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The Tape: First Quarter, First Botched Play Call

We'll do it quarter by quarter this week. First two today, second two and overtime tomorrow. The first quarter didn't have a ton of highlights or lowlights, but it did have a couple interceptions involving Seattle screwups, one that ended favorably and the other not so much. It also had a very questionable sequence of plays calls culminating in a turnover.

Burping the ball, delivering the pick: You may read scouts talk about a quarterback patting the football. That doesn't sound that important, sort of a nitpick, really. It's the 12th play of the Hawks' first drive. Seattle is slowly, carefully marching down the field. The Browns are getting no pass rush, and eventually Hawk receivers are getting free. It's basically what you would expect any halfway competent offense to be able to do against the Browns' 31st ranked pass defense. It's 3rd and 7, following a 7 yard Morris run, following a 4 yard Alexander loss, and the Hawks are set in a 4 receiver 1 back set. After the snap, Beck takes a three step drop, stares down Bobby Engram, pats the ball just so the defensive backs can be sure he's about to throw and whips the ball into double coverage. Had he not stared down the receiver, the pat might not  have mattered, had he not patted the ball, Sean Jones may not have been so sure that he could break on the route, but when you stare at one and only one receiver from the get go and then pat the ball just so everyone knows you're about to throw it, anything but a pick is a sign of luck or defensive incompetence.

Tapped out, tuned in: Darryl Tapp's interception was a little skill and a lot of luck. It's the second play of Cleveland's second drive, first and ten, the Hawks in a base formation. At the snap, Brandon Mebane stunts right, Tapp doesn't stunt left. He, instead, gets caught up behind Mebane's back, screened from the line by his own teammate. Did Mebane stunt when he wasn't supposed to? Did Tapp not stunt when he was supposed to? I don't really know, but I do know that Tapp was in position for the pick because he was out of position for the play. Craig Terril was able to create some pressure from the defensive left, and Anderson, who shows little poise under pressure, hurried the pass. Tapp has good hands for an end, so his skill turned a botched assignment into a turnover. His skill, that is, and a heaping helping of luck.

Atoning for 5 dead goats: I feel compelled to explain why I piled on Mike Holmgren in my post game cap. So here goes...It's the Hawks third drive of the game. Seattle is up 7-0, and the Hawks defense has been dominant thus far: first forcing a three and out and then a pick. The Hawks start off with a screen pass to Weaver that Beck underthrows incomplete. The next play is a draw to Morris out of a 3 WR, 1 TE set that nets 8 yards. 3rd and 2, same formation, Holmgren runs Weaver off right guard for about one and a half yards. Okay, so it's 4th and 1, the Hawks are in Cleveland territory and have about a half a yard to convert the first. I fully support going for it here. Beck is 9/13 with a pick and a score and 102 yards. The passing attack is beating Cleveland consistently. The Hawks rushing attack has been terrible in short yardage all season, and, in fact, Weaver just failed to convert the first on the previous play. So what does Holmgren do? He sets the Hawks in a near run exclusive goal line formation. I-Back, 2 tight ends and a HB; no WRs, nothing to spread out Cleveland. The Browns have 10 in the box, 10 players within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. That means, removing Beck and Morris, Seattle's run blocking unit is actually outnumbered 10 to 9. At the snap the handoff is botched and what would have turned into a turnover on downs turns into a fumble turnover instead.

The reasons that this is such a foolish play call are numerous and apparent. The biggest gaffe is the formation. Lining up in a goal line, the Hawks not only allowed the Browns to stack the box, but removed their best weapon, the passing attack. The second Beck receives the snap and fades back to hand it off to Morris, the Browns are free to basically run blitz 10 defenders. With so much success in the passing game, and so little in short yardage rushing, including the preceding play, it's completely unjustifiable to sell out run in this situation. Just a terrible and misguided play call. Holmgren may call out the line for not being able to "get one yard" or whatever nonsense, but this play failed from the second Seattle lined up. It was predictable and played against Seattle's strengths.