Seahawks’ Dan Quinn keeps things simple, making defense simply the best
Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has returned Seattle’s defense to the basics since returning before the 2013 season. His simple philosophy is working and a big reason the defense is playing better than ever.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Dan Quinn file
Born: Sept. 11, 1970, Morristown, N.J.
College: Salisbury (Md.) State
Notable pre-Seattle jobs: 49ers defensive line coach 2003-04, Dolphins defensive line coach 2005-06, Jets defensive line coach 2007-08.
Did you know? Quinn and his wife Stacey have a foundation called Quinn’s Corps Program that helps wounded veterans.
RENTON – Several descriptions again fit the Seahawks’ best-in-the-NFL defense — merrily dancing, stone-cold dominating.
Here’s one that does not: the least-bit deceiving.
No new tricks have been revealed the past few weeks as the Seahawks have embarked on a defensive run as impressive as any in the NFL this season. No ground-breaking alignments have been unearthed.
Instead, the Seahawks have relied on basic schemes and talented players as they have won three in a row to improve to 9-4 entering Sunday’s game at CenturyLink Field against the 49ers.
“We’ve got two to three base defenses, pretty much, and we run that all game,’’ said linebacker K.J. Wright. “And then we’ve got about four nickel defenses. So it’s simple, man. And that allows us to play fast.’’
Which is just the way defensive coordinator Dan Quinn likes it.
“We have such trust in these guys, we really do,’’ says Quinn, who is in his second year as the defensive coordinator, taking over in 2013 when Gus Bradley left to become the head coach at Jacksonville. “We want them to play at their fastest and we know for us to play at our best and really fast, that there can’t be so many checks ... that you are thinking less about going after somebody and getting your cleats in the grass and attacking.’’
Quinn, a 44-year-old former small-college defensive lineman the Seahawks call DQ, has kept things incredibly simple, making Seattle simply the best defense in the NFL. He also has won a Super Bowl, weathered a slew of injuries and turned himself into one of the hottest head-coaching candidates in pro football.
‘What are you?’
Quinn had been Seattle’s defensive line coach in 2009-10 before spending two years as the defensive coordinator at Florida and then returning to Seattle.
Undoubtedly, he was handed a pair of aces when he came back to the Seahawks. First, he inherited immense talent. Second, his boss, Pete Carroll, has deep roots on defense.
Yet under Quinn, the Seattle defense has ascended to even greater heights. The Seahawks set franchise records for points allowed (14.4) and yards (273.6 per game) in 2013.
And after a few early-season stumbles after injuries to linebacker Bobby Wagner, safety Kam Chancellor and others, the Seahawks’ recent numbers are as good or better than the Super Bowl champs of a year ago. Seattle is allowing 14.4 points over its past seven games, and 237 yards over the past eight. The latter would be the second-lowest in NFL history since expanding to a 16-game schedule in 1978.
After dropping as low as 11th in the NFL in total defense earlier this season, Seattle again ranks first, at 274.5, and third in points allowed, at 18.1
Seattle has a chance to become the first team since the Minnesota Vikings of 1969-71 — the famed “Purple People Eaters — to allow the fewest points for three straight years.
Under Carroll, the Seahawks have always had a reputation for being basic on defense. This isn’t Arizona with its vast array of blitzes and formations. But Quinn has streamlined things even more.
“He keeps it simpler than Gus,’’ Wright said.
As former NFL safety Matt Bowen recently wrote for Bleacher Report: “It’s not complicated or exotic. And it doesn’t look very cool when we draw it up on the chalkboard. But it sells when you can get 11 guys to run to the ball, play with technique and trust the scheme.’’
Seattle’s base defenses, usually run out of a 4-3 alignment, remain a Cover 1 — man-to-man coverage except for deep safety Earl Thomas and Cover 3 — zone with three defensive backs each covering a third of the field. A lot of tweaks can be made but the basics rarely change.
“You see some teams out there they are just trying to run all kinds of stuff,’’ Wright said. “They are all over the place but they don’t have an identity as a defense. I believe we have a great identity. We know who we are and what we do. If you don’t have an identity and something that is set in stone, then who are you? What are you?’’
Simpler is better
Quinn, a former defensive lineman at Division III Salisbury (Md.) State, decided long ago that simpler is better.
“The scheme part of it is important,’’ Quinn said. “But I guess I learned in my time what’s just as important is the players in terms of you really want the best fundamentals you can have. It’s tackling. It’s all the discipline things that go into football. So we want our guys attacking in that way as much as we can.’’
That’s never been more evident than the past few weeks.
A short turnaround for a Thanksgiving night game at San Francisco meant neither team could do much specific game planning.
The Seahawks’ three starting linebackers and four defensive backs were on the field for every snap but held the 49ers to a field goal and just 164 yards.
Sunday against the up-tempo offense of the Eagles, the Seahawks were even better, holding the Eagles to 139, the fewest against a Seattle defense since 2005.
Everyone wondered why. The simplest reason might be the best.
“Sometimes when we play the no-huddle teams, we don’t have tons and tons of calls here where we put all this stress on someone and have different checks and different things in the game,’’ Quinn said. “They can get a call in quickly and go.’’
Seattle’s defenders embraced the concept. They depend on each other, not on a scheme coming from coaches.
“Teams know what we are doing,’’ Wright said.
It doesn’t matter.
“It’s the personnel,’’ Thomas says. “You can’t replace that.’’
Consider that Seattle is blitzing just 24 percent of the time this season, according to Pro Football Focus, 21st most in the NFL. And that total is inflated by a midseason stretch when injuries forced the Seahawks into blitzing 33.25 percent of plays to prop up the pass rush.
Now healthy, the Seahawks rely on a four-man rush. Defensive end Cliff Avril considers that the ultimate compliment, an admission that Seattle’s pass rushers are doing their job.
“That’s pretty cool,’’ Avril said.
All sorts of stats show that what Seattle is doing works. Quinn, though, shrugs off the numbers. What impressed him when looking at film against the Eagles was the sight of players tapping each other on the arms and shoulder pads before snaps. That was missing earlier in the season.
Each tap was an unspoken way of saying, “C’mon let’s go!’’ Quinn said. “You can feel that connection that all good teams have.’’
As Seattle’s defensive play has improved, so has Quinn’s stock as a potential head coach. Many expect his name to be at the top of lists to fill vacancies after the season.
Wright calls Quinn “my guy’’ yet he laments, “I don’t expect him to be here next year. I expect him to be a head coach.’’
Quinn might have had a chance at the Cleveland job last season but the timing to pursue it wasn’t right with Seattle in the middle of its Super Bowl run.
“Someday I would like to do that,’’ Quinn said of becoming an NFL head coach. “But I’m having a blast right now.’’
Here is a look at some key numbers for the 2013 Seattle defense and 2014:
|Points per game||14.4||18.1|
|Yards per game||273.6||274.5|
|Yards per play||4.4||4.8|
|Rushing yards per game||101.6||84.1|
|Passing yards per game||172.0||190.4|