By Chris Cluff
While the Seattle defense has been among the best in the league this season — now ranked fifth overall and third in points allowed — and has helped keep the team in every game, it has shown it still has a few occasionally fatal flaws.
In Detroit on Sunday, the flaw was a zone defense that got picked apart almost all game.
The Hawks played zone almost exclusively against the Lions, and Matthew Stafford exploited it even better than New England’s Tom Brady did two weeks before. Unlike the New England game, in which they held the Patriots to field goals, the Hawks let the Lions into the end zone a season-high four times.
Cornerback Brandon Browner and defensive end Chris Clemons were frank about what the Hawks did wrong against Detroit:
- They focused too much on stopping Calvin Johnson, using a zone almost exclusively.
- They had trouble against Titus Young, who outmaneuvered the Hawks for nine catches, 100 yards and two touchdowns.
- They couldn’t stop the quick, short passes to backs and tight ends, which helped the Lions convert 12 of 16 third downs.
“I thought before the game even started we were going to do OK against (Johnson),” Browner told reporters, per The News Tribune. “But it’s the other guys that got off. We can’t focus on one player, because we tend to forget that they’ve got stars like Titus Young. … I thought we would match up well with him. He’s a big guy. We’re big guys. It’s the little guys that we’ll have problems with, because they can get in and out of breaks faster than we do.”
Young certainly did, burning the Seahawks’ vaunted secondary for a 46-yard touchdown and the winning score with 20 seconds left.
The 46-yarder was a poorly played zone by Richard Sherman and safety Kam Chancellor.
“It was kind of a zone and he just got behind us,” Sherman told reporters. “Me and Kam kind of messed up on it, and it was a good ball.”
The winning score came against Browner, who could do little about it because Stafford threw a low ball inside that Young went to the ground to scoop up.
Browner did not have the inside help he hoped to get in that zone scheme as linebacker K.J. Wright was too far away to get there in time.
“When he goes in, I’m taught to let him go in and to respect anything coming out,” Browner said. “But he threw it in the dirt, and I did what I could from the outside.”
Even rookie Ryan Broyles took advantage of the zone defense to score on a 6-yard catch for Detroit’s first TD.
Johnson cleared out the zone in the back left of the end zone, drawing Earl Thomas and Browner after him. Meanwhile, Wright sucked in to the middle, leaving Broyles open on the left side just enough to make the catch and dive across the goal line before Browner could get to him.
Stafford basically took what the Seahawks’ deep zone gave him, dropping the ball off to his tight ends and running backs over and over. Of his 34 completions, 19 went to those guys.
“He did throw it quick,” Clemons said. “I think they went to the same situation Green Bay did on us in the second half — quick throws, getting the ball out of his hands and not letting him hold onto the ball. We’ve got to get our hands up and get those balls down. Make him hold the ball, or at least pump it so we can get back there to him.”
The Seahawks rarely rushed more than four players, and they did not get enough pressure on him as a result. They got two sacks and hurried him seven times in 51 dropbacks.
Coach Pete Carroll lamented the absence of interior pass-rushing threat Jason Jones and said the defense’s inexperience hurt it.
“Maybe we try a little too much, or we try a little too hard to make a play or something,” he told reporters, per The News Tribune. “Those things you can wash out with experience sometimes. And sometimes guys are just trying to make things happen, and they make mistakes.
“But I think we’ve tried a little bit too hard to be perfect, or to catch a tendency or something like that, and then we miss our drops,” he said. “I know we can get a lot better. I just hope we can do it right away. We need to get this done soon.”
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.