Guest post: Russell Cook proposes a defensive switch

April 25th, 2021 | Written by Rob Staton

This is a guest post written by Russell Cook

Maximizing the Seahawks defensive potential – a switch to the 4-2-5

We know the Seahawks are at a crossroads right now.

They have a beleaguered starting quarterback, are staring down the barrel of paying a player that might not fit their defense and have very little in the way of resources to address a number of needs.

So what can the Seahawks do about it? A lot actually. If you haven’t seen it, check out Rob’s mini-dissertation on the subject showing us what that could look like.

But what if they don’t do anything?

The last 2 years, Rob and many of us in community kept saying they needed to get help on the D-line. And what happened? A hail mary trade for Clowney and a horrible start to the year defensively until we were bailed out again by the Carlos Dunlap trade.

Until they make moves, we can’t assume the Seahawks are going to do anything. We have to look at the roster as it stands and see what the vision could be. Today, I’ll focus on the defense and look at a change that was proposed a few years back.

In 2017, this blog’s esteemed proprietor wrote a couple of pieces discussing how the future of the Seahawk defense could be the 4-2-5.

I think that time is now.

What’s the scheme?

A 4-2-5 is a scheme with four linemen, two linebackers and five DBs.

Instead of rewriting blog posts through my amateur eyes in an attempt to tell you how the scheme works, I’m just going to steal a bunch of information from Rob’s posts.

From Rob’s April 2017 piece, here are the key intentions of the 4-2-5 as described by TCU’s Gary Patterson and a quote from Rob to tie it all together:

— Provide a simple scheme that promotes execution and athleticism

— Take away an opponents run game

— Establish an eight-man front

— Find a way to counter-punch while playing ‘bend-but-don’t-break’

— Out-hit the opponent, create takeaways and eliminate big plays

— Find ways to blitz using your DB’s

“Patterson writes about the 4-2-5 like he’s just finished watching the Seahawks defense”

Stealing from Rob’s February 2017 piece, here’s a discussion around the “Buffalo Nickel” defense and why we would have considered it back in 2017:

“There’s a defensive scheme based around the concept, as explained by John Turney:

“Buffalo was a 4-2-5 defense that showed a Cover-3 look with a post safety (or middle-of-the-field safety).”

“Nickel defense was the same personnel, but it was a 4-2-5 defense that showed a Cover-2 look, with the safeties near the hashes.”

“It’s unclear how prepared the Seahawks are to adopt this type of formation. By now we know what they are — a defense focusing on execution.

That said, the Buffalo defense isn’t straying too much from Seattle’s current scheme. As Thurney notes, it’s a single-high safety cover-3 concept. The only difference is instead of a SAM you’re fielding a nickel. This DB still has some of the responsibilities of the SAM (defend the run, cover the TE) but you’re giving up some size to have a better athlete on the field.

This wouldn’t be a great departure for the Seahawks considering how often they fielded two linebackers and a nickel corner (Jeremy Lane) in 2016.

While they might prefer to simply acquire a really good SAM — if that player isn’t available, this seems like an alternative.”

Would the Seahawks really consider this?

Pete likes to have his SAM on the field in base formation and we saw just how intense that could be in 2019 when the Seahawks were in base defense 68 percent of the time.

But we have seen years where the Seahawks used a ton of nickel. In 2016, Jeremy Lane played 71.39% of snaps, third most from a CB behind Sherman and Shead.

In 2018, Ken Norton Jr’s first year as DC, Justin Coleman played 67.81% of the defensive snaps. Lano Hill played 32.29% and was occasionally used as a big nickel.

2018 is also the year where Wright was injured and only played five games. If we look at all three of these seasons, we see the potential for flexibility. Pete will play base or nickel at varying rates depending on who he believes gives them the best possibility for success. In 2016, that was Jeremy Lane. In 2018, that was Justin Coleman. In 2019, that was Mychal Kendricks.

Last year we saw another evolution in that adaptation in the form of a 33.5% blitz rate. Pete prefers to get pressure rushing four and dropping seven into coverage. Yet last year the Seahawkws didn’t have the personnel to get pressure rushing four, so he and Ken Norton Jr. blitzed like crazy with Jamal Adams, Bobby Wagner, and KJ Wright.

I’m not saying that a 30%+ blitz rate is the ideal end-state but it shows some flexibility to do what it takes based on who you’re putting on the field.

So why switch to 4-2-5 now?

For the same reason we played base defense 68% of the time in 2019 and blitzed 33.5% of the time last year – personnel.

Football Advantage does a nice job of outlining a 4-2-5 and the personnel needed to make it successful. I’ll start off each section with some key quotes from that article as I discuss Seattle’s personnel for the 4-2-5 to set expectations for what the scheme is looking for.

So how does Seattle’s current roster stack up for the 4-2-5?

Defensive Line

“A strong, big-bodied, traditional nose tackle who can clog up the middle of the offensive line.”

“Defensive ends and linebackers who are smaller in size but quick on their feet to cause problems in blocking”

The defensive line is the weakest argument for the 4-2-5. Defensive ends are often hybrid outside linebacker types, ala Bruce Irvin, and should be able to create pressure with a quick first step and good speed.

That being said, the key thing is to be able to create pressure. Carlos Dunlap was able to create 16 pressures in eight games. Kerry Hyder Jr. created 32 as Nick Bosa’s replacement. Regardless of what scheme they run, the Seahawks will be counting on them for significant contributions in addition to needing growth (or at the very least, not regression) from Alton Robinson, Darrell Taylor, LJ Collier and Rasheem Green.

As far as the nose tackle, or 1-tech in the current scheme, both Al Woods and Bryan Mone fit that like a glove. Poona Ford could spend some time at nose as necessary, though I’m expecting he’ll be the primary 3-tech in base formations.

Linebackers

“The Mike is probably the one player on the field in this alignment that needs to play with a little hesitation, reading an offense quickly first and then picking up his responsibilities based off what he sees, rather than just rushing straight to the line to plug a hole.”

“The Sam is one of the most versatile players on the field in a 4-2-5 alignment, as he is tasked with putting pressure on the quarterback, making stops in the run game, and covering receivers as well”

Right now, on this roster, the Seahawks don’t have a proper SAM linebacker to fit Pete’s standard scheme. Brooks is likely penciled in as the starting WILL.

Neither Barton or BKK project as a SAM in a 4-3 under scheme. With limited cap space and limited draft capital, it’d be difficult to find an impactful player to play the Bruce Irvin role in this defense.

What the Seahawks do have is an ideal linebacking core to handle the 4-2-5.

Bobby Wagner has been anchoring the MIKE position for years and this scheme asks him to do what he does best. Read the defense, flow to the ball and be solid in coverage. That’s what we want from Bobby Wagner. We don’t want a repeat 100 blitz season.

Jordyn Brooks is a great fit at the 4-2-5 SAM especially on early downs. He’s got terrific athleticism, showed a knack for flowing to the ball and had some flashes in pass coverage. While the position calls for blitzing versatility, I wouldn’t expect a ton of blitzing from Brooks in this position. I’d expect extra pressure to come primarily from other places on the field.

Which brings me to the DBs.

Defensive backs

“The most important attribute in the secondary is speed and coverage ability.”

“The free safety and strong safety have similar assignments to defenses in other more “base” alignments. However, they are used to either blitz more often or provide run support near the line of scrimmage, or when a cornerback blitzes, they have to compensate with more coverage responsibilities.”

If you think about this 4-2-5 argument as a multi course meal: The defensive line is an amuse bouche, the linebackers are an appetizer and the DBs are the main. (Don’t worry, there’s dessert).

Combining descriptions from Gary Patterson and Football Advantage, the 4-2-5 is looking for speedy DBs that can afford to be undersized, that you can also use to bring pressure.

In that sentence, we’ve just described 5 DBs on the Seahawks roster: Jamal Adams, Ugo Amadi, Damarious Randall, Marquise Blair, and DJ Reed.

At this point we’ve seen Jamal Adams blitz more times a game than anyone else in the PCJS regime, so we’ve got that covered. Amadi has already shown some propensity to be able to blitz (22 times in 2020). Damarious Randall had a nice season in Cleveland in 2019, getting 2.5 sacks on only 19 blitz attempts, and has played nickel before. The jury is still out on Blair but we know they feel comfortable starting him at nickel. Reed wasn’t asked to blitz much last year (nine times, one pressure) but with his great quickness and awareness, even at 5-9, he’s a perfect fit as a 4-2-5 CB and is all but guaranteed to get the starting nod at one of the outside positions.

If you look back at the Buffalo Cover-3 diagram you can find a DB to fit every position. Jamal Adams stays at SS but gets to live near the LOS. Quandre Diggs still slots in as the single high FS — a position where he’s done very well in since coming to Seattle. Reed takes one of the outside corner spots. Competition at the nickel between Amadi, Randall, and Blair. Competition at the final outside spot between Witherspoon, Flowers, Desir, and Randall (if not Amadi and Blair as well).

Switch to a Cover 2? Jamal essentially moves to the WILL role and the Nickel moves back to the 2nd high safety. Who on our roster has experience in nickel and safety? Right, the same 3 names we have in competition for nickel role.

So at a high level, we have quick, versatile, read and react DBs playing downhill and competition to determine the best player at a couple of the starting positions. I could almost hear the echoes of excited gum chewing as I was typing that sentence.

We don’t know what the rest of the offseason will bring. We could see Russell Wilson traded, we could see Jamal Adams traded, we could see contracts restructured to bring in another key piece, we could see the Seahawks pick 3 players in a draft and call it a day.

But if the season were to start tomorrow, I’d really hope that the first snap of the season, we see the defense line up in a 4-2-5.

The best reason to switch to a 4-2-5 (Dessert)

Seattle’s area code is 206 (pronounced 20sickness, shout out Blue Scholars) but the eastside 12s dial 4-2-5 to start their phone calls. Defensive calls could all be shout outs to Seattle’s eastside brethren and sistren across the bridges. Imagine game day where you hear Bobby screaming out “REDMOND REDMOND REDMOND” “KIRKLAND KIRKLAND KIRKLAND” “QUAH QUAH”

Run out of towns for calls? No worries – just start using Kirkland brand products from our lovely local Costco, “MARCONA ALMOND! MARCONA ALMOND!”

If that’s not enough of a reason to switch schemes, I don’t know what is.

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55 Responses to “Guest post: Russell Cook proposes a defensive switch”

  1. Sea Mode says:

    Makes a lot of sense, just like it seemed to back in 2017, but PC never made the jump. He might be forced to now if he’s set on building his defense around Adams.

    Also: *deSSert

    • Russ says:

      Read over it 10 times for typos and grammar and still missed that. Thanks Sea Mode!

      Rob, could you help me out with a spelling edit for desert to dessert in the Defensive Backs section and the title of the last section?

    • Rik says:

      I don’t know. “Desert” is a pretty apt description for the aridity of draft picks currently held by the Seahawks.

      • Russ says:

        I’m just going to say that was in my subconscious and that’s why I misspelled it twice.

        Thanks for the out Rik!

  2. Hawk Finn says:

    Nice read. Glad Rob finally let Russell Cook

    • Mick says:

      That’s a funny one. But yes, it makes sense to maximize the use of Adams, if you’re going to pay him. I’d still try to get a LB and a DT, besides the obvious CB need.

    • Russ says:

      (☞゚ヮ゚)☞ ☜(゚ヮ゚☜)

  3. Kevin Mullen says:

    It’s almost as if Jamal Adams should be our box-nickel (hybrid WLB, coverage flat) type of guy and the true nickel CB play a traditional deep 4 area.

    The problem with nickel guys is that they can’t tackle if a run were to be audibled. A 4-2-5 with JA as that box nickel role would solve those scenarios plus help him not get so exposed back there as he was last year.

  4. STTBM says:

    Dig the Blue Scholars reference….didn’t know they were still in business.

    Not sure why we’d have Adams at WILL instead of covering the TE. He’s bigger than the other db’s, and fast…then again, he’s not tall and wasn’t good in coverage last year.

    Ken Norton looked list as DC of the 4-3 scheme he’s been a part of forever: I’m not convinced he has the mental capacity to switch to another defense. But yeah, it makes too much sense, personnel-wise–so of course Carrol won’t do it.

    • Russ says:

      Thanks STTBM.

      I don’t know if they are still in business, they’ve just been finding their way back into my playlists recently. So they were fresh in my mind.

    • Jeremy Hansuvadha says:

      Yes–Blue Scholars! Love them!

  5. no frickin clue says:

    Interesting piece. Thanks for writing it.

    What are the tradeoffs of a 4-2-5? For example, is it weaker defending the run?

    • Russ says:

      Thanks no fricken clue!

      The general idea behind a 4-2-5 is that you’re substituting size for athleticism. Then you use that athleticism to your advantage by quickly reacting when the ball is snapped and to bring pressure from different locations.

      You could see a bit of a drop off in run defense with a 4-2-5 compared to Pete’s 4-3 under, but you’d hope not. From a personnel standpoint, you’re substituting Bruce Irvin for Ugo Amadi or Marquise Blair. But one of Gary Patterson’s hallmarks with the 4-2-5 is trying to take away the run by playing players nearer to the LOS and having a big nose tackle to help gum up the works.

      The main difference I see is that a 4-2-5 puts more people in position to get after the QBs so that you can more easily blitz from a variety of spots (SS, Nickel, LB, sometimes outside CB). So while Pete typically likes to get home with 4 down linemen, this formation gives us a better opportunity to use the personnel that we have to get pressure by bringing blitzers from different locations knowing that we currently have a ton invested in Jamal Adams and a DB group that fits the scheme.

      • Sean says:

        Thanks for the article. You make a good case for the strengths of this approach. I’d like to better understand the weak points of this defense.
        What happens when the offense brings in a jumbo package or some other approach to beat us with size?

        And how do smart offensive coordinators adjust to beat a 4-2-5?

        • Mike says:

          On a macro level you can win by bringing more physicality. Scheme your plays to have offensive linemen going downhill to block speed guys who can’t win that matchup. Granted, you need more offensive linemen capable of blocking speedier guys, which isn’t something all offensive linemen are good at.

          The other thing, is that you can win by properly identifying which DB is blitzing. Its great when the QB is left guessing. Its terrible when he knows who’s coming at him. Smart coaches and QBs will start to identify patterns. Especially later season and postseason. We better hope they figure out how to keep evolving, mixing things up, and remaining unpredictable.

  6. God of Thunder says:

    Thanks Russell, good (and funny) post.

    The most eye-opening thing is to see how flexible the coaching staff have actually been over the past 3-4 years, not always out of principle but out of necessity. I’d concur that necessity should prevail again: if we are committed to Adams, adjust the scheme to take advantage.

  7. BC_Hawk says:

    Great article Russell!! In looking at our personnel from 2020, I almost wonder if this was the thought prior to the key injuries to Blair and Irvin. Maybe those, combined with Adams getting dinged up, forced the switch back to primary 4-3 base.

    Another name that fits that mold in 4-2-5 DB is Neal. The guy just made plays!

    And I can hear the gum chewing too 😉

  8. Malc from PO says:

    Great read, Russell – thank you for such a detailed explainer written with humour and a balanced approach. I think Belichick’s greatness has been his ability to adapt his system to get the most from his personnel. Pete (along with most coaches) has always been a tier below because his first instinct is to run the system he wants and acquire/fit players into it. You outline a persuasive argument and I’d love to see our personnel working it. I think Wagner, Brooks, Adams, and Blair in particular would thrive.

    • Mick says:

      I think what’s more important is that we adapt to the opponent. If we keep playing the same game, we’ll end up with last year’s results.

  9. Seattle Murphy says:

    Great piece. As you state, Buffalo certainly fits our personnel. Unless Barton takes a big step I don’t see three linebackers on the current roster capable of supporting base. A return of KJ could change these plans tho.

    • Mike says:

      He could still come back as a part time role. There’s certain teams that a 4-2-5 wont matchup well with. Having him come in if we need to switch to a 4-3 for the gameplan would be good.

  10. ElPasoHawk says:

    Great article! If the Hawks sign JA to a long term contract they need to get the most out of his skill set. Considering the Hawks have three nickel backs with safety experience yours and Robs thoughts on the 4-2-5 are music to this fans ears. My big concern is Adams shoulder injuries and whether they will hold up to him playing against the run as a LB. Let’s hope an actual offseason with Adams on the roster will lead to some serious innovation to Petes typical schemes.

    • Mike says:

      Oddly enough, my biggest concern with this is the LBs (+JA). If one of them gets injured, who steps up? I think last year showed the results of a full load of JA going against offensive linemen isn’t something JA is gonna be able to sustain for a full season. He’s gonna get banged up. Who can back him up, or spell him?

      If we go 4-2-5, it pains me to say that we may want either a plus sized box safety or a fast LB-to-safety convert to slot in behind JA. Either as a backup, or as an alternative player who can come in when teams try to win with pure physicality.

      Either way, it seems PC wants JA as the central lynchpin to his scheme. I worry that if he is out, how does the defense function?

  11. RWIII says:

    You bring up some very valid points. Jamar is basically a hybrid safety/linebacker. A 4-2-5 defense gives the Seahawks plenty of options. Why not take advantage of Jamar Adams strengths. In a way it is almost like having an extra player on defense. With Adams you still have a seven man front. Marquise Blair can play strong safety and also free safety. So you can always bring him for an eight man front. Plus you still have the luxury of having 5 DBs on the field. Bobby Wagner, Jordan Price, Jamar Adams are three human tackling machines. To me it is a win, win, win.

  12. RWIII says:

    One other point. If Pete Carroll doesn’t implement the 4-2-5 I will be disappointed. To me it makes too much sense. Love the concept.

  13. Volume12 says:

    Who are the ‘dogs’ in the 4-2-5 tho? Prez & ….? Need 1 more. Gotta have at least 2 safety/LB hybrids

    • BC_Hawk says:

      I’d add Blair and Neal….with a bigger big ‘Dog’ being BBK. I was thinking that they were going to try BBK in that role last year. He is too small to be an effective Will.

    • Gohawks5151 says:

      Mark Barron is a FA. He has been good in that hybrid role

      • Russ says:

        If it were me, I wouldn’t plan on adding anyone.

        You have Amadi, Blair, and Randall already. You go into camp throwing those 3 into competition and see who comes out ahead, hoping for either Amadi or Blair.

        If the Seahawks can get value out of those players, then they have at least 2 years of young, cheap talent under contract without having to dip back into the draft or FA.

  14. SebA says:

    Really loved this. Made me feel a lot better about the probable keeping of Adams!

  15. Sea Mode says:

    One of the centers has to last a bit longer, either Green or Dalman, which let’s me take the rare tackle prospect first and still get an upgrade at center.

    84. D’Ante Smith, OT, East Carolina
    116. Kendrick Green, C, Illinois
    129. Dayo Odeyingbo, EDGE, Vanderbilt
    135. Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State
    150. Buddy Johnson, LB, Texas A&M
    211. Gerrid Doaks, RB, Cincinnati
    250. Racey McMath, WR, LSU

    Really love the Dayo and Wade stashes you propose, if they do indeed drop. We need to play the long game this draft.

    • Rik says:

      If we can get 4 of your first 5 I would be over the moon. Sadly I don’t see any of them falling that far.

  16. Brik says:

    Having a base nickel defense is what I was thinking too. I mentioned it awhile back with keeping Adams. The moves we made in free agency make sense in that respect. They have a bunch of big ends who may spend more time than usual covering the flats, and having a bunch of players means they can cycle through to keep them fresh. You don’t need as good of CBs because you’ll have 2 S/LB/ nickel corner hybrids on the field who can also cover, along with the FS. This makes 5 all together. I think part of the struggles early on had to do with the scheme change in coverage throwing people off (Other than the D-line). I hope this year we see a team with a bunch of guys flying all over the field. You never know what you’re gonna get. And now that they are relaxing the rules on jersey #s, it’ll make it easier for defenses to confuse offenses on who’s gonna do what.

  17. no frickin clue says:

    Just wanted to add, a shift to a 4-2-5 like this isn’t just a change-out of one LB and replacing him with an extra DB. It’s also a major change in philosophy.

    The legendary defenses of 2013-2014 which ran a 4-3 basically said as follows: we’re not trying to trick you, we’re just going to beat the crap out of you. We’ll rarely blitz. We’ll bring pressure with the front four. We’ll play press corner coverage. Kam serves as an extra LB in the box. Earl will roam around centerfield and close the gap if anyone springs free. We don’t care if you know what we’re planning to do – we think we’re good enough that you can’t stop us anyway.

    A 4-2-5 with blitzing from one of those 5 DBs is trying to disguise intentions. A shift to that type of base defense is admitting that we don’t have the guys we need up front to play a 2013-style defense, and so philosophically, I think it’s a bit different. Of course, once we went blitz-crazy in 2020, it was sort of admitting that the old system was not functioning properly anymore.

    Like a government in a banana republic that has its official currency exchange rates that are nothing like what they are on the black market, and then seeing the government finally admit defeat and change the official rates.

    • BC_Hawk says:

      I see it a tad differently; this was a part time plus thing they wanted to implement last year involving Blair and Irvin, and never got to implement it because of injury. The 4-3 base we saw the first half was a result of injuries and lack of getting that difference maker at DE early on.

      Though the success on defense is often keyed to when Dunlap came, credit has to be given to getting Reed on the field too. IMO, he was our best outside CB in the second half.

      Much as Russ laid out in the article, the talent currently on this team would be fabulous in a 4-2-5 config. IF their prime focus was 4-3, I am not sure why we haven’t seen Irvin or KJ prioritized. My guess; 4-3 cover 3 will only be a 20-30% occurrence this year. Hopefully KJ and the team realize this, and come to terms on a 2 year contract that represents this part time role…love KJ

    • Lewis says:

      The major change in philosophy was giving up the farm for Adams. Been saying this since last season. If they are going to keep Adams and want to feature him as a blitzer, they pretty much HAVE to make this change or give up plays over the top constantly.

  18. Ashish says:

    I was convinced about 4-2-5 defense until you talked about Dessert. Some very good point

  19. Sea Mode says:

    You don’t say….

    Ian Rapoport
    @RapSheet
    ·2h

    As the #49ers close in on their decision of which QB to take at No. 3, sources say they are down to two prospects — and the belief is those two are #Bama QB Mac Jones and #NDSU QB Trey Lance. Several sources say the focus does appear to have shifted to those two.

  20. Mike says:

    Aside from the nice breakdown, I gotta say the 425 area code part made me laugh. Now im gonna be disappointed if they don’t call out eastside towns.

    What I liked about your breakdown the most is that it acknowledges scheme diversity with the same personnel on the field. I really think that’s the key to success, both as a team and as an ROI for JA.

  21. Charles Hirsch says:

    Good write up! Would also love to see this style implemented. What are your thoughts on Ken Norton incorporating this new system?

    • Russ says:

      Thanks Charles!

      He’s implemented a number of the pieces of a 4-2-5 independently between the heavy nickel usage in 2018, and the bear front with heavy blitzing last year. Implementing the Buffalo 4-2-5 would be like combining those two concepts.

      So the pieces are there, he’s familiar with the different traits, it would really just come down to his execution.

  22. Russ says:

    Thanks Charles!

    He’s implemented a number of the pieces of a 4-2-5 independently between the heavy nickel usage in 2018, and the bear front with heavy blitzing last year. Implementing the Buffalo 4-2-5 would be like combining those two concepts.

    So the pieces are there, he’s familiar with the different traits, it would really just come down to his execution.

  23. Sean says:

    Thanks for the article and all the back and forth in the comments. I learned a lot.

    • Russ says:

      A big thank you to everyone who read and/or commented on this article.

      This is my first article on any platform. It’s uncomfortable posting just about anything on the internet, let alone something that I put effort and work into.

      I appreciate the positive feedback, the great discussion in the comments, and that any feedback so far has been cordial. Y’all are great and I’m happy to be part of a great community.

      Big thank you to Rob for letting me post here as well and reference his content. Wouldn’t be here without him or the blog – quite literally.

      Go Hawks

    • Russ says:

      Thanks Sean!

  24. STTBM says:

    Russ, great job. Forgot to say that (rude!). Keep em coming!

    Good job having guest columnists Rob. A good thing.