Analysis: Seahawks' Pass Rushing 'Games' and Kerry Hyder's Role as 'Game Caller'

In a recent podcast appearance, Seahawks defensive line coach Clint Hurtt revealed that Kerry Hyder has won the competition for Seattle's 'game caller' role. Analyst Matty F. Brown explains what this Seahawks job title entails, exploring Seattle's pass rush games and core philosophy.
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Before donning a navy and green jersey, Kerry Hyder has already managed to emerge in a vital area for the Seahawks. That’s what defensive line coach Clint Hurtt revealed on June 23. Hurtt, appearing on the Seahawks Man 2 Man podcast, was speaking about the “game caller” role on the defensive line. 

“Kerry’s the guy that’s jumped out in the forefront of that and has done really, really well,” Hurtt assessed. 

The early indication is that Hyder, signed in Free Agency to a three-year, $16.5 million deal, will be an excellent 2021 addition.

What are games? What is a game caller? And what does this actually mean? To fully understand these questions, we must begin with a look at Seattle’s core approach to pass rush.

When rushing the passer, the Seahawks look to identify the side the center is sliding towards, making a hot call to highlight where the one-on-ones are for the rushers. Seattle's DL must be able to recognize the zone side of pass protection and the man side of pass protection (the center slides towards the zone side, leaving the other two offensive linemen on the man side). Seattle wants to rush these one-on-ones. Rushers on the man side cannot be wrong, possessing the freedom to try two-way gos and work rush chemistry with the man beside them.

There are two main methods for this pre-snap identification process. At a noisy Lumen Field, where offenses are forced to go silent, Seattle will look for the center’s "MIKE point." On the road, offenses can communicate more. In these instances, the Seahawks look towards the split of the running back. If the Seahawks are getting the center slide wrong pre-snap, with the opposing offense effectively mixing it up, they will then get into more exotic fronts to dictate the slide of the protection. An example of an exotic would be the Seahawks’ overload lines.

Like how certain route combinations stress man-to-man coverage with picks and rubs, games—coordinated movements between two or more defensive linemen—impose similar problems on offensive linemen.

The Seahawks want to run their single games to the man side of the protection. And if an offense redirects the center point, Seattle will flip its game to ensure the offense still runs it to the man side of the protection.

Games require communication, cohesion and precise timing from pass protectors, while additionally exploiting OL tendencies. For a team looking to get pressure with just four rushers—in Seattle’s case mainly stock DL—games are a necessity.

Here’s a page from the 2018 Jaguars playbook showing their basic pass rush games. These are essentially the same as Seattle’s, given Jacksonville was running the Seahawks’ defense at the time:

Next is a clip of Seattle running its “even” front with double games (it’s incorrectly called “green” in this tweet):

Finally, here is Seattle in its exotic overload line running a pressure that features a “Tom” game.

The situations that games are run in are usually passing third downs and then two-minute situations. The opposition scout will tell the Seahawks at which point an offense becomes pass-heavy on third down, so it can vary slightly week-to-week.

The majority of Seattle’s games are universal, meaning they can be run from each of its fronts. In non-exotic pass rush scenarios, the Seahawks are mainly an “even” (two 3-technique) front team. They will layer their games up, with some exploiting overcompensation to a different game. For instance: if “Tex” was popping the previous week, Seattle might include a coffeehouse or “Starbucks” stunt as a fake “Tex” in the next clash.

All of the defensive linemen know the pass rush plan heading into each fixture. After studying the upcoming opponent, Hurtt creates this rush plan in meetings which also involves player input and feedback. Games are a major part of the rush plan. Seattle will carry up to five games in total in each rush plan, seeking to avoid overcomplications.

The core trio of “Tex,” “Exit” and “Tom” are ever-present in the rush plan. Each is good for a certain offensive counter to aggressive pass rush. For instance: “Tex” is effective versus running back draw and “Exit” combats running back screens.

It’s one man’s job to hand signal all of these games in at the right time and in the right way. They must know the required game situation; they must understand the offensive protection scheme; and they must stick to the rush plan. All of the above is essential background knowledge.

In his first year in Seattle, Hurtt decided to signal these games himself. During his second season, Michael Bennett grabbed the role—it’s a lot easier when a player out on the field with better vision is doing it. After Bennett’s departure, Jarran Reed took over.

The gig requires trust between coach and player, diligence, selflessness, intelligence and a high football IQ. 

“It’s a job that has a high level of responsibility on it,” summarized Hurtt to Seahawks Man 2 Man co-hosts Michael-Shawn Dugar and Christopher A. Kidd.

“Jarran Reed was our game caller on the field,” Hurtt told Seahawks Man 2 Man. “Our game caller is like, you know, we make the huddle call, the defensive staff, coach Norton will send it in. But, formationally, we haven’t ID’d protection-wise what you’re gonna do. I’ll have the games set for that week. And now Jarran’s the one that’s calling stuff out, there’s a trust level between the player and the coach.”

“Now obviously, with [Reed] not being here, that was a big thing that I challenged the guys: who’s gonna be that guy this offseason?” 

Hurtt gave this job opportunity to “Rasheem [Green], L.J. [Collier], Kerry.” 

That’s an interesting list of names, given that Green, Collier and Hyder all play the “big end” role in Seattle. This detail is important, proving that the game caller ideally needs to be able to stay on the field for all three downs.

Hurtt’s evaluation of Hyder shows the 30-year-old to be an obvious fit at "game caller." 

“Similar to Mike [Bennett] in a sense, that you can tell he’s a very smart player and an outstanding fundamental football player,” Hurtt began. “And plays really, really hard.”

“That’s what he has shown since he has been here and even starting off in the Zoom meetings, highly engaged and focused and just locked in with installing the defense,” Hurtt continued, beginning to praise Hyder’s intelligence.

“And once they learn it, the really good ones, they always start to look for ‘Okay, where can I make my plays in this defense and this system?’ They always think ahead of the curve. Kerry brings that. Highly intellectual guy, really smart, big sound fundamental guy and he communicates really, really well.” 

Hyder clearly meets all of the game caller requirements.

When Seattle cut Reed after the two sides failed to agree to a cap-friendlier contract workaround for the reduced financial year of 2021, the potential football IQ hit to the DL room was majorly concerning. I tweeted in April that Reed left "massive intangible holes.” 

It’s therefore a significant source of relief that Hurtt has already found his next game caller. That the new signal man is a 2021 free agent addition is a testament to the recruitment of Seattle’s pro department. Hyder's prior experience in Seattle-tree defenses (with Kris Richard in Dallas and Robert Saleh in San Francisco) will undoubtedly help his seamless transition. 

“Kerry’s done an outstanding job since he’s got in. Been really, really impressive with his work ethic and preparation as a pro,” Hurtt finished

Don't look now, but the Seahawks' pass rushing unit may be in a good spot heading into training camp.