LaRod Stephens-Howling returned the opening kick off 52 yards in play where both Matt McCoy and Will Herring shifted hard left. Special teams is especially hard to deduce, because of the speed and comparative looseness of it, and especially because of the preferred camera angle which zooms on the returner. So that's up to the coaching staff to assign credit and blame for, but this looked like a pretty major kick off coverage failure. Stephens-Howling was able to run almost straight up the hash marks.
This post covers the Cardinals short scoring drive. It was mostly Stephens-Howling's return and Larry Fitzgerald's long reception. I am not inclined to agree or disagree with officials, but do not think enough fact checking is done on questionable calls.
1-10-ARI 48 (14:52) 34-T.Hightower left tackle to ARZ 49 for 1 yard (92-B.Mebane, 95-K.Balmer).
Brandon Mebane shot off his block and Kentwan Balmer closed from the back side and the two met to wrap Tim Hightower after a gain of one.
2-9-ARI 49 (14:19) 3-D.Anderson pass short left to 36-L.Stephens-Howling to SEA 38 for 13 yards (94-J.Siavii).
Junior Siavii is thrown down and Mebane either trips over him or is thrown down himself. Chris Clemons and Balmer are deep into the Cardinals backfield. Siavii picks himself up and recovers to chase Stephens-Howling as Stephens-Howling cuts right and away from Aaron Curry. That saved a bunch of yards.
1-10-SEA 38 (13:38) 34-T.Hightower right tackle to SEA 35 for 3 yards (91-C.Clemons).
Clemons shakes off lead blocker Reagan Maui'a and tackles Hightower. Siavii closes from the left. Siavii has looked good -- a competent proxy for Colin Cole.
2-7-SEA 35 (12:59) 3-D.Anderson pass deep right to 11-L.Fitzgerald pushed ob at SEA 2 for 33 yards (23-M.Trufant). Seattle challenged the pass completion ruling, and the play was Upheld. (Timeout #1.)
Here's the big play. Seattle rushes seven but generates little pressure. Clemons does a decent job on a bull rush on the right and that contributes to Derek Anderson throwing flat footed, but rushing seven and creating very little pressure is a set up to get burned. Seattle does, but, well ...
It looks like his left foot touches down out of bounds before his right foot can contact the turf in bounds, but I do respect that the officials stuck with the ruling on the field. The one thing that is not entirely clear is whether Fitzgerald's left foot is touching out of bounds or if it's ever so slightly above the turf. Hard to say, but if it's not touching, it's microns above the turf.
Anyway. Long receptions happen and great plays and great players tend to get the benefit of the doubt. Ask Josh Wilson.
1-2-SEA 2 (12:52) 34-T.Hightower left tackle for 2 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Mebane wins his matchup and seals off the outside and almost, almost catches Hightower for a loss. It was so tantalizingly close that I initially blamed him in part for the touchdown, but that's not the case. Instead, this is one of those moments the Seahawks miss Red Bryant. Bryant may not have surely prevented this touchdown, but the Seahawks run defense breaks down with replacement strongside end Balmer.
It's simple really. Siavii is turned and lost in the scrum. Lofa Tatupu could fill if he was free, but right tackle Brandon Keith was all over him. Keith reaches Tatupu after single blocking Balmer and passing him on to tight end Ben Patrick. Bryant, by contrast, was much harder to pass by, occupying and controlling blockers. He also would likely be able to crash down on the hole if blocked one-on-one by a tight end. Instead, a lead blocker reaches the second level and the rusher shoots the rush lane untouched for the touchdown.