Sorry about the delay, lots of hijinks around here eating up my time. I'm postponing my reflections about the defense until tomorrow.
First, I'd like to announce that I will be doing a little Q&A with Joe Gura at KSTW.com. It sounds like he'll be taking calls from listeners and I'll be answering questions. That whole bit. It's my first time doing anything like this so I'm pretty excited. I wonder if I'll be introduced as an expert. Haha...
Okay, let's get to the Tape. Do I think I know the answer to why the Hawks rushing attack is foundering? No and yes. With a developing situation, we never get an answer, but answers. Evidence to direct our thinking. Finally given a chance to watch multiple rushers behind the same line, I have some ideas. Before that I want to talk briefly about the Hawks' pass game sans its two starting receivers.
- Simplifying the Passing Attack: Without Deion Branch or D.J. Hackett, Seattle has been forced to play with a collection of slot receivers. The main thing that differentiates a slot receiver from a true wide out is the ability to get separation in man coverage. Branch can shed an opposing corner and make receptions on a consistent basis. Bobby Engram, Nate Burleson and Ben Obomanu can't. Against the Rams, Seattle smartly employed zone busting screens and crossing patterns. Plays designed to either exploit a hole in the zone (Engram's specialty) or shed a defender by having two receivers cross paths in opposite directions. Sunday's gameplan was replete with shallow crosses, designed roll outs, screen passes, drags, curls, bombs--what I call the Seneca Wallace base offense. It worked at times, but it's simple and inexplosive.
The Properties of Maurice: Maurice Morris finally got some carries, much to my joy. Like a quarterback develops chemistry with certain receivers, a running back develops chemistry with his line. That's key to understanding why Morris is playing much better than Shaun Alexander. In the bygone time of Steve Hutchinson, Alexander's style was well suited for his line's run blocking. He held back, awaiting Hutch or Walter Jones to spring the big block he could explode behind. Morris is a one cut rusher, he follows his assignment and then performs a single cut towards the most open part of the field. It doesn't produce a lot of long gains, but it's undemanding of his blockers and less likely to lose yards.
Chris Spencer and Rob Sims each have potential as pull blockers. Potential. Spencer is more agile, but has iffy feat and slips a lot in traffic. He fell on three separate occasions during the half. Sims is more steady, but has yet to learn how to direct his momentum into his blocks.
Mike Holmgren prefers to run like Alexander. Holmgren's big run play is pretty simple and can be easily diagrammed. Walter Jones pushes his man out and away from the rush lane. Spencer and Chris Gray combo block the tackles hard right. Sims turns up field and engages his defender on the second level. The resulting lane looks like a triangle. The fullback moves up into this hole and the rusher behind him. It's not rocket science, but it does have a lot of moving parts. That is, relatively speaking, it's a tad complicated. Young blockers have a lot of opportunities to screw up. With Hutch and Mack Strong, Seattle used this formation to record breaking success.
A more ordinary rush has two offensive linemen spreading their defenders and the running back darting through the resulting hole. That's Morris' game. Morris isn't cute, he takes what's given. The Hawks offensive line isn't bad run blocking, and, in fact, I've seen them execute the aforementioned play to perfection, but Spencer and Sims each have trouble working in space. They're inconsistent. Sometimes they get where they need, other times things look like a scrum. They lose their assignment or fall off their blocks.
Either way, Alexander no longer cuts with authority. If you want to see a big reason Alexander's production has taken such a hit, watch him when he attempts to change directions. He stops. His first step is slow and hesitant. He occasionally loses balance. Alexander is a cutback rusher who can no longer cut back explosively. In an offense with a line that can no longer guarantee him a sustained or dominating block, Alexander is commonly caught attempting to change directions behind a lineman. He'll get into the hole, attempt to move counter his own momentum and lose so much speed that the defender will come off his block and catch him.
Morris is not only the better overall rusher, he's the better fit for this offensive line, its abilities and its weaknesses. Morris's 14 yard rush was utterly unremarkable. Second and ten after an Alexander stuff. The Rams are in a base defensive package with their outside linebackers walked up and around to the outside. Seattle is in a I - Back, two wide, single tight end set. After the handoff Morris takes two steps up and behind Leonard Weaver towards the right tackle and then cuts back up the middle. One cut, no pull blockers, nothing special, but the seam was there and Morris possesses the speed and style to capitalize. It's not 2005, but it is the foundation of a productive rushing attack.