NFL defensive backs earn their living covering receivers, but in the Seahawks defense, they’re getting to have a little extra fun this season.
While locking down a dominant receiver like Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald is job No. 1, Seattle’s cornerbacks and safeties are also getting a chance to get after the quarterback and earn more playing time in the team’s “bandit” defense, which Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley are using with increasing frequency and success this season.
“We love it,” cornerback Roy Lewis said after being one of three defensive backs to register a sack in Seattle’s victory over Chicago. “It’s a DBs dream to get a chance to blitz.”
This unusual defensive package, which is used exclusively in passing situations, employs seven defensive backs, three down linemen, and middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu. Having that many defensive backs on the field creates a number of options for the defense. On any given play, some can rush the quarterback, while others drop into coverage, and what makes the scheme so effective is that opposing offensive linemen and quarterbacks aren’t sure who is going to do what.
On one play, Lawyer Milloy might come after the quarterback. A few plays later, it could be Jordan Babineaux or Lewis while Milloy drops into coverage. At first glance it looks like madness. Not three, no four, not five or even six, but seven defensive backs moving around the field. But there is clearly a method to this madness, and it’s producing results.
According to Scout.com’s Brian McIntyre, the Seahawks had seven defensive backs on the field against Chicago on 12 plays, resulting in Jay Cutler going 3 for 8 for 39 yards with four sacks. The bandit came out 17 times last weekend against the Cardinals, resulting in the Cardinals’ two quarterbacks going 6 for 16 for 57 yards and one sack.
“When you play extra guys it just affords you more of a multiple style and guys that can do more things,” Carroll said. “If you feel OK about your [defensive backs] rushing—which some teams don’t—then they can rush, they can drop, they can cover backs. A guy who’s on the line of scrimmage can end up being a deep defender and so you just give yourself a variety of things that you can do and interchange some parts and stuff and try to make it difficult.”
Despite giving up more yards than they’d like, Seattle’s defensive backs are a big part of the reason Seattle ranks fifth in the league in scoring defense and 10th in turnover differential. Rookie Earl Thomas, whose incredible range helps free up defensive backs to blitz, has four interceptions, one shy of a Seahawks rookie record, and three other defensive backs, Milloy, Babineaux and Marcus Trufant, have forced fumbles. Milloy is also tied for second on the team with three sacks, and is one of three defensive backs to record a sack.
Another advantage to this scheme, aside from its effectiveness, is that it keeps a number of players involved in the defense. Carroll has always been a coach who tries to find unique roles for as many players as possible, and the bandit defense does just that, getting players like rookie safety Kam Chancellor involved. In last week’s game 16 players played at least 10 plays on defense, and two weeks ago it was 19. That not only keeps players happy, it strengthens depth.
“It’s a fun package for the guys to play, because a lot of guys get to do things,” Carroll said. “We’re utilizing Lawyer in ways and Babineaux in ways that they give us unique stuff. It’s nice also to get Kam Chancellor on the field in the package so that he can play some, there are just some things that he does well. Earl has some stuff that he does that’s kind of unique, so that’s all part of it. We’re just trying to be very multiple in that because of the availability of the movement.”
About the only player not getting in on the fun is Tatupu, who has been used in coverage in the bandit defense, not as a pass rusher.
“I don’t know, you’ve got to ask the coaches,” Tatupu said with a grin when asked when his number will be called. “I plead the fifth, man.”
At that very moment, a TV in the locker room showed highlights of a Babineaux sack, getting Tatupu’s attention.
“See, we’re watching it right now,” he said. “They’re all just partying over there. I guess they like my coverage skills.”
And the defensive backs are more than happy to keep partying.