In recent times, it has become commonplace for a single player to put the Seattle Seahawks on their back and will them to victory. Despite Seattle’s loss on Sunday in Tampa Bay, K.J. Wright did all he could to will his brothers to victory.
While a solid percentage of experts now view him as an elite player, K.J. still goes unrecognized by much of the media. He hasn’t popped off of the screen like his running mate Bobby Wagner has for much of the season, but he has had a quietly dominant run throughout 2016.
This high level of play culminated against the Buccaneers where he took his consistently solid play to another level.
While Wright is generally thought of as an elite coverage linebacker, he is the National Football League’s friendly neighborhood screen-whisperer:
Tampa Bay runs a slip screen with the interior offensive line leaking out to the right side to lead block. After a quick look up post-snap, Jameis Winston dumps the ball off to Doug Martin. Wright takes off towards the tailback immediately after he recognizes the center’s body language. K.J. meets Martin right as the ball arrives, resulting in a beautiful form tackle and a loss of three yards.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever watched a player as talented as Wright at sniffing out screens.
After the Seahawks defense had struggled early to get off of the field against Jameis and company, it became clear that they would need to figure out a way to get it done consistently in order to balance out the struggles of their own offense.
K.J. took it upon himself to make that happen on the Buccaneers’ first drive of the second half:
At the snap, both tight ends lined up on the left side of the formation block down and the left tackle pulls around to lead block on a pitch. The fullback slows down Bobby Wagner’s path to the ball-carrier, while the pulling tackle easily eliminates Jeremy Lane from the play. The left guard has a chance at blocking Wright, but the savvy linebacker easily avoids the lineman and shoots into the backfield to make the tackle for a three-yard loss.
I’m not sure whether Tampa converts or not on this play if K.J. doesn’t get there, but dammit, he got there and made sure there wasn’t even the slightest chance.
Wright’s most impressive play of the day occurred in the final seconds of the first half. Seattle was down by a score of 14-5 and it was quite obvious that, due to the offensive struggles the team was experiencing, allowing any points at all was not an option.
What occurred with 15 seconds left in the period was one of the most impressive defensive plays by any Seahawk this season:
In field goal range with no timeouts, Winston passes the ball to his leaking tight end, who heads straight for the sideline to stop the clock, which would leave about 10 seconds left in the half. Wright diagnoses the quick out, closes, and lays the wood on the poor, unsuspecting fellow. A shocking amount of inertia is delivered by K.J.’s shoulder, knocking the tight end backwards and out of bounds. Due to league rules, moving out of bounds backwards (anything angled behind perpendicular to the chalk) does not stop the clock. K.J.’s hit allows time to run and, due to the Buccaneers’ inability to call a timeout, ends the half.
That right there, my friends, is a three-point tackle.
Unfortunately, Seattle could not pull out the win in the (Tampa) Bay. It happens. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that beating the Seahawks and Chiefs in back-to-back weeks dubs the Bucs a pretty damn good team.
I have no doubt that the offense (specifically the offensive line and quarterback) will get back in their groove sooner rather than later.
We have to acknowledge, though, how incredibly the defense played down the stretch on Sunday. After giving up 14 points on their first two drives, not a single subsequent point was allowed. This unbelievable effort was spearheaded by K.J., who had his best game of the season on Sunday.
If Wright is on the upswing, which seems to be the case, the Carolina Panthers, who the Seahawks face next Sunday, should be nervous.