Minus Mychal Kendricks, Seahawks May Resort to Schematic Changes vs. Rams

Corbin Smith

Bucking NFL trends, the Seahawks have roared out to a 10-2 start while primarily deploying their base defense with three linebackers and only four defensive backs on the field.

According to ESPN charting, Seattle has only played 242 defensive snaps with five or more defensive backs on the field, the smallest total among 32 teams by a large margin. The next team in front of them has played 468 such snaps with an additional defensive back on the field.

However, with starting strongside linebacker Mychal Kendricks nursing a hamstring injury and doubtful to play against the high-powered Rams, coach Pete Carroll admitted the Seahawks may need to rely more on their nickel defense than they have in previous games.

“They [the Rams] threw for four-something last week,” Carroll told reporters on Friday. “Put up 550 [yards] or whatever it was, so they were spreading the ball out pretty good. They looked like they could really throw the ball to anybody, so we’ve got to do a nice job.”

Rebounding from a blowout loss to the Ravens, Rams quarterback Jared Goff threw for 424 yards and two touchdowns during a 34-7 win over the Cardinals in Week 13. Receiver Robert Woods and tight end Tyler Higbee each eclipsed 100 yards receiving, while running back Todd Gurley rushed for 95 yards and a touchdown.

Los Angeles has been plagued by offensive inconsistency this year, but Goff has numerous weapons at his disposal, including Brandin Cooks, Woods, Gurley, Cooper Kupp, and Higbee. This helps explain why Carroll may feel inclined to use more nickel packages with Ugo Amadi or Akeem King on the field instead of rookie Cody Barton, who would be tasked with filling in for Kendricks.

Barton, a third-round pick out of Utah, impressed throughout the offseason into training camp, drawing raving reviews from the Seahawks’ coaching staff. After rotating with Kendricks in Monday’s 37-30 win over the Vikings, Carroll holds no reservations about the versatile defender being able to contribute when called upon.

“Cody is a particularly diligent worker. Smart kid. Plays all three spots. He’s as well versed a guy coming in as you can hope for, for a young guy. We really don’t have any hesitation in trusting that he can play.”

The problem? While Barton has picked up all three linebacker spots quicker than the Seahawks ever could’ve imagined, he’s still only played 18 defensive snaps all season and has been limited almost exclusively to special teams duty.

Even considering his prior background as a defensive back before joining the Utes, it could be a lot to ask out of Barton to play extensive snaps against the Rams. He’ll likely be drawing coverage assignments against Gurley and Higbee, who each create matchup problems for linebackers in the passing game.

There's also the question about maintaining run fits, an area Barton made a few expected mistakes on during the preseason. Against a talented back like Gurley, such mishaps could lead to explosive plays on the ground.

This isn’t to say Barton won’t play at all or doesn't have a bright future, as Seattle won’t go “cold turkey” with its base defense and in due time, he has the look of a potential starter down the road.

But in this particular contest, with capable receivers like Woods and Kupp running routes out of slot, it may be a rational decision for the Seahawks to trade in their base defense and roll with the duo of Amadi and King more frequently.