With Ike Hilliard laid out and the ball on the ground, he of the 4.39/40, Josh Wilson, scooped the ball with only Jeff Garcia to beat. Whistle blown, six points erased. Official persecution? Nah, just a close call that fell the other way. Before the fumble, the Bucs had a decisive 87% chance of victory, after a still robust 78%. Had Wilson scored, the Bucs would still have the advantage, having possession and home field, but the gap would have been ~60/40. In other words, all other things being equal -- they weren't -- Seattle would be back in the game. Instead, Seattle inherited bad field position and barely budged before punting the ball back to the Bucs.
Let's finish out the half. Memory tends to latch onto the vivid or painful, and Chris Spencer's premature snap was certainly painful. Another drive aborted. Cris Collinsworth took the opportunity to knock the young, largely unknown lineman, noting Mike Holmgren's displeasure. Last season, Spencer was bad. He tripped over his feet pulling and could hardly engage a block must less sustain it. This season, he's likely Seattle's second best offensive lineman on a pretty good unit. He's not the run blocker Mike Wahle is, but he's a better pass blocker and less mistake prone (who saw that coming?) He's probably not actually better than Sean Locklear, but sure as hell better than Locklear is right now. Listening to Collinsworth I couldn't help but think "Late."
That's the developing nature of truth. What was isn't. I see TV analyst once a week. Their takes are so dated, they'd tell you Weezer hit its stride with Hash Pipe. I think fans want to know who's next, not the faded name that was. So hear this: Chris Spencer, still not a value for a first round center, has played well. He's an athletic pull blocker who no longer slips over his shoelaces. He's not Bisquick and you don't see bodies in his wake, but he gets a block on his man and sustains reasonably well, even clobbers occasionally. He's benefited from Mike Solari's zone blocking scheme, holds his own when isolated and knows how to give a blindside assist for a struggling teammate. Just 26 and regaining strength, Spencer is more solution then problem.
In that mold, after horrifying me in the preseason, Red Bryant looked lively and hard to block against the Bucs. He doesn't have Brandon Mebane's power at the point, but sheds blockers and is deceptively accurate seeking the ball carrier in close quarters. Two arms from under a body, tackling. It would be surprising to see Howard Green get back into the mix. Bryant is younger, developing and offers more as a run stuffer and future pass rusher. My only question is who assumes the 3? With Bernard likely ending his Hawk career this year, I'd think Mebane or Bryant would shift right, but while Bane is the better pass rusher, he's also the better run stuffer. Something to ponder as this season staggers, slumps and collapses dead.
Before I wrap, a couple observations. Rocky Bernard is still a very good defensive tackle. If not for his woman battering tendencies, I could see Seattle franchising him. With the talent pool thin, thanks to an iffy draft and a weak free agent class, Seattle's in a bit of a pickle on how to replace him. The easiest way is from within. There's always something play for, and I'm very interested to see if Bryant proves he can step into the starting lineup next season. Good in spurts, he's still no Bernard. Another option is a smaller, productive four year starter out of the ACC like Vance Walker.
Craig Terrill again played tackle on Seattle's three man rush, and, predictably was first neutralized outright, looking almost silly facing three blockers, and then shoved to the earth. I like Terrill, but putting him at nose on a three man rush is a reminder that someone can't evaluate his own talent. Terrill is a single gap tackle. Matched against one man, he can, occasionally, break into the backfield and disrupt. Matched against three, you might as well put ten men on the field. For those saying, "well who can match against three?" Rocky Bernard. He did it on his second snap from the same formation, swimming Jeff Faine, penetrating and pressuring Jeff Garcia. Garcia checked down to Warrick Dunn for six. Dunn was "covered" by Leroy Hill. I like Hill, he's that mythical third member of the "best linebacker corps" in the NFL. Hill runs downhill like a mofo. He's an excellent pass rusher and punishing run stopper. Unfortunately, his cover skills have regressed and I'm kinda losing hope. Hill will demand a mint in the offseason, given his role in Seattle's defense, is he worth it?