I dished out some perfunctory praise of Mansfield Wrotto, Jeremy Bates and Alex Gibbs last night. I woke up yesterday morning feeling like someone kicked me in the back. Mothers don't let your kids grow up to be Teamsters. By the end of the game, I was so tired I just wanted to be done with it. Bland, positive and imprecise is a crowd pleaser and suffices when you're not capable of better. Bland, positive and imprecise is right up there with pop culture references, personal anecdotes and hyperbole in the lazy writer's toolbox.
How did Wrotto play? How did Bates and Gibbs hide Wrotto, if they did, and is it a sustainable strategy or a bag of tricks, quickly exhausted? Those questions were on my mind while doing my preliminary review of the tape this morning. Here's an answer, or a beginning of an answer to be explored further through the week.
Bates and Gibbs put Wrotto in a hat, cut a hole in the bottom, put that hat atop a trick pedestal and crammed one or two tight ends on top. Fans only saw success pulled from thin air, but it was success won through misdirection and compensation. Misdirection and compensation likely to generate diminishing returns.
Which is, of course, why players like Wrotto can "man up" for a game even against the fiercest of competition but "get worse by the week" as opponents figure them out.
The first half is the most relevant sample, but I might include the two series Matt Hasselbeck started in the second. Still thinking that over. The first half is the relevant sample because Wrotto squared against Jared Allen. Allen had one tackle and no other statistical impact. Football stats are stupid.
Here is the real story of the first half.
Seattle started the game with two tight ends on the left. And if that wasn't sufficient compensation, Hasselbeck took a three step drop. Seattle had 21 offensive snaps, including the false start by Wrotto and the play called back by a Sean Locklear hold, and 13 of those snaps featured a tight end on the left. Sometimes they chipped. Often they played left tackle, allowing Wrotto to functionally play guard. Always, they came at cost: lost receivers, bad matchups and/or predictability.
The eight plays without a tight end protecting Wrotto were:
1. 2-6-SEA 42 (13:58) 8-M.Hasselbeck pass incomplete short left to 84-T.Houshmandzadeh (51-B.Leber).
Three step drop, pass nearly picked.
2. 2-4-MIN 22 (11:57) 33-L.Washington right guard to MIN 21 for 1 yard (52-C.Greenway).
Run behind right guard on a stretch right.
3. 2-9-SEA 3 (:50) 33-L.Washington right end to SEA 4 for 1 yard (26-A.Winfield).
Run right; Carlson faces Allen; Wrotto's assignment nearly tackles Leon Washington for a safety.
4. 3-8-SEA 4 (:10) 33-L.Washington right guard to SEA 7 for 3 yards (94-P.Williams).
Trips left; T.J. Housmandzadeh motions right; run right.
5. 1-10-SEA 28 (11:39) 8-M.Hasselbeck pass short left to 88-C.Morrah to SEA 33 for 5 yards (51-B.Leber).
Screen pass to Cameron Morrah in the left flat.
6. 1-10-SEA 43 (10:48) 8-M.Hasselbeck pass deep right to 83-D.Branch to MIN 15 for 42 yards (39-H.Abdullah; 26-A.Winfield). WATCH HIGHLIGHT
Play action; seven blockers.
7. 1-10-MIN 15 (10:05) PENALTY on SEA-66-M.Wrotto, False Start, 5 yards, enforced at MIN 15 - No Play.
False start: Wrotto.
8. 3-19-MIN 24 (9:06) 22-J.Jones left end to MIN 20 for 4 yards (31-C.Cook).
Trips left; Housh motions right; pitch left, Wrotto pulls, misses Chris Cook and Cook tackles Jones from behind.
Protecting a weakness makes a team predictable, and in some ways, down a man. John Carlson did a good job given his task, but Carroll, Bates and Seattle want Carlson receiving, not flailing to recover. Opponents would/will eventually recognize patterns, tendencies and resulting weaknesses and shift scheme, assignments and coverage. The Wrotto plan can be reworked but its essence will remain, and teams will catch up faster than Seattle can change.
The Seahawks did well with that they had. The offense was stagnant but cautious and the defense kept the Seahawks in it through the first half. Bates did a good job of keeping the heat off Wrotto. Gibbs did a good job of helping Wrotto execute what was asked of him. Wrotto survived. Seattle survived. Yesterday.