Seattle Seahawks have tall task to replace Earl Thomas this week.

Earl Thomas has never missed a start for the Seattle Seahawks, but that will end next week. His absence leaves a gaping hole that will be tough to fill.

Earl Thomas, the All-Pro free safety for the Seattle Seahawks, will miss this week’s game. It’ll be the first time since he was drafted back in 2010 that he’ll miss a start.

For the Seahawks, there is simply no replacing Earl Thomas. There are things that he does for Seattle’s defense that no other player in the NFL can do. Earl the basis of everything the Seahawks do in the secondary. His speed is crucial, and its impact cannot be overstated.

The best way to see that is to simply look at the stats. Opposing teams are completing just 18% of their passes when throwing into the deep center of the field. For reference, Russell Wilson is completing 76% of his passes there.

Seattle’s base coverage is Cover 3. It is a zone concept that splits the defense into thirds. Thomas mans the middle third, and the two cornerbacks take the outside thirds of the field. The weakness of this coverage scheme are the seems.

Earl’s speed allows him to come up and make plays on the ball that other safeties cannot make. He is able to completely negate that weakness by his ability to close on the receiver and make plays on the ball. Teams simply cannot complete passes in that area of the field.

The play where Earl punctured Rob Gronkowski’s lung is a great example of this:

The other coverage scheme the Seahawks employ is Cover 1. Here, they lock up in man coverage across the field and leave Thomas back in center field by himself. This essentially isolates the outside CBs 1-on-1 near the sideline.

That is, unless your FS has the speed of Earl Thomas. Thomas has the speed to get all the way to the sideline if the QB puts any air under the ball at all.

This interception against Washington shows off his incredible range.

With Thomas out, Steve Terrell and Kelcie McCray are both options to play in Earl’s spot. Neither has the speed to do the things that Thomas does. The Seahawks will be forced to pull Kam Chancellor out of the box and play more cover 2 and cover 4 looks and less cover 3 and cover 1.

No matter what, losing Earl Thomas for this week’s game against Tampa Bay is a major loss to Seattle’s defense. The Seahawks are going to have to alter what they do schematically, because there is simply no way for any other player to do the things Earl Thomas can do.

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