I wrote this article just after the Seahawks' Wildcard Round Playoffs win over the Vikings, highlighting Doug Baldwin's game and why he'd be key against Carolina. Seattle would end up losing to the Panthers, but it's still fun to go back and look at some of the reasons Baldwin broke out in 2015 to lead the NFL in touchdowns.
It doesn't get talked about enough that Baldwin led the NFL in touchdowns this season (14, tied with Brandon Marshall and Allen Robinson), and one of the most ridiculous catches I've ever seen in my life didn't even reach the viral status that other big time catches might garner. I am, of course, talking about Baldwin's seemingly impossible leaping grab in Seattle's win over the Vikings in -15 degree wind chill in Minnesota on Sunday.
Still, Baldwin has taken his game to an elite level this season for the Seahawks, and he finished second in the NFL in drop rate (78 of 80 catchable balls, according to PFF) and catch rate (78 receptions on 99 targets) while catching a career high 78 passes for 1,069 yards.
The unassuming 5'10, 189-pound former undrafted free agent out of Stanford went on an absolute tear across the league in the second half of the season. Along the way he joined Calvin Johnson (2011) and Cris Carter (1995) as the only three players in the league's history with four straight games with multiple reception scores.
Baldwin's 10 touchdown catches from Week 12 to 15 tied the mark that Hall of Famer Jerry Rice set back in 1987 for most touchdown receptions in a four-game span, and Russell Wilson's 11 touchdowns to Doug Baldwin from Week 12 to Week 16 tied the NFL record for most between quarterback-receiver duo in any five-game span (Brett Favre and Sterling Sharpe, 1994).
When Russell Wilson targeted Doug Baldwin this year, he completed 80.4-percent of his passes, which, according to ESPN Stats & Information, hasn't been done by any other quarterback/wide receiver duo in the last 10 years.
The Russell Wilson-Doug Baldwin connection is a potent one, is what I'm getting at.
That's obviously a big deal for Seattle's Divisional Round Playoffs matchup with the Panthers next Sunday. Seattle's offense will look to bounce back from a lackluster performance in the bitter cold last week, but expect Baldwin to be a major factor. The diminutive receiver has caught a touchdown in four of his last five postseason games, and I wouldn't be surprised if he made it five out of six.
Here's a look at a few ways that the Seahawks will use Doug Baldwin to not only move the chains, but to get into the end zone next Sunday.
Three ways to win
1. Iso shake-and-bake
On Sunday in Minnesota, the Vikings had lost starting cornerback Terrance Newman and backup Trae Waynes at different points, so when Josh Robinson came out on the outside in this set, Seattle immediately looked to exploit that matchup.
With Xavier Rhodes on the far left opposite Tyler Lockett, the Seahawks lined up Doug Baldwin on the right in the slot -- with Jermaine Kearse on the right wing. After motioning Kearse into the formation to the left, Russell Wilson knew he had the iso with Baldwin against Josh Robinson that he wanted. Baldwin starting out in the slot meant that Robinson had to respect the slant and the out, and that's a hell of a thing to defend.
Baldwin shook Robinson like it was nothing.
Baldwin's footwork, along with subtle head-and-shoulder jabs, is teaching tape on route running. This type of play in particular is an example of one where we could see Baldwin and Norman square off. Norman mostly sticks outside in coverage, with Cortland Finnegan or another slot cornerback covering inside.
That's where Seattle could exploit some other matchups as well: Putting Baldwin inside against one of Carolina's depth cornerbacks. One way that Seattle has been so successful in their passing game this season is to spread things out with five receivers and/or running backs out wide, which stretches the defense and forces them to spread out. In the example below, against the Vikings in their earlier matchup this year, that meant that Baldwin was matched up in a one-on-one with Antone Exum, with no additional help over the top in the right slot. Russell Wilson knew this before the snap, and took advantage of it.
Baldwin's stutter-jab outside before cutting inside is all he needs.
He did something similar the very next week against Lardarius Webb and the Ravens. After getting Baldwin isolated on the outside against Webb, all it took was an explosive jab outside before cutting it inside.
Sometimes Seattle has to wait for the right defensive look to get Baldwin in a position to win like this, and it might only happen a few times a game. But when they do get him into a one-on-one situation, he more often than not will shake his defender and leave him in the dust.
2. The rub route
This is a staple of the Seahawks' offense, and the way in which they run these routes is completely legal about 95 percent of the time. The idea is to run one route outside while crossing another close by it -- i.e., a "rub" -- but the key is to avoid initiating contact with the defender. The goal is to simply make him have to go around or in front of the other receiver in his way.
Take this touchdown vs. the Browns.
In this play, Tramon Williams (No. 22), the outside corner over the top of Jermaine Kearse, knows this rub route is coming. He makes a beeline to get underneath Baldwin's outside route, thus allowing his teammate to stick with Doug on his route, while Williams can still defend the slant to Kearse (yes, they'll still run this play at the goal line).
Here, however, Baldwin's precise and explosive route is simply too much to defend. Charles Gaines, the slot corner here, guesses wrong as he jumps to cut off the slant route by Baldwin, and it's all over.
This exact same concept is something the Seahawks use a ton in short- to medium-yardage third down situations. Here we can see it against the Cardinals. Note how Jermaine Kearse's "rub" doesn't actually even do any damage here. Baldwin's route is just so effective that Jerraud Powers has no shot at defending it.
The counterpunch: Check out this little wrinkle that the Seahawks' could pull out on Sunday against the Panthers.
Like any good team, Seattle will study how teams defend certain concepts, and adapt accordingly. In this case below against the Rams, Darrell Bevell and Russell Wilson noticed that St. Louis was switching on the rub routes (eliminating the rub). So, as you see below, Seattle had Doug Baldwin fake the rub-route outside and run a little juke route back inside. With the outside cornerback "taking" Baldwin, Doug had a ton of room inside to cut open, then after breaking a tackle, had a big gain on his hands.
Of course, a hustle play by defensive end Chris Long nearly spelled disaster for the Seahawks, as he caught up to Baldwin downfield and forced the fumble, but a heads up move by Jermaine Kearse salvaged the play. Regardless, the scheme worked like a charm.
3. The swap-boot
Seattle uses a ton of play-action and with Russell Wilson's skill set, they like to be able to get him on the edge and moving, so they can use his mobility to confuse and confound defenses. After a defense has loaded up to stop a Seattle run, Wilson will bootleg out with several options crossing along with him at different levels. You can see that play out in this scheme below:
Wilson has four options -- Tyler Lockett on the outside, Luke Willson, who releases from the right side of the formation after faking a run block, Jermaine Kearse, who runs a little flat route from the left side, and finally, Doug Baldwin, who runs over the formation in a "swap route." This is a tough one to defend. Look for Seattle to run this concept a time or two.
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Whatever the Seahawks are doing on offense this week, you can rest assured that Doug Baldwin will be a focal point. Obviously, the Panthers have Josh Norman to match up with him when he's outside, and that's going to be a great battle to keep an eye on. Baldwin will have his hands full with Norman, Cortland Finnegan, and the rest of Carolina's defensive secondary, but the Panthers' cornerbacks and safeties won't have a cakewalk out there either. This is no longer a "pedestrian" receiver corps in Seattle.