Scary Seahawks could be template for rebuilding Bears
BY ADAM L. JAHNS Staff Reporter February 1, 2014 12:42AM
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Updated: March 3, 2014 5:52PM
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The success of the Seattle Seahawks’ defense is rooted in violence and fear. Its mission is to impose its will with relentless brutality, making opponents hesitate, shudder and eventually fail.
‘‘It’s football at its simplest form,’’ cornerback Richard Sherman said. ‘‘We’re going to run around and hit people as hard as we can and as many times as we can.’’
Every defense preaches that message, but it’s the players the Seahawks have and all the things they’re able to do that allow them to be so superbly violent and so damned effective.
Their defense, which will be tested by Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday, isn’t just the top-rated unit in the NFL this season. It’s the envy of teams such as the Bears, who are in the midst of defensive changes.
For the Bears, the Seahawks just might offer the blueprint to make up for their historically bad 2013 season, showing similarities in personnel but also showing what the Bears lack in the increasingly complex world of NFL offenses.
‘‘We really talk about having versatility,’’ Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. ‘‘So some of our defensive ends play tackle. Some of our linebackers can play defensive end. Some of our safeties can go down and play nickel, or our corners can slide inside. The scheme is important, but the versatility for the players is as important, too.’’
‘‘Versatility’’ happens to be a favorite word of Bears general manager Phil Emery. He often talks about targeting players who ‘‘transcend scheme.’’ Think defensive ends Shea McClellin and David Bass and linebacker Jon Bostic.
Changes are undeniably afoot for the Bears. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker’s three new assistants — Reggie Herring (linebackers), Paul Pasqualoni (defensive line) and Clint Hurtt (assistant defensive line) — all have considerable experience running three-man fronts.
The personnel is in flux. Emery has an opportunity to target versatile players he covets in free agency and the draft. McClellin also will be moving from end to linebacker, while Bostic is expected to shift to the outside.
‘‘You have to design a scheme based on the strengths of the players you have,’’ coach Marc Trestman said.
In that regard, the Bears’ scheme, which typically had a 4-3 under front with former coach Lovie Smith, is expected to branch out in 2014. The Seahawks topped the league in total defense, pass defense and points allowed — and reached the Super Bowl — running a 4-3, 3-4 hybrid defense.
So, what can the Bears glean from the Seahawks?
Start with their ‘‘Leo’’ defensive end and their strong-side linebacker. Bruce Irvin started as an end and was moved to strong-side linebacker, which Trestman indicated last month was a possibility for McClellin.
Quinn described his “Leo” end, typically Cliff Avril or Chris Clemons, as ‘‘a pass rusher first who has the ability to drop and play the flat or play in coverage at times.’’ The Bears did that with Julius Peppers at times last season, and Bass also would fit the bill.
The Seahawks also use Michael Bennett at end or tackle. Out of necessity, the Bears did that with Corey Wootton, but he did it well enough that Emery said he ‘‘transcends scheme.’’ Bennett and Avril were free-agent additions by the Seahawks last offseason.
‘‘Our defensive front is so multiple and has so many different schemes in it that it really allows us to put a stranglehold on different offenses when we’re playing at the top of our game,’’ Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant said.
Players such as Bryant, a 6-4, 326-pound behemoth, and fellow 300-pounders Tony McDaniel and Brandon Mebane are the sort the Bears don’t have. This is where perceived similarities end.
‘‘The biggest thing I learned from that experience is to make sure you have enough big guys that you are able to switch and go back and forth,’’ said Quinn, referencing his work with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and Alabama coach Nick Saban.
Bryant’s abilities make the Seahawks’ defense a hybrid. He can fill one gap, as in typical 4-3 defenses, but also is massive enough to be a two-gap plugger, as is seen often in 3-4 schemes.
‘‘They have so many types of talents in that front seven [that] they can afford to be multiple,’’ said NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci, a former NFL coach. ‘‘When you have that type of talent on defense and you can be multiple with your fronts and get pressure without adding linebackers, that’s really something. That’s why they’re so good in pass coverage.’’
The Seahawks’ approach to coverage is simple. It’s cover-3 (deep thirds) or man coverage. Players such as Sherman and safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas make them dominant. Their talents allow them, as Mariucci said, to disguise cover-3 as press coverage.
Everything the Seahawks do poses a challenge for offenses when it comes to assigning protections and recognizing who is doing what.
‘‘They have so many different guys out there that are able to do so many different things,’’ Broncos center Manny Ramirez said. ‘‘You can’t pinpoint one team that compares to them.
‘‘I’ll just leave them as that they’re the best defense right now.’’