The Elephant in the Locker Room: No, the Scheme Doesn’t Call for Offsides

be-back-smAfter two Super Bowl appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that there’s always some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

By Greg Wright

Kudos to Al Michaels for calling out Michael Bennett’s egregious and highly costly offsides penalties during the Packers broadcast Sunday night–even pointing out that it was Bennett’s well-known susceptibility to the hard count which cost the Hawks an outcome-altering shot at a safety at the end of Super Bowl XLIX. Michaels and Collinsworth were, of course, also the broadcast team for that game–so Michaels well remembers Mr. Bennett’s literal faux pas.

Why is it that Michaels and I seem to be the only analysts coming down hard on Bennett for his obvious proclivity for jumping offsides? Is Bennett really so valuable that he doesn’t deserve time on the bench after costing the team 10 points–the entire margin of victory–in a critical road game? Heck, I’m to the point where I’d really love to see the Seahawks trade Bennett and give Cassius Marsh and Frank Clark more playing time. And I really don’t care that Bennett acknowledged “f-ing up.”

Bennett jumped offsides three times in the first half on Sunday. Never mind that Green Bay shouldn’t have had downfield shots on two of those penalties, since the offensive linemen opposite Bennett also moved prior to the snap. When the highly-paid Bennett has an obvious problem and seems powerless to improve, it’s time for the coaching staff to intervene.

I think Richard Sherman would agree.


Exhibit A: Aaron Rodgers to James Jones, courtesy of Michael Bennett. Sherman trails Jones by half a step while Thomas–the, yes, safety–arrives late on the scene.

Sherman was, you see, the victim of Bennett’s misplays. On the initial drive of the game when Bennett jumped offsides, Sherman gave up the touchtown to Jones; on the final drive of the half when Bennett jumped offsides, Sherman was penalized for a 52-yard pass interference call.

Aside from Bennett’s willful bone-headedness, the plays do illustrate once again how very much like v. 2012 the defense has looked the last two weeks.

And the plays illustrate what many Sherman detractors have claimed: it’s not that Sherman is the best cornerback in the game, it’s that he plays within a really strong defensive scheme.

When the scheme breaks down–a la “free play” bombs downfield, for instance–it’s a lot easier to beat Sherman. If the defense plays its scheme well, Rodgers doesn’t even take those shots.

Exhibit B: 52-yard pass interference, courtesy of Michael Bennett. Sherman, in his rush to recover blown coverage, loses track of the ball in the air and makes contact with the receiver too soon. And once again, Thomas--yes, the safety--also arrives too late on the scene.

Exhibit B: 52-yard pass interference, courtesy of Michael Bennett. Sherman, in his rush to recover blown coverage, loses track of the ball in the air and makes contact with the receiver too soon. And once again, Thomas–yes, the safety–also arrives too late on the scene.

Further, if Kam Chancellor is on the field–which is to say, if the linchpin of the defensive scheme is actually present–Sherman also probably doesn’t get burned on either of those plays because he’s likely not a half-step out of position on each. Maybe Earl Thomas shows up a step earlier on each to help out as well.

As I wrote in this column eleven months ago, football is a game of inches.

When teammates know that they can depend on each other, they can react more instinctively. That gets you into position a tenth of a second sooner, a half-step ahead of the other guy, an inch higher in the air or closer to the opposing QB when it counts.

And psychologically, the Seahawks are just a little off. You can feel it, as well as see it. Off the field, they’re making silly commercials and dealing with privacy issues. On the field, they’re having to deal with being defending champions. Many of them are now highly-paid stars having to earn their fat paychecks instead of hungry young up-and-comers out to prove something. They are playing alongside unfamiliar teammates. The Legion of Boom has become a weekly rotation of The Legion of Whom?

So far, the sky is once again not falling. The scheme is sound… it’s just that the players aren’t playing it particularly well right now. The same was true early last season, and the Hawks still made it back to the Big Show.

Nonetheless, Wagner, Wright, and Irvin do need to tackle better.

Chancellor needs to actually get on the field.

And Bennett needs to stay on his flippin’ side of the line of scrimmage prior to the snap.


Yard Markers

  • Really, no one should be surprised that Jimmy Graham isn’t catching a bunch of passes yet. This is a non-story. I can imagine, though, that Graham is a little embarrassed to be paid $500,000 a game to do so little.
  • Yes, it’s good to have Chancellor back. The greatest risk at this point is injury. It’s one thing to work out; it’s another to practice with a team, and have game-clock minutes. I’d put the odds of Chancellor having a serious muscle pull or ligament strain in the next couple weeks at better than 50%.
  • Bruce Irvin’s increased bulk this season doesn’t seem to be helping him particularly. Look for Pierre-Louis to get more snaps at OLB.
  • Anyone besides me looking forward to Lockett getting in a bunch of punt returns this week?

Back to the prognostication for this year. Here we go with Week 3.

Does this really warrant much comment? The Bears are in shambles, on the road, at the Clink. Seattle 31, Chicago 6.

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