Narrative Of The Game
The Seahawks came into this game after a loss with many questions: pass rush, third down defense, lack of turnovers and newfound doubts over their abilities to cover tight ends. If anyone was going to be capable of replicating the Chargers performance, it the Broncos had personnel to do so. Some fans talked about the heat, but mostly there was a lot of concern that Seattle could be looking at a road to 1-2 on the season. So, let's take a look at how they avoided this and got back to their old ways, returning home to face Peyton Manning and 44 other dudes whose names we sort of know.
[1st Quarter 13:33 1st and 10 FUMBLE by Ball forced by Earl Thomas recovered by KJ Wright]
Well, this time, Denver got the snap off! Baby steps I suppose, right? The problem here is they had a nicely blocked up run for nine, Montee Ball is doing everything right, except he doesn't have the ball secured against his side or chest and therefore it allows Earl to push it out his arm with a simple slap of his hand. He does this, and leaves it for K.J. Wright to pick it up. Different look, but disaster strikes again for the Broncos on the first play. This time it results in three points instead of two.
[1st Quarter 9:31 1st and 10 Run by Ball gain of one yard stop by Bennett]
Seattle would see several running plays like this with Denver draws and delays, but Brandon Mebane obliterates the blocking on this one, opening a huge gap, which both Michael Bennett and K.J. Wright are able surge through and make the stop. This will be the last play against the run I note here because Denver's run game really wasn't of consequence in the game.
[1st Quarter 5:27 3rd and 5 pass complete to Sanders for 8 yards tackle by Byron Maxwell]
Seattle is seeing bunch formation concepts a lot more now. Denver shows theirs to Sherman's side, leaving Byron Maxwell one on one with Emmanuel Sanders on the other. At the snap, Sanders carries Maxwell inside quickly, and then releases outside where Manning has already let the ball go. It's called a whip route and it's extremely hard to defend in man coverage. Seattle saw this look from San Diego last week in key third down situations.
[2nd Quarter 7:25 2nd and 11 pass complete to Sanders for 12 stop by Byron Maxwell]
This is a good play by Manning, throwing with anticipation to stick it in to Sanders. The coverage by Maxwell is tight as can be, and this is a timing and accuracy throw that demonstrates exactly why Manning is one of the best in the game. As Maxwell hesitates, just for a flinch, that sliver of space becomes all Peyton needs to fit the ball into Sanders.
[2nd Quarter 6:31 2nd and 11 Pass complete to #22 tackle made by Earl Thomas for 1 yard gain.]
Seattle blitzes this play, and I think that hangs up the screen pass here. Usually a screen against a blitz call is a great idea, but the play never develops and Peyton is forced to missile his throw into his back, who then gets hit with the Seahawks' missile -- Earl Thomas. This is exactly why Seattle kills Denver in ways other teams can't, because defensive speed allows you to stop plays before they fully develop.
[3rd Quarter 14:09 3rd and 2 Pass incomplete intended for Wes Welker, Marcus Burley with the breakup]
I like this kid. Marcus Burley is one of these John Schneider finds we've gotten used to, for good reason. The play seems simple, but follow it in slow motion and you see how Wes Welker sets up a lot of his shorter catches, he sells an outside move, faking like he's going to go under the outside route by Demaryius Thomas, but Burley stays right with him as Welker attempts to slide inside, believing he has a bite.
There's a bit of contact but within 5 yards they won't call it too often. Three and out for Denver.
[3rd Quarter :14 3rd and 3 Pass complete to Jacob Tamme loss of 4, tackled by KJ Wright.]
The Broncos had run a few quick passes to this point, but no designed screens like the concept on this play. K.J. wright continues to be Seattle's best defender against the screen, as he sees it immediately and blows it up with the troops rallying in behind.
Denver actually has the match up here, but Sanders decides to try and cut K.J. down, flies further than he intends (I think) and K.J. just swats him aside and tackles Tamme.
[4th Quarter 2:25, 3rd and 11: Pass intended for Wes Welker, INTERCEPTED by Kam Chancellor.]
This play is huge when you think of all the momentum the Broncos had gotten and how listless Seattle's offense had become by late in the fourth quarter. A safety and an interception had turned into nine points for the Broncos after doing nothing outside of one drive for three quarters. So lets take a look at the play.
First, we have to discuss the fact that Manning had been under siege in the 4th quarter after really living in a clean pocket most of the day. Next, though he'd mostly avoided the middle of the field -- completing just two passes up to this final drive over the middle -- he began attacking that area.
At the snap, Seattle plays Chancellor underneath. Earl Thomas is deep middle, K.J. Wright is in coverage with his feet on the 20 yard line, and Bobby Wagner, lined up next to Chancellor is going to bail deep at the snap. Manning never clears Kam, and Kam doesn't even take a single step. Manning throws it right to him, feeling the pressure from Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril on the right side. Kam's return on this is huge, as the offense really had been anemic in the second half and as it turns out that scoring position would be huge. (As a note, watch Earl break on the flight of the ball and get in Welker's kitchen).
[4th Quarter :52 2nd and 10 Pass complete Sanders for 42]
Josh Thomas passes off Sanders deep and Maxwell has no idea. This creates a huge gap in the zone coverage before anyone realizes, and because you have 3-deep coverage, your safeties are going to be moving back until the ball is thrown. What Josh Thomas should be doing is continuing back and forcing everything to be in front of him.
I had this discussion before, when Seattle played Atlanta in the 2012 playoffs. During that fateful failed defensive stop to end the game, Marcus Trufant got sucked up on Tony Gonzalez underneath, and it allowed a completion over his head but in front of the deep corner, which created a huge first play on that drive. I don't know that Thomas is not supposed to pass off a deeper throw, but once he stops his feet, that becomes a huge problem for zone coverage.
**(Note: on viewing the replay in closer proximity this looks like a miscommunication by Earl Thomas and Byron Maxwell as well. The same mechanic happens on the next play, but watch this GIF: Earl Thomas basically picks up no one in a zone coverage that basically should stop this exact route concept. Thomas never even finds the ball here either. This is only compounded on the 2-point play when Thomas gets moved out of centerfield by Manning's eyes, handing Sherman an impossible task of defending Demaryius Thomas through half of the endzone instead of just his third.)
I know, I know, "Zone coverage": We hate it, we loathe it, we say man to man or bust. The Steelers tried that once and lost on the first pass in overtime to Tim Tebow. The Seahawks ran that and lost a tough one on one matchup to Michael Floyd at home last year. So man coverage doesn't necessarily give you more of a chance of success, and it can also gives you a chance to fail spectacularly.
"Well what do you call this Josh?"
Playing the best chance against an opponent's strength. Imagine now that Seattle uses man coverage: Great, right? But now imagine that Denver gets a few clutch pickoffs on a screen? Long completion plays right into Manning's hands. But also realize that Manning hasn't shown any excitement to go deep, so you're not going to give him man to man with the safeties back, and hope to god we can rally for a stop if it goes bad. Why would you?
Overall View of the game:
The defense played so well until that last minute. Only the second drive for the field goal and the drive Kam Chancellor ended with an interception were sustained drives for Denver. That's it. To take a top flight offense, with weapons like that, and Peyton Manning, and basically gag them for 59:01, is stunning -- and that is without sacks or turnovers leading the charge. Pete Carroll, Dan Quinn and the defense played one of their greatest games together, right up until that last minute.
Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril forced the Chancellor interception by bowing their necks through that 4th quarter, consistently applying pressure and making Manning move around. I had to tag both with the game ball, because as I said last year, those two are perfect rushers together. They're good apart, better together.
Two-Minute defense: I completely understand the whys of how the defense plays, but Seattle has struggled against these situations before, the same way as expressed with Chicago and Atlanta in 2012, and Detroit and last year. The mental approach and execution must be fixed going forward.
<b>Special Note: I'll be doing and AMA in R/Seahawks this coming tuesday during the bye week. Please stop by and ask me anything about football or other interesting topics.</b>