To get a sense of how Chancellor’s presence will impact the defense, we called on ESPN analyst and former NFL safety Matt Bowen for a Q&A.
From a scheme perspective, let’s start with the run game. What does Chancellor’s return mean for that aspect of the defense?
Bowen: Chancellor is the “enforcer” in the run front, the guy who can roll down, play like an extra linebacker in the box with the power/size to fill running lanes and the lateral movement/acceleration to track the ball. He is excellent with his run/pass keys, which allows him to attack downhill with speed. Plus, he wraps up, drives his legs and punishes ball carriers on contact. That is somewhat a lost art in today’s game, but with Chancellor, you know he is going to tackle on Sundays. As we saw in Weeks 1 and 2, this isn’t as simple as a “plug and play” system in Seattle. You can’t just throw a guy in there and expect to see the same results without Chancellor on the field. He is such an ideal fit for what the Seahawks want to do versus both the base and sub-package runs.
And what about the passing game? We saw Dion Baileystruggle in coverage in Week 1 before Pete Carroll switched to DeShawn Shead. How will Chancellor help in that “robber” role and other areas of the pass defense?
Bowen: Here’s the thing with Chancellor: he is vastly underrated in the Seahawks’ coverage schemes. Start with Cover 3. Chancellor has a unique feel for how to play in space as a curl or hook defender. He gains depth with speed to hold off intermediate routes and closes with an electric burst to tackle in the flat. Cover 3 isn’t a complicated scheme, but you need the key parts to make it become a shut-down scheme. And the role of the strong safety is crucial to eliminate the top three-deep beaters. As a “robber” in Cover 1, Chancellor can take away the underneath crossing routes and intimidate after the catch. You won’t find many wide receivers or tight ends in the NFL who want to catch the ball when Chancellor is hanging out between the numbers. That’s trouble. Plus, we can’t forget about man coverage. Chancellor can check a tight end on the seam, post, dig, etc. His technique is excellent, and he understands how to play routes based on game situations and the sticks. Veteran guy who gets it.
Earl Thomas said recently that he’s an instinctive player, and Chancellor always helped him with the mental part of the game — getting lined up, etc… What kind of effect can Chancellor’s presence have on the performance of his teammates?
Bowen: Trust and communication are vital to the success of any secondary. That starts early in the week with film study as a group, reps in practice and knowing the opponent’s’ tendencies. On game day, the ability to communicate pre-snap and trust the guy next to you is at the core of playing top-tier football in the back end. Veteran groups — like the Seahawks — understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, know what to expect based on the personnel they match up against, and seamlessly play together. You lose that when a player like Chancellor is out of the lineup, especially with inexperienced replacements on the field. Having Chancellor back gives the Seahawks the ability to play more aggressively (within the scheme) because they can communicate and trust each other on the field. This is something we can’t see on tape, but it is the key to playing winning football.
It’s always risky to put too much stock into one player’s impact, but with Chancellor’s return, how optimistic are you that the Seahawks can rebound from the 0-2 start?
Bowen: Chancellor needs reps. There is no other way to say that, given the practice time and game time he has missed this season. He might not be Superman on Sunday versus the Bears (if he plays), but there is no doubt this team is stronger, tougher and more physical with his impact on the field. Maybe it takes a game or two for Chancellor to get back into elite playing shape (which only comes with live football reps), but once that happens, I expect this secondary to start rolling. Back in the conversation with the Jets as the top secondary in the NFL.