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.
It's the Bengals first play of their third drive of the second quarter. Off the snap Bernard explodes through the line. Palmer is forced to role out to his right, this is essential because he now has only one viable receiving target: T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Bernard isn't fast enough to chase down Palmer, but he is fast enough to stall Palmer's pass. Finally, nearing the line of scrimmage and with Bernard closing in on his outside shoulder, Palmer delivers the strike towards Housh. Grant then converts a highlight reel interception, breaking down on the route and grabbing the pass before expertly dragging his feet inbounds. Grant made it spectacular, but Bernard made it possible. Once Palmer was forced to roll to his right, he locked onto Housh and Grant had an easy time jumping the route. Just excellent execution by the D and proof that everything in football, every play, every pick, is a team effort.
Lots more I can talk about, but this is getting a bit long, so a brief one about Deon Grant. Fans may have noticed something specific that's changed about the Hawks secondary from the prior three seasons. Teams are not throwing the ball deep over the middle like they used to. Ken Hamlin and Michael Boulware had a way of getting eaten up by the deep post nearly every game. It was astounding, really. Grant suffers no such foolishness. It's the 8th play of the Rams last offensive series, second and ten, but generally speaking the Rams are having their way against an extremely soft zone. The score is 33-6 with about a minute and a half left in the contest. Seattle is in their, wait on it, 3-3 Nickel package. At the snap Seattle sends a perfunctory pass rush, Bulger takes a five step drop, steps into a deep pass, and is picked off. On the instant replay you can see Grant about 15 yards from the play, deep center, at the time of the throw. He runs expertly to where the receiver will be, forms the inside half of a bracket with Kelly Jennings and jumps up for the pick as if he were the receiver. A great, if unspectacular play and notice that the Seahawks are no longer soft deep.
The Rams are now at the Seattle 39 with a full 2:15 left on the play clock. That's when we get either a complete eff up by the front seven, or something that could politely be called the Keystone Cop blitz package. Seattle has only two men on the line, and the other four within the box are milling about like they don't know where to set up. At the snap, despite the confusion, Seattle blitzes 6. The pass rush doesn't get unblocked within 3 yards of Bulger before he's already thrown the ball. Bruce is streaking up the seam, and that's when Grant has the presence of mind to interfere. 24 yards is a tough pill to swallow, but it's small beer considering how open Bruce was about to get against a badly disorganized Hawks secondary. I don't know if Seattle wasn't ready for the quicksnap, or if Tatupu's absence left them daffy, or if Marshall was just slow on the play call, but I do know it nearly cost them the game.
Grant made a really nice play on a deep pass. It's too bad the ball trickled out after impact, because the outcome, a simple pass defensed, really obscures the quality of the play. He broke on the ball in a split and went for a pick in a no lose situation. You either get an interception, defense the pass, or if the complete unexpected occurs and Grant completely whiffs, the receiver was still manned up by Marcus Trufant. Had Grant converted the pick, it would have been highlight material. Instead, a simple feather in the cap for the lesser of Seattle's two big free agents signings this off season. Like Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson, the first season belongs to the bruiser, but time may prove Grant the better overall signing.
Third play, first drive of the quarter, Cards ball. Hawks are in a base formation. Larry Fitzgerald runs a simple pump and go route. Tru doesn't get beat, he's clearly faster than the hobbled Fitzgerald, but he does lose a step and is now in a trail position. Warner tosses a lob, hoping, perhaps, that Fitzgerald will be able to outcompete Trufant on the jump ball. That's when Grant, from the deep cover 3 shell, jumps the route and nearly nabs a spectacular pick. If his previous play was right place, right time, this was right read, right move. He doesn't hold onto the football, but it's a great play.
The Rams have excellent field position after receiving the post safety punt. The Hawks come out in their base defensive package, with Deon Grant near the line in the traditional "8 in the box" look. The Hawks look like they're employing a run blitz, and at the snap the outside linebackers jam the gaps. Grant does likewise. The problem is apparent, the Hawks defense has "flattened out", that is, they're in a line with only Tatupu in the second level. This weakness is exposed when Grant attempts to fill the outside gap, Jackson runs right up the middle, Tatupu runs full speed at Rams fullback Brian Leonard, and Jackson is suddenly free with only Grant pursuing and Russell to beat. The keys mistakes are in the play call, Grant's misread of the run and then, of course, Russell's poor angle and poor tackling.
It’s little surprise that Grant’s single lowlight came in run support. He’s a flimsy tackler that frequently misdiagnoses run plays. Because of Seattle’s venerable linebacker corps and attacking defensive style, Grant made many tackles close to the line of scrimmage, but any accolades attributed his run stopping are in error. That’s small beer. Grant was a revelation at safety. He’s in the sweet spot career-wise, just recently 29, still quick enough to break on the pass, but no longer prone to rookie blunders. Grant, in fact, was all but impenetrable in deep coverage. Even when walked up to the line, Grant quickly diagnosed pass and rarely left Trufant on an island. His strongside play contributed to Seattle’s 8th ranked defense against #1 wide receivers. Given his coverage skills, I wish Seattle would employ Grant at his natural position: free safety. Grant would make an above average run stuffer for a free safety. Alas, Seattle enters 2008 with little run stuffing prowess at safety. Runs of 10+ yards were a major bugaboo for the Hawks otherwise stifling run defense. Seattle allowed a long run nearly once in every four rushing attempts. In 2008, Grant will continue to be impervious in coverage, but just adequate against the run.