When looking ahead to football games, I often put myself in the shoes of an offensive or defensive coordinator. What would I game plan for? What would keep me up at night? What would I make sure is in the list of scripted plays? What players would I be most concerned with.
Thinking about Sunday night, with the New England Patriots offense taking on the Seattle Seahawks defense, I have vacillated between putting myself in Ken Norton Jr.’s shoes, and those of Josh McDaniels. If I’m McDaniels, how am I attacking this defense? If I’m Norton, what worries me about this offense after watching it against Miami?
As I have worked through those questions in the past few days, every one of them slowly starts to funnel to the same name.
Let’s start here. Seattle’s new safety was everywhere for the Seahawks this past Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. He was in on 80 snaps, and aligned all over the field. From my charting he played 23 snaps in some sort of split-safety alignment. He played 17 snaps as a free safety in the middle of the field. He played another 32 snaps in the slot, seven down in the box (including being right on the line of scrimmage) and even one play as a cornerback.
He was literally everywhere.
It started from the first play of the game:
Adams aligns in the box, almost like a linebacker, then crashes off the edge against this running play away from him. Undaunted, he chases Todd Gurley down from behind and gets in on the tackle.
Here is Adams again, creeping into the box, while the Falcons run a jet sweep. You know, the kind of play the Patriots use often with Julian Edelman?
I mentioned those half-field safety alignments. Here is Adams aligned in that role, recognizing a route from Julio Jones breaking in front of him, driving downhill to the catch point, and preventing a completion:
Again, he was everywhere.
So if I am McDaniels, one of the things is keeping me up at night, and that I am stressing to Cam Newton before this game, before each drive, heck before each play, is this:
It might just be one game, but now Norton Jr. used him last week could be a window into what Adams can do with talent around him on the defensive side of the football. We are moving towards positionless defenses, with hybrid players like Adams and Derwin James and Isaiah Simmons becoming more of a necessity. As offenses use tempo and motion and shifting to try and generate favorable matchups — and then exploit them — defenses need the type of players that can serve in a variety of roles.
But don’t listen to me on this, listen to someone who knows an incalculable amount more about the game:
They might run the same play four or five times in a game, but it looks different every time, or they might switch personnel groups and things like that. I think that’s an advantage to have some versatility defensively and also defensive players that are instinctive and can recognize the play and not get distracted by all the other things going around it are guys that can really be productive and have plays that they just anticipate and are there to make a play on.
We just felt like with his versatility and ability to help us both on defense and on special teams but not do everything all at once, but he could plug into wherever you needed him, that he really had a lot of value and versatility for our team. I’d say then without Pat [Chung], this has really become a bigger role and a bigger opportunity to do those things, and he’s taken advantage of that and he’s embraced them. So, we’ll see where it goes, but I’m glad we have him. He’s a guy that really gives us a lot of experience and a lot of versatility on defense from a player who hasn’t been with us, but he’s been able to provide that in the weeks that he’s been here and that’s been a big plus.
So again, if I’m McDaniels I want to see where No. 33 is on every snap, and try to work away from him.
But now let’s flip that coin. Put yourself in Ken Norton Jr.’s shoes. You’ve just watched this Patriots’ offense led by Cam Newton. What are you probably worried about the most?
What might you do in response?
Look to 33.
McDaniels might be reminding Cam Newton before each play to find where Adams is prior to the ball being snapped. But the quarterback might not have to look far. If you’re Norton, you might give serious thought to using Adams as a spy often on Newton to neutralize what he can do with his legs.
We often think about games in terms of “matchups,” and think about a quarterback going up against a star player in the secondary. Think of all the meetings between Tom Brady and Ed Reed. How will Brady’s mind fare against that of Reed’s? Well, on Sunday night, we might see something more of a matchup between a QB and a safety, only this time it could play out on the ground.