clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Drive: Break Expectations

New, comments
Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

I do not mean to embarrass Lance Zierlein, but just so we may revisit how surprising and widely panned the Seattle Seahawks’ selection of Frank Clark was, here are a few choice quotes from Clark’s Combine profile, penned by Mr. Zierlein.

“NFL Comparison: Scott Crichton.”

Crichton last played in 2015. He has one NFL start, eight tackles and no sacks to his name. Player comparisons are dicey. I think everyone would save a little face if we ditched this particular heuristic. Not only are these player comparisons never very accurate, even often embarrassingly inaccurate, but the desire to stereotype is a bit unsavory. This is not scientific stereotyping. It is an answer to the question: “Who does this dude remind you of?”

Why did Clark remind Zierlein of a player then nearing the end of his short and undistinguished career?

“Bottom Line: Clark has mid-round talent, but his arrest and prior indiscretions make it unlikely that teams will be willing to draft him. If he gets everything sorted out, he has a shot at getting into a camp.”

“If ... he has a shot of getting into camp,” which is a few rungs down from two seasons of undistinguished work as a backup. Was this obviously wildly inaccurate evaluation and projection of Clark’s talent the product of some bias, I wonder. While Zierlein authors these bios, I do not assume he is watching thousands of hours of tape in order to have an informed opinion about the dozens of players invited to the NFL Combine. Some scout, some source within a team, maybe a few, provided this bad intel. And whoever that person or those people were, I think they wanted Clark to just go away.

Without getting too far into the weeds, that Clark could not be destroyed by such means, that he was given a chance and has, on the merit of his performance, nearly earned millions of dollars, is a big part of why I love football and athletics in general. Fair competition is a permanently revolutionary idea.

This next excerpt from that bio brings us to our first play.

“Lacks subtlety of movement or footwork necessary to execute consistent inside move at the next level. Marginal change-of-direction talent.”

Subtle movement, excellent footwork and exceptional change of direction is how Clark executed an inside move so sudden it almost escapes the tape itself. Look at this damn thing.

Clark is the rightmost Seahawk in the above screen grab. Both defensive ends are very wide. It is 2nd and 14, a run is not likely to be valuable, and Seattle is using position as a way of prioritizing pass rush at the possible expense of run defense. Right tackle Brandon Parker cannot keep up with Clark, and so he will cheat, that is he will guess, and hope his anticipation allows him to overcome his limitations. Doug Martin (28) is there to lengthen the edge Clark must run in order to reach Carr, and double the number of blockers Clark must beat. One must say, the odds are rather stacked against Frank.

He will use their assumptions against them,

go where he was not supposed to go,

and be what he was not supposed to be.

Every other player and part of this play is still forming, but because Clark slashed inside against two blockers committed to stopping him from evading them outside, he has initiative and a step on Martin, the Raiders’ last line of defense, and is split seconds from sacking Carr. Which he does.

But which is wiped out because Shaquill Griffin is beat inside by Jordy Nelson, and, seeing that deep safety Tedric Thompson has cheated offensive left, holds Nelson as a means of not getting torched. It’s a good call. Carr very obviously locks onto Nelson, and Griffin's hold directly alters the outcome of this play. Carr may have been able to target Nelson before Clark arrived if Griffin hadn’t held Nelson.

Nelson and Griffin are by the bottom 30. Bradley McDougald, by the right hash mark, could have dropped deeper into a cover-4 look. Which would have given Griffin help to the inside. But he doesn’t because he wasn’t supposed to, and the kid with 4.38 speed arm bars the 33-year old with once-upon-a-time 4.51 speed in order to survive.

The fun part of reading a book, or seeing a painting in person, or re-watching a beloved movie or television show, or attentively listening to a great song on good audio equipment, is discovery. We know who the stars of this team are. I picked this very drive because Frank Clark has two standout plays. But if I may be so blunt: Why is Branden Jackson on this team? Does he ... earn his spot? Is he cheap and merely cheap—a good-enough player who basically fits the needs of the scheme?

To some extent, yes, I think Jackson is cheap and fits the scheme, and that’s why he is on this team. But to his credit:

Now the critical moment of the play:

Both guards have pulled in a typical power run. Right guard Gabe Jackson, 66, initially provided a floating screen, but as left guard Jon Feliciano, 76, caught up, Jackson surged forward and committed to blocking McDougald. Feliciano, likewise, is floating between Bobby Wagner to his right and Jackson to his left. Marshawn Lynch has stopped his feet waiting for the blocks to click into place. After Wagner and McDougald are no Seahawks but plentiful open field.

Feliciano commits to Wagner and Lynch looks primed to break free.

But what follows is a very silly looking tackle which both saves the day and cedes way too many yards after contact.

Wagner, who has broken free of Feliciano and is by all appearances about to initiate a much more respectable, orthodox and effective tackle, simply bounces off Lynch. Jackson is left to spin 450 degrees on his knees while ever so slowly tackling Marshawn.

Jackson blows up the next play on a tackle-end stunt:

As you can tell by Martin (28), Oakland’s routes have not “matured.” It is roughly three seconds after the snap and no receiver is even looking for the ball. This is a slow developing play. Which is one of many reasons it is difficult to assess pass blocking by time alone.

Parker anticipated Clark’s inside move this time. It’s not obvious in the above shot, but Poona Ford’s inability to command a double team as a pass rusher makes things especially hard on Clark.

Jackson (66) is able to assist right tackle and center as needed.

Onto our final play, before I spend the rest of the afternoon with my wife.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you take two weeks to analyze game tape, Brian Baldinger may up and do it first. But let us look at the design of this blitz anyway.

Jarran Reed is playing left defensive end opposite Parker. To Reed’s outside shoulder is Barkevious Mingo crouched as if to sprint, and the possibility that Reed is primarily tasked with setting the edge for Mingo to pass rush must be a prime consideration for Parker. He’s not. Reed is in fact containing Carr so that the “force,” the area overloaded by Shaquem Griffin and McDougald (he’s green gloves there, more or less opposite Jarred Cook (87)), may not be easily escaped by Carr moving to his right.

Seattle rushes only five. Wagner is manned up against Martin. When Martin stays in to block, Wagner is left doing more or less nothing. He could “dog” i.e. optionally blitz based on what Martin has done, but doesn’t in time. Which is a good thing.

The Raiders badly botched the pre-snap read. Martin will have to cut in front of Carr in order to pick up McDougald, who is otherwise unaccounted for. That creates the fatal mismatch this blitz was intended to create. Clark bends around Kolton Miller like a photon traversing a dip in space created by Betelgeuse.

The above also shows us Reed quietly doing his job, containing Carr. One might mistakenly think he hasn’t done much, but relatively free of being blocked with outside leverage on the right tackle, he is instrumental to what will happen next.

Seth Roberts (10) has torched Justin Coleman (28). Football is a game of microseconds. Carr cocks. Carr is stripped. And, oh, wouldn’t you know, Reed recovers. This play alone is worth over four points of possession and field position. Expected points, I should add, because often expectations are little but guesses with no more than an incidental relationship to the truth.