Monday metatarsal musings

Posted Oct 8, 2012

Or footnotes: The Seahawks’ impressive performance against the Panthers’ read-option plays in Sunday’s win at Carolina actually is rooted in the game plan coordinator Gus Bradley devised on Tuesday.

What transpired at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday can be traced to what happened in Gus Bradley’s office at Virginia Mason Athletic Center on Tuesday.

By Wednesday, the game plan the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator had devised the day before to deal with quarterback Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers’ read-option attack had spread to the locker room and his players.

“Gus has a great game plan for (Newton),” rookie safety Winston Guy said on the day the players began implementing Bradley’s plan. “So if we do what we have to do, I feel like we can get a win this week.”

On Thursday, even Bradley admitted, “It creates issues. But I feel like we’ve got a solid plan against them.”

But it was on a cloudy Sunday afternoon that spilled into a gloomy Sunday evening for the Panthers that Bradley’s plan surged into every gap and outlet in the Newton-led offense with a force that was as suffocating as it was sudden.

The very happy ending for the Seahawks was a 16-12 road victory, as the defense held the Panthers to 190 total yards to become the NFL’s No. 1-ranked unit in average yards (258.6) and points (10.8) allowed – against the defense. In the past four games, the Seahawks’ defense has allowed two touchdowns.

All of which takes us back to the plan that impeded the Panthers.

When cornerbacks are in man-to-man coverage, it’s called being on an island. Sunday, Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman gave new meaning to the term island boys, as Bradley used them to deal with Newton’s pitch options to the outside, as well, leaving the defensive linemen and linebackers to clog the gaps Newton normally exploits. The fact that Browner is 6 feet 4 and weighs 221 pounds and Sherman is 6-3 and 195 was more than just a small factor in all of this.

“Those guys have been out there on an island every week,” coach Pete Carroll said. “That’s what allows us to play the defense that we’re playing. Those two guys played terrific. Just a fantastic game by the corners.”

Scratch a little deeper, and you’ll discover that 156 of the Panthers’ 190 yards came on two possessions – a 77-yard drive to a field goal in the second quarter and a 79-yard drive in the fourth quarter that ended at the Seahawks’ 1-yard line after Browner and nickel back Marcus Trufant stopped Louis Murphy just short of the goal line on a third-down pass and Newton threw incomplete into the end zone on fourth down.

So on their other nine possessions, the Panthers averaged 3.8 yards – not per play, but per possession.

All this against an offense that produced a league-high 176 explosive plays last season, and had 43 plays of 12-plus yards rushing or 16-plus yards passing in its first four games this season. Sunday, it was three explosive passing plays, with a long of 24; and three explosive running plays, with a long of 15.

“When you’re dealing with a quarterback that can run like him, you just have to play assignment football. You just have to do what you’re being coached all week long,” defensive end Chris Clemons said. “Everybody played exactly the way they were supposed to play.”

Good stuff? No, great stuff.

“It was an extraordinary job by the D,” Carroll said. “A defensive effort like that is really a statement about our guys. Gus did a great job with the game plan.”

With that said, here’s a look three other things that worked in Sunday’s rare road victory, and three things that need work as the Seahawks’ No. 1-ranked defense prepares to face the New England Patriots’ No. 1-ranked offense at CenturyLink Field this Sunday.

What worked

One. Browner – He made two plays that altered the outcome of the game. On the first, Browner stripped the ball from running back DeAngelo Williams after he had taken an option pitch from Newton and recovered the fumble to setup Russell Wilson’s TD passes to Golden Tate that gave the Seahawks a 13-10 lead in the fourth quarter. On the second, he rammed into Murphy to prevent him from getting into the end zone on the goal-line stand in the fourth quarter.

“Brandon’s play on the option, where he takes the ball away from him, was a great play,” Carroll said. “But then he makes a terrific tackle to put them in fourth-and-1, when most the time guys just get in the end zone. But he just didn’t allow it to happen.”

Two. Bobby Wagner – The rookie middle linebacker was the on-field conductor for the symphony of a scheme Bradley composed. But he did more than just get everyone aligned right. Wagner had six tackles, including 1.5 sacks. That gives him 21 tackles in the past three games. And the rookie also was included in the nickel package for the first time against the Panthers.

Bobby Wagner

“During the week, Bobby was so on this preparation,” Carroll said of Wagner, who played against the read-option in practice every day at Utah State last season. “It’s his familiarity with all the option football. He had the feel and the sense for it all week long. He made some key plays.”

Three. Russell Wilson – The rookie quarterback had his most productive day, passing for 221 yards by completing 19 of 25 passes. None was bigger than the TD pass to Tate. And Wilson lost 56 yards when his perfectly thrown pass to Tate in the first quarter was nullified by a holding call on right tackle Breno Giacomini.

“I thought Russell played a great game,” Carroll said. “He was in control the whole time.”

What needs work

One. Penalties – There were fewer (seven for 65 yards), but the story on this day was the yards lost to those infractions. In addition to the 56-yard pass play, Marshawn Lynch had a 20-yard run called back because of a holding penalty on left guard Russell Okung. That run would have given Lynch 105 rushing yards.

“We made it really hard on ourselves,” Carroll said. “We just kept taking stuff away from ourselves.”

Two. Third downs – Yes, there was vast improvement here. A defense that had been allowing opponents to convert 43 percent on third downs held the Panthers to 18 percent (2 of 11). An offense that had been converting 28 percent on the pivotal down hit the 50-percent mark (7 of 14) for the first time. So what’s the problem? The coaches and players need to continue working on these areas so the upward trend continues – especially for a defense that will be trying to contain the Patriots and an offense that will be trying to keep pace.

Three. Taking care of the football – As tight end Zach Miller said after the game, “Anytime you’re minus-2 in the turnover margin, you make it real tough on yourself.” Wilson threw two more interceptions, one that was returned for the Panthers’ only touchdown. He has thrown five in the past two games after being intercepted once in the first three games.

Again, growing pains that the Seahawks and their young QB need to grow from.