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Little Things, Week 8: Saints 25, Seahawks 20

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So many turns of fate! Take your pick, but don’t really

maybe this time that right foot comes down in bounds whaddayasay

The Week 8 game between the Seattle Seahawks and the New Orleans Saints was decided on the final throw and there’s a lot to digest. That was just one of the big things to happen that day ...

Bookending the game were two enormous plays, the Earl Thomas fumble-six —

... and of course, the final unsuccessful snap, with Jermaine Kearse missing a game-winning touchdown by inches, as diagrammed here by Sam Gold --

In between, there were the Seahawks-unfriendly calls and non-calls you remember.

This pick play, seen from the All-22 vantage point, allows you to pinpoint the illegal block being made while the ball still rests in Drew Brees’ hands —

Would like you like a still frame? You would like a still frame.

Below, it’s number 83 you want to look at. While he was clearly invisible to referees at the time of the play, the film captures his presence on the field.

The non-calls were among those big things. But littler things occurred along the way, tens of thousands of them and that’s what I do here in the Little Things series. You can have three and a post-scriptum.

(Oh — almost forgot. There was a C.J. Prosise-Tanner McEvoy highlight. Nothing big really.)

little thing one

circumstances: qtr 1, 8:04, 1st and 10 from the no 32

Cueing up that splendid defensive touchdown again.

If you can stand to take your eyes off Thomas for a brief second and turn them to Cliff Avril, you’ll see him stand Tim Hightower up. Good tackling technique. Great leverage applied. The little things.

As soon as Hightower is engaged, two defenders begin to rip at the ball. How many times have we seen those extra efforts go to waste? Through how many fourth quarters have we watched Seahawk after Seahawk tear at a runner’s arms in desperation, down a score, and come away empty-handed? (Don’t answer that.)

But you swipe and claw at the ball every time not because it’s a high-percentage play, not because coach says to, not because it’s a pleasant diversion from the usual work in the trenches. You do it because once in a wolf-grey moon, it works and you get to hoist six more points up on the scoreboard. You put in the effort hundreds of times for that couple of critical payoffs every season. It’s another little thing among many, but then all of a sudden it turns into a big one.

little thing two

circumstances: qtr 2, 0:50, kickoff to Tyler Lockett

If you’re hoping to mount a one-minute FG drive without any timeouts at your disposal, you’ll need to begin it one of two ways:

  1. an explosive kickoff return
  2. a touchback to conserve time

The thing that would doom such a drive: a short kickoff return. It would consume time you don’t have while simultaneously creating a longer field to travel.

Well...

If Lockett had reached the 25 on the return at least you’d have the yards. If he’d kneeled at least you’d have the extra ticks on the clock.

The end result can be seen six plays later, when the Seahawks are setting up for a 56-yard field goal attempt that ends with a Jon Ryan fumble. With more time, or less field, maybe the field goal try is easier, and we’re going into halftime up 17-14.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at New Orleans Saints
just kidding stevie
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

little thing(s) three

circumstances: qtr 44, 7:24, 2nd and 5 from the no 5

Oh, penalties. When you need them, they’re elusive; when you need them the least, they rain down.

The Seahawks trail 22-17 when a false start on Christine Michael doubles their distance to the end zone. Russell Wilson and his questionable pec (remember that?) misconnect with Jimmy Graham on the ensuing play; Lockett gains seven yards on 3rd and 10 on a ball thrown short of the end zone. Pete Carroll sends out the kicking team.

Several problems here.

  1. You can’t commit that penalty. It cost you .96 expected points. (There will be an EPA mention in each of these columns, count on it.) Five yards of field position lost is a huge deal when you only had five yards to go in the first place.
  2. You can’t count on Wilson to be accurate when he’s hurt. Maybe you run it again on 2nd and 10? Michael had a 10-40-1 line to that point and C.J. Prosise had gained 23 yards on four attempts. The run game had been effective.
  3. You can’t throw short of the end zone on third down from the 10. You’re down by more than three.
  4. Finally, you can’t kick the field goal with 6:41 left, down by five, at the opponent’s 3-yard line. Win percentage says so. Seattle was 34.9 percent to win before Hauschka’s kick; that dropped to 33.8 percent by making the kick. It was a negative action, not just to choose to go for three there, but even to be successful at getting three. Mostly because a field goal forces you to make another stop or hold New Orleans to settle for three and then drive the length of the field.

The penalty was a terrible one. It’s no coincidence that Michael finished the season on another team. But the choice to go for just three was plenty curious. Combined, those malfeasances were almost certainly partially responsible for the imperfect ending six and a half minutes later.

not a little thing: bonus coverage

Upon review, there is one impressive overall team performance that I want to highlight amidst all the psuedo-little things. And that’s the laudable red zone defense exhibited by the Seahawks on 10/30/16 — one week after playing 93 defensive snaps on the road in a divisional tie.

Everyone wants to talk about red zone offense, because Graham and Kearse and of course that’s where the controversy fire burns like Eyjafjallajökull’s lava. But the Seattle red zone defense, in this game, was the volcanic force and nothing short of superhuman. Again. They transformed probable touchdowns into field goals and kept the score tight in order to bring about a competitive fourth quarter.

They were helped by a little thing called situational awareness. Saints wideout Brandon Coleman could have used just a little more of it here, as he lunges for imaginary sticks on the four-yard line.

Too bad the marker was on the three.

Later, strong safety Kam Chancellor (wearing #33 and bein’ all sneaky about it) delivers one of his trademark hits to save a touchdown.

The two plays pictured above netted New Orleans 18 yards. They were the Saints’ two biggest gainers in the red zone.

On all other red zone plays, the Seahawks defense held the Saints to 18 yards on 17 plays. Yep — about a yard per play. Four Saints drives stalled with field goals shorter than 30 yards.

New Orleans did end up with two close-range teeders on the afternoon, but the details surrounding those only enhance our narrative. Brees snuck the ball in on a one-yard run in the second quarter, after Ahtyba Rubin stopped Hightower at the 1 on consecutive snaps.

Then, we know about the other score from close range. It’s the no-call on the pick play we led with way up there at the top of the post.

That controversial touchdown wasn’t a little thing. It was one of the biggest things. Which is too bad, because the Seahawks did a lot of the little things right in Week 8. Don’t fret, though. They’ll do even more right in Week 9 in Foxborough.