A badass in his prime.
Broken Tackles: 17
Blown Coverage: 3
Good Coverage: 5
Blown Assignments: 1
*Includes all games minus Week 10, Divisional Round and the second half of Week 3 and the first half of week 1.
Lofa Tatupu looks stronger than I've ever seen him. On Sunday he was stripping blockers with ease.
Lofa Tatupu made a game changing interception on the Cardinals first drive of the half. You might have noticed that, but did you notice...The Hawks are in a base defensive package. Ken Whisenhunt's power rushing attack kept Seattle in a base package for most of the contest. Both of the corners are deep, Deon Grant is deep and Brian Russell is shallow--I'm about ready to say that these two are used interchangeably. It's first and ten, the Cards are on their seventh play, driving, nearing midfield. The call is a play action, at first all three linebackers stay shallow spying the backfield. Matt Leinart is staring a hole into Larry Fitzgerald, Tatupu reads the play-fake and turns back sprinting into position. No sooner does he turn back to the line of scrimmage than the ball arrives, the young Pro Bowler catches then sprints 18 yards back across the fifty. Just an awesome and truly improbable play. Tatupu reads Leinart expertly and makes a catch many receivers would drop. Fitzgerald was otherwise nearly uncovered, if Tatupu had merely defensed the play it would have been impressive, but the reflexes it takes to catch a ball unseen is astounding.
Here's your play of the day. A slick little blitz package the Hawks ran twice. I had called for Marshall to rush fewer defenders on blitzes and use underneath zones, specifically with the Hawks athletic defensive ends, and he did just that. Here's his best, with Kerney at left defensive end working in zone coverage. The key is Peterson's ability to edge rush, and the resulting hole created for Tatupu to bring pressure. Kerney is in perfect position to defend the flat when Grossman attempts to roll right.
First play of the game, Lofa Tatupu interception, how'd it go down? Here's what I saw: The Eagles are four wide with a tight end; AJ Feeley in the shotgun. The Seahawks are in a base package w/ the linebackers spread wide. The Eagles have their two best wide receivers, Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown, in the slots. They're covered by Julian Peterson and Leroy Hill, respectively. Tatupu is assigned L.J. Smith, so that the Hawks' three linebackers are each in man coverage against, arguably, the Eagles' three best receivers. At the snap Smith runs a loose post route, is thrown a bit off route by Tatupu and then sort of dogs it in the gap between Tats and Deon Grant. Curtis is thrown completely off his route by Peterson. I'm not so sure about Brown and Hill, but Brown looks open after the camera pans to center in on the Tatupu interception. Take that for what it's worth. The rest is obvious, Tats snags the pick and sets up the first Hawks' score.
Since we're on the subject, let's skip to Tatupu's second pick. Daryl Johnston called it a mirror image, but it really wasn't. Not that I'm picking on Johnston, he's just being colorful. It's 3rd and 6, the Hawks are in a 4-2 Nickel package and the Eagles a 3 WR, TE, single back formation. The Eagles send the slot receiver in motion, Jordan Babineaux adjusts by moving in and up against the line, Hill by moving out right. So different formation, different down and distance, and as I'll elaborate, a different group of role players for Tats' second star turn. At the snap, Brandon Mebane punishes the left guard, showing some college form with his manic handfighting, and forcing Todd Herremans back steadily towards Feeley. Westbrook jumps in for an assist and gets chucked for the effort. Tatupu briefly shadows Smith before Babs picks up Smith entering Babs' zone. This allows Tats to break back into a middle zone, intercept the pass intended for the slot receiver and then be off for a 49 yard return into Philly's redzone. That's'alotta zones!! So, Mebane pressures, Babs again shows good zone awareness, and Tatupu makes the best of an underneath zone. Pretty slick and surprisingly no frills.
Play of the game, courtesy of, who else?, Lofa Tatupu. Not a pick, but a tackle. First play, third Eagles drive of the third quarter. The Eagles run a wide receiver screen to Curtis, with Todd Herremans pull blocking. Tats starts shaded a little right of center. After the snap, Tats reads the play and charges left, but is met by Herremans. How does Tatupu react to the attempted block by the 6'6", 321 pound guard? By dropping a shoulder into him and laying him out. Flat. Then shoots the gap and stops the screen before it gets off the floor.
We're lucky to have this guy.
Tatupu has gotten much better navigating blockers, but he still misses some tackles and the way Seattle is designed defensively, when Tatupu misses all hell breaks loose. That's what happened on the fifth play of the Steelers scoring drive when Najeh Davenport went off for 45 yards. As soon as Tatupu misses about 7 yards past the line of scrimmage, Davenport cuts back towards the left sideline and Hawks tumbled like a California mudslide. Nate Washington got away with an iffy block in the back, the kind of call you want when it benefits your team but not so flagrant that you can justifiably be outraged. Washington's contact was largely incidental, despite Joe Buck crediting him with a "great block".
A long third down conversion keyed by a blown coverage by Babineaux allows the Browns to drive into the fourth quarter, down 8, but with first and ten from the Hawks' 24. Following a dropped pass by Winslow and a stuffed Jamal Lewis run, the Browns are facing their 6th 3rd and long of the contest. Clevenland spreads `em wide, splits out 4, counting Winslow, with an offset back right. Seattle responds with a 4-2 nickel. Russell impotently blitzes the edge, but Tru plays man to perfection, breaks on the Braylon Edwards quick slant and ankle tackles him short of the first, forcing the Browns into 4th and 2. 4th, 2, Browns break huddle empty backfield, 5 wide. Seattle is again in a 4-2 Nickel, with Tatupu and Kevin Bentley spread outside the ends. At the snap, Hawks rush 4, Craig Terrill spins through his man, pressures Anderson. Bentely and Babs double Vicious to the left. Tatupu stutter steps, attempts to jam Winslow, fails, loses a step, blows coverage and watches as Winslow reels in a quick-out for 13 and 1st and goal from the Seattle 2. Tatupu looks back at Bentley, taps his chest and then raises his hands as if to say "What the Hell just happened?"
If only Tatupu could wrap up, he'd be that much more fearsome. The guy allows a lot of broken tackles. A lot.
The now and future face of the franchise, Tatupu doesn't always wrap well and isn't a plus on blitzes. That's about as critical as you can be of Tatupu. He's a ++ run stopper, a + coverage backer, is fabulously aware and the unquestioned leader of Seattle's D. The day Tim Ruskell "reached" for Tats, he reinvented the Seahawks. In 2007, Tatupu showed growth shedding blockers. What had once been a weakness became a strength as Tats quietly became of one the better middle linebackers in football at fighting through garbage and shedding lead blockers. That skill might portend an improvement in his pass rush, too. Lofa Tatupu is an excellent player, a rare leader and true Blue. A Seahawk for life.