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The Tape: First Quarter, Losing Despite Winning

I talk a lot about luck versus skill, or that which is predicative versus that which is unlikely to be repeated. At the end of this quarter the Hawks were down by 3 and Benson, as Matt Vasgersian hammered into the ground, had rushed for 66 yards. Still, the Hawks were beating Chicago. The Benson run was a bit of a fluke, though Pete and Russell each contributed to the suck, and the Bears second scoring drive was 30% a deserved but accidental roughing the passer penalty. Craig Terrill was attempting a swim move and completing the motion head slapped Grossman. Terrill is not, I repeat, not, Night Train Lane.

  • Bruce DeHaven decided that despite having one of the surest legged kickers in football and a loaded coverage team (though missing Will Heller) he'd cede 30 yards of field position by calling one of the silliest kickoffs I've ever seen. Brown's kick, somewhere between a pooch and an onside, not only fell into the hands of a Bear beyond the 20, but was so brief, had so little hang time, that the Hawks coverage unit could not set up in time to defend. Really, it was a wonder the return wasn't longer. Holmgren rightly chewed DeHaven out after that gem of overstrategy. Let's hope we never revisit that little experiment.
  • After that goof came another just two plays later. Seattle's front seven lives on speed and gang tackling. When a rusher starts left, it's not surprising to see 6 bodies keying his every step. The problem is when that seventh body joins in, or in this case, gets held (it wasn't flagrant and was in accordance to how the officials called the rest of the game) and then your free safety decides to take a perplexing and ultimately futile angle of pursuit. Let's break this down.

    Second play of the drive after a 7 yard reception by Greg Olsen, Hawks are in a base package. Benson starts hard left on a run that looks to be off tackle. The Hawks surge right, stuffing the rush lane. Sounds good, right? Here's the problem, a cutback lane as large as an elephant's ass has opened to the right. Benson is not quick out of his cuts, and had the Seahawks backside containment, it's unlikely this rush would have gone more than 5 yards. Unfortunately, Peterson, instead of staying put, tracks motion man Muhsin Muhammad dangerously close to the middle, then attempts to split the line for the money tackle for a loss, gets held in what might be called a bracket block (that is, the guard put an arm on Pete's back and another on his sternum and held him very briefly) and is out of the play. Bad move. Benson cuts back right, behind the Hawks line and now has but two defenders to beat. Tru is blocked down by Bernard Berrian (great block) leaving only Russell in his way to the endzone. This, presumably, is why you have a free safety. The play has broken down, the opposing rusher is free with acreage ahead of him, it's time to do your best Bob Sanders and fill. Russell has, somehow, tracked the run left too, perhaps looking for one of his patented after the fact pile on tackles. That's his first mistake, but it's recoverable. Then, instead of simply putting his body between Benson and the endzone, he overshoots towards the line. Benson doesn't have much more to do than run right at Tru and into the endzone. Peterson blows his assignment, but Russell's pursuit angle and Berrian's downfield blocking make it a score.

  • One of the nice little things that Maurice Morris brings to the Hawks that Alexander does or can not is the ability to run from a split back formation. When you're running anything resembling a traditional Walsh offense, SB is an essential back formation, for its ability to pick up the outside pass rush, its ability to get out and into the flats, and, sometimes, its ability to run. SB isn't a premium run formation, without a lead blocker and having a built in delay makes it a little risky, but by being able to run from it you keep opposing defenses honest. That is, from being able to sit pass against split backs. On the third play of the Hawks' first drive, Morris ran a little delay for 13. SBs would prove to be a valuable formation for the rest of the contest.
  • Branch and Hackett each took turns demonstrating textbook route running. Branch corrected an earlier gaffe I had pointed out, not selling the slant and allowing Ronde Barber to jump his route. This time Branch took a proper false first step, sold a little shimmy and then cut in a for an 11 yard reception that converted the first. Nice. Hackett was awesome on the touchdown reception on the following play, he faked Tillman out so badly that I honestly thought from the bleachers he had simply split a deep zone. In fact, the safety was playing deep left, and was not assigned Hackett at all. Hack came free when he performed a lightning-quick juke right before cutting left and into the endzone. Hacks had the move of the quarter just 4 plays earlier in the same drive and right after the Archueletta sack put Seattle into third and long. Playing from the left slot on a four wide, single tight, empty backfield formation, Hacks runs a simple dig route with a literal twist. Everything you could ask for on a route is here: He long strides 8 yards selling the deep pattern, turns quickly back using his body to screen Lance Briggs from defending the pass and then, and here's the money, uses his momentum from spinning about face to continue up and now past Briggs on what looks like an improvised post pattern. Hacks had longer receptions, but none prettier.
  • Here's your play of the day. A slick little blitz package the Hawks ran twice. I had called for Marshall to rush fewer defenders on blitzes and use underneath zones, specifically with the Hawks athletic defensive ends, and he did just that. Here's his best, with Kerney at left defensive end working in zone coverage. The key is Peterson's ability to edge rush, and the resulting hole created for Tatupu to bring pressure. Kerney is in perfect position to defend the flat when Grossman attempts to roll right.