The In-house Option
Good Blocks: 2
Good Route Run: 2
Broken Tackles: 7
Blown Assignments: 4
*Includes all games minus Week 10, Divisional Round and the second half of Week 3 and the first half of week 1. Does not include special teams.
Upping his trade value: Yep, if we can get a second or third round pick, I'd be entirely in favor of shipping off Nate Burleson this offseason. But while he's a Hawk, let's celebrate the one thing he does like no other Hawk: break tackles. When Burly received the kick within the ten, he had 3 Browns within 5 yards of him and another 5 within 15 yards of him. Through agility, strength and exceptional body control, Nate Burleson broke 5 tackles on his 94 yard punt return TD. I don't have the numbers handy, but I'm fairly certain that's as many or more tackles as Alexander has broken in the last 4 weeks. Burleson also had a nice day receiving. Are you paying attention Matt Millen?
That same drive gives us our play of the half. Eighth play, third down, Hawks on the Bears 4. Seattle sets up 4 wide, but with the middle of the three right receivers in a three point stance, and the outside man, Nate Burleson, motioning in. The result is a sort of wide bunch. At the snap the two inside men move out and drag across the middle and top of the endzone. They're essentially decoys to clear out the center for Burleson. Burly continues his pattern in, does something that sends the defender cartwheeling away, and makes a reception that looks rather painful - Burly is jumped on top of and falls into the endzone doin' the splits. Good play all around, from design to execution, and another small step in Burly's recent receiving renaissance.
Finally, as Mr. Pearson pointed out (and Pearson isn't a bad color analyst, despite the built in handicap of being teamed with Mad Matt Vasgersian who, I swear, is either blind or doing his taxes) Nate Burleson's blown assignment - that is: giving up on his route - was the primary culprit for the Hasselbeck pick. It near-surely cost the Hawks 3+ points. Despite his contributions as a special teamer, I am completely sick of this guy. Burly, you've made my list.
Seattle exits the huddle with 2 WRs, an H-Back and backs in an I-back formation. It's a run first formation for Seattle. They would run the next 4 plays from this same formation. The Rams, anticipating run, put 8 in the box and 5 along the line. Morris runs for three, and it's a wonder that he does. Next play, the Rams stack 6 on the line and 8 in the box, but Seattle calls play action, Beck finds Burly one on one downfield, Burly converts the first, nets 20 yards, and forces a superfluous penalty. This is the one adept play call of the drive.
The play to the right here is pretty self explanatory. Marcus Pollard gets extra credit for causing a ruckus off the line and setting a legal pick for Burleson. Burly shows some good route running, bending his route around Pollard's high contact curl and shedding Ralph Brown and Terrence Holt much like the boxer must shed roll after roll of sweaty, useless, disgusting flab before he can win the title. The star of this play, though, is its creator. He earns some criticism around here, but Mike Holmgren knows how to work the red zone. You can see that Pollard's route occupies Holt and forces Brown to take an obtuse angle of pursuit from a trailing position. That's how Nate gets so open. A great play call run to perfection. (Branch not pictured)
Burly just sheds Shawn Springs on, get this, a really nice route run by Nate. Springs was clearly off yesterday, perhaps feeling his age, but the story for Hawks fans is that Burly has now shown clear, consistent improvement over the last few weeks. Good to see.
I don't think Burly committed offensive pass interference against Shawn Springs. I watched his leaping, 15 yard reception a few times, and at first, that is, on the first viewing from the long angle lens, it looks like Burleson pushes off. But on the replay, right up next to the two, you see a little hand fighting, but no penalty. That was maybe the most important offensive play of the game for Seattle, and it shouldn't be sullied if it's not deserved.
With Deion Branch and D.J. Hackett both injured, you might expect Seattle to revert to more 2 WR sets, but you'd be wrong. It's only 7 plays, but Seattle ran four WRs thrice and three once. That actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it. The remaining Hawk wideouts are all slot receivers. The one time they went two wide, a lopsided right formation with two tight ends (left/right) a single back and both receivers right, Beck looked like he wanted to spit piss he was so mad. First Obomanu aligns too far from the line and Beck has to yell at him to get closer, and then on a play that was clearly quick slant or bust, Obomanu runs the most half-assed slant in the history of man. He runs about quarter speed, never getting an inch worth of separation from Deshea Townsend. Beck motions the pass, on what was certainly an aborted throw and not a play fake, and then the whole thing just breaks down. Pitt doesn't even bother with a pass rush, and three seconds into the play the Hawks wideouts are just milling around in the second level neither running routes nor seriously looking to get open. Beck just throws it away. On the next play Beck throws a frustration pass into Ike Taylor's back on a pathetic curl route by Burleson. With Burly and Obo both goofing off, I can't help but wonder if Courtney Taylor shouldn't get some looks starting wide. He's not gifted physically, but he does run his routes.
Bad DBs make even iffy receivers look good, and so Seattle's awful trio of Bobby Engram, Nate Burleson and Ben Obomanu looked decent. That's three slot receivers, one who can run his routes, and two guys playing their way off the 2008 squad. Burleson and Obomanu found some holes in New Orleans' zones, but it's clear that Matt Hasselbeck simply does not trust them. Sometimes, when Beck's throws look off, you can tell he's playing conservatively to a fault. Sailing passes because Engram is covered or putting triple strength Joe Montana touch on the touchdown pass to Obomanu. You watch him and want to yell "Grow a set!" but in some ways his skittishness is justified. It's got to kill you when your team is down a score, the offense is driving and you launch a flawless pass to Burly only to see him gain position on the corner and then swat the ball to the ground. Burleson jumps, turns 180 so that he's facing the line of scrimmage, uses his body to screen the defender out of the play and then flubs a pass directly between his hands pointing towards his sternum. Absolute, bush-league garbage.
Burleson committed returner greed. From taking the ball out from within the ten, to leaving his feet, to repeatedly hanging the ball away from his body - Burleson's fumble was earned.
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.
The first quarter was busy, but the second was a bit like watching paint dry. I'll detail the highlights, but don't be surprised if this article is a bit brief. For those who think I came down a bit too hard on the officials last night, I think J.C. Pearson said it best when praising the superlative coverage by Fakhir Brown: "Good job on pulling down Burleson's arm. You pull the arm down, you can't catch the ball." Indeed.
Among Seattle's worst players but rarely criticized. Burleson was Brian Russell to Shaun Alexander's Jordan Babineaux. Burly played a bit better later in the season, but one can't be sure if he actually improved. Throw enough darts at a dartboard and some will bunch, but that doesn't mean anything. When all was said and done all Burleson accomplished was pulling himself up from the absolute cellar and back among the simply bad wide receivers. Couple that with a noticeable slowdown in his return play and one might wonder if it's time to sell high on Nate. Because of his athleticism, history of success and the time it takes some receivers to figure out Holmgren's system, breakout is still possible.