Seahawks relying on linebackers more, and for a good reason

TIM BOOTH (AP Sports Writer)
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Seahawks relying on linebackers more, and for a good reason

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph (2) scrambles past Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner (54) for a first down in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Pittsburgh. The Seahawks defeated the Steelers 28-26. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

RENTON, Wash. (AP) -- Bobby Wagner usually is not shy about promoting his position, noting that sometimes linebackers can get lost in the attention typically lavished on pass rushers getting sacks and defensive backs making interceptions.

So while the Seahawks' linebacker trio is getting a little bit of notice for bucking a trend, he's more than happy to talk about it.

''The more linebackers, the merrier in my opinion,'' he said.

At a time when the nickel cornerback and playing five defensive backs is becoming the norm around the league, the Seahawks are trending in the other direction to start this season. Seattle's base defensive package has been on the field for the majority of the first two games, a significant change from last season when the Seahawks tended to play with at least five defensive backs more than 60% of the time.

A big part of the reason is the trio Seattle has at the linebacker position. Wagner is an All-Pro. K.J. Wright is healthy after missing a significant portion of last season with knee injuries. And Mychal Kendricks is the new addition who is able to use his speed to match up in ways Seattle couldn't in the past with its personnel.

''I think it's fun. It just adds another dynamic to our defense,'' Wagner said. ''We've got a lot of different personnel that we can play. Last year, we had a lot of DBs and we showed that we could do really, really well with that. This year, we have a lot of linebackers and showed we can do really well with that as well.''

The question of would be the nickel cornerback for Seattle was big during training camp after Justin Coleman left in free agency. Turned out that all that watching and examination was a mostly futile exercise.

Kendricks was on the field for 89% of the plays in Week 1 and 68% in Week 2. Wright was in for more than 90% of the snaps in both games. And Wagner? He never leaves the field. He's played every snap during the first two weeks.

''What's crazy is, when all the dime started coming, I didn't hear much ruckus. I didn't hear people saying, 'look at this dime stuff, taking all these linebackers off,''' Wright said. ''But you got the linebacker on the field, it's really addressed. So we've got to make sure we keep it looking good. We've got to make sure we do that.''

The advantage for Seattle in keeping an extra linebacker on the field comes in the run game, where the Seahawks have limited Cincinnati and Pittsburgh to a combined 115 yards. But to stay in that defense, the linebackers must be excellent in pass coverage with the speed to match up against tight ends, running backs and occasionally wide receivers in the slot.

Wright's health and the addition of Kendricks have made playing this way possible.

''Usually what teams do was they would make us go small, then run the ball on us,'' Wright said. ''The beauty of it is you've got the big guys out there, you're not going to be able to run against us - you shouldn't be able to run against us. We saw it in the first two weeks. We did pretty solid against the run, and we've definitely got to continue that this week.''

Even without Drew Brees, this week's game against New Orleans will test how much Seattle can continue with this trend. The Saints have passed on 64% of their plays through two weeks. Seattle also will have another week with veteran Jamar Taylor on the roster. Taylor was signed after Week 1 and played 19 snaps in Week 2.

But it likely won't be a drastic change. Not with how much coach Pete Carroll has liked the way the trio played the first two weeks.

''I really feel, this is as honest as I can get with you guys, I feel like we're just getting started,'' Carroll said. ''I feel like we're just getting going on what we can do and how to count on these guys and how to utilize their strengths.''

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