The Seahawks defense was hit hard last season when Earl Thomas went down to injury. The Seattle coaches and front office were not prepared to have to fill in Thomas’s spot, and the defense struggled because of it. With Thomas and Kam Chancellor getting older, they have been dealing with frequent injuries. This offseason, Seattle made a move to solidify the backend if either of those two went down to injury. That move was to sign Tampa Bay’s starting strong safety Bradley McDougald.
During training camp, the Seahawks worked McDougald and both free safety and strong safety. He was the insurance plan in case Chancellor or Thomas missed games during the season. And he has been called upon the past few weeks due to the recent injuries of Thomas and Chancellor.
Thomas missed two games because of a hamstring injury, in which McDougald filled in and played alongside Chancellor. But now that Thomas is healthy, McDougald will be moving over to strong safety now that Chancellor is done for the season because of a neck injury. McDougald moving from spot to the other does not concern Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll.
“We’re very fortunate to have Bradley,” Carroll said. “He has played great. The whole time he has been trained, he has been trained at both spots. It’s no big deal at all for him to play strong safety versus free safety, so he’ll jump right in there.”
Although McDougald is not the same caliber of player as Thomas or Chancellor, there is not as big of a drop off in play as there was last season when there were injuries to the two safeties. McDougald has experience as a starter, and is comfortable in the role.
Filling in Chancellor’s spot is a tough task for any player, however. Chancellor has the frame and strength of a linebacker, but the coverage skills of a cornerback. McDougald has a much smaller frame than Chancellor, as he is two inches shorter and 15 pounds lighter. But McDougald has done well while playing in the box, where Chancellor has thrived.
McDougald is a better athlete than Chancellor, and he uses that athleticism when playing close to the line of scrimmage. Instead of taking on blocks and overpowering the blocker on running plays like Chancellor, he uses his agility to shoot through small gaps to make plays on the runner. He also uses that speed to corral runners on the outside. However, McDougald has shown inconsistent tackling in open field, leading to extra yards for the running back.
The biggest difference between the two is when they take on blocks. Chancellor is able to keep his ground when blocked by a tight end, and that allows to close gaps or make stops on a runner. But McDougald does not have that strength to take on blockers, and can get blown off the ball, leaving holes for the running back to run through. McDougald tends to get run over or pushed out of the way by lead blockers because he is hesitant to take on the block. Chancellor’s biggest strength is to take on those blocks and force the running back to dance around the line of scrimmage instead of getting upfield to gain yards.
Where McDougald makes up for run stopping deficiencies is his ability in pass coverage. Chancellor is famous for playing in the middle of the field in a hook/curl zone. This puts him in a position to level receivers coming across the middle in front of him. Although McDougald isn’t the type of hitter that Chancellor is, his recognition and quickness to the ball allows him to make tackles before a receiver can turn upfield to get yards after the catch.
He has also played very well in man coverage against tight ends. McDougald plays very physical against tight ends, and he does not allow them to get a release on their routes. He puts his hands on the tight end right away, throwing them off their routes. McDougald has shown that he can slow down a tight ends route and stay attached to their hip. But the tight ends have done very little against McDougald since he has filled in for Chancellor. In the two games without Chancellor, tight ends have seven receptions for only 51 yards.
The Seahawks have their work cut for them with Chancellor out for the rest of the season. But McDougald has played very well in his place. The drop off between the two has not been as noticeable as many would expect. If the Seahawks want to win the NFC West, McDougald might be the most important to their success.