The Seattle Seahawks are not having the best season at this point, sitting at 5-5 and second place in the NFC West after winning the NFC Championship in back-to-back seasons. But that does not mean that any opponent should take them lightly, especially the Pittsburgh Steelers who travel to Seattle for the first time since 2003, which is coincidentally the last time the Seahawks defeated the Steelers.
For the past few seasons it has been Seattle's defense that has captured the attention of fans and players across the NFL. From Richard Sherman leading the league in interceptions, to their secondary being named the "Legion of Boom," and their playmaker abilities that has helped them appear in two consecutive Super Bowls, this has been a huge part of what has ignited this franchise.
Coming into this game, the Steelers are coming off of back-to-back games of scoring 30+ points prior to their week 11 bye week. We wanted to focus this week's team preview on the Steelers strongest unit preparing to face the Seahawks strongest unit.
We take a look at how the Seahawks line up on key third down blitzes. Seattle is not shy to bring the heat and force offenses to read the blitzes and have to find the weak spots in their zone defense. Seattle has a solid foundation of athletic players that can function as pass rushers and short range coverage defenders.
In this, Seattle will look to present multiple players who line up inside the box with several potential blitzers with a few who will drop into coverage. Here, we see the Seahawks present six potential blitzers to force the Arizona Cardinals' offensive line to discern which players are rushing and which are not.
To create even more questions on the matter, Seattle will also remove defensive linemen from the interior of their defensive formation to create more space for blitzing linebackers across the board. This also makes it more difficult for linemen to identify definite pass rushers. The right tackle mistakes one coverage man for a pass rusher and gives up his inside shoulder to Michael Bennett who gets in the face of Carson Palmer to force an intentional grounding penalty on third down.
We see here a similar scheme to the previous play we analyzed. Seattle has six potential pass rushers in the box (seven if you count Kam Chancellor) but only rushes five. The Cardinals must identify the pass rush and here the right tackle guesses incorrectly yet again. This time Bruce Irvin takes a running back into coverge and Cliff Avril takes a free path to the quarterback as the tackle steps to his inside gap where the right guard has already handled the assignment.
Notice how Seattle again vacates the middle of their defensive line to create as much confusion as possible for the offensive line. Pittsburgh's protection schemes have to recognize these types of blitzes and play fundamental football to limit the amount of free rushes which Seahawks' defenders will have to Ben Roethlisberger.
We take a look at where Pittsburgh can look to exploit Seattle's defense. Despite their titled secondary, they are not invulnerable in the least. Carson Palmer and the Arizona Cardinals carved them up at certain points with their weapons, which provides a look at how Pittsburgh can replicate the same sort of success.
Here the Seahawks have to account for Arizona's weapons across the field and their safety in the middle of the field recognizes Jermaine Gresham as the primary threat all-too-late. Gresham sneaks behind the hook/curl zone of the linebacker and finds and open space in the end-zone which the safety could not reach in time. These are the types of plays which can be expected to be seen drawn up for Roethlisberger to make use of Heath Miller.
Seattle's defense has several big name players who can quickly become game-changers. The key to limiting their success will be to pickup their blitz packages and force Seattle to compensate for Pittsburgh's arsenal of weapons in Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, DeAngelo Williams, Heath Miller and company. Roethlisberger has had two weeks to prepare for this game, look to see if he can pick apart the Seahawks defense and lead the Steelers past their exotic blitz packages and high profile defensive backs.