I wasn't able to watch the game live yesterday and by all accounts, that was probably good for my heart. Seattle blew a ten-point lead, regained it, then blew that three-point lead again with 20 seconds remaining, surrendering a 16-play, 80-yard scoring drive that took up much of the final five minutes and change of the fourth quarter, en route to a 28-24 loss.
The first thought I had while re-watching the game was that the defense obviously took a big step backwards. I have no way of knowing if this is indicative of future performance or just a dud outlier, but the combination of mental mistakes (Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor's snafu on a Detroit 3rd and long that led to a 46 yard touchdown pass to Titus Young, Jeron Johnson getting spun around and out of the play on the Stafford naked bootleg touchdown), atrocious 3rd down defense (Detroit 12-for-16 on 3rd down, many of them 3rd and long -- beyond atrocious), absolute inability to defend the short dump-offs and screen passes, and ineffectiveness in getting consistent pressure from the defensive line spelled doom for the Seahawks.
That final game-deciding drive was kind of a microcosm for the game - Detroit coming up with big plays on simple little checkdowns and screens. This Seahawks defense is built to limit the big play and for the most part they've done well with that (tied for 12th with 20 pass plays of 20+ yards - and interestingly, Detroit is #1 in the NFL in that category with only 12 'explosive' pass plays given up... I'll get to that later).
However, in Seattle's designed schemes that aim to limit big plays, they have been getting gashed in the short game and teams are starting to catch on this little fact and take advantage, it seems. San Francisco nickel and dimed their way to their only touchdown scoring drive last Thursday against this defense by dumping off short middle to Frank Gore twice, Michael Crabtree once and then Delanie Walker again for a touchdown. Detroit's final drive was much of the same. Multiple checkdown dumpoffs to Joique Bell - two of which were first downs; multiple slants over the short middle to Calvin Johnson; multiple checkdowns to tight ends, and multiple effective screen plays that picked up solid yardage.
I realize that this is ultimately the defense that Seattle wants to play - 'bend but don't break', but they've been forgetting the qualifier of that expression - 'but don't break', and at inopportune times.
At the end of the day, I'm still optimistic about this defense and one or two big plays in this one, where breakdowns happened instead, and we would be talking about a different outcome. That's football, and much respect has to go to the Detroit offense for taking advantage. The Lions, in their own right, are a very talented and well-coached offense - coming into the game 8th in offensive DVOA (8th in passing, 12th on the ground), and I thought they really game-planned well to take advantage of Seattle's weaknesses on defense and apparent goal to make anyone but Calvin Johnson beat them. More importantly, Detroit executed the gameplan well.
One example that quickly comes to mind is Ryan Broyles' touchdown catch in the first half, where you saw a brilliant play design that sent Calvin Johnson to the corner of the endzone and left Broyles hanging out in the flats underneath. When, predictably, Brandon Browner was sucked back to defend against the jump-ball fade to Megatron, Stafford quickly hit Broyles at the sideline and he had enough breathing room to break the plane as Browner cheated back on Johnson.
Overall, a forgettable day for the defense. We came in fearing Detroit's 4th quarter offense and sure enough, the Lions validated that dread by scoring two touchdowns on their only two possessions in that frame. Seattle has to work on 3rd down defense and better defending the underneath stuff or teams will continue to take advantage. Good offenses will do this - and as Jacob Stevens pointed out in the comments earlier - coming into this week against the 8th ranked offense, Seattle has faced, by DVOA, the 3rd toughest schedule of opposing offenses. Seattle has played some pretty decent defense against some good teams and ultimately this is a good thing for a young group of players.
As for the offense, after watching the replay last night, I came out encouraged, all things considered. On the road, in a 10AM game, the Seahawks scored on their first three possessions, spurred by a great run by Marshawn Lynch and some timely Detroit penalties. With Seattle's formula of football, a 17-7 lead on the road is certainly where you want to be but the Lions did their thing and chipped their way back into it.
Execution lacked in the 3rd quarter again -- the quarter that has been the bane of this football team -- but that aside, I felt that Seattle's offense opened up a bit, wasn't as predictable, and more importantly, adjusted well on the fly.
Seattle's staple run, the zone stretch that typically goes off Russell Okung or Breno Giacomini, was nullified very well for the most part by Detroit's consistent interior pressure by Nick Fairly, Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril and others. So, as Davis asked me last night, what did Seattle do?
Crack toss to Marshawn Lynch for a 77-yard jailbreak. Read-options to Marshawn Lynch in the off-set shotgun that worked very well. Inside handoffs in shotgun that picked up chunks of yardage. Runs all the way left to the end in which tight ends and wide receivers became primary blockers and took the Lions' fearsome defensive line out of the action. Bootleg off play-action, moving pocket quick throws to replace the run. For what felt like the first time this season (though I'm sure that's an exaggeration), Seattle adjusted well to what the opponent was giving them and used more of the tools in their toolbox.
Also importantly, Russell Wilson used more of the field in this game, particularly the short middle, something that we here at Field Gulls have hammered on a bit over the past few days -- hitting Sidney Rice, Charly Martin, Golden Tate (slant for a first down on 4th and 2- designated short right but still), Zach Miller, Anthony McCoy twice, Robert Turbin and Leon Washington on separate throws to that area.
Against a team in Detroit that has been very good against the explosive pass play this season (1st in the NFL, as I mentioned above), Wilson worked the rest of the field. It wasn't a 'run or bomb it deep' game this week, instead, Wilson hit his intermediate routes well, hit his check-downs and running back outlets well (Turbin several times, Michael Robinson several times, Lynch several times in theory if he could catch a pass), and when he did test the defense deep, he gathered a pass interference call for a ball to Golden Tate and he hit Sidney Rice 60 yards downfield that went through Rice's hands. Wilson's interception came on a bad throw to Rice into coverage in which he should have thrown a hole shot instead of leading him downfield, but that was the only major head scratcher on the afternoon for me.
The Seahawks were 2 for 3 in the redzone (an improvement) and 3 for 9 on third downs (par for this offense). As Davis also told me last night, Wilson went into the game with a pass distribution that looked like this, according to NFLGSIS statistics:
23% deep | 24% short left | 9% short middle | 44% short right
His pass play distribution needs to progress to achieve more balance, and Sunday helped it get moving in the right direction -- he finished the Lions game (not season totals) with the following distributions:
20% deep | 22% short left | 19% short middle | 39% short right
Now, if you're looking for context on those numbers or a barometer on where you'd like to see Wilson, on the year, Drew Brees is currently at 17% deep | 32% short left | 17% short middle | 34% short right; Aaron Rodgers throws 15% deep | 27% short left | 22% short middle | 36% short right. Wilson should need to keep creeping up with his balance in these areas, particularly the short middle of the field (Brees only throws there 17% of the time), in order to become a more rounded and efficient quarterback.
Sunday was a good start, and the first-down pass to Sidney Rice late in the game, from a muddied pocket in which he had to step up into to make a throw into a zone hole between four Lions defenders -- that's the kind of throw you are hoping Wilson can make despite his height and really that's been the biggest question regarding his future development. It's eventually going to be 3rd and 10, your team needs a first down, and you're going to be asked to throw from the pocket, and Wilson made a big time throw there.
On 4th and 2, when you need a short gain, can you go to the slant? Do you have to throw that play out of the playbook because of Wilson's height? It hasn't been a staple, but the Seahawks have been hitting on it more and more. They did below.