It'd be an exaggeration to say that Golden Tate had a 'breakout' game on Sunday - three catches for 38 yards doesn't really jump out to you on the stat sheet, but as my colleague Thomas Beekers put it during the game, 'having Tate back is a much bigger deal than people realize; not the difference maker, but a difference maker, for sure.' Tate's three catches were all big plays for the Seahawks -- his first was a 20-yard catch midway through the 2nd quarter that was the Seahawks' first explosive play of the game. It came on a brilliantly executed play-action fake on first down that surprised Dallas, who were expecting a run while lining up against Seattle's '21' personnel with fairly tight splits.
The look above screams 'run' and the Cowboys were likely anticipating it -- they're not going to sell out to stop it on first down here, but much like a batter will guess on what pitch he's receiving, so too will NFL defenses. In this case, it seemed to work, as Tate got open downfield on an out-route; underneath soft zone coverage by the cornerback on the outside and over the top of an out-of-position safety in Gerald Sensabaugh, who, though I can't see the All-22 at this point, had come down at least a few steps in response to play action.
These first-down play-action shots should become a staple, two to three times a game -- and Tate can and will be a beneficiary as a very good downfield blocker on the down that Seattle seems to really like to run out of. Russell Wilson missed Golden Tate deep downfield in the first quarter on a similar play, after the Seahawks had lulled the Cowboys to sleep a bit with their run-first identity. Wilson was rushed by Demarcus Ware as he was throwing and ended up lofting the pass a bit too much and it fell incomplete.
Tate's second catch came mid-third quarter and was a huge boost for the Seahawks as they tried to get out of their own end. On 2nd-and-8, Tate dragged underneath several deeper routes and as he was passed off by Dallas linebackers, Wilson found him as he ran past the hashes from left to right. Tate juked OLB Anthony Spencer and picked up a first down. Several plays later, Seattle would score a touchdown on a deep pass from Wilson to Anthony McCoy. Considering Seattle had been having a lot of trouble moving the football prior to this drive, Tate's catch was a great catalyst in a positive momentum change.
Tate's third and final catch was even more important, in my opinion. The Seahawks led 20-7 with a little under nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. A 20-7 lead, with the way Seattle's defense was playing, was probably fairly safe, but as the Giants proved against Tampa Bay, a lot of shit can happen in the fourth quarter, and so I was still sitting uneasy. Nine minutes is an eternity in the NFL, but a three-score lead would certainly ease my anxiety. Seattle was driving, but had come upon a third and four situation at the Cowboys' 12-yard line. A field goal would keep it, technically, a two-score game, so a touchdown in this situation would be huge.
Seahawks line up in '13' personnel, or one running back, three tight ends, and one receiver. Tate, as has been common, was the lone receiver -- he's an excellent and willing blocker downfield -- with Zach Miller lined up on the weakside to block Demarcus Ware one-on-one (this, as a sidenote - is why Miller is so g.d. valuable, though on this play Ware stunts underneath), and Evan Moore and Anthony McCoy are in-line to the strong side. I've illustrated the routes they'll run; McCoy, a slow-developing wheel route to the boundary, and Moore will just run a simple corner slant. Golden Tate will drag underneath as an outlet for Wilson. As Moore and McCoy exfiltrate downfield, Marshawn Lynch is left to pass block.
Below, as the ball is snapped, I've also illustrated, in basic terms, the Dallas coverage schemes in their nickel personnel -- now, I'm not in their playbook so it's very basic, but it looks like a zone scheme, four rushers with man-coverage on Anthony McCoy by nickelbacker Orlando Scandrick and zone coverage otherwise.
The left side of the line holds up exceedingly well against the four-man rush, and Lynch does an adequate job against Anthony Spencer on the strong right side. Wilson play-action fakes the handoff to Lynch before looking for Anthony McCoy to the sideline -- I suspect they were either looking for him as an outlet or hoping to utilize the wheel route over the top, but he was being guarded closely by Scandrick and Wilson only has so much time with a one-on-one block of Lynch on Spencer. Wilson re-sets and strafes right -- this time excellently keeping his eyes downfield and the ball cocked in a ready position.
Lee is a step short in anticipation and Tate gets just enough separation for Wilson to pull the trigger.
The ball is placed well, and Golden Tate picks up the first down. Huge, huge play, in my opinion, a play that helped put the Cowboys away for good. Not kidding, after this play, I cracked a celebratory beer.
The very next play, as I was taking my first swig, John Moffitt pulls and seals his defender in an exceedingly well-executed run play to the left, and Marshawn Lynch waltzes into the endzone. 27-7; checkmate Seahawks.