Seattle Seahawks: Where Have Lofa Tatupu and the Linebackers Gone?

Chris CluffCorrespondent IIOctober 29, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS - OCTOBER 04:  Lofa Tatupu #51 of the the Seattle Seahawks is pictured during the NFL game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 4, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Through the first six games of Pete Carroll’s first season, we’ve seen the impact he has had on the Seahawks defense.

We’ve seen new end Chris Clemons sack opposing quarterbacks 5.5 times. We’ve seen rookie safety Earl Thomas intercept four passes. We’ve seen 36-year-old safety Lawyer Milloy lead the team in tackles, including three sacks. We’ve seen the Seahawks shut down the run better than all but one team in the league, and we’ve seen them become one of the five stingiest scoring defenses.

They’ve had some issues defending the pass, but otherwise the Hawks have been pretty darn good on defense.

So what’s missing?

How about the linebackers?

Just a year ago, Lofa Tatupu, Aaron Curry, Leroy Hill and David Hawthorne were considered the stars—past, present and future—of the defense.

Now Hill’s out, and the rest are just role players in Carroll’s defense, which has thus far depended more on the excellent play of the defensive line and the varied talents of the defensive backs to put together a defense that gives up only 77.5 rushing yards and 17.8 points per game.

Although he has played all 405 snaps this season (according to Brian McIntyre’s personnel breakdowns), Tatupu has spent many of them in pass defense. Curry has played just 64 percent of the snaps, and Hawthorne has been on the field barely more than half the time.

The linebackers’ stats reflect the de-emphasis of their position in this defense.

Despite playing every snap, Tatupu is only tied for third on the team in tackles. Milloy (34) and Thomas (30) lead the way, while Tatupu and cornerback Marcus Trufant have 29 each.

Hawthorne (22) is tied for sixth with safety Jordan Babineaux, behind defensive tackle Colin Cole (25). And Curry (19) is ninth, behind end Chris Clemons (21).

As a group, the linebackers’ big plays amount to two sacks (one by Will Herring), four tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and no interceptions.

Meanwhile, the defensive backs have 5.5 sacks, five tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and six picks. The defensive linemen have 10.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss.

The difference in big plays is partly playing time—the Seahawks have played three linebackers just 58.3 percent of the time and used five or more defensive backs 41.5 percent of the time. But it is just as much about the scheme, as outlined in John Boyle’s piece on the Bandit defense.

That scheme features up to seven defensive backs, keeps Tatupu in coverage rather than blitzing and uses the safeties to pressure the quarterback. Partly due to that strategy, Milloy has three sacks, Babineaux has 1.5 and Roy Lewis has one.

“When you play extra guys it just affords you more of a multiple style and guys that can do more things,” Carroll told reporters. “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, so you just give yourself a variety of things that you can do and interchange some parts ... and try to make it difficult (for the offense).”

The Hawks used the Bandit personnel set liberally against the pass-happy Chicago Bears, as Hawthorne and Curry were on the field less than a third of the time while Herring played half the game in the nickel, and the Hawks used at least six defensive backs a quarter of the time.

Against Arizona, Hawthorne played about half the game, and Curry was in for 35 of the 55 defensive snaps, including two at end and three at defensive tackle.

It has taken some getting used to for the linebackers, although Curry told reporters he likes Carroll’s multiple looks.

“I’m enjoying my role in the scheme, and I’m just playing full speed,” Curry said. “They’re using me a lot of different ways, I really can’t pinpoint, but I do a lot of different stuff. … I just go out and do what they ask me to do. Whatever plays there are for me to make, I make them.”

It’s just that there haven’t been a lot of plays for the linebackers to make so far in Carroll’s defense.

How about some touchdowns, Seahawks? To check out observations of the Seahawks' win over Arizona, go Outside The Press Box.