The Fourth Quarter Part I


OK so if this is the first time the Seahawks led you from affirmed nonbeliever, through the sickly garden of skepticism to wonder, to wanting to believe, worrying you shouldn't but not being able to help it, only to be let down when it really matters, well this might have been a tough game for you. It wasn't the first time for me so I'm more ambivalent. Not building something worthwhile for right now, that's too bad. Not making the gradual loss of draft position worthwhile, well dang. We don't need to talk about the playoffs any more this year.

The fourth quarter of the season has come a bit early, then. 5 games to go but the dynamic has changed now. What we hope to get out of the games has changed. Losses, perhaps. Improvement, development, clarity. Probably a good time to review where the team is at, what the roster looks like, what next year looks like.

Well of course a great deal of that is about the passer, and it looks like we've gotten a bit of a jump on that matter. Tarvaris Jackson has not been a popular guy this week. The fourth quarter against the Redskins was a pivotal quarter for the season. The response has been strong, and reaching. So I wanted to go back and take another look at his performance in the 4th quarter. I've seen in various places some statistical figures that seem rather damning. Was poise or pocket presence a problem?

So let's start out by eliminating the time interval bias of looking at the 4th Quarter by noting the circumstance in which the game clock began to count down from 15:00 for the fourth time that day. Because Seattle was in the midst of a 12-play, 88-yard scoring drive that took clos to six minutes off the clock. Jackson was 4 of 5 for 57 yards and the score on the drive, the key play being an OK pass to Doug Baldwin in mid-field that broke free due to Baldwin's nifty body control whilst absorbing a good hit from LaRon Landry -- good, that is, if you're of the persuasion that hits rather than arm-wrapping tackles are ever good. Wood-laying hits from safeties are the red meat for many a football fan, so it might be your thing. The paradigm of pass defense in the modern NFL, between the rules, the strategies, the capabilites of athletics and the physics, result in "text-book wrap-up" tackling not being as consistently applicable to the situation in the backfield as it is in the flats and amongst the front seven.

So it was a good hit. Forceful, clean. Right in the breadbasket, meant to disrupt a completion more than anything, but angled and positioned vertically to bring the receiver down. Baldwin balanced his body through the hit to come down on his feet with the momentum to come free running, with Landry going to the ground unable to assist in any stop. The play went for 24 yards.

A few plays later Jackson throws into a tight-ish window to Golden Tate for the score. His incompletion on the drive came on a designed quick hitch to Marshawn who motioned from the pro set to the left slot off the line before the snap. The ball was batted down, and I didn't think there was any decision-making issues with following through with the pass. He got it off immediately, the pass rusher just put his hand up, it just didn't work out.

As we know, that was Seattle's last score, and Washington comes from behind to win. We love to assign blame after a loss. There are four known forces in the universe: electromagnetism, gravity, and strong & weak nuclear forces. Strong nuclear force is responsible for binding blame and quarterbacking together. It's an immutable law of physics.

Therefore what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. Let's just take a nuanced look at Q4, but allow Jackson to sit in the slow cooker & simmer. We could eat dinner now if we wanted to, we could say it's done, but it'll be more done soon.

Seattle gets the ball back with 9:51 to play, and Washington is now a field goal behind, 17-14. Weak nuclear interaction binds quarterbacks and blame to play-calling. Seattle runs twice against 8 in the box to set up 3rd down.

3-6-SEA 24 (8:31) (Shotgun) T.Jackson sacked at SEA 15 for -9 yards (L.Landry).
Washington runs a 3-4, but Jim Haslett really enjoys the 5-2, if you're counting by point-stance. Dallas kept Jason Witten tight most of the game, rarely employed more than 2 players split wide at all, and Washington was able to counter Dallas' three and four eligible receiving weapons in the backfield or tight on the line with their 5-2. It kept them in the game against a good but familiar foe.

Earlier on in the year underrated halftime adjuster Ken Whisenhunt got his otherwise anemic offense going against this defense by running a different kind of option: deep or draw. He split his receivers out wide, shotgun with two in the backfield. Whis was sending his big guys on go routes consistently. Haslett kept 5 in coverage, and the missing man upfront cost him. Whisenhunt would run a draw vs. 6 in the box and consistently got good yardage. When Haslett finally submitted to being "kept honest," the go routes became deep curls and Arizona's dry, leathery sun-beaten heart began to beat for the man named Kolb. Briefly.

Washington stacked the line a lot against Seattle, too, and with reason. The Seahawks were clearly keeping an eye on the clock. 8 on the line vs. a 7-man fanned protection. Three receivers.

What does Jackson do, and what should he do? I would love to know enough to answer those kind of questions definitively. I can see that he makes some kind of line adjustment, shouting to the line, assigns Anthony McCoy to blocking, stepping into fan alignment, and makes Tate his hot read by telling him to cut in. Tate is lined wide right, Baldwin in the slot. Tate is the Z, the flanker, so he's off the line by 2 steps. Cushion to avoid & beat jams.

What Jackson needs here is a quick outlet, someone to get open in the space vacated by the blitzers. McCoy won't be that guy. Baldwin will run the seam. If he gets behind the safeties and there's an extra second that is the best option. If not he'll ideally pull the safeties back and the crossing hot route can not only make the 1st down but get the ball into Tate's hands in space. So: not a bad adjustment.

Tate is flagged for illegal motion, declined. He moves toward the line of scrimmage before the snap. Despite this advantage he doesn't get open. DeAngelo Hall recognizes the adjustment and comes up quickly to the line and the outlet is nullified. Zach Miller also releases, passing the edge rusher wide who Okung takes on, meaning the fan opens opens the free rusher immediately. Landry sacks Jackson immediately.

Hall defeated Jackson and the play, here. This might have felt on first impression to be a pocket poise issue, deer in the headlights and all that. You might feel inclined to argue Jackson ought to have been prepared to scramble. He was overtaken as he set, in his drop back from shotgun. That was necessary to be ready to take either the hot route or Baldwin's seam, who would not be open for long, if he breaks open. A scramble, a broken down play and a deeper pass all are lower-completion, higher-risk plays. I don't know what else Jackson should have or could have done. What he did do, despite the results, seem to be both a good decision and attempt, and good execution.

1-10-SEA 40 (6:18) T.Jackson pass short right to M.Robinson to SEA 43 for 3 yards (P.Riley).
PENALTY on SEA-B.Giacomini, Chop Block, 15 yards, enforced at SEA 40 - No Play

Low-risk rollout & check down. The kind of non-running play to ensure the clock keeps ticking. Also known as weak nuclear sauce. Tate is the wideout whom Jackson reads as not a safe option (can't see downfield to know whether Tate was open enough, but if you are inclined to suspect confidence in Tate, Tate's ability to get open, and/or the coaching point to protect the ball and not throw into tight windows are factors, you may be right). No one else gets open quickly enough to be a real option and Jackson checks down to MRob.

The penalty. About that. Breno Giacomini is engaged with a defender, holding but being pushed back, inconsequential to the rollout. Brian Orakpo is impeded by Russell Okung, is trailing, gaining on Jackson but none of it is really consequential to this play on this rollout right. Giacomini leaves his man and levels a pretty vicious low block, through Orakpos legs, through Okungs legs. Okungs ankles were reportedly still in tact. Okung still kinda had Orakpo's arm. Half-heartedly impeding his way while jogging with him more than blocking, on the backside of a rollout, the kind of hand-play that could be holding, is skillfully pushing the envelope of what could be flagged, so the textbook definition of a chop block being a cut block while a defender is engaged with another blocker, can be applied, by a thread. A nano-thread.

Orakpo is not face to face in a brutal clash of force, leverage, back and legs fully committed when ~300 pounds comes blasting in against the side of the knee. He's running nearly unimpeded with Okung keeping his right arm behind his shoulder, when Giacomini comes blasting in and makes the pair look like bowling pins. If it weren't so vicious while yet unnecessary, I would be outraged that it was called. It's not a matter of discipline or a coaching point. It's not poor execution. It's just a weird, unnecessary thing. Hey, it was kind of cool, I mean Giacomini played OK on Sunday. Anyway it added to the team's undoing.

2-22-SEA 28 (5:13) (Shotgun) T.Jackson pass short middle to D.Baldwin to SEA 39 for 11 yards (L.Fletcher)
Seattle is now playing from behind. Jackson had two better options here but probably made the right decision. It's a very defendable decision. We have 4 rushers, 7 in coverage, and three receivers decently open. Tate is a little deeper on the left, a trickier throw, the deep out, a defender in the throwing lane. A few extra yards, a necessary arced throw with touch, allowing the defender a better break on the ball. A probable completion is also near-certain to give zero YAC, and a probable clock-stopping out of bounds. Tate is a less-reliable receiver.

Mike Williams is less visible on replay, but seems to be equally as open, equally a bit deeper than Baldwin. Any of the three could gain a little more than half the remaining yards needed for a 1st down, but an unfavorable 3rd & long situation would result. Baldwin, in the middle, is more reliable, more likely to break off a bigger gain, and certain to keep the clock running. Jackson coups all that, but London Fletcher prevents the play from doing more damage.

3-11-SEA 39 (4:31) (Shotgun) T.Jackson pass incomplete deep middle to D.Baldwin (L.Landry)
I might have liked Jackson to have considered Williams a bit more before launching this one, but it was not a bad throw or a bad decision. So we have another stacked line. 8 on the line, Jackson has 6 blockers. Anyone surprised? It's 3rd-11 and the game rather hangs in the balance.

Poise could arguably come into question here. Jackson is quick to take this shot. It's certainly defensible. He had to get the ball out quick. He had a decent option. When he releases, Baldwin is breaking open with no safeties in front of him. Landry is deep in the box threatening even more blitz, so he has no choice but to take under coverage on Baldwin with nothing on top. It could be a first, an explosive pass, and a 60-yard TD. So this is also the better drawn-PI option.

Williams becomes more open, but it's not apparent at the moment of decision. There was a half-second or so extra time allowed by protection, to have weighed the options, but Jackson went for the best option at the moment than wait to see. But is that what we want? Our QB to be indecisive, to wait & see while windows close? Of course not. Ball is underthrown allowing Landry to get in position. Not really in position enough to break up the pass.

But in position enough to commit an uncalled facemask penalty. I don't truly believe Baldwin would have caught it without that happening. He still could have caught it. I wouldn't say he should have. Jackson should have thrown a better ball, but high percentage in the NFL still sits around 70% and most of that is built upon shorter passes and the expansion of the wide receiver screen. He had to get it out fast and had a good option. Baldwin just gets down the field faster than you might think.

But the penalty should have been called. Players, coaches & fans say a game should not be in position to be affected by a call, in order to avoid backlash from complaining. The average scoring for a team hovers around a little more than 3 scores. It's not basketball. It's a good deal more than futbol, but it's not too far away from runs in baseball. Every week there are multiple close games. This drive needed help from the outside but didn't get it. Punt.

Two remaining drives. More passes. Part II to come. I find nothing condemnable about Jackson so far, except that fans want results. Short drives are failures, and they suggest fault. Part of my job and passion has been separating fault from failure. I don't yet know what these final two drives will yield.

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