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Ray Willis Excels in Secret

The New England schoolmarms thought I was retarded. The complete silence the prosecutor, the failing grade and desk stuffed with September lunches the evidence. That's the word they would use too -- retawrded. Bad enough the school board had taken their paddles, they wouldn't lose the right to call a retard a retawrd. My defense was not..cogent. I picked my nose. Till it bled. A nervous wreck dead-wringer for Macauly Culkin, hunched over his spilled desk, balled toilet paper pressed to his nose, stammering nonsense and a little too interested in the greening brown paper bags at his feet, I was neither sympathetic nor promising. If not for second grade CATs*, I would have been sequestered to the second portable from the dumpster: A place of paste eating, high spirits and dim futures.

So I've a bit of a soft spot for late bloomers. I also a bit of soft spot for being right. I said Ray Willis struggles against edge rushers, so little wonder Robert Mathis, all teeth and claws and quarterback sacks, would run around him and sack Seneca Wallace's exquisitely manicured eyebrows. Except I'm-a half in and no havoc do I see. My biased heart is torn. Do I want Willis to succeed, for his good and the future of the team? Or would I rather be right? I fabricated enough evidence about Brian Russell to tip the scales. I still get a little high reminiscing about his release, but this season has presented so few players for me to destroy. My thwarted ambitions and projected self-loathing have an itchy trigger finger, y'know. We need an enemy. Could Russell's release really be the end of me?

Diagram 1

Big Man is not going to keep up with amoebae like Mathis, but Big Man has geometry on his side. An edge rushing end and a shadowing tackle make two sloppy, but near concentric half-circles (Diagram 1). Willis does not need to be as fast as Mathis to protect the quarterback. He must meet Mathis at a critical point in his edge rush: where his feet are out from under him. There he can wash out or pancake the rusher, nullifying the end or creating sufficient time for his quarterback. That is what Willis was attempting to do when Wallace's panic cost him a hold. For posterity, I did not see Willis hold Mathis even after Seneca's mistake. But it was Wallace's decision to scramble back and to the right of Willis that caused Willis to fall on top of Mathis. Had Wallace stepped into the pocket, the above photo would evidence Willis' dominance rather than his penalty.

Diagram 2

When Wallace escapes the pocket, his line must freelance. That leads to penalties and sacks. Wallace undercuts his line another way too. Consider those circles again for a second. Willis' shorter path compensates for his lesser quickness and agility. The less circular the path an end takes, the more flat his angle, the less advantage the tackle has (Diagram 2). On a Wallace 11-step drop, the pass rusher runs an oval instead of a half moon. The comparative lengths of the paths become closer, and speed a greater advantage.

So it's with a clenched teeth I admit, Willis had an excellent second quarter. He played in 22 offensive plays. The final ended in a Mathis sack. He had two holding penalties. One was Wallace's fault and the other I could not see and do not understand. Here is all 22 with notations.

1. 1-10-SEA 38 (14:51) (Run formation) 15-S.Wallace pass incomplete deep right to 11-D.Butler.

Seattle runs a hard play-action. The line blocks run. Willis pulls into the second level and cut blocks Freddy Keiaho.

2. 2-10-SEA 38 (14:44) 32-E.James right tackle to SEA 43 for 5 yards (92-E.Johnson, 23-T.Jennings).

Willis sinks and contains Mathis. Edgerrin James runs to the left of him for five yards.

3. 3-5-SEA 43 (14:00) (Shotgun) 15-S.Wallace pass short right to 84-T.Houshmandzadeh pushed ob at IND 49 for 8 yards (23-T.Jennings).

Willis turns a Mathis inside move into a bash block into the defensive tackle. "Bash block" is not recognized football jargon, so I'll define it thus: a block that bashes one defender into another.

4. 1-10-IND 49 (13:42) 32-E.James up the middle to IND 45 for 4 yards (33-M.Bullitt).

Willis moves out Raheem Brock.

5. 2-6-IND 45 (13:13) (Run formation) 32-E.James right tackle to IND 40 for 5 yards (79-R.Brock).

Mathis separates from Willis with a spin move, but the move puts Mathis behind James. He catches up and contributes to the tackle.

6. 3-1-IND 40 (12:30) 15-S.Wallace pass short left to 84-T.Houshmandzadeh to IND 37 for 3 yards (25-J.Powers).

Willis teams with Max Unger to contain Mathis. Quick throw.

7. 1-10-IND 37 (11:49) (Run formation) 15-S.Wallace pass short right to 89-J.Carlson ran ob at IND 21 for 16 yards. PENALTY on SEA-74-R.Willis, Offensive Holding, 10 yards, enforced at IND 37 - No Play.

Willis shadows Mathis, but a Wallace infinity drop undercuts Willis' position. He falls on Mathis attempting to pancake him -- effectively pancaking him. An official five yards away doesn't call a penalty. An official somewhere off screen does. Zebras confer; Willis takes the fall. Fox shows the replay, Charles Davis struggles to remember the name "Robert Mathis". No explanation is given.

8. 1-20-IND 47 (11:24) 32-E.James up the middle to IND 45 for 2 yards (68-E.Foster).

Mathis moves out of position on a run play.

9. 2-18-IND 45 (10:45) (Shotgun) 15-S.Wallace pass short left to 89-J.Carlson to IND 34 for 11 yards (28-M.Jackson, 33-M.Bullitt).

Wallace infinity drops into a screen pass.

10. 3-7-IND 34 (10:02) (Shotgun) 15-S.Wallace scrambles right end to IND 34 for no gain. PENALTY on SEA-15-S.Wallace, Illegal Forward Pass, 5 yards, enforced at IND 34.

Mathis attempts an inside move. Willis bash blocks him into the right defensive tackle. Wallace fucks up royally.

(Next Drive)

1. 1-10-SEA 22 (5:23) (Shotgun) 15-S.Wallace pass short left to 83-D.Branch to SEA 21 for -1 yards (28-M.Jackson).

Willis executes a great cut block. Wallace throws the ball at Deion Branch's ankles.

2. 2-11-SEA 21 (4:48) (Run formation) 15-S.Wallace pass short left to 81-N.Burleson to SEA 25 for 4 yards (25-J.Powers, 98-R.Mathis).

Willis blocks Brock.

3. 3-7-SEA 25 (4:06) (Shotgun) 15-S.Wallace pass short right to 81-N.Burleson to SEA 34 for 9 yards (23-T.Jennings).

Willis shades his man and shoves him out.

4. 1-10-SEA 34 (3:34) (Run formation) 22-J.Jones up the middle to SEA 41 for 7 yards (56-T.Hagler, 41-A.Bethea).

Willis moves Mathis out and away from the run.

5. 2-3-SEA 41 (2:57) (Run formation) 15-S.Wallace pass short right to 84-T.Houshmandzadeh to IND 39 for 20 yards (23-T.Jennings).

Mathis shuffles in pre-snap. Willis contains him.

6. 1-10-IND 39 (2:21) (Run formation) 22-J.Jones up the middle to IND 36 for 3 yards (41-A.Bethea, 55-C.Session).

Willis reach-blocks the left defensive tackle and then pulls into the second level. He gets a hit on the middle linebacker and then blocks the left outside linebacker.

7. 2-7-IND 36 (2:00) (Run formation) 15-S.Wallace pass incomplete short right to 35-O.Schmitt (23-T.Jennings). PENALTY on IND-23-T.Jennings, Defensive Holding, 5 yards, enforced at IND 36 - No Play.

Willis pancakes Mathis. Wallace fingerpaints with my vomit.

8. 1-10-IND 31 (1:52) 15-S.Wallace pass deep right to 83-D.Branch pushed ob at IND 9 for 22 yards (41-A.Bethea).

Willis holds the middle. Branch puts a slick move on Jennings to get free.

9. 1-9-IND 9 (1:47) (Shotgun) 15-S.Wallace pass incomplete short right to 84-T.Houshmandzadeh.

Wallace runs a naked bootleg to the right. Willis does not factor.

10. 2-9-IND 9 (1:43) 22-J.Jones right end pushed ob at IND 2 for 7 yards (23-T.Jennings, 41-A.Bethea). PENALTY on SEA-74-R.Willis, Offensive Holding, 10 yards, enforced at IND 9 - No Play.

This one is weird. Indianapolis sets in a 3-4, with Mathis standing over right end, showing blitz. Seattle has two wide receivers left, a wide receiver right, a tight end right, Julius Jones offset slightly left and Wallace under center. Indy is running a kind of blitz, and Mathis edge rushes right end at the snap. That takes him out of the play. Seattle is stretching right, and Willis is responsible to kick out and take out Mathis, but because Indy is blitzing, Willis runs after Mathis after Mathis has run past Jones. Mathis virtually cannot impact this play. The left defensive end cuts in and John Carlson seals the interior. Jones runs directly at where Mathis has vacated. Everything about this play screams good play-call and good execution, but then there is the flag that I never see thrown. Holding: Number 74.

11. 2-19-IND 19 (1:38) 15-S.Wallace pass short left to 22-J.Jones pushed ob at IND 16 for 3 yards (28-M.Jackson).

No one enters Willis' zone and he does not factor nor block anyone.

12. 3-16-IND 16 (1:31) 15-S.Wallace sacked at IND 21 for -5 yards (98-R.Mathis). WATCH HIGHLIGHT

Might as well click the link and not take my word for it, but Seattle stacks two tight ends left and runs max protect. It's a wonder then that Willis is able to shade, shove out and nearly shove down Mathis, but that John Carlson, John Owens and Brandon Frye cannot contain Dwight Freeney. He sends Wallace a skitterin and skatin towards getting sacked by a stunting Brock and a recovering Mathis. Willis doesn't own his man, but he damn nearly does.

So what to say? What to say. One half in the books, an eye trained on Willis and a notebook full of scribblings, I see little proof Willis struggled. I see Ray Willis knocking around an elite** defensive end.

**Not elite.

*I was later accused of cheating on other standardized tests, including the WASL. This was the administration's way of saying, as my chum Stephen once put it, "you don't look smart."