play the hybrid linebacker/safety role. I’m not sure if he will be able to keep it up all game, but the talent and skills are definitely there.

    The other huge factor is Seattle’s corners. Seattle runs a lot of Cover 3, or what looks like a Cover 3 but sometimes blurs into a form of Cover 1 with the corners effectively playing man on the wide receivers. Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner have been comfortable on these islands all year, but its going to be real test to be able to keep up those roles all game long against the run/play-action heavy Redskins without getting burned by receivers like Santana Moss.

    I think the Shanahans have a great scheme, but if there’s a team out there perfectly suited to deal with it, I think its the Seahawks.

  • Jeff Bragg

    I like the site and your articles are almost always informative. In this article, the informative part is a breakdown of the Redskins offense. The not-informative part is pretty much everything regarding the Seahawks. Really the answer the whether the Seahawks can stop the Redskins appears to be “Yes, they have good players.” Which is an answer, I suppose, but doesn’t really say anything about how they might specifically use those players.

  • Homyrrh

    I was just gifted the coaching book with the Chris Ault talk you’ve quoted in both the Grantland and SB Nation pieces. Any other articles from the book you found especially informative?

  • smartfootball

    Not sure why everyone is so worked up over this. The purpose of the article was to discuss what the Redskins do well, which sets up the challenge for Seattle and puts it in context of the weekend matchup. I do not write the headlines, and I even had some further discussion of Seattle and Pete Carroll’s defensive influence from Monte Kiffin that ended up cut in editing.

    I think Seattle will be able to handle the Redskins because they have good players, but in a particularly way, namely (i) good corners to take away the WAS receivers who are just OK, (ii) solid front 7 who can lose the DE/OLB to spy the QB on zone read stuff but not get gashed on inside zone and outside zone, and (iii) they have an excellent safety who is a kind of “numbers equalizer” against a QB who can both run and throw.

    If you want specifics on scheme, expect Seattle to (a) play a lot of man-free coverage, letting the corners shut down the outside Redskins guys and not be as susceptible to wide open dig and skinny post routes, and (b) to let Thomas roam both as an extra run filler but also to spy those passes over the middle. They will end up mixing it up with a good number of zone blitzes — often with a safety filling in as #2 or #3 in the zone to fill run or even as a blitzer, and to confuse RG3 and the blocking schemes of the Skins. The purpose of the zone blitzes is get an extra guy in the box in an aggressive way — by going after both the QB and the RB — but also to take away short slants and other quick obvious passes. Yes, there will be windows downfield, but no, the QB will not have much time. They must however stay disciplined in their lanes.

    Against Texas in that championship game a few years ago against Vince Young, Pete Caroll played two safeties deep with 6-7 in box. The result was that Texas threw a jillion short routes, many to the tight-end who was always open, as they feared Young running and the big pass play outside. I don’t expect to see Carroll use that strategy; expect a lot of one-high.

    Carroll is fairly flexible within his 4-3 under sets, and he will mix up all of the above with some quarters and quarter-quarter half to confuse RG3 and the Shanahans, but I expect single high coverage with man to be the foundation of the attack.

    I also think the big advantage Seattle will have is if the Skins try to be very methodical, I expect Seattle to be able to put up at least 14, if not 21, in the first half against Washington’s defense, and that really gets Washington out of their gameplan. RG3 is great but the Skins convert a very low percentage of their third and longs; if they get behind it starts turning second and long into third and long, and so on.

    There’s your answer.

  • zkinter36

    Really disappointed that we didn’t get to see a healthy RGIII in this one… Based upon the first two series when the Seattle D still considered RGIII a threat, I think that they would have really given it to Seattle if he was healthy. From what has been disclosed I don’t believe that there is an actual tear though, and I do not believe that the ACL was affected either… So hopefully he will be full go by the beginning of next year. I do think that he is pretty durable overall, it’s pretty amazing that the play he was injured on did not lead to a full tear. He just needs to realize that sometimes you need to take the short term loss and live to fight another day. If so, I look forward to watching him execute the most balanced, dynamic and efficient offensive system in all of football for the next ten years. It will be very interesting to see how many offenses move in this direction… At all levels of football. I do believe that the inability to teach outside zone properly will inhibit many coaches. For those of us who know, it is very apparent whether a team is running it in a manner that Alex Gibbs would approve of.

  • IrishBarrister

    Ah, that totally makes more sense. For my part, I did not know that you do not write the headlines. It struck me as a very well written article on Washington’s offense, but with a misleading title.

    I apologize if my comment came across as criticism – it felt like you had not completed your thoughts from the Seattle side (which now totally makes sense given that some of that was cut in editing). Please keep up the good work.

  • Duh9

    Looked like the 49ers ran all this stuff with pristine execution against
    Green Bay. It’s still interesting to me how passive defenses are
    against the read option/zone read/bluff whatever we are calling it. I
    say that understanding that forcing a defense to play on their heels is a
    goal of this offense. At the HS level we teach our ends to be
    aggressive and attack the mesh like a ton of bricks and take out the
    rb/fb…the LB scrapes for the QB….the CB has the pitch man. This is
    against a true triple option attack.

    Out of the pistol sets this
    all becomes more difficult obviously, but I’d argue that you have to
    take away SOMETHING. I would have had Clay Mathews blowing up LaMichael
    James every single time they ran it whether he gets the ball or not.
    That way, at the very least, it speeds up the decision making of the QB
    and can disrupt/allow the rest of the defense a chance to react to the
    play a tick faster. Plus, if you force the QB to run in the NFL it
    becomes more likely that team will call less of those plays involving
    the QB running simply out of risk of injury. If the offense starts using
    a TE/FB to ‘kick out’ the unblocked DE then at least have the DE take
    on that block aggressively and try to create a pile in the running
    lanes. An unblocked NFL defensive end needs to make SOMEONE pay for it
    every single play and do it by being aggressive and with speed.