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The Little Man with the Big Hands

Steve Spagnuolo wanted to jam the outside receivers and flood the middle. He didn't count on tiny Deon Butler slapping Justin King away like a ho that couldn't pay. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Seattle followed the first down with a stretch right out of a three receiver set. The line pushed the Rams off the ball, but for no apparent reason, a crease never formed. Julius Jones ran nearly four yards behind his front five, but before he could break through, the backside caught up and Will Witherspoon tackled him. It wasn't a flashy play, but it was encouraging.

The Seahawks next ran one of those red-zone specials. A play without a purpose until things get crammed and picking up three is an accomplishment. It started two wide, but T.J. Houshmandzadeh motioned from right wide to left tight. That drew St. Louis' linebackers and safeties left.

Matt Hasselbeck ran play action, Justin Griffith released into the flat, the line pulled left and Julius Jones submarined unblocked end, Leonard Little. It was the beginning of a nifty little designed pass, but it ended with a familiar flub. Hasselbeck reset and threw a pass to Griffith. The ball hit him as he was breaking, but hit his back shoulder, against his momentum. Griffith jumped, kicked, twisted and attempted to reroute, but the delay was too much and David Vobora closed and knocked him out after one.

Third and five has the feel of third in long in the red zone. The shallow safeties and typically stacked box means a run is inadvisable. A team can run, but they better be good at it, and they better be prepared to go for it if they fail to convert.

Seattle had played itself into third down again, and in the old school world of the NFL, that meant convert or kick. Spags and Knapp were about to engage in a battle of wits.

Steve Spagnuolo wanted to jam the outside receivers and flood the middle. Greg Knapp wanted to overload the first down marker and create a mismatch for John Carlson in the end zone. As is often the case in the mismatched chess match that is the NFL, scheme canceled out and talent prevailed.

Seattle sets three wide, tight end, shotgun with Justin Forsett to Hasselbeck's right. St. Louis sets in a 4-2 nickel with man coverage on the outside. Before the snap, Houshmandzadeh motions in to behind the center and then back out to the left slot. Nickelback Jonathan Wade does not show man cover. Then things get complicated.


St. Louis rushes three, but Will Witherspoon is ready to delay blitz if necessary. The corners are up to jam. Ron Bartell jams Nate Burleson on the right and Justin King attempts to jam Butler on the left. Right defensive tackle Clifton Ryan drops into cover and along with Jonathan Wade, the two blanket T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Housh is running a quick in that doubles as a pick to free John Carlson. It does, but it doesn't. Carlson is covered by James Laurinaitis. Houshmandzadeh gives Carlson separation, but the Rams have strong safety James Butler playing over top ready to double team.

Burleson hasn't escaped Bartell. Witherspoon stops his blitz when he sees Forsett leaking into the right flat. He doesn't pursue Forsett, but looms. A pass to Forsett is sure to be tackled short. Hasselbeck can't scramble with Witherspoon so close. Carlson and Houshmandzadeh are double teamed. That leaves King the small task of jamming Butler to break the play and likely force a throw away.


But he doesn't. Butler takes two choppy steps up and left. The move forces King's hips open as he attempts to get inside position and a chance to jam Butler out of bounds. Butler raises his right arm and takes a long, low, almost kneeling step with his left leg. King bites on the motion and begins sidestepping to shadow. Butler torques his waist and swats King's left shoulder pad, knocking him towards the sideline and helping Butler drive into a hard slant right. He's wide open and Matt knows it.

Hasselbeck finds Butler for seven and the first. Deon, I see slants in your future.

Two plays later, Bartell busts coverage and Seattle scores it first touchdown of the season. The drive was over. It hung by a highwire more than once, but it was bold, smart and it never hanged itself with safe plays.