I think the main gripes that people had following the Seahawks' loss to Arizona last week were that a) the offensive line, which we had sort of thought would be much improved, didn't look that great and b) the pass rush, we we had sort of thought would be much improved, didn't look that great. There was also the obligatory grumbling about Russell Wilson vs. Matt Flynn, but that's been covered elsewhere, so in a follow up to my critical look at the Seahawk offensive line's struggles with the pass rush on Sunday (PART I, PART II), I wanted to talk about the pass rush their defense was able to generate. While I certainly agree that the offensive line has a lot of work to do, I actually didn't think the 'lack of pass rush' was super concerning after re-watching the game.
Now, though the Seahawks weren't able to generate any sacks or QB hits in the first half, if you go back and watch the first quarter, it wasn't like the defense was giving John Skelton all kinds of time to work in the pocket. By and large, the ball was out quickly and dink and dunk was the name of the game. Arizona's first drive comprised two plays - both runs - the second of which was fumbled away to the Seahawks after Brandon Mebane crashed into the ball carrier.
The Cardinals' 2nd drive of the first quarter went for 13 plays and covered 63 yards, and ended with a field goal. 5 of those plays were runs, and accounted for 22 yards, including an end-around by Andre Roberts that went for 14 yards. 9 plays on that drive were passes - so about 4.5 yards per attempt. That's... not great. The drive ended with a Seahawks' stand at the goal-line and the underlying theme of the drive was characterized by short passes into the flat and checkdowns for short gains. These types of plays, where the ball gets out quickly, are pressure neutralizers, and frankly, 13-play drives are hard to reproduce on a consistent basis.
Into the second quarter -- and the Cardinals' gameplan was largely the same. Mitigate the fact they're starting two inexperienced tackles by getting the ball out quickly and running the football. Arizona put together an 11-play drive that covered 56 yards and again, five of those 11 plays were runs that picked up a collective 6 yards. 6 passes for 50 yards; an 18-yard gain to start the drive by Early Doucet, which was one of three or four plays that I counted where Skelton had 'too much time.' One play on that drive was what looked like an assignment breakdown in the flats by Leroy Hill where Early Doucet picked up 14 yards on a 3rd down, and the other big completion was to Todd Heap up the middle for 13 yards. You could argue Skelton had too much time on this drive, though on that particular pass to Heap up the middle, Clemons was half a beat away from stripping the ball from Skelton's hand as he cocked it back to throw. Regardless, it's true -- this touchdown drive, much like Kevin Kolb's 4th quarter drive, afforded Skelton too much time to throw on a few key plays and Arizona took advantage. Credit goes to them for execution and for a smart gameplan as well.
Arizona's only other drive in the 2nd quarter comprised 4 plays that picked up a net 23 yards. The Cardinals went into the half with a 13-3 lead after the Seahawks' defense gave up 154 yards of offense; 124 yards from Skelton on 11 of 17 passing and that strong scoring drive in the 2nd frame. Not ideal, certainly, but Seattle went into the locker room and made some adjustments that would pretty much neutralize Skelton until he left the game with an ankle injury with 8:33 left in the fourth quarter.
Skelton's would finish the 3rd quarter on 1-of-7 passing for 3 yards and one interception and the Cardinals would pick up 19 total yards of net offense (5 of which were on a penalty -- so 14 'real' yards) in the quarter on five offensive series. Skelton's total line after the half, including two series in the fourth quarter, read: 3 of 11 for 25 yards and a pick.
Arizona would score a field goal after inheriting great field position after a Russell Wilson turnover, but the Seahawks took the Cardinals' offense completely out of the game in the 3rd quarter and were in the process of doing so midway into the fourth, prior to Skelton's injury.
They did so by applying pressure to Skelton on nearly every single passing play. They also stuffed the run completely, I might add, but the key to the Seahawks' dominance in the 3rd and early 4th quarters was consistent and creative pressure schemes. I took a picture on every pass play Skelton attempted in the 3rd quarter in an attempt to give you a better idea of the pressure he faced. Sacks aren't everything; hits aren't everything - when you force a quarterback to rush his throws, though, this is as good or sometimes better (interception) than a sack. Let's take a look.
1-10-ARZ 20 (15:00) C.Wells up the middle to ARZ 29 for 9 yards (R.Bryant; A.Branch).
This was the longest run the Seahawks would give up to a Cardinal running back.
2-1-ARZ 29 (14:15) J.Skelton pass incomplete short left to A.Roberts (B.Mebane).
Below, Brandon Mebane pushes the pocket back and times his jump to bat down the pass. It falls to the ground.
3-1-ARZ 29 (14:11) C.Wells up the middle to ARZ 29 for no gain (A.Branch; K.Wright).
Stuffed on 3rd and short. Drive over.
4-1-ARZ 29 (13:27) D.Zastudil punts 47 yards to SEA 24, Center-M.Leach. B.Browner to SEA 19 for -5 yards (Q.Groves; R.Walker). PENALTY on SEA-B.Browner, Defensive Holding, 5 yards, enforced at SEA 19.
2nd Series (Cardinals inherit the ball on the 17 after a failed backwards pass by Russell Wilson):
1-10-SEA 17 (11:03) R.Williams up the middle to SEA 18 for -1 yards (B.Wagner; R.Bryant).
2-11-SEA 18 (10:21) J.Skelton pass incomplete short right to L.Fitzgerald (K.Chancellor).
Earl Thomas blitzes from the weakside and the Cardinals pick it up, but the pocket is closing in; Skelton makes his throw but Richard Sherman makes a nice play on the ball and it falls incomplete. You can see the line of scrimmage here -- to say the Seahawks' defensive line got a nice push to collapse the pocket would be accurate.
3-11-SEA 18 (10:15) (Shotgun) J.Skelton pass deep right intended for L.Fitzgerald INTERCEPTED by K.Chancellor at SEA 0. Touchback. PENALTY on SEA-M.Trufant, Defensive Offside, 5 yards, enforced at SEA 18 - No Play.
This was an offsides 'free play' in which Skelton, rather awkwardly, just throws the ball up for grabs. Chancellor intercepts it but it doesn't count.
3-6-SEA 13 (10:08) (Shotgun) J.Skelton pass incomplete short right to A.Roberts.
4-6-SEA 13 (10:03) J.Feely 31 yard field goal is GOOD, Center-M.Leach, Holder-D.Zastudil.
1-10-ARZ 20 (7:51) J.Skelton pass short right intended for L.Fitzgerald INTERCEPTED by R.Sherman [C.Clemons] at ARZ 34. R.Sherman ran ob at ARZ 34 for no gain. The Replay Assistant challenged the incomplete pass ruling, and the play was Upheld.
This play was made as much by Chris Clemons and his deceptive closing speed as it was by Richard Sherman's impressive toe-touch interception. Just watch below as Clemons closes in - much more quickly than Skelton is anticipating - and forces him to throw the ball off his back foot. He doesn't get enough behind the throw and Sherman takes advantage.
1-10-ARZ 20 (5:13) C.Wells up the middle to ARZ 20 for no gain (R.Bryant).
2-10-ARZ 20 (4:31) (Shotgun) J.Skelton pass short left to J.King to ARZ 23 for 3 yards (E.Thomas).
Another blitz here by the Seahawks -- Leroy Hill blitzed very often in the 2nd half, and Skelton gets the pass off. King, the tight end outlet option, picks up 3.
3-7-ARZ 23 (3:52) (Shotgun) J.Skelton pass incomplete short right to L.Fitzgerald [K.Wright]. Penalty on ARZ-L.Sendlein, Offensive Holding, declined.
Linebacker, DB blitz here by Seattle as they send six in pursuit. K.J. Wright breaks through a hold and forces Skelton to throw off balance and with no velocity. The ball falls harmlessly into the flats.
4-7-ARZ 23 (3:45) D.Zastudil punts 50 yards to SEA 27, Center-M.Leach. L.Washington to SEA 31 for 4 yards (R.Johnson).
1-10-ARZ 20 (1:52) R.Williams left tackle to ARZ 21 for 1 yard (B.Mebane).
2-9-ARZ 21 (1:10) (Shotgun) J.Skelton scrambles left end to ARZ 23 for 2 yards (L.Hill).
Another blitz by the Seahawks -- Winston Guy and Marcus Trufant on the strong side -- and Clemons comes within a hair of getting home. Skelton is forced to rush his throw -- you can see Roberts on the out-route to the left of the screen -- and it's delivered low. It hits Roberts at his feet - a very tough ball to catch, and it bounces away incomplete.
4-7-ARZ 23 (:23) D.Zastudil punts 49 yards to SEA 28, Center-M.Leach, fair catch by L.Washington.
6th Series (into the fourth quarter now):
1-10-ARZ 18 (12:33) J.Skelton pass incomplete short right to L.Fitzgerald (R.Sherman).
Seahawks rush four; Brandon Mebane spin moves at the last second to hopefully rush Skelton, as you can see below, and the pass falls incomplete, as it's broken up by Richard Sherman. Great play by Sherm.
2-10-ARZ 18 (12:24) R.Williams left tackle to ARZ 21 for 3 yards (B.Wagner). PENALTY on ARZ-D.Batiste, Offensive Holding, 8 yards, enforced at ARZ 18 - No Play.
Williams gets three yards with the help of a hold. I'll chalk that up to "Stuffed." No play.
2-18-ARZ 10 (11:56) (Shotgun) J.Skelton pass short right to R.Williams to ARZ 15 for 5 yards (K.Chancellor).
Jason Jones and Brandon Mebane (remember those names used in tandem because, hot damn) run a stunt, with Mebane coming over Jones to force pressure onto Skelton. Skelton double clutches it and checks down to his running back.
3-13-ARZ 15 (11:22) (Shotgun) J.Skelton pass incomplete short right to A.Sherman (J.Jones).
This is supposed to be a screen play. You run screens when teams are bringing the heat. Bruce Irvin is there to break up the pass.
4-13-ARZ 15 (11:15) D.Zastudil punts 53 yards to SEA 32, Center-M.Leach. L.Washington to ARZ 16 for 52 yards (M.Leach).
1-10-ARZ 20 (8:37) J.Skelton sacked at ARZ 14 for -6 yards (C.Clemons). FUMBLES (C.Clemons), and recovers at ARZ 15.
Clemons beats his man off the edge and forces a fumble. Unfortunately, it's recovered by the Cardinals. If Seattle had fallen on it, we might be having a different discussion this week. That's football, isn't it?
2-15-ARZ 15 (8:33) J.Skelton pass short right to A.Roberts to ARZ 32 for 17 yards (R.Sherman) [B.Irvin]. ARZ-J.Skelton was injured during the play.
Skelton's last play, and it's a hell of a throw after he had recovered his own fumble on the previous play. He's hit hard by Brandon Mebane after he and Jones execute another line stunt, but the ball is completed for a huge first down.
The Kevin Kolb drive that followed this play was impressive, and credit is due to a player that helped his team win the game, ultimately. He came off the bench cold and he got the ball out quickly and decisively. He looked like a legitimate NFL quarterback. The Seahawks actually batted down two of his passes on that now infamous drive and were able to get some pressure early, but Kolb found a rhythm and threw the ball exceedingly well.
It was his ability to get the ball out quickly and nullify the pass rush that made him successful, and the Seahawks' couldn't find an answer on that particular drive. That said -- I came away from my second and third viewings of the game with a different perspective on the lack of a pass rush. I do think it will come together, and if Bruce Irvin can develop and begin to make an impact on the edge, that's going to help a lot too.
Right now though, I'm still very excited about the addition of Jason Jones, and Brandon Mebane had an All-Pro caliber game. When you've got a nose tackle that can get penetration and collapse the pocket like Mebane did on Sunday, it opens up all kinds of options for your 3-tech and defensive ends. Don't despair on the pass rush just yet.