Despite a mountain of hype that stood almost no chance of being lived up to, the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots had an epic Sunday night game that ultimately ended with the Seahawks outlasting the Patriots to win 31-24. Looking at Seattle’s offense, a major contributor that helped them in their victory was outstanding wide receiver Doug Baldwin.
Baldwin gained 59 yards on six receptions, but three of those catches ended up as touchdowns delivered from Russell Wilson.
At 10:56 left in the 2nd quarter, Wilson was in shotgun with Baldwin split wide left. Tyler Lockett and Jermaine Kearse lined up on the right side of the formation. The Seahawks run a "read-pass option" concept. This concept features both a run and a pass play in the same snap.
So, how does it work?
Starting up front, the offensive line is actually run blocking. If you watch the movement, they are blocking for an inside zone run play. How can they run block on a pass play? The key is that none of the blockers can block more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage; If any of them engage beyond that point before the ball is thrown, then this is a penalty for an ineligible player downfield.
For Jimmy Graham, if he is blocking more than one yard down the field then he will be called for offensive pass interference. Again, this is why the pass has to be thrown quickly.
On the left side of the field, you have a one-on-one match-up with Baldwin versus cornerback (21) Malcolm Butler, while on the right side Lockett is running a bubble screen with Kearse blocking for him.
Before the snap, Wilson has three choices:
- Hand the ball off to C.J. Prosise on an inside zone run to the right
- Pass to Baldwin on the one-on-one match with a back-shoulder fade
- Bubble screen to Lockett with Kearse blocking
How does Wilson decide who he wants to target?
He counts the number of defenders in the box. Since there are eight men in the box, Wilson knows he has a one-on-one match with Baldwin and he knows he has a two-on-two match with Lockett's bubble screen. Since Kearse can't block two men, Wilson has to either trust that Lockett can break a tackle or he has to trust Baldwin getting open versus Butler. Wilson decides to trust Baldwin for the touchdown.
Now even beyond the play design, the play was perfectly executed by Wilson. He throws the ball with such anticipation that it gives Baldwin an easy turn and break back on the ball to secure it with little contact. There is little Butler could do as he isn't out-of-position.
Some could argue that Butler should have pressed Baldwin at the line of scrimmage, but the counter-argument is that Wilson probably would have thrown the fade pass to the back of the end zone or if Butler was beaten off-the-snap, then Baldwin would have had a free score. Regardless of your stance on the play, the throw and excellent route are what made this play work.
Baldwin's second touchdown came with just six seconds left in the second quarter. The Patriots drop eight into coverage, while Baldwin runs a deep crossing route finding the gap between the "four-high, four-under" zone defense of New England. He catches Wilson’s pass easily sitting behind the busted coverage.
This play resulted from Wilson's ability to extend the play from a three-man rush to patiently wait for his receiver to find the hole. Additionally, I blame cornerback (26) Logan Ryan for not carrying the route and strong safety (23) Patrick Chung for his lack of awareness to pick up the crossing receiver with no other threat to his side of the field.
Baldwin's final touchdown gave the Seahawks their seven-point lead that they held to finish the game. It happened with 4:24 left in the 4th quarter. The Patriots are in “Cover 1” defense which means they have one deep high safety while the rest of the cornerbacks are in man coverage. Safety (30) Duron Harmon cheats completely over to (88) Jimmy Graham and (16) Tyler Lockett's side of the field. This is what opens the seam-route lob pass from Wilson to Baldwin.
Baldwin releases off the line of scrimmage, deflects cornerback (26) Ryan's legal contact at five yards past the line of scrimmage in "catch" coverage, and then burns past him for the score.
From the end zone view you can see that the pressure got into Wilson's face and he didn't actually step into the throw. Typically, you'll see a quarterback under-throw this pass just by virtue of not being able to shift their weight into the pass. It was a perfect throw, however.
With three touchdowns in this game, Baldwin has caught almost half of the Seahawks' passing touchdowns on the season (5 of 11). While I still don't see him scoring 14 touchdowns again like in 2015, this was another excellent performance that should remind fans and Darrell Bevell on why they re-signed Baldwin to a 4 year, $46 million contract earlier this summer. Based on Baldwin's prodigious skill, I have the strong opinion that Seattle needs to continue game-planning to utilize his strengths.
If you need a reminder of all of Doug Baldwin’s strengths, watch the video I created below earlier this summer:
Edit: If the video does not display, you have to click the “Watch on YouTube” button or follow this link here.