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The Drive: Four plays with David Moore

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Part of making a read for a quarterback is determining if a receiver has a favorable matchup. And part of determining if a receiver has a favorable matchup is determining if that receiver is himself very good. After a week or so of hype following his breakout performance against the Carolina Panthers, most Seattle Seahawks fans would’ve probably guessed that David Moore is good. Maybe not great, maybe not very good, but if good is some clear distinction above average, Moore seemed to most to be at least that. Most likely that isn’t true. Let us call Russell Wilson the ultimate arbiter of how good Moore was and let us use tape to determine Wilson’s judgment.

Before that let us look at one metric in particular. This is sort of an in-team plus/minus. How well did Moore do compared to the Seahawks overall passing performance?

Seahawks overall passing DVOA: 27.4% which ranked sixth in all of football.

Passes targeting Moore: -7.4% which ranked 57th out of 84.

That’s a swing of -34.8%. I am eyeballing this as I type it, but by my estimation only three other receivers who were targeted for 50 or more passes for one team exceeded Moore’s relative inefficiency: Chris Conley, -64.0%, John Ross, -42.8% and Nelson Agholor, -39.9%.

This actually underestimates Moore’s inefficiency somewhat. Wilson produces more negative passing plays in which no pass was thrown than most. We can see this in his efficiency, which is 11.6%. No quarterback throwing to Conley, Ross or Agholor was sacked at a comparable rate, and only the duo of Carson Wentz and Nick Foles in aggregate exceeded Wilson’s frequency of fumbling. Therefore we have to think of a play in which Wilson actually attempted a pass as relatively more valuable, because the two biggest drags on Seattle’s passing efficiency have already been avoided: sacks and quarterback fumbles.

Some of what constitutes Moore’s inefficiency is obvious. He only caught 49% of his targets, which ranks 81st of that same 84. Moore also fumbled twice, was the targeted receiver for two of Wilson’s seven interceptions, and never forced a pass interference penalty.

He was effectively benched for Seattle’s playoff defeat in Dallas, only playing 12 of Seattle’s 55 snaps. Let us look at four of those snaps, and look particularly at what Moore is doing, his role within the play call, and also, finally, one play in particular in which Wilson (perhaps) offers his own estimation of Moore’s ability.

First we shall see Moore acting as a decoy. His job as far as I can determine from the tape is to run deep with abandon. It’s kind of a cool play though and I like what Wilson does.

2nd & 14 at DAL 31

(2:00 - 2nd) R.Wilson pass short middle to C.Carson to DAL 24 for 7 yards (J.Smith).

Moore and Tyler Lockett run very similar routes. I do not think those routes are explicitly decoy routes, but Wilson treats them as such. And indeed Moore never looks back, never breaks stride, is still running into the end zone after corner Chidobe Awuzie has broken away to contain Chris Carson.

We find further evidence that Moore is functioning as a decoy in how Wilson executed his play fake. What we get is sort of a play-fake fake. Carson pantomimes as if receiving a hand off, but Wilson only very briefly imitates a hand-off motion, and from a distance which precludes a hand off.

If faking a hand off is designed to draw in the underneath coverage, Wilson’s aborted play fake is presumably designed to trick the underneath coverage to drop deep—especially in a hurried, compensating manner. Which works perfectly. Above we can see quick but inexperienced linebackers Jaylon Smith (54) and Leighton Vander Esch (55) pivoting in preparation of running deep, but a second later they’ve all but retreated out of the frame.

Wilson waits for the proper spacing and targets Carson underneath for a seven-yard gain.

Moore’s job in this next play is seemingly to create space and favorable matchups for other receivers. That is, he’s essentially a decoy again.

2nd & 17 at SEA 48

(8:51 - 3rd) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass incomplete short left to C.Carson.

This play is designed to match Lockett, the headpin of the trips, against a linebacker. It does, but Smith matches stride with Lockett and Wilson chooses to target Carson underneath. Moore runs a route like a bent coat hanger. He slants in a bit, runs vertically, and then runs a square in. His purpose seems to be to draw Vander Esch and possibly the deep safety, Xavier Woods. Here’s what we might call the moment of truth.

(a) Carson is about to drop a perfect pass. Wilson displayed excellent pocket passing skills in the loss, showcasing two abilities he has never quite mastered: throwing in rhythm and trusting his reads and throwing from the pocket while under extreme pressure. Good timing has afforded Carson a lot of space up the sideline. He will not use it.

(b) Moore is just beginning his in cut as the ball arrives to Carson. Wilson never even looks his way. His read goes from Lockett to Carson.

(c) Lockett is one-on-one against a linebacker and running right between Dallas’s split safeties. Smith, it would seem, is pretty damn fast.

Next, a quick look at Moore’s difficulty getting into his route.

3rd & 6 at SEA 29

(11:13 - 4th) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass incomplete deep right to T.Lockett (C.Awuzie).

Our star:

The product of his very slow start into his route:

I used an optical illusion to accentuate the difference but all the same it’s clear to see. Wilson is beginning his throwing motion. Moore, having used a few choppy steps outside in order to win inside position, is still just beginning his route. Again Wilson never even looks at him.

Finally, let us look at the coup de grace.

2nd & 22 at SEA 8

(8:40 - 4th) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short left to T.Lockett to SEA 10 for 2 yards (A.Brown). SEA-T.Lockett was injured during the play. His return is Questionable.

Lockett is mid-motion at the snap.

Wilson fakes inside hand-off and then reads Baldwin.

That he is reading Baldwin is a bit more clear from the camera behind the center. But the best evidence of the total disconnect between Wilson and Moore can be found just a few seconds later. Here’s Moore as Wilson’s winding up, and with a little editing, where he runs as the ball is in flight, and where he’s at just as Lockett’s about to catch the pass.

The corner defending Moore, #31 Byron Jones, is reading Wilson from the get go. He hedges as the Cowboys corners hedged almost all game: staying on top of the receiver while spying Wilson. Except this time he didn’t stay on top of the receiver. We can blame Wilson for being too deliberate, too readable; we can maybe blame Moore for not angling more toward the sideline in order to create further separation from the safety; but however we may want to assign blame, Moore gets a step on the cheating Jones and is effectively free up the sideline. Wilson never even looks at him.

This March, Moore becomes an exclusive rights free agent. All Seattle has to do to retain him is to offer him a contract. Most likely they will. But for a player who only played 6.5% of all special teams snaps, who barely saw the field in the Wild Card round, who played pretty much exclusively as a decoy when he did, and whom was outclassed in efficiency by his nearest in-team rival, Jaron Brownwhose 58.0% DVOA per target was second only to Lockett in all of football among wide receivers targeted at least 10 times—that offer is only probable because it is indeed so risk-free.

David Moore was a small school product, a size-speed prospect, who in Week 12 played a vital role in a vital game which all but assured Seattle a chance in the playoffs. That was great. We are appreciative. Not but two months later, Moore was first ignored—playing snaps, rarely targeted and converting few of those targets into receptions—then effectively benched. That’s a grim trajectory for a player given ample opportunity.

Many people have many ideas why Seattle didn’t pass more against Dallas, but that Seattle simply did not have the skill position talent to pass more often is not one I’ve read. Doug Baldwin was hurt all year. Lockett has only been targeted as many as nine times once in his career, and only twice in his 66-game career caught as many as seven passes. No member of Seattle’s backs or tight ends is an above average receiver except maybe J.D. McKissic. McKissic had three targets and a touchdown in six snaps against Dallas.

The Seahawks do not have to bank on Moore. Moore is not a bust. He has already surpassed the average value produced by the 226th pick in the NFL draft. Maybe he has further potential. But the Seahawks can not bank on Moore either. After a few weeks of getting snaps and making tape, his performance declined precipitously. Seattle needs wide receivers. The Seahawks need youth, talent, guys who get open without play action, guys who demand targets, guys who demand coverage, and most of all, guys Russell Wilson can trust.