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Seahawks vs Chargers game notebook, part I: The 1st Half

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I'm going to try to start a new tradition where I just re-watch the game and post some notes on what I thought stood out during games. This will be pretty informal and just a way to fill the gaps on some of the more focused, longer tape study stuff we do here.

So, the Seahawks game! That sucked! I forgot about that shitty stressful feeling you get when you're losing. Let's back up though, and take it quarter by quarter. To the first half...

1st Quarter:

The game got off to an inauspicious start when Jeron Johnson got a block in the back and negated a decent Percy Harvin kickoff return. That took them from the 23-yard line to the 8-yard line. Awesome. Nonetheless, Seattle's first play from scrimmage was nice -- a naked bootleg by Russell Wilson with an easy dumpoff to Zach Miller, who would take the pass and rumble upfield for 22 yards.

Later that first drive, Ricardo Lockette might've taken some guff for a 'dropped pass' but with the All-22 vantage point, the ball is clearly behind him. Whether it's a route issue or just an inaccurate throw, we'll never know. Lockette seems to have gotten these types of balls pretty often during the preseason, for whatever reason -- perhaps his routes are not very precise or he's faster than his quarterbacks think? Obviously also possible Wilson just missed him.

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Wilson's next pass though leaves less room for discussion -- it's right on the money -- down the left sideline to Jermaine Kearse, who goes up over his defender to reel it in.

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Kearse's stat line (4 catches for 61 yards) wasn't anything to write home about, but I thought he played very well in this game. He's Seattle's most physical receiver, and ran hard after the catch, bowling over defenders on two separate occasions.

The Hawks' drive goes off the rails though. Seattle runs a "triple option" type of look (I don't think it's an option play, only meant to look like one) with a Percy Harvin jet sweep option and a Robert Turbin handoff option. This is a play they ran several times during the game and one that I'll break down in some detail later. Essentially, it's Seattle's inside zone give -- it's meant to look like a Percy Harvin sweep, which, theoretically, should hold or freeze that backside defensive end (with blue arrow).

This is why Zach Miller leaves him unblocked and slices across the formation to lead block for Turbin on the other side. The idea here was to use Percy as a decoy, but the only problem is that the Chargers played the sweep horrifically (unfortunately for Seattle).

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The defensive end crashes and blows up Turbin in the backfield. Had the Seahawks called a play that handed off to Harvin, it would've been huge yardage (probably a touchdown, actually). This is one of those things that you can't really complain too much about because I like that the Hawks are using the dive as a constraint to keep defenses honest on Harvin, but in this case Darrell Bevell just guessed wrong (in that: he guessed that the Chargers would have gameplanned for the sweep -- they ended up playing the sweep well later in the game, maddeningly enough).

Here's the All-22 -- Harvin has a lot of green here.

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No exaggeration, might've been six had they gone with the sweep option. Sigh.

Seattle's next play is a third down and 8, and the protection fails miserably. For whatever reason, the line blocks left, and leaves a middle blitzer unblocked, and Max Unger is just sitting there blocking air, despite Seattle's six-man protection scheme (six-on-six).

Okung is beaten badly on the outside. Unger is pass protecting against air as a blitzer comes in through the a-gap.

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Course, it doesn't help that Wilson spins right into pressure instead of flushing out to the right. Wilson is sacked, loses 13 yards, and just like that, Seattle is out of field goal range. Weird how quickly a strong drive can disintegrate.

Oh, and then on the ensuing punt, Lockette, trying to make an over-the-shoulder Willie Mays basket catch at 90 MPH, runs into Kearse, who has perfect position to catch the punt at the two- or three-yard line. I don't know if there are rules or a plan with this kind of thing, but ugh.

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The Chargers take possession. One thing that became a theme in this game was that 1) Philip Rivers was perfectly content to dump off to his running backs all day long, and 2) was extremely decisive in doing so. The first third down conversion of the day came on a little Danny Woodhead angle route. K.J. jumped it, played it pretty well, but went for a first down anyway because Rivers released it so quickly.

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Later, their 2nd third-down chance:

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Looks like Malcolm Smith is terribly out of position or confused about what his assignment is. No one picks up the back out of the backfield and it's easy money for Phil.

Later that drive, Phil will take this alllllll goddamn day long. Look at all the space that Woodhead has. Picks up 14.

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Of course, Seattle is a bend-but-dont'-break defense (keep everything in front, force the dink and dunk, don't get beak over the top, tighten up in the redzone, get turnovers, force mistakes) and when the Chargers get to the Seahawks'  25-yard line, they don't cede another inch. A fumble, a missed pass, and a sack, and San Diego kicks a field goal. This is what Seahawk football is supposed to look like, in theory, but of course, Rivers would connect with Antonio Gates, against all odds and logic, on three incredible plays as the day went on. More on that in a bit.

The Seahawks now have the ball down 3-0, and on the drive's third play, a third-and-one, Bevell calls their "Belly Flip" option to Percy Harvin.

"The first read was Marshawn up the middle," Harvin said after the game, "and if everybody was to crash down on him, and Russell felt I could get to the edge, he's to pitch it."

I'm guessing, since Wilson has his back to the LOS after the ball is snapped, that the "read" is made prior to the snap. The Seahawks motion Zach Miller from left to right prior to the snap and he's followed by his defender, usually a giveaway for man coverage. I'm guessing this was the look that Wilson wanted.

He faked the handoff to Lynch and flipped it to Harvin, and it's a perfect storm for a jailbreak on the edge: 3rd and 1 means the Chargers, including the defensive end to the play side, all crash down the line trying to stop Marshawn Lynch in the middle. The outside cornerback to the play-side is in press man coverage, which means he has his head turned when the ball is snapped and Doug releases downfield.

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By the time the corner realizes what's going on, he's sealed inside, and Harvin takes the sideline. The deep safety manages to get juuuuuuust a fingertip or two on Percy as he's running up the sideline, which is where he stepped out of bounds, but for some crazy ass reason, the play wasn't overturned. I still like the play a lot, even if it should've come back to around the 20.

The ensuing Chargers drive, Phil puts on a clinic, again showing ballsy pocket presence and repeatedly checking down to his running back. One thing I noticed about K.J. Wright in his zone drops -- and I don't know how he's taught to handle it --- but even if a receiver was nowhere in his area, Wright seems to get flat footed and play in space anyway instead of looking to cover someone up.

An example below -- Wright has eyes in on Rivers, presumably to close on him if he scrambles, but seemingly ignores Matthews' leak route to the sideline. Rivers easily flips it over to him, then KJ takes a terrible angle and misses the tackle.

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Then, the next play:

Again, easy dumpoff, terrible angle by Malcolm Smith, 8 easy yards.

Still Seahawks football, except without a few key points: excellent pursuit angles and quality tackling.

2nd Quarter:

The Chargers keep moving down the field, and one of the now-infamous "exposures" of Richard Sherman comes into play. Here's the play -- a comeback route by Allen that is a very strong route and timed perfectly by Rivers.

The gameplan for the play though is really perfect to play off of how Sherman defends sideline routes: as soon as Sherman has Allen in his hip pocket and turns his head to find the quarterback/football, Allen runs a hitch back to the sideline.

It's a great route that takes advantage of Sherman's press-trail technique, but ultimately the main goal for Sherman over there is to not get beat deep. It's obviously a win for Allen on this play, but something the Seahawks are willing to give up. I would have liked to see K.J. make the tackle. On the day, overall, I thought K.J. did not play as well as we've come to expect.

The next play is the Ryan Matthews outside run that Byron Maxwell overruns badly, and it goes for a touchdown. There's a holding call on the line, and it's called back, but again -- it just looked like the Seahawks were running in mud all day, which was compounded by some terrible pursuit angles and poor tackling.

Fast forward a few plays and Antonio Gates catches a touchdown pass. This is a sign of things to come -- a frustratingly awesome route by a savvy, wily veteran in Gates just flat out beats All Pro Kam Chancellor.

Watch the little juke outside like he's going to run a fade to the corner. Kam bites on that as he's trailing Gates, and Phil threads the needle inside. A really impressive throw to a great route.

It's now 10-7 San Diego.

Seattle's ensuing drive is an unmitigated disaster. A bubble screen to Walters goes nowhere. Luke Willson gets beat badly on the right side and Russell Wilson gets locked on to something downfield and never sees the rush coming. He's hit and fumbles. Luckily, Seattle recovers, and on 3rd and 19, the Hawks concede and run a draw play. Jon Ryan's punt sails out of bounds after traveling 37 yards. Good job, good effort!

Ryan Mathews fumbles on the Chargers first play of their drive, but of course, the Chargers recover it. The Seahawks then rush the passer on second down and the end product looks like this.

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My guess/hope is that this is not how they drew it up.

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Rivers moseys to his right, waits for five minutes for Keenan Allen to stem his route and hook back at the 50 yard line, then winds up and guns a pass for a completion.

Rivers hit Keenan Allen on a slant on the next play, and bada-bing, bada-boom they're into Seahawks' territory. Danny Woodhead breaks tackles by Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright on a 2nd down run en route to an 8-yard pickup, then runs his infuriatingly easy angle route pass on the next play for a first down.

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Again, K.J. seemingly playing a spot on the field rather than a player in his area. Not sure if this is how he's coached, but it's frustrating to watch.

The Chargers' drive would fizzle here but they did run their first of what would be five or six little screen plays to Eddie Royal (or one of their running backs) with apparently the sole purpose of attacking Marcus Burley with their tackle(s). Burley, as the first man to the scene, was blocked out of the play badly on all but one of these plays. This is a matchup the I'm guessing the Broncos will look to exploit too.

Below, you can see Burley (he's obscured by the enormous human, #77, in front of him here) get engulfed, and Bobby Wagner gets taken out with a cut block shortly thereafter.

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The Chargers would take a shot at the endzone but come up empty. They'd kick a field goal instead to push their lead to 13-7. Harvin would fumble the kickoff return.

A couple of Woodhead draw plays brings San Diego within the Seahawks' 20 yard line. Then, we get this gem of a pursuit and tackle by Malcolm Smith:

The Seahawks' strategy is based around forcing an opposing quarterback to dink and dunk, & when that works, use rangy linebackers and safeties to track the ballcarrier's inside shoulder, wrap up and tackle to limit yards after the catch. What happens above is decidedly not Pete Carroll's Seahawks-branded football.

First and goal. A series of penalties by the Chargers back them up to past the 20-yard line and they run another screen to Eddie Royal on 2nd down. It picks up 15. Burley is again the target, and gets washed out of the play badly.

That sets up a 3rd and 8 (and goal). Philip does this stupid thing.

Talk about ballsy pocket play.

This is just stupid.

20-7 Chargers.

The Seahawks were not out of it though, and put together a nice 2-minute drill drive which heavily featured Robert Turbin. Seattle got it going when Doug Baldwin leaped up hight to catch a slant from Russell Wilson, and then Turbo caught a leakout pass from Russell Wilson when the pocket collapsed to pick up 32 yards, which was the big play of the drive.

From there, Turbin picked up 10 yards on a normal zone run (off James Carpenter, who walled off the backside three technique extremely well), and then Wilson scrambled for 5 yards on the next play before calling timeout. Another quick pass to the flats to Robert Turbin got Seattle on the board again. 20-14, half.

I'll break down the second half tomorrow.

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