This week is being dominated by the focus on Richard Sherman’s return to CenturyLink Field. For that reason, it’s descended into a weird blend of sadness and heartache. Nobody seems to know how to behave. Indeed, people are debating what reception the future Hall of Fame and Ring of Honor member should receive. Oh, and PLEASE DON’T TEST HIM, BRIAN SCHOTTENHEIMER.
Wasn’t that win over the Panthers fun though?! Let’s return to that joyous area of solace one more time. For me personally, that win was needed. Some context:
Having coached defensive backs for a British university game in a disappointing loss, I was faced with the prospects of a bitter wind and a three hour long trip back home. I was miserable.
The Seattle Seahawks kicked off in 30 minutes. Worse, my cell data was running out. Rather than risk my lack of data on a train journey that was sure to disrupt my phone service, I decided to seek shelter in a nearby Wetherspoons.
For those who don’t know, Wetherspoons is a cheap British pub chain. Think Buffalo Wild Wings. Except it doesn’t have American beer, wings, or football. It’s not really like a BWW at all. It’s lovably crap, like Tanner McEvoy. (Sorry Tanner!) Plus it’s cheap.
It was pleasant settling down by a plug and using Wetherspoons’ complimentary Wi-Fi. (Get in touch about sponsoring Seahawks on tape) Gradually thawing and re-hydrating with a pint of English Ale, I watched my five inch screen in wonder. Hyperventilating as Sebastian Janikowski came good, a startled pub was left staring at this strange fanatic.
The game finished at 9.30 PM UK time. Due to cancelled trains and various mishaps, I ended up getting home at 3 AM—ah, the magic of time zones. Yet, it was all worth it!
The shear amount of ridiculous, scheme beating plays Seattle made was particularly enjoyable. This iteration of the Seahawks are one of the toughest. They do not quit, even in the most testing and difficult circumstances. Against Carolina, nothing epitomized this more than Bobby Wagner limiting a screen gain and Tre Flowers stopping a mesh short.
Scheme beating Wagner
Pete Carroll’s take:
“[Wagner] felt he had the advantage. It was only three. That was an incredible play. That was an incredible play, against a great back that has all the cuts and all the instincts and all that. I don’t know how he pulled that off, but he did, and it was a big, big play. I don’t know how much other people noticed that, but we certainly appreciated it…That was incredible instincts. Because he had to set it up, he had to make it happen with what he had to work with which he was really at a disadvantage.”
Viewing on my cell, this was the type of play where I thought I’d missed something at first:
Bobby Wagner is balling. The way he played that running back screen was incredible. Only guy out there yet somehow prevented the big play...and a first down!— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) November 25, 2018
A forever desperate Seattle pass rush attacked Newton up field. The under center formation freed the edge rushers from the shackles of having to stay disciplined for a read-option keeper. They hungrily hunted.
Norv Turner’s playcall was ahead of the Seahawks. The man coverage was run off by routes downfield. Austin Calitro turned his back on the play when desperately trying to get underneath deep over routes. Wagner was the only player with eyes on McCaffrey.
McCaffrey’s quick catch and turn up field saw him have three offensive linemen leading, and Wagner 15 yards away from the ball. However, Wagner’s approach was superb in both its speed and patience.
He came downhill aiming for the outside blocker while keeping his outside shoulder free. This angle of attack was designed to turn McCaffrey back inside to where there were more Seattle defenders.
Wagner’s ability to get closer to McCaffrey quickly and avoid a double team meant that the running back had to slow behind his blockers. The delay saw McCaffrey clearly become wary of cutting back inside because the pursuing defensive line managed to get up field.
Having maintained his outside-in leverage, Wagner was then able to disengage from Trai Turner’s block, one that he’d been controlling for some time, and then wrap a shifty McCaffrey for just an 8-yard gain. Not even a first down! This type of play should have been a touchdown for the Panthers!
Scheme beating Flowers
Pete Carroll’s take:
“On the third down play, the big one before the field goal, it was a pure one-on-one, shallow crossing, and they tried to pick [Flowers} off, and he felt his way through and made a great play—well tried to make a play on the ball—and then made the tackle. It was a really terrific play at the time.”
Like Wagner, Flowers was not supposed to make this play. Like Wagner, Flowers somehow got it done. He broke the rules and logic of football: another scheme beater.
Carolina was in a 3rd and 7 situation. They had the chance to end the game with a first down. Turner called the perfect play against press Seahawks cover-1 pass defense, a mesh call designed to create separation with the two crossing routes.
As Carroll said, the Panthers were trying to pick off Flowers with the shallow crossing route of Jarius Wright. Yet, as Flowers ran across the field chasing the crosser of D.J. Moore, he showed an awareness far above his rookie experience to avoid the pick and stay in phase with Moore.
Wagner’s green dog blitz removed any chance of the Newton throwing the ball deeper, forcing the quarterback to settle for Moore. Flowers first tried to swat the pass incomplete and then sharply brought the elusive receiver down in the open field.
This vanquished what would have been a game-ending first down and more. Carolina was left settling for three points that never arrived, following Graham Gano’s miss. For the second successive game, Seattle ran a cover-1 press against trips on the crucial third down, and their defenders executed.
Despite the pair of covered scheme beating plays, we must not become deluded from reality: the Seahawks’ defense struggled last Sunday. Turner’s smart game plan saw Seattle give up the most yards they’d allowed all year. The Seahawks surrendered 8.4 yards per play. Cam Newton completed a staggering 83.3% of his passes facing a flaccid pass rush. The pass coverage was stressed and couldn’t work out the communication needed for the deep over routes in behind the linebackers.
The run defense was also limp. All year, backup linebackers have struggled to get over the top of linemen into gaps to turn the play back. Meanwhile, defensive linemen have been pushed out of their gap.
Particularly troublesome was the Panthers using orbit motion to create triple option looks. Leaving the defensive end unblocked to crash inside, Carolina blocked the overhang EDGE and ran inside the two on read-option keepers. As Seattle started fast flowing and keeping the defensive end at home, the Panthers hit them with the reverse plays.
Essentially, the Seahawks had little answer to the orbit triple option look and deep crossers. In fact, Turner can be criticized for not running these plays more frequently. The orbit triple option look inside the redzone didn’t happen, despite Carolina experiencing great difficulties inside the 20.
The wildcard team no one wants to face?
That important, large caveat addressed, the two remarkable plays from Wagner and Flowers were still bright moments. Right now, the defense right is one that manages to tighten inside the redzone and make big plays.
As a young secondary grows more familiar with each other, the coverage effectiveness will grow. As Mychal Kendricks returns and Nazair Jones continues to be involved, the run defense should get better too.
That’s the most exciting aspect to the defense, and the team overall. Seattle can only get better. And they’re certainly improving. The playoff run for the Seahawks has begun; these types of scheme beating plays are just one small part of what makes 2018 Seattle deadly.
Their outlook has become spicier than the upcoming matchup against Richard Sherman. The Seahawks now look like the wildcard team absolutely no one wants to face—not opposition fans, players or coaches.