All 22 Review: Seahawks DE Rasheem Green Emerges as Elite Run Defender
Matty F. Brown
Over the last few weeks, Rasheem Green has emerged as an elite run defender. Coming out of USC, the second-year defensive end was a raw product when the Seahawks picked him in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Still just 22 years old, Green is taking the lessons of defensive line coach Clint Hurtt and fantastically contributing to a fast-improving run defense. He’s even starting to heat up in the pass rush game.
Before we focus on Green, let’s quickly assess the entire Seahawks plan. The 2019 offseason featured a clear goal of getting better at stopping the run. That’s a smart idea when trying to win the NFC West. Intradivision rivals in the 49ers and the Rams still have questionable play at the quarterback position. Meanwhile, the offensive attacks of Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay are layered off the ground attack.
In the effort to stop the run, Seattle has been keen on getting into 5-2 and 6-1 looks, with Mychal Kendricks frequently down at the line of scrimmage. There are many stunts and movements to cause massive issues for the run game with the Seahawks getting penetration and more numbers to the point of attack.
Per Brady Henderson and ESPN’s charting, Seattle has been in base 4-3 personnel almost 70 percent of the time. These numbers are crazy given nickel average league wide last year was 66 percent, something Seattle followed too with Justin Coleman. Furthermore, the usage of five defensive backs is only rising in an increasingly pass-happy league.
The personnel on the defensive line, and the attention it receives, is dominated by Jarran Reed and Jadeveon Clowney. From a pass rush perspective, Reed’s quick power has really helped the pass rush spacing, being a strong presence in the B-gap while creating more room for Clowney’s tight rushes. Reed has looked low effort so far against the run; Clowney is a game-wrecker. Yet, there are unheralded heroes against the run game who deserve praise. (And, unlike Gym Class Heroes, there is more than one banger)
Al Woods can play either one-technique or three-technique defensive tackle. He’s the best free agent defensive tackle pickup of the Pete Carroll-John Schneider era. That degree of praise speaks volumes of his level of play against the run. His length is the standout trait and Woods is one of the best in the league at stuffing the run.
Poona Ford has also thrived at either defensive tackle spot, using his natural pad level to trouble defenders. Quinton Jefferson is playing with a veteran savvy at defensive end, playing assignment-sound football. Branden Jackson joins him. Then there’s the subject of this article: Rasheem Green.
In the last three games, I’d wager that there’s been no 4-3 defensive end better at defending the run than Green. Not just on the Seahawks. I’m talking the entire NFL. Be it under or over fronts, facing gap or zone runs, Green has shown an ability to succeed in all manner of situations. He will not be grounded and pounded.
The 49ers are a heavy 21 and 12 personnel team. They align with two running backs and one tight end 20 percent of the time, and with two tight ends and one running back 18 percent of the time, according to Warren Sharp. The approach accommodates and justifies Seattle deploying a base-heavy defense. A large part of Shanahan’s offensive game plan was to attempt to run on the B-gap bubble of the under fronts the Seahawks were running. Getting All-Pro fullback Kyle Juszczyk right in this gap would, in theory, create an alley for the ball carrier.
On a 1st and 10, two-thirds of the way through the first quarter, we saw Green deny this opportunity. Seattle aligned in their under front (ironically they call this “Frisco”). San Francisco came out in 21 personnel I-Formation. Shanahan called a stretch play that had Juszczyk go for B-gap bubble linebacker Bobby Wagner. Wagner stayed outside Juszczyk, executing his “TAN” principles and turning the fullback block back.
The issue for Wagner was, the under front gave him little inside help. At nose tackle in the play side A-Gap, Poona Ford was double-teamed away from the play. As the linebacker tasked with stacking the other A-Gap, K.J. Wright stayed on inside pursuit for the cutback bend read and left guard Laken Tomlinson climbed to him.
An alley was formed for running back Matt Breida. Then Green closed it. Starting as the weak side, wide-end at seven-technique, Green hustled from the backside of this play; first establishing that the ball was in Breida’s hands, then going to hunt. Green made the tackle for loss. The offense chose not to block him on this wide run away and Green punished them for that decision.
Having proven his ability as the weakside end in under versus zone, Green flashed his skill from that spot versus a gap-blocked run too. Once more the 49ers wanted to run the ball in 21 personnel, but this time they elected for a Pistol Weak formation. The Seahawks blitzed strong safety Bradley McDougald into the backfield. Faced with a 1st and 10 on their own 12-yard line with plenty of game left and the 49ers leading 3-0, this was a smart decision.
The blitz enabled Seattle to essentially start in an under front that stunted into an over look post-movement. Each of the defensive linemen stunted one-gap over: Nose tackle Ford went from A-Gap to B-Gap, three-technique Reed went from B to A, seven-technique Green went from C to B.
Behind them, Wagner flowed to the front side of the movement and Wright waited for the clean up work as a fallback player. The counter run of the 49ers was blown up. Ford slipped through a double team on his movement and took out the pulling guard Tomlinson. Jefferson joined him with power. Mychal Kendricks was unblocked in the hole, taking on the lead-blocking fullback as the hammer in the fit.
The two pullers were dealt with and chaos was caused. Someone still needed to make the tackle though. On the opposite side, Green’s inside move was initially halted by left tackle Joe Staley. Staley was responsible for the B-Gap and intelligently pass-set Green in an effort to seal the backdoor of the run.
Green had answers though. He won leverage into the B-Gap after a powerful thump and then squeezed the gap, keeping his play side arm free while dipping underneath the fullback block. Wagner was unblocked on the play side and was free to tackle Breida. Yet Green’s work on the backside enabled him to contact the running back first.
Seattle gives their linebackers a lot of freedom in terms of calling stunts up front. This decision makes particular sense given the trio are veterans, plus K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner are stars that have been in the defense since they began their professional careers. However, the Seahawks have game planned stunts that are run automatically against certain offensive looks too.
In years past, “far” under center formations would trigger a “Pirate” stunt in order to stop the bend run play side, including against Jeff Fisher’s St. Louis Rams in 2014. Pirate is run from the under front, with the defensive end and three-technique slanting inside and a gap over. (“Pig” is the over edition.) It got San Francisco’s 2019 far formation in trouble too.
The fullback shift did not impact Green, with his speed too quick for Staley inside. There’s a chance that Staley expected help from Tomlinson at left guard. Whatever the case, Green was untouched into the backfield and the initial path of Breida.
Though Green could not wrap up Breida, the disruption he caused forced Breida to evade him on a bounce read that broke the play design. The 49ers were running a split inside zone, using Juszczyk to take out Clowney because they wanted the cutback to hit. Breida instead was left dancing to the wrong side of the play before he was eventually brought down by Kendricks for a hard-earned two yards.
The following week, the Eagles suffered thanks to Green’s ability on the weak side of under. Pulling left tackle Jason Peters on this wide run from a 12 personnel shotgun, the Eagles wanted to hit the ever-tantalizing B-Gap bubble like the 49ers aimed to. It was 1st and 10 on their first drive of the game, Philadelphia was presumably still in its opening script and this was viewed as a good idea.
Once more, the Seahawks ran a Pirate stunt to avoid getting out-numbered and enhance their backside pursuit. The edge was set brilliantly by the play side defensive end Jefferson, who mauled right tackle Andre Dillard into the backfield. Miles Sanders saw this, plus Wagner and Wright, and decided to cut the play back as much as possible.
Green was there. With no Peters, Green’s movement inside was only blocked by tight end Zach Ertz. The 279-pound Green stunned the 250-pound Ertz backwards, re-setting the line of scrimmage. Disengaging from the collision into the B-Gap, Green ran to Sanders and made the tackle. He met the ball at a similar time to the unblocked Wright.
Philadelphia attempted to catch Seattle’s aggressive, and at times narrow, defensive end play out by running a gun jet sweep to the weak side of the under front on a 2nd and 4 in their two-minute drill. Aligning in a 12 personnel nub formation, the Eagles looked to further narrow the ends. Green was the key player on the wide hand off to Greg Ward Jr.
This is technically a pop-pass, as some of Jared Goff’s gaudiest passing numbers are testament to, but Green did his job defending the wide run. He kept his outside shoulder free attacking Dillard. Perhaps he could have recognized the run type sooner. Still, the end was able to disengage in enough time, putting his length (71 percentile wingspan among all drafted defensive ends) to use and then making the tackle for loss.
The way for Green to get onto the field more often will be for him to become more effective at rushing the passer. The work Green has done is resulting in him playing with much greater power. That’s showed on clips where he bullies blockers in the run game, but we have started to see some semblance of a bull rush too.
Take this Monday Night Football pressure against the Vikings. Tyler Conklin was treated like the third-string tight end that he is, so much so that Dalvin Cook had to help and push Green inside. Green still pressured Kirk Cousins, flushing him from the pocket to the waiting force of Bradley McDougald.
Green wasn’t tasked with being the force defender here either. Given the Vikings opted for a nub formation, the Seahawks had their cornerback in a “Comet Bail” technique that sees them play the run hard, as the hammer in the fit. The front they came out in, responding to Minnesota’s 22 personnel, was an Over—or as they call it, “Boston”. They’d call this Boston “Cheat Stone” as the nose tackle was head up on the center and Kendricks was down at the line of scrimmage.
Minnesota’s 22 personnel stretch run had them pull right tackle Brian O’Neill outside. Shaquill Griffin, the Comet corner, did well to dip under O’Neill and set an edge. Green, seeing the tackle pull, played through Conklin’s block to fill the vacated C-Gap. He knew that Wright, the turn back player at the second level, was flowing to the D-Gap with the pulling action.
Green controlled Conklin throughout the block, driving him backwards prior to pulling the tight end down to disengage. With Griffin going underneath O’Neill, the ball carrier Alexander Mattinson attempted a hurdle. That enabled Green to grab the ankle of Mattinson before the running back fell to the ground. This play was called back for holding, but once more Green found a way to make a play.
Green’s splashiest play against Minnesota came from the under front again. Pre-snap, you can see Wright telling him to Pirate stunt inside and man did Green oblige. With the scores tied and the game creeping towards the fourth quarter, the Vikings decided to start this drive with a 12 personnel inside run - it looked like DUO. At right tackle, O’Neill went to double-team the massive presence of Woods at the three-technique.
Green’s lateral movement was too quick for Conklin to pick up and he ran right into the C-Gap. He got hands on O’Neill to help Woods, then pulled his hips through and got skinny. Green surprised Cook, meeting the runner in the hole from an angle that was unexpected pre-snap. Cook was busy reading the middle linebacker for where to run. Instead, the running back had the ball punched free by Green and Seattle enjoyed a major turnover.
As a true edge setter in an over front, Green showcased his value last Monday too. Minnesota was driving and looking to take the lead once more with the scores at 20-17 with just over five minutes left to play in the third quarter. Pre-snap, they shifted tight end Kyle Rudolph across the formation.
We can see here how happy Seattle often is for their Frisco, under fronts to turn into Boston, over. Rather than shift their strength as the offense does, the Seahawks are generally happy for things to play out. This play saw Frisco became Boston.
Green therefore changed from being the weak side end to being the strong side man, assigned with setting the EDGE from five-technique as there was no Kendricks down to his side of the field and no Comet cornerback. Green widened with the outside run towards him. He fired off the ball, smashing left tackle Rashod Hill backwards while keeping his outside arm free. With Mattinson turned upfield, Green disengaged from Hill with a swipe and pull, tackling Mattinson for a loss.
Green’s recent emergence comes with the caveat that Seattle faced some depleted units. The 49ers usually play left tackle Justin Skule over Staley. They also had backup center Ben Garland come in for Weston Richburg. The biggest loss for them was not having George Kittle, the brilliant run-blocker who can do everything at tight end. Ross Dwelly and Garrett Celek are nowhere near his level.
The Eagles were forced to play musical chairs up front, with Dillard struggling with the totally unfamiliar right tackle role. Sticking backup right guard Matt Pryor at the spot saw more effective line play. Finally, the Vikings lost right tackle Riley Reiff to a first half concussion.
This all accounted for, Green’s achievements against the run are still mightily impressive. The Seahawks’ run defense is causing disarrayed commotion for opposing offenses and Green is capitalizing, making some sweet plays in the process.
Green will always be limited as a pass rusher by his plodding foot speed. However, there is a power that is starting to show up and a confidence too. Pocket-pushing strength is nice in itself and Green currently has it. Furthermore, power can soon develop into sacks once an additional layer of move is added. Green is still a young player whose body is only just reaching the stage of “fully developed.” Plus, Green has already flashed attempts at a cross-chop while experimenting with angles off the EDGE in addition to his handwork, which is a definite strength already.
The snap counts of Green from the three games we’ve taken a look at show him still to be a rotational piece only. But he’s a mighty useful one at that. Green established himself as an elite run defender during these past three games. The Seahawks have to hope his growth can continue and the pass rush starts to bloom too.