Seattle Seahawks: Breaking Down the 4-2-5 Defense

January 1, 2017; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll during the second quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium. The Seahawks defeated the 49ers 25-23. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
January 1, 2017; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll during the second quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium. The Seahawks defeated the 49ers 25-23. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

The Seattle Seahawks love Bradley McDougald and do not see him as a backup. Pete Carroll has made it clear their new safety will see plenty of time on the field, but where would he play? Enter the 4-2-5 defense.

Lets begin with the basics. The Seattle Seahawks‘ current scheme is a standard 4-3 defense. That is four down lineman, three linebackers, two safeties and two corners.

However, because the NFL has moved to an aggressive aerial assault, the teams plays in its nickel package on more than 60 percent of its snaps. In Seattle’s nickel package, the strong side linebacker, (last year Mike Morgan) comes off the field in favor of another corner to cover the slot receiver.

The Seahawks primarily run a Cover 3 zone. In layman’s terms, the two outside corners are responsible for the one-third of the field each, from the hash marks to the sideline. The free safety, Earl Thomas, is responsible for covering the middle third:

visual of 4-3, Cover 3 defense courtesy of
visual of 4-3, Cover 3 defense courtesy of /

This alignment allows strong safety Kam Chancellor to play to his strengths as run game distributor and a destroyer of slant routes. So what are the benefits of moving from the already effective scheme to a 4-2-5? First, lets dissect the 4-2-5 scheme.

The 4-2-5 Basics

The 4-2-5 is named for the players at each position. Like the standard nickel package, the 4-2-5 has four down lineman, two linebackers and five defensive backs. The difference is the extra defensive back is typically a safety, not a cornerback: /

TCU Head Coach Gary Patterson is famous for implementing the defense. He penned an excellent article for, which you can read in its entirety here. In the aforementioned article, Patterson lays down the five “basic goals” of the 4-2-5. They are as follows:

  1. Out-hit the opponent
  2. Stop the run
  3. Create takeaways
  4. Eliminate the big plays
  5.  Don’t flinch

These basic goals closely resemble Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks’ defensively philosophy, so it should come as no surprise he is intrigued by the idea of the 4-2-5. But why make the switch?

Pro’s of the 4-2-5

  • It allows Bradley McDougald, a player GM John Schneider called ” one of the highest rated defenders on our free agent board”, on the field with regularity. If the Seahawks truly believe McDougald is one of the 11 best players on its defense, why not make a minor tweak to accommodate him?
  • It has the same core values of Carroll defenses, and a similar scheme. While it is technically a new scheme, its principles are nearly identical to the Cover 3 defense Seattle is famous for.
  • The 4-2-5 is both a nickel and base defense. Because Chancellor is basically a linebacker, the team can essentially play a standard 4-3 on running downs. McDougald’s versatility to play both run and pass allows the teams underneath zone to handle slot receivers if the opponent goes to a three or four wide receiver set.
  • The Seahawks have two linebackers in Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, who are both excellent in pass coverage, a requirement in the 4-2-5.

The defense also allows defensive coordinator Kris Richard, a more aggressive play caller, to use his creative blitz packages more often. The five-man secondary allows for greater pre-snap disguise capability.

This defense also allows the Seahawks to play fast, or in Patterson’s words ” don’t flinch”. Patterson describes the philosophy in the article:

"In this day and age of college football, offenses have become very explosive and complex in the number of formations and plays used in a game. To combat this problem, defenses must have enough flexibility in their scheme to limit offenses in their play selection, but be simple enough to be good at what they do. During a game we must look like we do a lot, but only do enough to take away what offenses do best. This leads me to our philosophy of, “Multiplicity but simplicity.”"

The New England Patriots have slowly moved to the 4-2-5 scheme the past three years, and Seattle could follow that lead. I talked to a few local football coaches, who gave me five “must haves” to run a 4-2-5:

  1. Fast, athletic linebackers. I don’t know about you, but I’d Wagner and Wright fall into this camp.
  2. A relentless edge rusher. Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Frank Clark… check.
  3. Combative cover corners.
  4. Trust in the scheme. The Seahawks defense has run a similar defense for five years. Shouldn’t be a problem.
  5. A true centerfielder to take away the middle third of the field. (Thomas)

Next: Seahawks' Mock Draft 3.0

In conclusion, the Seattle Seahawks appear to be a prime candidate to make the switch. The future of Richard Sherman is still up in the air, but one of the benefits of the scheme is an ability for corners to take a few more risk. In a class loaded with corners, Seattle should have no problem finding one or two potential starters in this draft.