2009 Season Retrospective: Max Unger

Max Unger

Scouting Report

Highlights

Seahawks at 49ers

Seattle resorts to a stock formation: A wide receiver on each side, Carlson right and the back in "I" formation. The Niners set in a 3-4. Off the snap, Steve Vallos and Max Unger power Aubrayo Franklin out of middle and deep into the second level. This was a matchup they were regularly winning. Griffith hits the hole, cuts right and runs through Patrick Willis. Both end on the turf. Jones is about to hit the hole. The outside linebackers are attacking the edges and functionally out of the play. Ted linebacker Spikes is screened out by Vallos and Unger's dominant double team. Willis is about to get knocked on his ass.

49ers at Seahawks

Finally we see Unger get beat, but unlike previous weeks, Unger wasn't beat back, discarded, thrown or knocked over. Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin bested him off the snap, but Unger recovered, showing the tenacity he showed at Oregon, and getting stout when it mattered. Franklin pushed no further.

...

It took Seattle until the end of the quarter to achieve a first down. It wasn't pretty. San Francisco blitzed and Gold and Red swarmed the edges of the pocket and threatened to swallow Hasselbeck during his backpedal. While the line caved around him, Unger held strong, standing up McDonald and giving Hasselbeck a crack to step into and find Nate Burleson for 23 and the first.

...

On the first play of Seattle's second to last drive, Unger put it all together. He helped force back the 49ers left defensive line and then shot into the second level. There, just as Jones approached the right edge, Unger inflicted a punishing cut block on Patrick Willis. Jones turned and sprinted up field into the 49ers open right side. Willis wasn't there to hit him. He wasn't there to stop the play short. Willis was just another spectator, watching Jones turn the corner and run for 11.

Lowlights

Rams at Seahawks

John Carlson motioned out of tight end and Seattle aligned in a three wide receiver, "I" formation. The Seahawks attempted to stretch right, but Rob Sims and Max Unger struggled to sustain their blocks and the hole collapsed around Julius Jones.

...

Vallos can't shake Laurinaitis and Laurinaitis uses his right hand to rein Vallos and ride him towards the ball carrier. From the third level flies O.J. Atogwe. Unger can't get a good hit on him and Jones, now to the right of Vallos and just behind Unger, is surrounded by defenders. He braces for impact and is wrapped by Laurinaitis after six.

Essential details: Hasselbeck reads the blitz and makes a smart adjustment.

Sims effectively cut blocks.

Owens and Willis seal the interior.

Unger and Vallos pull effectively but neither blocks in space effectively.

Seahawks at 49ers

1. Ray McDonald overwhelmed and knocked over Max Unger. It was a simple bull rush. McDonald got his hands up and pushed him high on his shoulder pads. Unger staggered back. By the time Justin Forsett ran past past him and towards the right flat, Unger was already reeling. McDonald closed on Hasselbeck. Before McDonald sacked him, Hasselbeck clutched the ball and curled for impact.

...

The Seahawks attempted to stretch right, but that was foiled by Max Unger. Unger was supposed to angle block nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, but Franklin shrugged off the block and continued into Seattle's backfield. Julius Jones had to badly bow his route to the outside and it's a miracle he could turn the corner for any yards at all.

Bears at Seahawks

Willis was having the most trouble pass blocking and Max Unger was having the most trouble run blocking. He missed two blocks on defenders that would end up tackling Jones.

2-7-CHI 31 (1:28) 22-J.Jones right end to CHI 28 for 3 yards (38-D.Manning)

Unger pulled right and dropped a nice looking cut block, but he went down too fast and didn't get a body on Manning. Manning avoided the block and tackled Jones.

Seahawks at Colts

4. 1-10-IND 43 (3:03) (Run formation) 22-J.Jones left end to IND 47 for -4 yards (68-E.Foster)

Willis pulls clear across the line and falls on middle linebacker Freddy Keiaho. Not a graceful display, but it was a long run for Willis and he was able to impact Keiaho though Keiaho was moving the opposite direction. Max Unger was ripped through by Eric Foster and Foster felled Jones in the backfield.

Seahawks at Cowboys

Forsett finally releases from his lead blockers, but without great speed - without sufficient speed to evade Keith Brooking. Max Unger never gets round from the right and in front of Forsett to throw a block. He can be seen jogging just outside the action. Sims runs past Brooking, when if he had stopped and blocked, Forsett could have evaded him. But Brooking was not supposed to matter. Forsett splits his blockers and releases clean into the second level, but Seattle had already lost too much time, and Forsett doesn't have that gear to recover and outrun a linebacker with the angle.

...

Max Unger was beat back but Hasselbeck found John Carlson for five to put Seattle back into manageable third down. The play was filthy with Greg Knapp.

With that we get to the infamous instant sack by Bobby Carpenter. No breakdown necessary, but in short order, this is what I blame for the play:

1. Hasselbeck for not audibling into shotgun.

2. Knapp for making no attempt to disrupt timing the Cowboy's timing. Seattle has made little use of hard counts and Dallas and Arizona have timed the Seahawks snaps to perfection.

3. Chris Spencer, who doubled down on the nose tackle, and Unger, who needed Spencer to help him with Jay Ratliff.

...

Max Unger struggled playing from behind. Jason Hatcher ran through him with ease and hit Matt Hasselbeck, producing the image we see above.

Seahawks at Cardinals

He threw to T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Kevin Hobbs put a hat on the ball and forced a fumble. Max Unger was running towards the play and recovered. Unger was beat on his pass block and thus in excellent position to recover. It was a classic Big Play Babs maneuver.

...

Julius Jones cashed in on an inside draw. Max Unger was run through and Jones had to bull and spin through a tackle in his own backfield. Spencer and Rob Sims had fought back the defensive right and Jones cut left and into space for the touchdown.

49ers at Seahawks

On the next play, Unger was blown back by McDonald and that forced Jones to string the rush wide. Parys Haralson ripped through John Carlson and Jones went wider, and wider until he stepped out for a loss of three. That's on Unger.

...

In his first two plays, Unger pulled well but missed Takeo Spikes and landed only a glancing blow on Patrick Willis. He engaged and lost Ray McDonald and the drive ended in a three and out.

...

In the first drive of the fourth quarter, Unger pulled twice and factored once. On his second pull attempt, Unger missed his assignment and that assignment, linebacker Takeo Spikes, tackled Julius Jones after six.

Outlook: Yep, it really was that bad for Unger. He struggled mightily early in the season. Unger struggled to sustain blocks, struggled to hold position, struggled to disengage before pulling and struggled to square in space. Succinctly, Unger struggled to play right guard.

He improved towards the end of season before the abrupt switch to center. Unger was only good in two games, at Arizona and home against the Niners, and only good by a slim margin, but better to improve than decline. He enjoyed a decent start against the Packers, who themselves were starting a rookie at nose, B.J. Raji, but that game fell apart like the others, and where Unger struggled to hold the point as a flanking blocker, he was helpless manning the middle. Against Tennessee, Kevin Vickerson tossed him around with ease. In his second start of the season, Vickerson had three tackles, a tackle for a loss and a quarterback hit while consistently playing in the Seahawks backfield.

Mora did not know what he was doing. I forecasted Unger to play guard, despite his pre-draft designation as a center, and that opinion has now been corroborated by Mike Solari and Alex Gibbs. Mora did not know what he was doing and moved Unger to center as retribution for Spencer not healing fast enough. That was about the midway point in Mora's spiral towards unemployment. He called out his team and the Seahawks responded by being embarrassed at home against the 1-12 Bucs*. Mora did not know what he was doing and, in a season he seemed determined to go down with the ship, moving Unger to center was his lone move towards the future. It was quickly undone by the next coaching staff.

Beside Mora, 2009 lacked many villains. Seattle derived very little value from its much-hyped draft class. Two of its worst starters were rookies: Unger and Aaron Curry. Deon Butler barely contributed. Mike Teel and Courtney Greene are already gone. Cameron Morrah was a bit player. Only Nick Reed produced value above draft slot. In years past, it has been easy enough to pile on declining or bad players like Chris Gray and Brian Russell, but it's a bit early to begin ripping on Unger.

But, yeah, Unger was bad. Very bad. A substantial part of Seattle finishing 5-11. He could improve in his second season. He should improve in his second season. Before being switched to center, he looked as if he was improving. But there is no guarantee Unger will be markedly better as a second-year player than he was as a rookie. For a little while, we are going to have to hope and suffer and hope we don't suffer too much.

*That Bucs game is the lone game I have yet to re-watch and break down. I signed my book deal in late November. The manuscript was due in mid-March. That is a pretty short schedule. As such, posting was pretty light in December and I did not post tape breakdowns of the games against the Bucs, Packers or Titans. I have since re-watched and taken notes on the Packers and Titans games, but am still convinced the game against the Bucs was a sure indication the team had quit on Mora. Whether true or not, that loss is still too much for me stomach.

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