Seahawks coaches showed players a tape of every big play the defense has allowed this season when they came back to work this week.
The Seahawks hadn’t played the day before thanks to their annual bye, but it was still Tell the Truth Monday for the players when they returned earlier this week.
Almost no sooner had the Seahawks defensive players arrived back at the VMAC when defensive coordinator Kris Richard turned off the lights and turned on the video.
Then the players were forced to watch every big play the defense allowed in the first five games — the 75-yard run by Tennessee’s DeMarco Murray that was the longest of the Pete Carroll era, the 61-yard run by the 49ers’ Carlos Hyde the week before, the screen pass Tennessee’s Rishard Matthews turned into a 55-yard touchdown.
“We have to make it clear,’’ Richard said. “We love our guys, but the truth is a major part of the love that we are able to share and show them.’’
And what Richard was trying to make clear is that the Seahawks aren’t likely to reach their goals this season giving up as many explosive plays the rest of the way as they did in the first five games.
While there can be any number of ways to determine explosive plays, the Seahawks define them as any pass of 16 yards or longer and any run of 12 yards or longer.
Seattle gave up 30 of those in the first five games — 10 runs and 20 passes.
That’s an average of six a game, which is actually slightly below last year’s average of 6.125. But many of the big plays against Seattle last year came down the stretch when free safety Earl Thomas was injured (fellow safety Kam Chancellor also missed four games last season including the wild affair against Atlanta when the Falcons threw for 310 yards).
The goal this year, with Thomas/Chancellor and every other defensive mainstay back and healthy, was to return to the defensive dominance of the 2013-15 seasons when preventing big plays was as big of a key to the team’s success as anything.
Seattle allowed 90 explosive plays in 2015 (5.6 per game) but was especially stingy in 2014 (76 total, 4.75 average) and 2013 (82 total, 5.125 average).
That also helped lead to a big edge for Seattle in another stat it considers as important as anything — the differential between big plays made on offense and allowed on defense.
In 2013 Seattle was plus-30, in 2014 it was a whopping plus-59 which was also first in the NFL by a large margin, and in 2015 the Seahawks were plus- 37.
But combined with early offensive struggles, the Seahawks are at minus-one through five games this year in explosive play differential.
That the offense might take a while to hit its stride, though, was no secret and not Richard’s problem.
Stopping the big plays on defense with a veteran and highly-paid corps of players, that’s something the Seahawks figured they’d be able to do from the start this season.
Richard said the tape revealed no overriding theme.
“It’s just been major letdowns in areas that we have been unaccustomed to,’’ Richard said. “It’s stuff that is fixable, stuff that we believe we have fixed. Obviously, only time will tell. The guys have locked in, they have seen the explosives play tape, they have seen all the cutups. From here on out we can kind of imagine how teams are going to try to attack us at least for the next five games after, so it’s just stuff that if they have plays that are very similar that have worked against us we are going to be prepared for those.’’
A breakdown of the plays backs up the idea that there have really been no central themes.
The Matthews TD and a 32-yard touchdown pass given up against Green Bay each came on plays when Seattle jumped offsides and appeared to hesitate at the snap.
On the Hyde run the Seahawks simply gave up outside contain at the point of attack. On Murray’s run the Seahawks appeared to just get caught in the wrong defense in part due to adjusting to pre-snap movement (middle linebacker Bobby Wagner took some blame after the Titans’ game saying he needed to make sure the calls were communicated as quickly as needed).
The longest pass play allowed against the Rams, a 35-yarder on the first play of Los Angeles’ final drive, came when Chancellor appeared in position to bat the ball down but simply mistimed his jump.
“We can all fix it,’’ Wright said, adding that the mistakes have included “assignment incorrect, a little blown off the ball, a little getting reached (losing contain). A multitude of things.’’
The big runs have contributed to what remains maybe the most unlikely stat of the year for Seattle — its ranking against the run. Last year, the Seahawks led the NFL in allowing just 3.4 yards per attempt. This week the Seahawks are 30th at 4.9, having allowed 4.5 or better in three of five games.
The Seahawks rightly note that if you take out the Murray and Hyde long runs the stat looks much better — Seattle is allowing 3.9 yards per run on the other 127 attempts by opponents, which would rank 13th.
But then, those big plays happened, as the players were reminded on Monday.
“We can’t have the critical errors or the letdowns, in particular situations that are going to allow a quarterback scramble and things of that nature,’’ Richard said. “Yeah, those have the numbers off. Other than that, we are going to do what we do. We are going to line up, read our keys, get to the football, and again that is a staple of who we are. We have to stop the run and we know that is a major focus of ours.”