Saturday’s last-second loss to the Arizona Cardinals was a back-breaking affair for the Seattle Seahawks. With a first round bye on the line, they couldn’t close out a game when they needed to. Fortunately, for all of you pessimists out there, this piece isn’t going to rag on the team. In fact, it might just get you pretty damn excited.
After sustaining a knee injury against the Falcons earlier this season, Michael Bennett sat out for a multitude of games. Even when he came back, he didn’t look to be himself. The explosion that he consistently showcases wasn’t there and he was having trouble penetrating the backfield.
Last week’s contest against the Rams showed us a glimpse of classic Bennett, but he still didn’t seem to be full-go.
After watching back through the film against the Cardinals, I am confident in saying that our self-proclaimed Black Santa has neared full strength at the perfect time for spreading Christmas cheer and TFL’s to all of the land.
He looked dominant from the get-go on Saturday. On the second play of the game, he effortlessly bursted into the backfield for a sack:
Lined up across from the left tackle, Bennett wins inside off of the snap. The lineman oversets to the outside and Bennett flies through the B-Gap right behind a blitzing K.J. Wright. David Johnson does an excellent job picking up the blitzer, but Bennett converges immediately and takes down Carson Palmer with assistance from Jarran Reed.
Bennett’s versatility and explosiveness are easy to spot on this snap, but, again, it was only the second of the game. Could he sustain this impact throughout a full 60 minutes?
The simple answer is yes. On this play, Bennett is left initially unblocked while the right guard pulls around, attempting to knock him out of the play. Bennett fakes upfield before juking back inside, fooling the guard just enough to fly past him. Johnson takes the handoff deep in the backfield, but Mike (great name) is on top of him before he makes it back to the line of scrimmage. Another TFL for Bennett.
Plays like this look routine enough but really show how savvy Bennett is. He reads the blocking and the running back in a split second before making a decision to set the edge or go inside. He picks going inside and makes the huge play.
It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the Seahawks have struggled against David Johnson this season. He is, without a doubt, one of the two best running backs in football right now. With over 100 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns (all of which seemed too easy) stopping him never comes easily, especially in goal line situations. Bobby Wagner has shown an affinity for this, but nobody else had really stepped up against this gargantuan human being in these gargantuan moments.
In the 4th quarter, Bennett unfortunately missed a tackle on Johnson that led to his biggest run of the day. Competent safety play could have prevented this as well, but I guess that’s besides the point. With Arizona on Seattle’s goal line, somebody needed to step up. Enter Bennett, with a chance for redemption:
Bennett is lined up in the B-Gap. The right tackle attempts to block down on him, but he is two quick and knifes into the backfield. Johnson receives the handoff out of an offset I-formation and the fullback immediately explodes forward to block on the left side. This leaves nobody to impede Bennett on his path to the ball-carrier. He takes down Johnson for yet another tackle for loss, which takes a ton of pressure off of Seattle’s defense.
(There’s even some salty BA in there, just for your entertainment!)
A questionable pass interference call on the following snap put the Cardinals back on the Seahawks’ one-yard line, setting up a touchdown on the next play. But, despite the score, the fact remains that big time players make big time plays in big time moments. It can be easy to forget how much of a game-wrecker he is when he’s healthy. Before Saturday, we had not seen this type of impact from Bennett for a while.
To make a deep playoff run, Seattle will need their best defensive lineman to play up to the peak of his ability. If Bennett’s performance against Arizona is any indication, it seems as though he has moved past his injury and is up to the task.