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The Tape: 1st Quarter: Nada + The Devil and Mike Holmgren, a Story Problem

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Slow quarter, we'll do some quick hits and then discuss that riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a defender, Shaun Alexander.

  • Lots of movement in the secondary. We saw Brian Russell play strong safety, he'll do that, Jordan Babineaux playing free safety, and a lot of nickel D. That final one confuses me. Let's review, rookie quarterback making his first start? Check. A team with the 10th most rushing attempts despite a losing record? Check. Blustery day? Check. Three of the best linebackers in football? Check. One of the worst nickelbacks in football? Check. Yet, the Seahawks played a nickel D in 7 of their 17 defensive plays. The Panthers ran the ball 11 times in the quarter. The three most vexing were the three that concluded the quarter. The Panthers started on their 2 yard line. After Foster was stopped on first down after gaining only two yards, the Hawks broke in a nickel D on the next two plays. Second play, 4 yards, then 6 yards and the first. On third down, eminent run stuffer Rocky Bernard was actually subbed out in favor of Craig Terrill. Did Marshall think that Carolina, backed up at their four, was planning on passing with its rookie quarterback in his first start? I don't know, I don't see it.
  • Jennings had a fine first quarter, including coverage that broke up a touchdown reception and a tackle of -1 yards against Steve Smith. The tackle was especially heartening.
  • The worse quarter belongs to Nate Burleson: One drop that turned into a fumble and two incompletes on catchable balls. The failed end around was, really, a failed play call. The Panthers were blitzing off the offensive left end, which might be an indication that you should audible out of that end around off left end. When Burleson finally found his way to the left side of the field, one Panther was three yards in the backfield and three others were between him and the first down marker. This play call, btw, was Holmgren's official signal that he had completely given up on the run game.

    Weaver had a drop. Gray blew a couple blocks and Alexander cut away from his hole in an all too familiar sight for Seahawks fans. The first on his first run, where he started left and then cut back right and right into Maake Kemoeatu. The second was on his second run - isn't that a wild coincidence? First play of Seattle's second drive. The Hawks break in a 3 Wide, Split Backs formation. Alexander for, roughly, the past three years has not been a strong rusher out of split backs, but, y'know, what do I know? That run is designed off left tackle, that's where Weaver blocks, that's where the sizable hole is and that's where Alexander runs away from, I suppose, because Weaver doesn't blow the hole open fast enough. Which is too bad, because Weaver walks his man back a good three yards a split second later and a real jim-dandy hole opens on the left side. Alexander, unfortunately is already running right.  On both blown blocks, it's entirely possible Gray didn't expect Alexander to be rushing anywhere near him, and thus allowed the defender to penetrate so that he was "sucked up" out and away from the play. Obviously, the Hawks run blocking isn't sensational, but how we judge run blocking has a lot to do with how a rusher runs. Ergo, The Devil and Mike Holmgren, A Story Problem. For legal reasons, I'm compelled to say: This is a work of fiction.

  • A long time ago, in February of `06, Mike Holmgren suffered a massive heart attack. On his way off this mortal coil he encountered the Devil.

    The Devil propositioned Holmgren thusly:

    "I will spare you your life, if only..."

    Now, the Devil had long retired the Soul trade, due to diminishing supply. But he had a new racket.

    "If only what?" Holmgren asked.

    "If only you'll allow me to play for your team."

    And so a bargain was struck, Holmgren would live and the Devil would assume the form of recent MVP Shaun Alexander. Alexander was dispatched to an exotic island where he slept on piles of money with many beautiful women. Oddly, he didn't complain.

    Holmgren awoke in his bed in a cold sweat. His chest pains, just heartburn, but a sickening memory haunted his head.

    That day Tim Ruskell asked Holmgren if he thought that Seattle should re-sign Shaun Alexander. Without a second's thought, Holmgren answered:

    "Oh yeah, kid's a rock and a future Hall of Famer. It would be a big mistake not to sign him."

    Ruskell wasn't convinced, though, so he phoned up his friend Bill Bavasi seeking counsel.

    "Hey Bill, I'm looking for some advice and you've been doing this GM thing longer than I."

    "Shoot, Tim."

    "Well, I'm not sure Alexander's worth the contract he and his agent are demanding, but the guy's the face of the franchise. Whatdoyathink? Am I nuts? Seems-- "

    "I'm gonna stop you right there Tim. Alexander's a proven winner. He's been through wars. He's a leader and a veteran. That's what a team needs to win: Leadership and Veteranosity."

    "See, Bill, I've been researching this and found a website that says rushers with 370 or more carries in a season usually decline, get injured or a combination of both the next season."

    "No, no, no...Tim, Timmy, you can't listen to the nerds. You listen to nerds once, and boy-o, they'll feel empowered, crawl so far up your ass you'll never shake `em. No, nerds need a good, two fisted atomic wedgie to break their spirit. I call mine the off season."

    "Oh, okay, Bill, thanks."

    So it was determined, the Hawks would re-sign Alexander so as to ensure their roster wasn't lacking veteranosity.

    When training camp started, a filigreed note appeared on Holmgren's doorstep: "Remember our deal." He did, no matter how bad the Devil ran or received, he couldn't bench him or blame him.

    "Won't the newspapers ask questions?"

    "No, newspapers are just a front for the pulp and dye industry. No one's read a newspaper in 15 years."

    . . .

    Because of his cloven hands and cloven feet, the Devil could not run quickly, cut quickly or catch. In fact, his feet were so misshapen, it took him between 2 and 5 seconds to reach the hole on every rush. His line could hold the hole for 0 to 3 seconds before the defense would collapse it. The Devil's teammate, Maurice Morris, could reach the hole on every rush between 1 and 4 seconds. Each outcome for all three are equally likely to happen. So, in 100 runs, Alexander runs roughly 25 runs of 2 seconds, 25 runs of 3 seconds and so on. In a hundred runs the line can hold the hole for 2 seconds roughly 50 times, and 3 seconds, roughly 50 times.

    The Devil's second year started out very poorly. Around week 10, he approached Holmgren and said "I have to confer with Vladimir Putin on how to rig his elections, can you cover for me?" Holmgren did so with a glad heart. For weeks he had excoriated his line, having no choice given the Hawks dismal rushing attack and no one else to blame. But one can see by just looking at the data that a rusher that cannot hit the hole will make any line look bad. Can you figure out Maurice Morris's likely success versus the Devil's likely success? A free subscription to Field Gulls for the first one who answers.