Marshall's plan helps Seattle snap out of slide
SEATTLE -- For 17 quarters, the Seahawks' Cover 2 defense didn't seem capable of covering any Raider.
John Marshall, the Seahawks' defensive coordinator, unleashed the blitz, a much-unused part of the playbook. Marshall dialed up blitzes for about 45 percent of the Raiders' 57 offensive plays, sacking quarterback Andrew Walter nine times and making the Raiders the first team to be shut out twice in one season on "Monday Night Football." The final score was 16-0, but the way the Raiders blocked the Seahawks, the goose egg could last until the start of Thursday night games later this month.
"Something needed to change," said defensive end Grant Wistrom, who had two of Seattle's nine sacks. "Obviously what we were doing wasn't getting the job done, so we had to change something up. We were a little more aggressive with the play-calling."
A "little more aggressive" would be an understatement. Last year, the Seahawks rode an emotional defense to the Super Bowl that succeeded on aggressive play as opposed to aggressive play-calling. Marshall didn't have to dial up many blitzes in 2005. The Seahawks used a fast defense that hustled -- particularly in noisy Qwest Field -- and caught everyone by surprise in reaching the Super Bowl.
After giving up seemingly meaningless points in the fourth quarter of a Week 3 42-30 win over the Giants, the Seahawks' defense was running for cover instead of running offenses off the field. The unit gave up 37 points to the Bears, then 28 to the Rams, 31 to the Vikings and 35 to the Chiefs in losing three of those four games. Another bad showing would have left the Seahawks at .500 and made critics and fans alike wonder if they were copying the Super Bowl loser's lament -- those teams that, since 2000, ended up with losing records the following season.
Holmgren, angry with his defense following last week's loss to the Chiefs, demanded change. All week, the Seahawks practiced some blitz packages, but players didn't know if Marshall was going to call them against Oakland. Of course, it helps when the target of the defensive scheme is Walter, an immobile young quarterback playing behind a porous offensive line.
In the first two possessions, Walter was sacked twice in two three-and-outs. After that, Marshall kept calling for blitzes. The Seahawks ran blitzes up the middle. They rushed defensive backs. They overloaded one side of the blocking scheme and had guys rushing untouched at Walter.
"Coach Marshall told us if he was going to call the blitzes, we'd have to get there," Seahawks linebacker Julian Peterson said. "We made sure we got there. As long as we got in [Walter's] face, we were doing a good job. The quarterback got real rattled. We kept bringing on the heat and in the first couple of series, you could see it in his face. He was looking for his hot reads, and once you cut that off, he was putting the ball down and we got a lot of sacks."
Walter was sacked seven times in the first half, leaving writers in Qwest's press box scrambling for the NFL record books to find the league's sacks record. What they found was Warren Moon of the Houston Oilers (1985) and the Colts' Bert Jones (1980) hold the record for being sacked -- 12 times -- in a game. Trust me, this will be the only time in Walter's career that his name will be mentioned alongside Moon and Jones.
Marshall was dialing up blitzes on virtually every other play. By the third possession, Walter appeared confused. He fumbled a snap. At the end of the third possession, he was sacked on three consecutive plays, and on those plays the Seahawks rushed only four.
"We came out and played with passion," Wistrom said. "That's what has been missing the last few weeks. We had just been kinda going through the motions. We played with an attitude today."
Seahawks defenders contended the problems of recent weeks was all about attitude. Coaches were angry that defenders were playing out of their gaps and giving up big plays. Instead of playing with emotion, defenders were becoming tentative.
"We've been so focused on being assignment correct that we haven't been focusing on 'this is a game' and 'having fun' out there," defensive end Bryce Fisher said. "Guys were so tentative out there. What you saw today was guys taking their shots. On defense, it's about making plays, not necessarily being in the right place."
Thanks to Walter and the Raiders' offensive line, "Monday Night Football" played like an ESPN pilot for a comedy series. Weird things were happening. Until the final seconds of the game, Randy Moss had more drops than catches. Walter was sacked every conceivable way. On one play, he signaled for a shotgun snap and then moved toward the line of scrimmage. The ball shot by him, but the officials saved him when they blew the whistle for illegal motion.
"Well, it's the game of football. It's a rough game," Walter said. "You better be tough or get out, so it's not a number that I am concerned about or the fact that I got hit a few times. It comes with the territory. That is what happens when you play quarterback."
It's great that Walter was a standup guy afterward absorbing the criticism. He's certainly not a standup guy during games because he's always on the ground. The second-year pro out of Arizona State has been sacked 37 times since replacing a well-sacked Aaron Brooks in the Raiders' 27-0 season-opening loss to the Chargers. Monday night was ugly again for Walter, who was 16 of 35 for 121 net passing yards. He generated 185 yards of offense in 57 plays.
At this pace, Walter could shatter David Carr's 2003 sacks record of 76.
Of course, part of the problem is the Raiders' offense. In some ways, it's prehistoric. Very rarely does it get into a passing rhythm with short, quick throws. Instead, Oakland will use a few runs to set up a long throw, but it takes an eternity for the receiver to get downfield. By that time, Walter is on his back.
No wonder the Raiders have generated only six touchdown drives in 94 offensive possessions. The quarterback is always going down and going down hard. Players are frustrated. After the game, Moss got into a verbal altercation with a Bay Area columnist. Moss told him he doesn't talk to the local press. The writer told him he was waiting for Walter. Moss loudly tried to remind the columnist who No. 18 was. The writer didn't care.
It was that kind of night for the Raiders. Mistakes for the Raiders on the field bordered on silliness. Defensive lineman Terdell Sands received the rare disconcerting penalty, a 15-yarder given to players who try to mimic the signal count on a field goal. Defensive end Tyler Brayton was ejected in the closing minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct after kneeing Seahawks receiver Jerramy Stevens in the groin.
There were false starts and plenty of blunders. For the Seahawks, though, they had fun. Quarterback Seneca Wallace put 10 points on the scoreboard in the first quarter, which was more than enough to beat the Raiders.
"It's nice to win one after being on the wrong side of the stick for a couple of weeks," Holmgren said. "I'm proud of the way the team battled. Our defense had a few things to prove, and I think they played very, very hard and very, very smart, which is something we need to do."
Senior writer John Clayton covers the NFL for ESPN.com.