Stunting in Seattle: How the Arizona Cardinals Defense Beat the Seahawks Up Front

Arizona Cardinals Defense

The Arizona Cardinals dominated the Seattle Seahawks in Week 11. Colt McCoy got it back on track, and Arizona’s offense controlled the game nicely. But Seattle’s defense isn’t what it once was, and everyone knows it. They do however still have some pieces on offense, not least of all Russell Wilson. Yet the Arizona Cardinals defense quietly had a bit of day against Wilson. Behind Vance Joseph‘s game plan. Arizona bottled up an albeit not-100% Wilson and, aside from a few unfortunate downfield bombs, effectively castrated Seattle’s offensive potential; Tyler Lockett went for an inconsequential 115 yards, but Arizona did a solid job of containing Seattle weapons.

Arizona won the game by winning up front. Heavy pressures, disguised coverages, and unique defensive fronts contributed to an excellent day for the Cardinals in the trenches. Seattle’s notably poor offensive line group struggled all day, and Wilson paid much of the price. Predicated on defending at the line of scrimmage, Arizona’s Week 11 defense won the game for the Cardinals.

How the Arizona Cardinals Defense Exploited the Seattle Offensive Line

Executing Vance Joseph’s Game Plan

But for a few duffs on special teams, the Cardinals would’ve won the game by 17. The stats don’t reflect how dominant the Cardinals were in this game. However, allowing a player to go over 100 yards on the day can hardly be called an absolute jack-stomping. Indeed, it was a key component of Arizona’s defensive game plan to shut down the downfield moon ball, the prettiest and most effective weapon in Wilson’s arsenal. Lockett had a couple of catch-and-runs that buffed his numbers, but there were some notable downfield completions that Arizona will be disappointed with.

Yet, Arizona still combated this downfield threat, albeit not on the backend of the defense as expected. Instead, Arizona’s front seven limited Wilson’s ability and opportunities to throw the longer passes; they wrecked his protection and didn’t allow Seattle’s offense the chance to set up longer-developing plays. The Cardinals deployed the heavy blitz packages now typical of Vance Joseph’s scheme and disrupted Seattle’s offensive efficiency. Joseph demonstrated once again his ability to scheme unique and complex pass rushes for his guys to feast.

Disguising Arizona’s Week 11 Defense

A key component of Joseph’s game plan, and indeed his scheme as a whole, is his tendency to incorporate a ton of disguised blitzes and coverages into his defense. It was effective against Seattle last season, notably allowing Isaiah Simmons to grab a game-winning interception, and Joseph saw his approach garner similar success this past Sunday.

Quantifying pressure is a little arbitrary, so it might be best to look at the ways Joseph created sacks for his guys. The Cardinals very clearly targeted the right side of Seattle’s line, especially after setting a precedent of success early. Chandler Jonesmano e mano domination of Brandon Shell for the first sack saw Joseph specifically scheme to attack him.

Isaiah Simmons clearly enjoys playing the Seahawks and, on his sack, the second of the game for Arizona, Cardinals fans should enjoy the nuance of how it happened. Joseph’s success with Arizona’s jet package, replacing all linemen with linebackers, is indicative of his affinity towards unconventional looks, and the Simmons sack was similarly so. Third-and-long, Arizona deployed only one lineman, defensive end Zach Allen, against the obvious passing play. However, he was joined at the line of scrimmage by five linebackers and slot cornerback Byron Murphy. A disguised blitz, two linebackers flanking Allen in the center dropped into center field pass coverage. Wilson consistently had issues diagnosing these disguises. Rushing Murphy off the right side of the defense with Jones prevents Seattle from sliding protection to the right. A missed chip up front and Simmons flew around the edge for the easy sack.

Stunting in Seattle

The Arizona Cardinals defense was excellent all day, but the scheme behind Jones’ second sack really illuminated Joseph’s genius in designing blitzes. Again, third-and-long gave him the creative license to send in Allen as the lone defensive lineman. Weakside A and B gaps uncovered at the line, Allen outside the left tackle, the front presents a cerebral challenge for the offensive line.

There’s a lot of stuff going on in this rush. Joseph makes use of Simmons’ range by dropping him into center-field coverage, allowing Jordan Hicks to create interior pressure from the second level. Dennis Gardeck steps up into the strongside A-gap before scraping outside to the right behind Allen. Allen meanwhile pushes the left tackle hard to the inside. This creates a really long-developing stunt, but it’s mostly misdirection. Gardeck’s stunt ‘rush’ is more of a scrape-and-fill contain; his most important role is to briefly engage the center to create the game on the outside.

It’s misdirection in its simplest form; make a bunch of stuff happen over here to distract from what’s happening over there. By the time Gardeck disengages from the center, Arizona’s best pass rushers have already isolated the right side of Seattle’s line. Markus Golden attacks the guard then dives outside to the tackle, with Jones, on a delayed rush, looping behind and inside. The guard follows Golden outside, passing him off to, well, no-one, on the interior, thanks to Gardeck’s momentary cameo, and lines Jones up on an inside route right to Wilson. A sack resulted, the Seahawks fall to 1-8 on third down, and tumble to 3-7. It wasn’t an all-encompassing performance, but Arizona’s Week 11 defense illustrated Vance Joseph’s blitzing genius and won the game up front for the Cardinals.

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