*Includes all games minus Week 10, Divisional Round and the second half of Week 3 and the first half of week 1.
The most interesting sequence of the first half came on Tampa Bay's final two drives. In both of them Seattle employed a 3-3 nickel formation where Julian Peterson can become a fourth down lineman effectively turning the play into a 4-2. That's the crucial aspect of the 3-3, that Peterson has options. On all six plays Peterson eventually put his hand down and rushed the passer, but he mixed in a lot of stances and motion to disrupt the left tackle. In the first set, the more pertinent one since the other involved Cadillac Williams running out the clock on some questionable play calls, Patrick Kerney played the right end position, but became a de facto tackle once Peterson put his hand down. Couple this with Bernard at left tackle and Tapp manning the left defensive end and the Bucs have to contend with four really devastating pass rushers and two ends (Tapp, Peterson) that are skilled in short zone coverage. The shear number of options this formation engenders must have made line calling a tremendous headache for John Wade.
In the first play under this formation, Peterson shows just awesome recognition, finally committing to a three point stance just as Garcia is about to snap. Excellent pre-snap recognition by Muscley Arm. After the snap Bernard gets great pressure up the gut, Garcia fades to his left and is met by a charging Peterson on the edge rush: Sack. The next play starts almost the same way, but Peterson grandstands a little less and aligns himself as a pass rusher a little earlier. Instead of a sack, Garcia connects to Michael Pittman for a six yard dump off. Peterson once again is deadly around the edge, but instead of Bernard's pressure coming up the gut, he's redirected around to the offensive left side. The resulting gap to the right leaves Garcia a place to step up and a throwing lane to pass through. What's really interesting beyond the simple coolness of this formation is that these two plays were nearly identical but one resulted in a sack and one resulted in a completion. Peterson gets similar edge rush on both plays, but in one Bernard collapses the pocket's head pin and the other he's shuffled to the left. Bernard's dominance on the first play caused the Bucs to smartly assign another man to him and the resulting Forced Double Team actually benefits the Bucs. Just an exciting display of strategy, counter-strategy and how one player who is credited with recording no conventional stats on either play (Bernard) made all the difference between a sack and a completion.
3-3 Nickel again, this time Peterson is playing down lineman. First play, Saint Louis's next drive. Peterson has the pass rush ability of an elite defensive end, but he's not and that's an important distinction and here's why. The Rams are pinned within their twenty, this is screen and draw country. The Rams call the former, Peterson edge rushes, but Alex Barron retreats, never putting a block on him. It's a classic suck-up, get the line deep and then dish the ball behind them screen. Peterson reads this, breaks his rush and pulls into a short zone directly in front of Brian Leonard. It all happens so fast, a split second read an' react, and Bulger not wanting to give away the play never looks until he's thrown the ball right to Peterson. Interception, the Hawks score two plays later, Julian Peterson rocks the funk right from my socks.
Two plays later Peterson gives Fabini his paralysis stare, then runs untouched to Collins for a sack.
The very first play of the [4th] quarter, touchdown pass to Antwan Randle El, involved some pretty cool under the radar play by Julian Peterson. At the snap, he gets a real nice push on Chris Samuels, jumps, and by jumping blocks Collins’ passing lane, comes back to earth, pushes Samuels back again and then gets around the Pro Bowl tackle and provides pressure. Peterson’s value added as a nickel defensive end is another reason that he’s among Seattle’s least replaceable players.
I hate questioning the character of a team, but Seattle made some obvious mental mistakes. Both Sean Locklear and Rob Sims simply gave up on blocks after Matt Hasselbeck couldn't find an open receiver. That's unacceptable. Sims' turned into a sack, Locklear's a throw away. Couple that with blown assignments by Julian Peterson and Marcus Trufant and fans have a right to be pissed with the team's showing. Both blown assignments turned into touchdowns, Peterson biting on a play-fake and leaving Leonard Pope wide open for a score.
Second play of the drive, following a 7 yard reception by Greg Olsen, Hawks in a base package. Benson starts hard left on a run that looks to be off tackle. The Hawks surge right, stuffing the rush lane. Sounds good, right? Here's the problem, a cutback lane as large as an elephant's ass has opened to the right. Benson is not quick out of his cuts, and had the Seahawks backside containment, it's unlikely this rush would have gone more than 5 yards. Unfortunately, Peterson, instead of staying put, tracks motion man Muhsin Muhammad dangerously close to the middle, then attempts to split the line for the money tackle for a loss, gets held in what might be called a bracket block (that is, the guard put an arm on Pete's back and another on his sternum and held him very briefly) and is out of the play. Bad move. Benson cuts back right, behind the Hawks line and now has but two defenders to beat. Tru is blocked down by Bernard Berrian (great block) leaving only Russell in his way to the endzone. This, presumably, is why you have a free safety. The play has broken down, the opposing rusher is free with acreage ahead of him, it's time to do your best Bob Sanders and fill. Russell has, somehow, tracked the run left too, perhaps looking for one of his patented after the fact pile on tackles. That's his first mistake, but it's recoverable. Then, instead of simply putting his body between Benson and the endzone, he overshoots towards the line. Benson doesn't have much more to do than run right at Tru and into the endzone. Peterson blows his assignment, but Russell's pursuit angle and Berrian's downfield blocking make it a score.
Peterson had an abnormally quiet half. The first time I really noticed him was when he was chasing Bruce after an 11 yard completion. Not many linebackers can match against Bruce, but the play still nets Peterson a blown coverage.
Peterson turns 30 July 28th. That might seem troubling, but he possesses the profile of a late bloomer, or, minimum, a graceful decliner. Though Peterson wasn’t always at the center of the action, he is undoubtedly among the least replaceable talents on the Seahawks’ roster. His versatility and ability to provide top-tier edge rush in nickel formations powers Seattle’s venerable 3-3. It’s entirely reasonable to count on Peterson to produce at a similar level in 2008 as he did in 2006 and 2007, but it’s not impossible that as the exceptionally quick and athletic linebacker enters his peak power years, he might actually step up another level - From superstar to legend.