So I woke up, checked the morning news, brewed myself a cup of coffee, sat down to chart the Hawks' first preseason game, finished one half, looked up, and found that 5 hours had passed. Holy Smokes! Therefore, I'm going to do this in halves. The second one will either be up later tonight, or Wednesday, as Tuesday is my girlfriend and I's three year anniversary.
With so many soon to be scrubs on the field, and change-a-second substitutions, I tried to emphasize formations and coverages. Still, I recorded stats for every play. Hmmm...looking over my 16 pages of notes, I realize this is going to be a mess if I try and write it all here. Instead, I'll just write the important details and then do a summary for the preseason before the season starts, incorporate my notes into my analysis when the season starts, and compile the totals at the halfway point and after the seasons over. Here's a quick blow-by-blow:
The First Offensive Series:
- On plays 3-5 of the opening drive, the Hawks ran 4 WR 1 Back sets. Each was successful, though the inclusion of Sims' tipped pass recovery queers that a bit.
- On the 3rd play, when Engram received a slightly underthrown pass from Beck, Locklear destroyed his man on the edge rush, stringing him wide and then pushing his legs right out from under him. Beck was not pressured during this entire drive.
- On the 4th play Sims and Spencer teamed up for a great combo block that allowed an easy first down conversion by Alexander.
- The Hawks ran an I formation, with a single tight end to the right and wide receivers split wide left and right on the 6th play and the scoring 9th play. The 9th play is the only during Beck's sequence, and one of the only in the whole game for the Hawks, that wasn't a simple three step drop and shoot. Beck had a great pocket to work with. Jones and especially Sims completely crushed the left side, despite the Chargers sending a blitz. Branch expertly tracked the ball, making a pass by Beck that strayed slightly too much to the center look spot on. The Charger's Marlon McCree failed to give deep coverage and Branch effortlessly streaked behind him.
The First Defensive Series:
- On the Hawks' first defensive play, they came out in their base defense (4-3, man, nearly always with Jennings playing close to his receiver and Trufant back; Russell playing deep cover, Grant closer up) but had 7 defenders within five yards of the line and 10 within 10 yards. All that makes it rather miraculous that Davis was able to get wide open in the flat. It would appear Russell was at fault for the blown coverage, but he also cleaned up with a good open field tackle. Russell recorded three strong open-field tackles in the first half.
- It baffles me to no end how the Hawks always fall for Norv Turner's crap, but on the second play Peterson bit hard on the Rivers rollout and Gates was wide open behind him.
- The 4th play, it was negated by offensive holding, featured a bad over-pursuit by Hill and a good open field tackle by Russell. The hold was pretty unnecessary.
- The stars of Hill's sack are Lofa Tatupu and especially Chuck Darby. The play was designed for the D-line to pull hard to the right (all plays, offense or defense, are being described from the offense's perspective, therefore by right I mean the defense's left) and then for Tatupu and Hill to shoot the left gap. Hill's speed was important, but this play worked because Darby forced himself and his blockers right, really getting great penetration and completely tying up the C and RG. Tatupu then slammed into Dielman who was roughly in the center position and Hill shot the huge gap between Ass Hat and McNeill.
- The Hawks employed a 3-3 against 3rd and 17, and were destroyed by a simple screen pass to Darren Sproles. It's not so much that Seattle allowed 16 yards on 3rd and 17, because that's, all-in-all, a good stop, it's that if not for Kerney's relentless pursuit Sproles likely would have converted the first down. Two things hurt Seattle here, one their coverage was very deep, but that's to be expected. Still, it's not a good formation to stifle a screen. Second, Deon Grant was blown past by Sproles. Grant was being used in run support almost all game and never once looked comfortable. Last season, the Hawks had a pair of ballhawk safeties that liked to freelance close to the line. Not surprisingly, they were beat deep a lot. This season, they feature a pair of coverage safeties. Grant has been asked to play in a position better suited for Michael Boulware, and Russell a position better suited for Grant. Hopefully, the Hawks don't have to be eaten alive by draws and screens before they figure this out.
The Best of Rest: Offense:
- The Hawks dramatically changed the offense once Wallace took the helm. One of the weirder plays involved motioning the tailback out wide from a three receiver set, the Hawks did this 3 times in the first half. The play was used as a decoy, but, still, I couldn't imagine them using that with Alexander in the lineup.
- Wallace had a very bad half. His unforced fumble might have been the most visible of his screw-ups, but it wasn't his worst. The two that top my shit list are as follows: In the Hawks' first drive of the second half Wallace gave a quick three step demonstration on how not to throw a play-action pass. First, completely dog the fake hand-off so that no one in the Western Hemisphere thinks you're running the ball. Morris gets some blame for this one, too. Second, don't even notice that no one was fooled by the PA and throw directly into triple coverage. And third, overthrow your receiver so bad that the pass actually looks like it was intended for Eric Weddle.
The other is a little more subtle. On the Hawks penultimate drive of the second quarter, Wallace turned an easy to convert 3rd and 3 play into a futile two yard scramble. The play was a designed rollout, with Joe Newton blocking down before curling free in the hole left by San Diego's zone. Newton blocked, he curled free with about 3 yards between him and the nearest defender and a half a yard between him and the first down marker, but Wallace as he was so wont to do in the first half, simply tucked and ran getting easily pushed out by the defender Newton had beat. Newton looked like he was expecting the pass and then sort-of bemusedly turned for a futile downfield block when it was clear Wallace had committed to scrambling.
- Willis got some looks, but didn't impress. He was frequently too high on his blocks, and, subsequently, walked back into the pocket. He had one pull block that was both impressive, and humiliating. It was the Hawks' first drive of the second quarter, the play before Wallace's PA disaster. Morris cut to the outside around right tackle, and Willis ably pulled and led him. Willis was quick, cut threw traffic well, and was in his spot. Could he have delivered the block he might have given Morris a crease to the outside (the run was pretty tight against the sideline, so it's iffy what Morris would have been able to do, block or not), but, instead, Willis inexplicably fell down. I watched it a few times but can't see exactly what tripped Willis up, but the whole sequence, one that was 9/10 encouraging, ended up very discouraging.
- The block of the half goes to Tom Ashworth and Chris Gray. On the first play of the second drive by the Hawks in the first quarter, Gray and Ashworth absolutely obliterated three defenders (I'm talking flapjacks, here) on a great pulling combo block around right end. Morris, for his part, didn't dance at all, simply cutting around the end for an easy 13.
- Sims looked good, very good. He's quickly developed chemistry with Spencer. Sims was the most consistent offensive lineman all game--you could usually spot him 3 to 5 yards past the line of scrimmage manhandling some DT.
- The gutsy but wasted block of the game goes to Maurice Morris, who cut a charging Jamal Williams only to have Seneca scramble 9 yards and fumble. That's got to be vexing for Morris, because he got the worst of the block, getting completely flattened by the 350 pound Williams.
- Obomanu was playing a very tight slot on his 38 yard reception. His route running was relatively smooth, but also rather deliberate, you could clearly see his two cuts before he flattened out. It was very lucky that Obomanu was uncovered and that he made a great catch, because Wallace really left him out to dry with a very high pass.
- Holmgren's offenses are very even, if two WRs play left, you can expect a WR and a TE on the right. In fact, the Hawks almost always employed the tight end to the right, and on one of the two exceptions, the tight motioned right before the snap.
The Best of the Rest: Defense:
- The Hawks' base defense is a 4-3, with Jennings tight, Trufant deep, Grant up and Russell out of the picture. The most variety you see in that defense is in the linebackers, who frequently shade left or right, and specifically by MLB Tatupu, who alternately plays close to the line and deep. Peterson also lines up along the line occasionally, but not as much as last year.
- Hill has a lot of trouble with misdirection.
- Darby had a great game. Besides the aforementioned play where he set up the Hill sack, he recorded a very nice sack of his own. On the fourth play of SD's second drive, he started in and then quickly stunted out and flew around the left side for an uncontested sack. He has decent speed, and showed some ability to occupy blockers.
- The Hawks used Lance Laury and Will Herring as LB/Nickleback hybrids. Both were used in man coverage against tight ends and H-backs. Neither really excelled in the first half. Laury was a non-factor, and Herring at one point got rag-dolled by his own teammate. Laury was partially to blame for Malcolm Floyd's TD that got pinned on Wilson. Sure Wilson was beat, but Laury was floating in no-man's land five yards in front of the receiver.
- Speaking of Wilson, his fumble recovery is a real garbage stat. Trufant and Peterson forced the fumble, all Wilson did was arrive a step ahead of Tatupu. Rivers had no reason to throw to Jackson in the first place, the second he caught the ball he was met by three defenders between him and the first down line.
- Darryl Tapp is a freak on the inside stunt. Victim one was Cory Lekkerkerker. Tapp is a very versatile player and hopefully Fisher will be good enough to allow Tapp to be utilized in a number of different packages.
- One thing I never want to see again: Brandon Green in coverage. Michael Vick could have made that read. Hell, Seneca Wallace could have made that read. A gimmie first down reception by Kassim Osgood on 3rd-8. It didn't help that the Hawks zone blitz was impudent off the right side.
- It's debatable whether Baraka Atkins delivered a face mask to Sproles. His hand certainly contacted the face mask, but I didn't see a grasp. What's bothersome is that the officials awarded SD the 15 yard personal foul. Maybe they saw something I didn't. Atkins didn't do much else noteworthy during the first half and neither did Brandon Mebane, who, as scouts warned, sort of disappeared.
Yikes, that's a long post, and nearing seven hours worth of work. In the future I'll have to start these night of the contest rather than next day. I'll cover the second half Wednesday, along with final tallies for the stats.