Narrative Of The Game
This game came with a load a baggage, from on-the-field performances to off-the-field stories of locker room strife and rumor of discord in the wake of the Percy Harvin trade. Let's face it, the Seahawks organization dumped this to the media on a Friday before the St. Louis game, so the media spinning its wheels of intrigue should have come as no surprise for us. This week's game was about turning the ship around slowly but surely until its course lines up in all three phases once again. One week it's been the defense, one week it was the offense, last week it was special teams. The team needed to show itself it could win an old fashioned tightly contested game. They did.
Let's take a look at how.
[First Quarter 11:35: 1st and 10, pass to Jericho Cotchery for 13 yards coverage by Sherman]
Richard Sherman does one of his typical "give" plays where he gives a QB what he wants on the look. Coming out of play action, Cam Newton sees the crosser is open and fires. Sherman makes a move underneath the crossing route by Jerricho Cotchery, and even though he sees this the whole way, he can't get back underneath the throw quick enough to contest it. If he does get it, it's probably a pick six. This play is sort of a microcosm of the plays that just aren't getting made for the 'Hawks D this year.
[First Quarter 8:23: 1st and 10, Cam Newton QB draw tackle by Michael Bennett loss of 7 yards]
Seattle made these kind of plays all last year when teams would get a drive going and find a nice rhythm. These are really the "off schedule" plays (drive killers). Seahawk fans probably recognize these plays, often created by penalties, when watching Seattle's offense, but the defense, and specifically Michael Bennett, make sure they can create a hiccup in this smooth drive for Carolina.
Michael Bennett surges against the guard here, and considering it's a draw, it's not necessarily bad at first for the guard. However, the momentum carries him right into Cam Newton's running path, and causes him to have to spin and try and make another play. He can't, though, as Seattle's team speed rallies and Cam goes down as Michael gets him off balance enough to force him to the ground.
This play forces the eventual field goal after what had been a very smooth drive for the Panthers.
[First Quarter 2:57 1st and 10 Run by Jonathan Stewart for 5 yards. Tackled by KJ Wright.]
Malcolm Smith with a whiff on a tackle after filling in to the running lane, and this is also another sign things aren't quite like they were last year for the Seahawks. Now, to be fair, on the play, there is a pretty wicked jump-stop juke by Jonathan Stewart to avoid the tackle attempt. Smith is attempting to go low but he ends up just face-planting as he flails , trying to reach up to grab Stewart. I have never seen Malcolm Smith play this consistently bad week in and week out, particularly when it comes to tackling. He just doesn't look like he's pulling the trigger correctly to me.
"Finish" should probably be taped on his locker because that's what he needs to do or risk being washed out of the starting lineup or even the league.
[Second Quarter: 14:11 3rd and Goal, Run by Stewart loss of 3 yards tackle made by Tony McDaniel.]
There are two reasons to talk about this play. One is the fact that Seattle goes all big here. Kevin Williams, Greg Scruggs, Brandon Mebane and Tony McDaniel are all in in this goal line set. Scruggs played 29 snaps this week. He flashed six or so times on my screen while breaking this game down. He's a significant part, at least it looks so, to the "answers" Pete Carroll and Dan Quinn were looking for on the defensive line. Also, Kevin Williams saw zero plays at the 5-tech spot while Scruggs saw snaps at Nose Tackle, 3-tech, and 5-tech.
On this play however, the line that features both Willams and Scruggs, gets a great surge. Tony McDaniel does a nice job from the strong side, blowing up the concept of the run. It's basically a Power-O and with McDaniel's surge the play dies, and the penetration by Scruggs and Williams backside leaves nowhere for Stewart to go.
Another drive stalls for Carolina and Seattle wins a key down in the game for the first time in weeks.
[Second Quarter 5:02: 1st and 10, Fumble by Newton/Stewart recovered by Cliff Avril]
Another clutch play, as the defense hadn't really slowed down the Panthers at all on this drive. A series of long methodical drives with poor finishes for the Panthers had left Seattle well within its capacities to get things right going forward. Struggles stopping the run as well as timed passes kept Seattle from finding its own rhythm defensively. This play doesn't need a GIF, but it was probably the play that gets into Cam Newton's head the most. Cam tried to rip the ball back on a read option, and Stewart tried to hold on. I think that's what happens here, and the ball comes out.
[Third Quarter 13:25: 3rd and 7, pass intercepted by Marcus Burley]
All the bounces seemed to be going the other way for the Seahawks, until this game. On this play, Cam just gets flushed by the pressure. Seattle started blitzing in the second half after staying away from it for much of the first. This is just what I talked about with Bennett and Avril working together. These two men were made to rush the passer together. Avril is aligned in a standing position next to Bennett and at the snap both the tackle and guard move to deal with a possible stunt.
Check out the huge crease that Kevin Pierre-Louis exploits on a slight delay blitz.
Yeah, that's how you scheme pressure and the blitz by Pierre-Louis forces Cam out of the pocket, and then it's time to cue Dieon Sanders "Nooooo Caaaaam!" as he flips a pass to avoid the sack. Unfortunately for him he doesn't quite get away with it.
[Third Quarter 6:29 2nd and 8 Run by Cam Newton gains 5 tackled by Earl Thomas]
There was one thing Seattle was able to stop consistently, and that was Cam Newton running the ball for big plays. This is a big part of the Panthers' offense, particularly lately. They look for big plays out of Cam's legs in advantageous situations. This stack receiver look is the perfect idea, and Cam vs. Earl Thomas should really, you'd think, be a win for the Panthers. Earl says "No, it's not an advantage when I have a running start and not Malcolm Smith tacking skills."
[Fourth Quarter 8:46: 3rd and 11 Pass complete to Benjamin for 50 yards covered by Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas]
The best contested pass by the defense all day and it's completed. Both Sherman and Thomas have a perfect bracket in double coverage. I hate this play specifically because of the rush getting picked up but also for the playing out of a famous quote by Earl Thomas:
"Never trust Sherm when he has a chance for a pick."
It haunts Seattle here as it puts the wheels back on Carolina's offense which had sputtered after the early interception by Burley.
[Fourth Quarter 0:38: 2nd and 15, Cam Newton Sacked by Bruce Irvin loss of 7 yards]
A big time sack by Irvin that demonstrates his understanding of nuanced rushing. Irvin just gives the left tackle a quick shoulder shake inside, and then dips outside with a quick finish. The tackle doesn't even get a breath on him here.
There aren't any moving parts like when Irvin recorded a sack in the closing seconds in 2012's 16-12 contest on a stunt rush. This is just a straight 1-on-1 win by Irvin and there have been several of these, just the finish hasn't been there until this play.
[Fourth Quarter 0:33: 3rd and 22, Cam Newton sacked by Bruce Irvin loss of 3 yards]
This is a great sack by Irvin, and it's all about hustle. The Carolina Panthers elect to run a moving the pocket to the right, and this slides the left tackle (now a backup after an injury to the starter following Bruce's first sack) down the formation, blocking Scruggs. This action puts Irvin 1-on-1 vs halfback on the backside.
This is not an ideal matchup and Cam has to get the ball out fast.
At the snap everything is going ok, at first. Check Avril's late rush. Cam looks almost as though he's set to throw but Avril forces him to re-set himself and that slight delay allows Irvin the extra time to close the extra distance despite the advantage created by the moving pocket. Stewart's hiccup comes after he made a slight error in sliding with the pocket initially to block, but he underestimates Irvin's speed to clear him. It's a desperate struggle to get on the highlight reel and I would say he did that.
Overview Of The Game
It was nice to see the defense again after so many inconsistencies. The redzone defense was back, which I talked about last week, and though they didn't hinder Jonathan Stewart in the running game much, they did make Cam Newton a non-factor as a runner, which was infinitely more important.
Other than a contested 50 yard catch, the annual "Cam Newton affair" saw the pass defense control the field and some early pressure looks with delay and zone blitzes left Cam out of sorts for the third year in a row. The defense stood up when it had to early and late, and got a few favorable bounces along the way. It felt really good to take this game apart -- more so than any games since the Super Bowl.
The defensive line.
Pete Carrol said changes were headed our way after last week in St. Louis, and there really wasn't one player that kept making plays, but it seemed like everyone on the defensive line had key plays, key stops, and key pressures. It's not a one man show right now, and with the goal-line stand, I feel this is the right call here.
I could talk about run defense here, but as I said earlier in the piece, some of that is controlling Newton too. The linebacker corps is missing Bobby Wagner, and Malcolm Smith has gone missing as an impact player.
Special thanks to Jennifer Chen for a fantastic set of GIFs this week.