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The Tape: First Half Reflections 9/10

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  • Pull blocks were de riguer for the Hawks offensive line on Sunday and few were as pretty as Chris Gray's (Yes, Chris Gray) on the seventh play of the Hawks third drive. Sean Locklear and Marcus Pollard pull right attempting to create a seam along the right C gap, Gray's job is outside containment. Strong Safety Jermaine Philips breaks free almost immediately around right end and now, a couple steps in the Hawks' backfield, threatens to blow up the play. What's really surprising here is not just Gray's excellent recognition, but the fact that he is able to move out so quickly and hit the defender so squarely. With that block Alexander actually had a respectable hole and a number of lead blockers. The play resulted in just three yards, but the block was superb.
  • Kudos to Darryl Tapp and Deon Grant who sniffed out the end around on the Bucs fifth play of their third drive. It's been a long time since I've seen Seattle handle a play fake with such intelligence and poise.
  • What the numbers don't say about Patrick Kerney is just how aware he is. No play better defined this than on Tampa's fifth play of their second drive. The Bucs had just entered Seattle's red zone and have 3rd and 2, Seattle's aligned in a base package with Kerney and Darryl Tapp at the ends. After the snap Rocky Bernard barrels in getting some good inside rush, Tapp runs a very wide pass rush and looks to be largely out of the play, but never stops fighting. Jeff Garcia makes a very bad pocket read, sensing the inside pressure he incorrectly rolls out exposing himself to Kerney who's now unblocked. That mistake by Garcia is the key, Kerney didn't strip his blocker, he just held back and watched Garcia, when Garcia incorrectly chose to role out to the right he mistakenly escaped his own pocket and left himself exposed to a suddenly free Kerney. Kerney sees Tapp still chugging out and behind Garcia and instead of rushing right at Garcia he shadows him, shutting down Garcia's rushing lane and passing lane. Tapp, now free, runs up Garcia's backside and the Bucs Qb, with no other option, runs, getting sandwiched between Tapp and the now charging Kerney. Kerney makes every right decision on this play and the result is a three yard sack on a critical third down.
  • Lofa Tatupu looks stronger than I've ever seen him. On Sunday he was stripping blockers with ease.
  • The nice thing about stunts is that it creates the semblance of pass rush even when the defensive lineman are being contained. I think that's because even when ineffective, stunts make a mess of the pocket. Seattle frequently used stunts to create pressure or the threat of pressure and limit Garcia's read.
  • The most interesting sequence of the first half came on Tampa Bay's final two drives. In both of them Seattle employed a 3-3 nickel formation where Julian Peterson can become a fourth down lineman effectively turning the play into a 4-2. That's the crucial aspect of the 3-3, that Peterson has options. On all six plays Peterson eventually put his hand down and rushed the passer, but he mixed in a lot of stances and motion to disrupt the left tackle. In the first set, the more pertinent one since the other involved Cadillac Williams running out the clock on some questionable play calls, Patrick Kerney played the right end position, but became a defacto tackle once Peterson puts his hand down. Couple this with Bernard at left tackle and Tapp manning the left defensive end and the Bucs have to contend with four really devastating pass rushers and two ends (Tapp, Peterson) who are skilled in short zone coverage. The shear number of options this formation engenders must have made line calling a tremendous headache for John Wade.

    In the first play under this formation, Peterson shows just awesome recognition, finally committing to a three point stance just as Garcia is about to snap. Excellent pre-snap recognition by Muscley Arm. After the snap Bernard gets great pressure up the gut, Garcia fades to his left and is met by a charging Peterson on the edge rush: Sack. The next play starts almost the same way, but Peterson grandstands a little less and aligns himself as a pass rusher a little earlier. Instead of a sack, Garcia connects to Michael Pittman for a six yard dump off. Peterson once again is deadly around the edge, but instead of Bernard's pressure coming up the gut, he's redirected around to the offensive left side. The resulting gap to the right leaves Garcia a place to step up and a throwing lane to pass through. What's really interesting beyond the simply coolness of this formation is that these two plays were nearly identical but one resulted in a sack and one resulted in a completion. Peterson gets similar edge rush on both plays, but in one Bernard collapses the pocket's head pin and the other he's shuffled to the left. Bernard's dominance on the first play cause the Bucs to smartly assign another man to him and the resulting Forced Double Team actually benefits the Bucs. Just an exciting display of strategy, counter-strategy and how one player who is credited with recording no conventional stats on either play (Bernard) made all the difference between a sack and a completion.