By John Boyle
A lot has been made this week about how the Seahawks defense will handle Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and the option attack Carolina sometimes uses, and for good reason. As Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley points out, the Panthers had 176 explosive plays last season, more than even the Green Bay Packers.
“They really have a couple different phases,” Bradley said. “It’s like, normal football, like we see every Sunday, then there’s the option phase, then they’ve got the explosive part where they’re going for the long passes—different unique routes that we’re seeing with talented receivers like Steve Smith.”
Very few teams run a significant number of option plays like Carolina for the simple reason that they don’t want to subject their quarterbacks to that kind of punishment. But with a quarterback as big and fast as Newton, the Panthers are doing just that. Sure they’ll do plenty of other stuff too, but dealing with the option has been a priority this week.
“How much time do you spend on it?” Bradley said. “If it is 30 percent of their package, we might have to spend 70 percent of our time dealing with it to make sure that we’re on it, because so many explosive plays come out of it.”
What could actually end up helping Seattle is the youth it has on its defense. Rookie middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said he faced several read-option teams last season while at Utah State and strongside linebacker K.J. Wright played against Newton when the two were in the SEC.
“You know who is doing really good at it?” Bradley said. “Bobby Wagner. He is, because the stuff we’re asking him to do, he’s picked up on it right away, and I imagine it’s from all the stuff he saw in college.”
Wright said there is no big secret against the option; it’s simply a matter of discipline and good tackling.
“You’ve just got to be on your responsibilities and be real disciplined against that guy,” Wright said. “With that option stuff, teams can be undisciplined and unsure of how to attack it.”
Asked what he remember about facing Newton in college, Wright said, “I just remember his strength. He’ll lower his head and run you over if he’s got to get a first down. He’s not going to slide, so you’ve just got to have good tackling plan and guys have to rally to the ball.”
Another topic of conversation this week has been the Seahawks’ struggles on third down on both sides of the ball.
For the defense, the issue was getting off the field on third and long. Bradley said his team should stop teams 85 or 90 percent of the time in third-and-10 or longer situations, but the Rams were five of eight in those situations Sunday.
“I think teams are 9 for 21 against us in third-and-10 plus, and we should be lower,” Bradley said. “We had a bust on one of the coverages, and we had a three-man rush in one situation, the quarterback held the ball, and we really cued into (Rams receiver Danny) Amendola, and he was running around free and we got nervous and jumped him short, and they threw it in behind us, so some things like that with extended plays.
“That’s unacceptable. We can’t continue to operate like that, so we’ve got to address it. I don’t know if we have to change things, we just have to be more disciplined. And maybe it could have been on me, just get more of a four-man rush in that situation.”