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The Drive: The Seahawks Way

Seattle Seahawks v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

So strikingly similar is Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars to Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo that Kurosawa sued Leone, eventually winning an out of court settlement. Here is but a taste of Leone’s rampant theft:

Yet both movies are good movies. Fistful is likely Leone’s first good movie. His prior two were sword and sandal schlock starring the likes of Steve Reeves and Rory Calhoun.

One can only imagine a contemporary response to Leone’s whitewashed pilfering. That new lowest form of journalism, people on Twitter are berating so-and-so for such-and-such, would dot the front pages of clickbait mills the world over. And oh the think pieces!

But Leone did what he did and so doing learned how to make a good movie. Eventually, he made quite a few. He just needed a sturdy model. A means by which he could escape the artistic morass of infinite infinity and find instead his own bounded infinity. Something infinite in its permutations, of infinite granular possibilities, yet circumscribed by rules, intuition, ideas, heuristics, a way.

To some extent the good creator is first and foremost the good appreciator, and only from that ability to first and foremost feel and understand the work of another can they create anew, achieving originality through error as much as invention. The hack exposes themselves not through imitation but through wrongful imitation, like a palate which can only taste fine cooking for its salt.

Pete Carroll did not invent almost any part of Seattle’s perennially successful defensive scheme. It belongs to a family of schemes shared by almost every defensive coordinator hired during the Paul Allen era. Consider this quote by Bill Belichick:

“[Seattle] makes you drive it down the field on them, makes you convert a lot of plays. If you’re not careful, they knock you out of there, and that’s the end of the drive.”

Would you guess that was said of Ray Rhodes’ scheme in 2005? Longtime Seahawks fans surely know how painfully ludicrous concepts like “bend but don’t break” can seem if poorly executed. Yet Seattle is bending, ranking 20th in the NFL in average length of opponent drive, while rarely breaking, ranking fourth in average points scored per opponent drive. The scheme is simple, still. It still doesn’t much yield to big circles and squiggly lines. It is still very much more The Ramones than it is tUnE-yArDs. It is still very much more Smithers’ sober yin than it is Mr Burns’ raging yang. It still bears a Fistful of Dollars like relationship to Dungy and Kiffin’s Yojimbo.

“This is known as mysterious sameness.” —Tao Te Ching

It is still a scheme not defined by creative blitzes, or innovative coverage schemes, or “confusing looks,” but nuance and execution; and, if DVOA is to be believed, it is still a scheme which works very well. (That said, ESPN’s Football Power Index rates Seattle’s D as no more than above average while also rating Seattle’s offense as above average. FO judges the Seahawks O on the wrong side of suck, including a rather confounding rating of its rushing offense (17th))

Let us see that scheme work in its, shall we say, very Eastern way.

1ST & 10 AT DET 21(08:27)
(8:27) (Shotgun) M.Stafford pass deep middle to M.Jones to DET 40 for 19 yards (T.Flowers).

We know by now where Seattle’s seven defenders in coverage will end up. Or we should.

But how do we arrive at this?

And why doesn’t the above turn into this?

The answers are both pretty simple.

Marvin Jones Jr. runs a deep dig—an in breaking route against outside leverage. Tre Flowers is in an unenviable position. He is outside a receiver who is soon to be running further away from him to the inside (a).

Free safety Tedric Thompson (b), responsible for the deep middle, has guessed and guessed wrong, vacating the middle to close on a shallow out-breaking route and a vertical route ably covered by Shaquill Griffin (bottom). That could have been fatal.

Bradley McDougald, responsible for the shallow middle, has likewise guessed and guessed wrong.

He (a) attacks the shallow cross, vacating underneath coverage over the middle. Both failures are compounded by end-tackle stunts which have produced no pass rush, left a massive throwing lane right up the gut, and failed to contain Matthew Stafford. He slides to his right in order to have the cleanest of clean throwing lanes.

The throw and completion then are pretty academic. Jones is free of direct coverage, free of underneath coverage, and running through an open throwing lane. Luckily Stafford borks the pass, throwing it opposite Jones’s momentum, and allowing Flowers to close and tackle.

“He who is fearless in being bold will meet with his death; He who is fearless in being timid will stay alive.” —Tao Te Ching

1ST & 10 AT DET 40(07:54)
(7:54) (No Huddle, Shotgun) M.Stafford pass short left to M.Jones ran ob at SEA 46 for 14 yards.

Guess (a) ...

(a) wrong. It’s really that simple. Sometimes one doubles their mistakes by attempting to undo a mistake already made. Whether McDougald, by the <-40, should’ve gotten better depth instead of staying shallow to cover Kerryon Johnson, the Lion running an out at the 35, is debatable.

As is whether some pass rushes are indeed too wide.

Jacob Martin (59) appears to be returning from a quick trip to the Oort Cloud.

At the time the above sequence seemed a little:

And indeed but for another errant pass by Stafford, Seattle could have been even worse off. But this is bending, I suppose. Detroit is only notching expected points, after all.

“Is not the way of heaven like the stretching of a bow?” —Tao Te Ching

1ST & 10 AT SEA 46(07:20)
(7:20) (Shotgun) M.Stafford pass incomplete short left to G.Tate.

Feeling a bit—I don’t know ... what would the intellectuals call it?—butthurt, Seattle and Detroit mutually nullify each other by blitzing with five and blocking with seven, respectively.

It’s a fire zone blitz, for those who like such nomenclature.

Which in this case really just means guys who excel at coverage (a), McDougald and KJ Wright, are pass rushing, and a guy who excels at pass rush (b), is in coverage. I would love to know the overall effectiveness of fire zone blitzes. I would guess “not very.” In the American Football Encyclopedia of Ideas, fire zone blitzes are listed under the heading “too clever by half.” Clancy Pendergast has a defensive lineman dropping into coverage tramp stamped on his back. And so forth.

After a bit of fancy walking, numbers prevail, and Stafford throws the ball away.

With that, Seattle has bent enough. Detroit is “behind the sticks.” Seattle’s win probability is 97-something per centum. And some dude named Jarran Reed is feeling greedy.

“It is the way of heaven to take from what has in excess in order to make good what is deficient. The way of man is otherwise. It takes from those who are in want in order to offer this to those who already have more than enough.” —Tao Te Ching

2ND & 10 AT SEA 46(07:13)
(7:13) (Shotgun) M.Stafford sacked at DET 48 for -6 yards. FUMBLES, RECOVERED by SEA-F.Clark at SEA 46. F.Clark to SEA 46 for no gain (F.Ragnow).

Detroit runs a slow developing play down field.

Which allows Dion Jordan to genuflect at Stafford’s feet.

And Stafford is so moved by the gesture he moves from the gesture.

(If you’re curious why he doesn’t throw

(a) Golden Tate III is running directly into a KJ Wright ass whupping, and (b) Johnson is unreachable behind The Wood of Self-Murderers)

Which allows Reed to achieve this, his fifth sack.

Which, because of Deion Sandersanomic aphasia, he was not awarded. He really wasn’t. Seattle was awarded three sacks, but only two are credited to players. Fix that NFL, would ya? Give Reed his strip sack!

Frank Clark recovers the fumble. Some short time later, Seahawks win.

I’m a bit pat in my soaring finishes, and so, having worked on this for something like seven hours, I will instead leave you with something entirely different.

“Basho said to his disciple: “When you have a Milk Dud, I will give it to you. If you have no Milk Dud, I will take it away from you.”” —Mike Topp

Former Field Gulls writer and forever friend of mine and the site Doug Farrar has a new book out The Genius of Desperation. Check it out.