By his admission, Wright’s problems last season dealt mostly with a lack of awareness. He didn’t always play the odds he spent all week cultivating, and offenses burned him for it.
RENTON — Linebacker K.J. Wright has long been valued for his coverage skills, but he knows the glaring hole on his resume.
“I felt like I gave up too many touchdowns last year,” he said. “I felt like people were scoring on me.”
Wright is one of Seattle’s more unique players, even just physically. His legs look like they were ripped from a horse’s body, and his arms dangle like tree limbs. This natural construction comes with some benefits for an outside linebacker, namely that Wright has the size and wingspan to make life hellish for NFL tight ends. It’s the trait the Seahawks value most about Wright, former defensive coordinator Dan Quinn once said.
But Wright struggled in coverage last year in the red zone — that prized area between the 20-yard line and end zone.
By his admission, Wright’s problems dealt mostly with a lack of awareness: How much time is left, what’s the down and distance, what formation is the offense in, what do they typically do in that situation?
When players study film, they are really hunting for and storing clues, so when it’s third down from the 3-yard line, they know what to anticipate. Wright didn’t always play the odds he spent all week cultivating, and offenses burned him for it.
Take Philadelphia tight end Zach Ertz’s 35-yard touchdown: “It was a wheel route,” Wright said. “He went to the flat and then took it up, and I got rubbed a little bit. They were right in the fringe area. Right when they get in that area, my mind-set should just start triggering: ‘These guys usually take shots right here.’ So instead of me going underneath the route, I should go over top next time. That’s an example.”
So is the 5-yard touchdown pass to Rams running back Benny Cunningham. Cunningham faked like he was going to stay in the backfield and block, but he slipped out into the flat, leaving Wright clogged in traffic.
“They were in the red zone, and they run the same, old red-zone route,” Wright said. “But I expected something different, he gave me a little something, and I just bit on it. Just easy stuff. Just make the game simple.”
I felt like I gave up too many touchdowns last year. I felt like people were scoring on me.” - K.J. Wright
And though there’s no shame in giving up a 22-yard touchdown to Rob Gronkowski, one of the game’s better tight ends, in the Super Bowl, Wright knows his mistake there, too.
“It’s the same thing,” he said. “I made a play the previous week on the tight end when he was (out wide), and I thought, ‘OK, maybe the same route is coming.’ He pretended like the same route was coming but instead kept going vertical. I just have to understand the situation. It’s second-and-three, and they’re already in field-goal range. It’s not third-and-three. Just stay on top. They’re already going to get a field goal, so just let them catch the short stuff and make the tackle.”
Wright is a valuable chess piece. He is skilled in coverage, and though coach Pete Carroll was coy about how the Seahawks might defend differently in the red zone, Wright will play a large role regardless. He just hopes to play it better.
“When it comes down to nut cutting time and it comes down to the red zone, they’re not scoring on No. 50,” Wright said. “It’s gotta go somewhere else. I’ve got to do a better job of just standing up.”