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Opponents Opting for Plan B
Ideally, the play of your defense will alter the way your opponent plays offense. But before the game even begins?
That has been the situation created by the stoutness of the Seahawks’ run defense during the two-game winning streak that the team is riding heading into Sunday’s matchup with the Washington Redskins at CenturyLink Field.
Two weeks ago, the Baltimore Ravens ran the ball 12 times against the Seahawks – after averaging 26 running plays in their first eight games.
“We felt confident with our game plan,” Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said after the game, “but we were unable to execute it.”
Sunday, the Rams tried to run on the Seahawks early, but quickly abandoned that plan and instead tried to spread the defense out and attack them with the pass. Still, Steve Jackson got just 15 carries – and 42 yards – after averaging 27 carries and 139 yards in the previous three games.
“We have a lot of respect for their front,” Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said after the game. “To kind of spread it out, we thought we could move it around a little bit there.”
It’s hard to blame the Rams and Ravens for their thought process, even though they produced think-again results.
In preparing for the Seahawks, you can either butt your helmets against a formable D-line that features 330-pound end Red Bryant, who is more explosive than a man his size should be able to be; 311-pound nose tackle Brandon Mebane, who is as quick as he is wide; 325-pound tackle Alan Branch, who uses his long arms to gain level advantages; and 254-pound “Leo” end Chris Clemons, a greased pig of a penetrator against the run as well as the pass.
Or, you can try to exploit a secondary that has a pair of second-year safeties, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor; a CFL refugee and first-year NFL starter at right cornerback, Brandon Browner; and a third option at left corner, rookie Richard Sherman.
The Ravens and Rams gambled on Option B, and lost.
Flacco put the ball up a career-high 52 times. Middle linebacker David Hawthorne intercepted one of his passes; while Browner (three), Sherman (two), Chancellor (one) and Thomas (one) got their hands on seven others.
The Rams did try to run, early. But with equally frustrating results.
“What was impressive was that they ran seven different runs to start the game and everyone of them we played at the line of scrimmage,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
It went like this: Jackson for 2 yards, before running into backup tackle Clinton McDonald; Mebane drops Jackson for a 3-yard loss; Jackson for no gain, thanks to Hawthorne; Jackson for 3 and into Mebane again; Jackson for 2 before Bryant got to him; Jackson for 1 and into Hawthorne again.
But the Rams also passed on their first five plays, and then on eight of their first 10 plays in the second half. Jackson got 1 yard on each of the running plays, and QB Sam Bradford got sacked on the eighth pass play – forcing a fumble that the Seahawks recovered to set up a touchdown that made it 17-7.
Game over, long before it was actually over.
“We made a good statement to them that the game plan that they had set out wasn’t going to work for them real well,” Carroll said. “They had a whole other thought about spreading us out.
“We were surprised that they would do that and take Jackson out of the backfield so much, but they did. And we handled it OK.”
Just OK? The Seahawks finished with a season-high five sacks, including a career-best three by Clemons; an interception from Bryant on a pass tipped Mebane that set up their final touchdown; and seven passes defensed, with Browner and Sherman getting two each.
“It’s not a dilemma,” Carroll said when asked about having to alter their defensive game plan in midgame. “You just have to have everything ready. We were not prepared for them to be in four-wide receivers and empty (backfield). They had only one snap in four-wides in the last four games.
“But it’s not a dilemma at all. You just have to be well-versed and prepared.”
Because, as the Seahawks’ past two opponents have shown, you never know what the opposition might throw at you to avoid running into that run-stuffing front wall.