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Pete Carroll, Seahawks switch defense, surprise Cardinals


Remember the new 3-4 defense of Pete Carroll and Clint Hurt that changed the Seahawks this season?

Turns out there aren’t many in Seattle. Not in his base form, anyway.

During their first nine games, there were times when the Seahawks were 3-4 with three true defensive teams for less than a third of the defensive snaps. More often than not, Carroll and Hurt opted for more speed and versatility. They have recruited two linemen, four linebackers with outside pairing Uchenna Nwosu and, most recently, Bruce Irwin as pass rushers, plus five defensive backs.

Rookie Kobe Bryant played three quarters and 96% of the snaps as the fifth, nickel back.

That’s what Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury saw last month when he played the Seahawks in Seattle. Bryant played 53 of his team’s 71 snaps 19-9 throttling of the Cardinals. And that’s what Kingsbury and the Cardinals saw to begin Sunday’s rematch at State Farm Stadium.

Bryant was on the field for roughly all nine games of Seattle’s first defensive streak. The Cardinals marched down the field, 83 yards, with Kyler Murray passing and running and James Conner running. DeAndre Hopkins caught a 22-yard pass while running away from the Seahawks defense, and the Cardinals led 7-3 after each team’s first offensive possession.

It was alarmingly easy for Arizona. So Carol and Hurt changed the chess game.

They took Bryant off the field. They went with a true 3-4 base: three defensive linemen, four linebackers, four defensive backs. No tricks. Without nickel. Not a dime, with six defensive backs. No Bryant at quarterback, as has been the case at times this season.

Seattle was 3-4 on base for five straight plays after Arizona’s opening touchdown, and it didn’t end until Bryant went nickel on third-and-4. Bryant intercepted a pass that Murray threw under pressure from Bruce Irvin, but an illegal contact penalty on Seattle safety Quandre Diggs negated the turnover.

The change stopped the Cardinals. They didn’t score an offensive touchdown from the time of the switch until 4 minutes left in the game. By then, Seattle had a 24-14 lead and a softer, more blocking defense with more backs in coverage.

The turnover sent the Seahawks on to a 31-21 victory.

Unsurprisingly, Carroll was coy and talked in general terms about the transition after the game.

The 71-year-old coach is too wise to give the first-place Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5) some free information before the first-place Seahawks (6-3) play them in Munich next weekend .

“I was just trying to make things right,” Carroll said.

He then moved on to the essence of the switch.

“Convincing that they couldn’t apply their plan to exactly what they thought they were getting,” Carroll said.

Exactly. The Seahawks adjusted. The Cardinals (3-6) were unable to fight back.

Decisive changes

Arizona gained just 179 yards over its last 52 plays after the Seahawks switched defenses. The Cardinals’ next seven drives after their opening TD march: punt, punt, punt, fumble, punt, punt, punt.

The Seahawks fell from 7-3 to go 24-14 in that span. The Cardinals only points until 4 minutes left in the game on a Gene Smith interception. Arizona came back for a touchdown in the third quarter.

For the fourth time in their four-game winning streak, the Seahawks picked off an opponent’s running game. James Conner, playing for the first time in his last four since coming off a rib injury, had just 34 yards on six carries against more than 3-4 after the Cardinals’ opening drive against Seattle’s nickel. Arizona’s running backs managed just 59 yards on 12 carries.

This allowed the Seahawks to once again put pressure on the quarterback who had to throw the ball. Seattle had five sacks of Murray, the same number it had in a 19-9 win at Arizona last month.

Nwosu continued to be the Seahawks’ biggest playmaker in the front seven. He had two more sacks, his sixth and seventh of the season. That’s a new career high for the fifth-year veteran Seattle signed him before this season from the chargers.

Nwosu has four sacks in the last two games. Carroll allows him to freelance, choosing shooting slots and blitz lanes instead of dictating what a given defensive challenge dictates. This is how the coach shows Nwosu’s athleticism.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Uchenna Nwosu (10) sacks Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) during the second half of an NFL football game in Glendale, Arizona, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt York) Matt York AP

“He’s the real deal,” Seahawks sophomore linebacker Bruce Irvin said.

Irvin had his first sack in three years when he passed to Murray in the second half. Quarterback Shelby Harris sacked Murray on the same drive.

Ryan Neal. Again.

Ryan Neal continued to make big plays at opportune times. The strong safety made Murray pay for carrying the ball loosely past the line to get to the Seahawks’ 20-yard line late in the first half. Teammate Josh Jones recovered the fumble and kept the Cardinals from tying the score at 10 before halftime.

Arizona Cardinals defensive end Kyler Murray (1) fights between Seattle Seahawks linebacker Uchenna Nwosu (10) and safety Ryan Neal (26) during the first half of an NFL football game in Glendale, Arizona, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022. ( AP Photo/Matt York ) Matt York AP

In Week 5 in New Orleans, Neal replaced Jones as the starting strong guard. Neal recaptured what he did in 2021 as a sixth down defense: make sure to get stops in key situations, often on third downs that don’t reach the line to win.

Jones played sparingly early in Sunday’s game at halfback until late when the Cardinals had to punt. By then, it was another Seahawks party, the fourth in a row for a defense that ranked last in the league five games ago.

Now they laugh, play bass music in the locker room after games, ride, go to Germany to meet Tom Brady.

“We’re just having fun, enjoying each other,” Diggs said. “We’re just going to enjoy it – then get back to work.

“We all had doubts. I think we take it to heart.”

This story was originally published November 6, 2022 at 7:09 p.m.

Greg Bell is a Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019, he was named the Washington State Sports Journalist of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. He began covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season in 2005. In the past, he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the US Army, so he might ask you to give it up and give him a 10.

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