Why Seattle’s Not Concerned With Eagles Tempo

Chris Maragos was asked this week whether Eagles coaches have approached him at all to discuss the Seahawks’ defensive scheme.

“Not really. Just because it’s not like it’s complicated,” said Maragos, a safety/special teamer who spent the previous three seasons in Seattle. “You guys can watch the film and see what they do. It’s Cover 3, it’s Cover 1, single-high safeties, different things like that, so it’s not like they’re doing all this exotic stuff. I don’t think they need my help.”

His response shed light on one of the more fascinating story lines heading into Sunday: How will the Seahawks’ defense deal with the Eagles’ tempo?

Chip Kelly likes to talk about his toolbox on offense. It’s the head coach’s way of saying he has different options to call on during any given game, depending on how the defense is playing. But the one tool that has been a constant the past two years has been tempo. Just last week, the Cowboys had trouble keeping up, losing their gaps and allowing big plays. Earlier in the season, the Houston Texans wore down in the second half.

“It helps us out because the defense can’t get lined up the right way how they want to,” said LeSean McCoy. “Defense is all about responding and reacting to the offense. We line up over here, they line up over here. So when you go fast, it’s hard to get the calls in. It’s hard to get the blitzes constructed the way you want, and it works in our favor for sure.”

Or at least that’s the case on most weeks. But Sunday could be a different story.

The Seahawks’ scheme is not about complexity. It’s about talent and execution. On most downs, they are playing one of two coverages: Cover 1 or Cover 3. Cover 3 is a three-deep zone with some man principles, particularly from the outside cornerbacks. Cover 1 is man coverage across the board with a single high safety. And Seattle’s got probably the best one in the NFL in Earl Thomas.

They’ll mix some other stuff in, but primarily it’s those two coverages. Kelly estimated earlier this week that Seattle plays 60 percent man and 40 percent zone.

Because the Seahawks’ scheme is not based on a lot of variety, they have an edge against tempo offenses. They know how to get lined up and play against pretty much any look.

“They shouldn’t have a problem getting lined up,” said Jason Kelce. “They do the same thing over and over and over again. And they have tons of reps at it. They’ll do other stuff too, but they’re very dominant in terms of they like to do one thing and do it really, really well.”

Added Maragos: “It’s probably an advantage for them because they just play what they play. They just have really good players and they execute and they’re disciplined, and that’s why they have such a good defense. Guys play well, and they play with each other.”

The Seahawks have been asked all week about tempo, and they don’t sound concerned. Under Pete Carroll, they’ve fared well against no-huddle attacks like the Patriots and Broncos.

Some would argue that the Eagles under Kelly are a different animal. But Carroll doesn’t see it that way.

“No. You can’t go any faster than you can go,” he told reporters this week. “You saw Tom Brady, and that was after I think Coach [Bill] Belichick had visited [with Kelly] and talked about the tempo and all that kind of stuff. That year, they were going as fast as you can go between plays. Usually successful plays and runs, they would just hustle back and they could get the ball snapped close to 12 seconds from snap to snap when they really were rolling. But they’d only do that some and they’d do that enough to keep you off-balance and you have to respect it.

“We’ve been in the no-huddle defensive mode so long that we’re familiar with how this goes. We know that they’ll go real fast some, and we’ll see how much they want to do that, and we’re not concerned about that, really. We practice like that all the time because you never know when a team’s gonna do it. It’s not that hard for a team to do if they want to demonstrate that commitment, so you have to be ready all the time. We’ll see what happens. We feel like we’ve had good background in preparation for this.”

Seattle’s defense has allowed just six points in its past two games. Guys like safety Kam Chancellor, cornerback Byron Maxwell and linebacker Bobby Wagner are back from injuries. And the group ranks sixth in defensive DVOA, per Football Outsiders.

Coming off a Super Bowl win, the Seahawks – especially on defense – are a confident group heading into their final four games.

“It doesn’t change anything for us,” Richard Sherman told reporters this week. “We’ve dealt with tempo for a couple years now. We’ve dealt with the Patriots’ tempo, Denver a few times with their tempo. That doesn’t change anything for us. We play disciplined, sound football.

“We don’t panic in those situations. We understand in those situations, they have to deal with us as much as we have to deal with them. Hurry-up offense, hurry-up defense, it’s not like they’re any more or less human than we are. They get tired, they get fatigued. You just have to look within yourself and man up and stand up in those moments.”

Asked specifically if the simplicity of Seattle’s scheme helps against tempo, Sherman smiled and said: “You might be onto something.”

Kelly, however, disagreed.

“No, I don’t think that has to do with it,” he said. “I just think they are really good at what they do. We have played some teams that play the same coverages over and over again, and there are guys running free all the way down the field. I don’t think that happens against Seattle because of the talent they have and how smart they are in terms of what they are doing scheme‑wise. We have played some teams that haven’t been very diverse on the defensive side of the ball, yet we have affected them. Usually it depends on the talent level on the defensive side of the ball, and the talent level on their side is very high.”

There’s zero chance that the Eagles will slow things down. That’s not who they are. So when Sunday rolls around, they’ll toss the ball to the officials after each play and hurry to the line of scrimmage. If they don’t sustain drives, the strategy could blow up in their face. If they do, perhaps they can wear Seattle down.

But one way or another, the tempo battle will go a long way in determining which team exits with a victory.

“They know what they’re good at,” said Mark Sanchez. “Not only are they good in their scheme and know their scheme well, but then they have good players on top of it, so similar to the case here. We know what we’re good at. We have pretty good players at our positions, and we like to just get ‘em in a good spot and give ‘em a chance to make plays. So hopefully we can do that.”