The Seahawks' depth at wide receiver has been something to behold this season. Part of this, specifically the incredible performance by Doug Baldwin, can only be attributed to "luck". But it would be a mistake to miss the fact that the front office properly identified the high value of the WR position (unlike me, before this season), and they invested heavily in depth: extending both Ben Obomanu and Mike Williams, signing Sidney Rice and drafting Golden Tate and Kris Durham. The two UDFAs, Doug Baldwin and Ricardo Lockette, are additional if smaller investments. That's a lot to put into one group at this stage of the rebuild, but it's proven to be both totally worth it, with very impressive results.
Our depth has been a bit of a topic of discussion, following my patented Debby Downer writeup, specifically on how impressive it's been, reminiscent of the 2010 Buccaneers. When you go from it group to group, our depth has not been challenged with our safeties (good thing too, because I feel the entire defense falls or stands with Earl Thomas and - to a slightly lesser extent - Kam Chancellor), and not been challenged extensively for the defensive line, quarterback or running back positions. We lost Alan Branch for one game and it looked ugly, so you could consider that a test and a fail, but that would be too short-hand for me. The same is true for missing Marshawn Lynch one game, it's too little to draw conclusions on. In the preseason I thought the quarterback depth looked ok, and Charlie Whitehurst held up to close out the end of the Giants game, but then bombed hard against the Browns.
The offensive line depth is being tested and is not holding up well, though Lemuel Jeanpierre might be a find. Linebacker depth has been tested at the nickelbacker position, which has mostly just been causing our starting linebackers to play too many snaps. The two groups that have been tested and held up really well are cornerback and wide receiver. Cornerback saw the loss of a veteran have surprisingly little impact with the ascendance of a rookie, and the blow of losing Walter Thurmond has mostly been caught by the return of Roy Lewis from PUP.
As impressive as Richard Sherman, K.J. Wright et al have been, I've been even more impressed by the wide receiver group, and the way young guys are stepping up. Sidney Rice and Mike Williams were our starters to begin the season. Rice, in my opinion, has looked every bit the franchise wide receiver we were hoping he'd be, though we have plenty to worry about health-wise. Williams is struggling but that is more a reflection on his situation than any changes to his skillset. Over the season, they are 2nd and 5th in receiving yardage for this team, interspersing Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate and Ben Obomanu.
Tate and Baldwin have been alternating being leading receiver over the past four weeks, and over those four weeks Baldwin's put up 14 catches for 187 yards and a touchdown, Tate has put up 12 receptions for 162 yards and two touchdowns, and Obomanu rounds it up with 7 catches for 110 yards. That's nicely spread, and while the numbers don't immediately wow, they do when you realize the passing game has been subdued as a whole, yet is producing key first downs at the right moments. Not to mention this group is made up of an UDFA, a sophomore noted for his rawness coming out of college, and a 7th round pick.
I've heard no word on it, but I'd expect Tate and Obomanu to start with Baldwin free to continue his shifty ways out of the slot. He's a machine, but I don't know if starting him out of the flanker or split spot would be maximizing his value, while Obomanu's skillset (his game being mostly about creating separation) matches up really well with Tarvaris' skillset. Tate (admittedly a personal favorite of mine, for which I did catch some flak this offseason) is still a ways off from his potential, but considering his upside (not saying he'll reach it, but the potential is there) is Carolina's Steve Smith, he's been playing damn well, and playing such a large amount of snaps is huge for his development.
Rounding up the group are Deon Butler, Kris Durham and Ricardo Lockette. I'm not a huge fan of Butler's (for reasons described here) and he hasn't impressed so far this year, but considering his injury situation that's hardly surprising, and he's tallying more snaps and targets as the year progresses, so we'll see where it goes. Durham and Lockette are essentially unknowns. Overall, though, when measuring potential, this group matches up with any in the NFL, in my opinion, though whether such potential will be fulfilled to an adequate amount is always hard to say, especially when they don't have a high-end quarterback throwing to them.
A few highlights from the Bears game after the break...3-9-SEA 21 (1:38) (Shotgun) T.Jackson pass short right to D.Baldwin to SEA 34 for 13 yards (B.Urlacher).
Following a 1-yard run by Lynch and a throw-away by Jackson, Seahawks go into shotgun, Mike Williams, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin as the WRs, Zach Miller inline next to the RT, and Justin Forsett in the backfield. The Bears are playing with large cushions, playing to cover the short passing game. The Bears line up strong safety Craig Steltz on Doug Baldwin by he backpedals deep, handing over the man assignment to cornerback DJ Moore who was originally lined up next to the LDE and threatening blitz. Baldwin correctly feels the soft spot is thus to the outside, and he steps back exactly at the pylon as Moore is trying to read Tarvaris' eyes. The definition of how a slot receiver is supposed to play.
Note Mike Williams is still halfway through his route in that photo, on the outside. Williams really does look excruciatingly slow coming out of his breaks, as discussed before. He looks like he's playing in slow motion next to Doug.
2-23-SEA 21 (15:00) (Shotgun) T.Jackson pass short middle to G.Tate to SEA 35 for 14 yards (C.Davis).
Seahawks are backed up by back-to-back penalties (holding on Lemuel Jeanpirre and a false start on Breno Giacomini). An obvious passing down, they line up four-wide (Mike Williams, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, Ben Obomanu) with Forsett in the backfield. The Bears respond with four people in man on our receivers and Urlacher as the single linebacker. Everyone releases into fairly short route, and at about the five yard mark they're all looking back for the pass.
This is a quick play design meant to beat the rush. Tarvaris has time enough as DE Chauncey Davis stumbles after clearly beating Paul McQuistan, while DT Anthony Adams slows himself down by a slow-developing stunt outside. Forsett also releases as a dumpoff option. Tarvaris never takes his eyes off Tate, who is slanting into the middle of the field.
Lance Briggs is in man coverage on Tate as he catches the ball between Briggs and Urlacher. Tate tweeted after the game that Marshawn Lynch noted a similiarity between the two of them when the ball is in his hands. This Baby Beast Mode was in full display this game. Tate steps inside to make Briggs miss, sidesteps an Urlacher tackle and is only stopped because Chauncey Davis makes an impressive play catching up from the defensive end position after this sidestepping slowed down Tate. Still makes up an extra five yards on the catch, which is something we can expect from Tate with great regularity.
3-8-SEA 20 (7:05) (Shotgun) T.Jackson pass incomplete deep right to G.Tate.
I actually really liked this playcall. It's 3rd and 8, tied ballgame. Seahawks line up Mike Williams to the left, with Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin on the right. TE Miller and RB Forsett both look to chip and release, so there are short dumpoff options if needed. Presnap, Tarvaris signals Baldwin, who then motions out of the flanker spot into a slot position, Bears CBs Tim Jennings and DJ Moore swap assignments so Jennings stays on the flanker (now Tate) and Moore on the slot (now Baldwin). The protection is good, and Tate shows a great amount of speed here, getting to the 50 in a heartbeat. The coverage by Tim Jennings is tight, and the ball is ever-so-slightly off, but otherwise it's a good play.
2-10-SEA 32 (:57) T.Jackson pass incomplete short middle to D.Baldwin [J.Peppers].
Sixth straight incompletion from Jackson to close out a weak first quarter. Bears rush five, sending Lance Briggs along with the defensive line. Gallery and Unger double up on DT Adams so Briggs is essentially coming in unblocked. Forsett throws a nice low block on Briggs which slows him down enough to prevent the sack, but Peppers is coming in more or less free after swiping away McQuistan's block with one arm and speeding around him.
The rather bizarre call from the refs is that it's not intentional grounding because a receiver was "several yards" within the area, "after discussion". This was clear-cut intentional grounding, Baldwin wasn't within five yards of the ball. Tarvaris didn't have much of a different choice so it was the right play to make, but he never had time to set his feet to be able or look to even throw close to a receiver. I wish the intentional grounding rule was either reworked or applied with better consistency. Refs just seem loath to call it even though it happens quite a lot.
3-9-SEA 21 (14:14) (Shotgun) T.Jackson pass short middle to G.Tate to CHI 46 for 33 yards (D.Moore).
The opening drive of the 3rd quarter accounted for 77 of Tarvaris' 227 total passing yards, but it did not start well, with a dumpoff from a fleeing Zach Miller for 1 yard, and a drop by Cameron Morrah that would not have gone for much more than 0 yards anyway. Tim Ryan is settling down into a comfortable narrative about the Bears defense being "in the heads" of the Seahawks offense, and then this play happens.
Bears are threatening blitz. Seahawks line up Zach Miller on the line and Forsett in the backfield. Seahawks line up Ben Obomanu and Doug Baldwin on the left, Golden Tate on the right. Bears rush Briggs on a delay, but he is picked up very well LG Robert Gallery. Unger is close to being beat but ends up getting enough of his guy (DT Matt Toeaina) to keep him off Tarvaris, though definitely breathing down the quarterback's neck. Forsett pulls out left, drawing in Urlacher. Miller releases for a quick dig, pulling in free safety Craig Steltz, and would have been an option for a likely first down. Obomanu and Tate slant towards the middle, while Baldwin runs a go route deep.
Tarvaris stays calm, reads the field to his right and zips a throw to Tate at the Seahawks 35. Tim Jennings jumps on Tate's back, while Charles Tillman leaves Obomanu to join in on the tackle and Brandon Meriweather comes in from a deep cover position.
Three guys, that's a tackle right? Well, it takes a bit of luck with Tillman knocking Jennings off Tate's back, but credit Tate for staying up, spinning away from Meriweather and escaping. DJ Moore released from Baldwin's coverage to save the Bears from a touchdown (it's a shame Baldwin doesn't engage for a block, but his positioning wasn't ideal due to his route, and it's understandable). The play ends twenty yards ahead of where the catch is made, at the Chicago 45.
1-10-CHI 46 (13:35) T.Jackson pass deep right to B.Obomanu pushed ob at CHI 3 for 43 yards (T.Jennings)
So much for "in the heads". Seahawks line up two running backs and a tight end, with Obomanu and Tate wide, and Zach Miller motioning from right to left. Bears call a timeout right before the snap (to bring in Charles Tillman, ostensibly), and the Seahawks come back with exactly the same formation and Miller motioning, though Tate is taken out of the lineup. Miller releases for a short route, while both reivers run deep sideline routes. The running backs both stay in to block, which buys Tarvaris enough time. The Bears read run, which means Craig Steltz is in the box. Brandon Meriweather is left in single high.
Obomanu straight up runs by Tim Jennings, who fails to jam him at all. Meriweather arrives way too late to be any help, and Jennings barely manages to get Obomanu out of bounds. Again, really good throw by Tarvaris. Setting up the pass with the run, even if the run isn't producing all that much.