You'd never think Seattle would be leading by double digits after watching this half. Seattle was winning the score, but as the second half would prove, not the game.
This post is all about details, details and John Marshall's weirdly conservative play calling. John Marshall and Jim Mora Jr.? I think Mora has to start receiving some blame for all these deep zones being called and those zones are killing an otherwise talented defense. Long third down conversions have been a persistent failing of Seattle's defense, where in seasons past you could point to Herndon or Hamlin or Boulware blowing coverage, most of these conversions stem from a lack of pressure from the front four and holes in the Hawks' deep zones. With two of the better cover corners in the NFL, I really don't understand so consistently playing against their strength: man coverage.
It's the blocking not the rusher: Shaun Alexander had two nice runs that both went for first downs. I'm sorry, did I say Shaun Alexander, I meant Leonard Weaver and the Hawks offensive line had two nice runs that both went for first downs. Before anyone accuses me of a double standard, on both runs Alexander rushed five+ yards untouched and then was tackled after first contact. He did little more than run through the gaping hole created for him by the Hawks' run blockers. Both plays involved Walter Jones blocking in, Rob Sims pulling out and Leonard Weaver lead blocking effectively. That's it, but it worked. Now if only Alexander could do anything as a rusher.
Young and Old united in sucking: Jones and Chris Spencer each blew a block in the run game. Jones no longer sustains run blocks like he used to, something made that much more glaring by Alexander's maddening foxtrot behind the line of scrimmage. Spencer did what Spencer does, trip. On both plays, a better running back could have escaped, specifically, on Spencer's blown block Alexander needed only to run around the fallen defender (he had, in fact, tripped over the tripped Spencer) to get to the edge and two pulling blockers, but on both plays Alexander froze, allowed Cleveland to swarm around him and then he futilely cutback into the pile. We have to hope Jones has plateaued, that he's declined, but is not declining further. Not yet at least. Spencer's footwork is quickly rising to a paramount concern. The Hawks drafted him so he could be an athletic force pulling and picking up blitzes. If he can't move around without falling over, that potential disappears.
Upping his trade value: Yep, if we can get a second or third round pick, I'd be entirely in favor of shipping off Nate Burleson this offseason. But while he's a Hawk, let's celebrate the one thing he does like no other Hawk: break tackles. When Burly received the kick within the ten, he had 3 Browns within 5 yards of him and another 5 within 15 yards of him. Through agility, strength and exceptional body control, Nate Burleson broke 5 tackles on his 94 yard punt return TD. I don't have the numbers handy, but I'm fairly certain that's as many or more tackles as Alexander has broken in the last 4 weeks. Burleson also had a nice day receiving. Are you paying attention Matt Millen?
How bad is Jordan Babineaux in coverage?: Awful. Clueless. Awful. In 9 plays, against Browns in their final drive of the half, Babs blew coverage 3 times. I like Babineaux, he has a nose for the ball, but his coverage skills are atrocious. For Christ's sake, give your second round choice a chance to work the nickel! Why did you draft him, to have him watch Nate Burleson catch kickoffs each week?
The Marshall plan for destruction: You're up by 15, you're facing a young quarterback that's easily rattled by the pass rush, but your front four is generating zero pressure. What do you do?
a) Employ a 5 man blitz, just enough to force incompletions.
b) Employ a 6 or 7 man blitz, leverage against your double digit lead and attempt the knockout blow.
c) Man up in Nickel coverage, attempt to force incompletions.
d) Run a Cover 3 soft shell allowing easy completions down field but preventing homerun plays.
Do I need to tell you that Marshall picked "d"? First play, Jennings drops into the Brown's locker room, fetches a soda, returns to tackle Joe Jurevicius 19 yards down the field after Vicious runs a simple curl route. A curl route. 19 yards down the field. With Jennings playing 5 yards off him. Against speed demon Joe Jurevicius. Uh-huh. Next play, another cover 3 soft shell, Braylon Edwards finds a gaping hole in Seattle's deep zone, but decides to magnanimously slap the ball to the ground. Nice guy. Derek Anderson shows the same charity on the next play, badly overthrowing an open Tim Carter. Finally, on third and 10, Seattle rushes 5, without a whisper of pressure, Anderson panic throws it towards Edwards for an incomplete. The defense, and especially the package, was limp, lifeless and frighteningly conservative. That it didn't explode in Marshall's face is a marvel, one that in no way should let him off the hook.
Speaking of marvels, here's a blitz package quite unlike any I've ever seen. The Hawks are in a 3-3 Nickel, but while the defensive line is spread wide, the linebackers are all oddly bunched between the defensive tackle and the right end. At the snap they all run around each other, slowing the blitz, and still ending up between the tackle and right defensive end. Like Burns' "Three Stooges Syndrome" they run around in circles, get in each other's way and pile up into each where they should be penetrating, turning a smart 6 man blitz call on first and ten into an easy 8 yard completion underneath - you know, where all those bunched linebackers just vacated.