Hi everyone, and welcome back to another edition of Neanderball. In this column I, a football caveman, try to make sense of the Seattle Seahawks offense with nothing more than a rewind button and a vague idea of which end zone the offense is supposed to be travelling toward.
Confession: I am currently on vacation in a wildly different time zone from Cleveland, Ohio, and consequently fell asleep in front of my laptop soon after the Browns returned the opening kickoff into Seahawks territory. Following a couple hours of vivid and disturbing dreams in which I ran naked through the training facility of the Cleveland Browns and strange men kept shouting at me that the Seahawks were down 20-6, I woke up in the fourth quarter to find the Seahawks winning a close game…and Seahawks Twitter arguing over the Ikea instructions for assembling a guillotine (the “Österholm”: seven flat-packs with a mini Allen wrench included, comes in white, black-brown, or stained-ash veneer). Suffice to say, the emotions I attach to this game are probably somewhat different than those of the fans who watched it live.
It took eight drives and 37 minutes of game clock (almost two hours for those who elected not to take a three-quarter nap) for the Seattle offense to finally dig out from under the brutal three-touchdown start the defense handed Mayfield & Co. For those frustrated by the team’s offensive performance, consider whether you would feel the same way if the ever-present Browns lead hadn’t made the game feel like half a day spent towing your car out of a ditch in the middle of a rainstorm.
One of the matters Hawks fans are justifiably curious about is the performance of George Fant, making the start at left tackle for the injured Duane Brown, and Jamarco Jones, doing likewise for D.J. Fluker at right guard. I’m not ready to say either one is a big upgrade just yet over the players they replaced, but they’re both certainly at least as good - which is wonderful news. Neither played perfectly, but critically, both were able to execute their assignments sufficiently well to allow other players to do their jobs.
After last week I was on the verge of nailing 95 reasons why we should bench Mike Iupati and lead Germain Ifedi out the front door of the VMAC, but this week Iupati’s play returned to within acceptable parameters. It turns out not having to go one on one with Aaron Donald produces a distinct improvement in a lineman’s performance. I recommend we not play against Aaron Donald as often as possible. As for Ifedi? He’s not long for that roster spot, so the sooner we find out what’s next for him and for our right tackle position, the better.
Given the opportunity to get out from under Rashaad Penny on the depth chart, C.J. Prosise failed to impress. While I wouldn’t call him terrible, he very much played like a RB3 - missing blitz pickups, struggling to find holes or break tackles, and generally failing to create more yardage than the blocking scheme gave him. I’m not ready to see the last of number 22, but my initial manic dreams of Prosise greatness are beginning to fade.
I’m heartbroken that Will Dissly is seriously injured again. He was an exciting receiver and widely beloved. Now, if you’ll allow me to be cold-blooded for a moment, it’s also important to acknowledge just what a massive liability he represented as a blocker every time he set foot on the field. It’s appropriate to mourn for Dissly’s lost season and commiserate with the fear and frustration he’s probably feeling, but once the conversation turns to how much this hurts the Seahawks, a dispassionate accounting might very well put the cost of his consistently abominable blocking higher than the value of his receiving.
On to the drive summaries. It’s still early days at Neanderball Inc., and I’m experimenting with a few different approaches. This week, in order to provide you all with a reading experience that less resembles a homework assignment (“Chris Carson is travelling 15 mph northbound and Jermaine Whitehead is travelling 6 mph southbound. Carson hits Whitehead and now both players are travelling northbound at 15 mph. How embarrassed is Jermaine Whitehead?”), I’m going to provide my personal favourite sequences instead of an exhaustive catalogue of every play we ran from scrimmage. Love it or hate it, let me know about it in the comments.
Drive 1, Q1 13:01 (Seahawks 0, Browns 7) - PP, RRP, R(P)P
1st and 10. The Seahawks line up in a passing formation but the Browns aren’t buying it, like not even a little bit. They keep eight men in the box and, from what I can tell with this video quality, appear to be literally drooling at the prospect of tackling Chris Carson. When Wilson motions Dissly tight into the formation right before the snap, the Browns must have thought they were vindicated. Then Wilson kept the ball. Panic, dismay, Browns defenders frantically bailing to chase after Seahawks receivers, and Wilson cruising alone behind the line of scrimmage in an ocean of space, like one of those chilled-out turtles from Finding Nemo surfing the East Australian Current. Wilson to Willson for 5, but I thought Russ also could have had Lockett for 10 without much more effort. 2nd and 5. Nick Bellore enters the game, and as I mentioned last week, the only more obvious way to announce your intention to run the ball than bringing in your fullback is to have the Seahawks’ RB coach jog over to the Browns sideline and slap their defensive coordinator with a white glove. Sure enough, all three Browns linebackers bite hard on the run at the snap, and I imagine it was quite a nasty surprise when this turned into a 20-yard pass to Bellore, who is totally uncovered. Schotty’s putting on a clinic early.
1st and 10. At last, the inaugural run play arrives, a handoff to Carson to the right, with three receivers lined up to the left drawing pre-snap attention to the other side of the field. It will be no surprise to my regular readers that Dissly fails to hold his block, and if Carson had been a titch slower, trouble might have ensued. As it happens, Carson is not slow, nor is he weak: he transitions from speed to power at the point of contact and drags three Browns down the field for eight yards. 2nd and 2. This is a pitch play to Carson to the left. For it to work perfectly, four players have to make their blocks, in order from right to left: Iupati, Dissly, and Fant, and then Lockett upfield. Three of these people are, despite their other admirable contributions to the game of football, on my fecal roster from last week for their apathetic and/or incompetent blocking, and it turns out a week of practice can only fix so much. Iupati doesn’t cover himself in glory, but the real culprits are Dissly, who can’t get a push on his defender and cramps Carson’s approach, and Lockett, who once again makes such a hash of his assignment that you could be forgiven for not realizing he was supposed to block somebody to begin with. Fant’s defender ends up squarely on his backside, pleasing me greatly. 3rd and 2. Wilson to DK Metcalf on a shallow crossing route, and don’t ask me how any DB in the league is supposed to prevent someone the size of Metcalf from boxing them out and making that catch.
1st and 10. Wilson receives the snap and hands the ball off to Carson. Dissly crosses the formation to act as the lead blocker. Realizing he has a bad angle on the tackle, Browns defensive end Olivier Vernon improvises and gives Dissly a powerful shove, sending him flying into Carson, who’s forced to slow down. Metcalf makes his block, Fant makes his block, and now it’s Dissly in front of Carson with one defender between them and the end zone. So of course, Dissly misses the block so badly he swan dives into the turf without making contact with the defender, and Carson picks up a yard while Dissly picks chunks of turf out his face mask. 2nd and 9. False start. God damn it, Ifedi. 2nd and 14. Myles Garrett is one on one with Ifedi, and beats him with an agile sidestep inside. Jones notices and responds fast enough to hit Garrett on his way through, which in turn gives Wilson the space to step up and locate the area in the middle of the field the size of Wyoming that the Browns decided it was fine to leave undefended. Did they not watch tape from the Rams game? Wilson runs for 14, plus another 2 yards to reach the end zone. Touchdown, extra point missed. (Editor’s note: Nearly unnoticeable on the Broadcast footage, there was a delayed corner blitz coming from the flat. With Jones not engaged with a defender, the responsibility for blocking Garrett likely passed to Jones, as Ifedi’s responsibility would have shifted to picking up the blitzing defensive back.)
Drive 2, Q1 4:43 (Seahawks 6, Browns 14) - PP, RP, RPP
1st and 10. A straightforward 5-yard throw to Tyler Lockett. Blocking was fine, just not a great throw. 2nd and 10. A quick pass to David Moore, who runs a sharp route, makes a good catch and doesn’t go down easily.
1st and 10. I have to wag my finger at Jones, here. It’s a run through the Jones-Ifedi gap and Jones makes a bad read on who he should block, electing to unnecessarily double-team Iupati’s defender and leaving a man free to hit Carson in the hole. 2nd and 7. Blocking is good but not decisively so, and Wilson decides to take the bird in the hand. That bird, Accipiter Carsonilis, is all alone in the short middle of the field and picks up the needed 7 yards plus another 15 or so for kicks.
1st and 10. The easy answer to what happened on this run play was that Willson didn’t block Myles Garrett. But watching it again, he didn’t do so because the play was supposed to go to the left, away from Garrett, and Willson made the correct call to go hit someone in the second level. So why did CJ Prosise decide that running to the left was going to end up with cynical homicide detectives trading laconic witticisms over his chalk silhouette? A worthy mystery. There’s one Browns defender lined up over Britt, two to his left, and two linebackers on the second level. At the snap, Fant and Iupati both make their blocks. Britt charges past his man to block the left linebackers. By design, Jones takes Britt’s man, Willson has the linebacker on the right, and at the moment of the handoff it looks like poetry, and also more concretely a 10-yard gain. If Prosise didn’t decide to re-enact Goldilocks and the Three Bears, that is. He decides he doesn’t like the perfectly good hole between Fant and Iupati, then decides he doesn’t want the slightly worse hole between Iupati and Jones, and finally opts to try to cut back and beat Garrett to reach daylight. Garrett turns him into a chalk silhouette, and I’m now supplying the witticisms. 2nd and 5. Man, play action is great. The Browns stuff nine into the box to counter a heavy run formation by the Hawks. Wilson fakes the handoff to Prosise and eight of the nine defenders chase after him like Schotty taped Willy Wonka’s last golden ticket to his back. Wilson has enough time in the pocket to smoke a cigarette, and alas, he smokes it right down to the filter waiting for a throw he likes. Vernon eventually beats Iupati outside and forces Wilson to step up, and Garrett is there waiting for him after shedding Joey Hunt on a spin move. 3rd and 9. The quick throw to Turner comes out badly placed, forcing Turner to come to a stop. Turner’s defender hits him and jars the ball loose. Punt.
Drive 3, Q2 14:54 (Seahawks 6, Browns 20) - (R)(?)RP, PR, RPP
2nd and 3 (12:40). This was an exceptionally pretty run play, if such a thing can be said to exist under the sun. As near I can describe it, the entire line rotates clockwise like a ten-ton wall moving on a fulcrum, paving the turf with the brown and orange remnants of whatever was in its radius at the snap. When the earth-moving machinery finishes its dread work, Carson has more or less an empty parking lot to run through.
Drive 4, Q2 10:06 (Seahawks 9, Browns 20) - RP, RPP
2nd and 4 (8:20). Play action and Wilson has time but no receiving options he likes. This strikes me as the sort of play where other QBs might try to force the ball to somebody, i.e. the sort of play that’s the reason Wilson is the only QB in 2019 to have played all six games and not thrown an interception (the other two, Mahomes and Mariota, both threw interceptions in Week 6, and Mariota was benched).
Drive 6, Q2 1:06 (Seahawks 12, Browns 20) - P, P, P, P(P)PP
3rd and 5 (0:27). Another down, another creative Browns blitz. Acknowledgement is due to Browns defensive coordinator Steve Wilks for dialing these up. In this instance, they bring two D-linemen and two linebackers right. Britt and Ifedi each pick up a D-lineman, leaving Jones and Prosise to handle the linebackers. Jones sees that he has to choose a linebacker and makes a decisive block on one of them. Prosise, behind him, is left with the job of picking up the remaining rusher. Alas, Prosise doesn’t see that remaining rusher and tries to help elsewhere instead. Wilson is forced to both throw early and take a hit as he throws. Miraculously, Jaron Brown is nevertheless exactly where he needs to be, like a toe-tapping, Air Jordan-wearing version of Gandalf that trash talks Frodo while putting up personal bests on the bench press. Touchdown.
Drive 7, Q3 15:00 (Seahawks 18, Browns 20) - R(P)PP
2nd and 16 (14:15). Play action and everyone makes their blocks, including Willson stoning Garrett one on one. While Wilson looks downfield, entire species previously unknown to science are discovered, flourish, and go extinct. Nothing comes open, Garrett wears down Willson, defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi’s third move on Britt works, and Wilson is late to flee, leading to a drive-ending sack. Consider this your weekly reminder that pass-blocking for Russell Wilson is probably the most thankless assignment in the NFL, apart from having to tackle Chris Carson. If he’s not unexpectedly fleeing the pocket, causing defenders to change direction and exposing your subtle holds to the pitiless gaze of the referees, he’s taking so long to throw that your initially competent block has dissolved into a localized natural disaster.
Drive 8, Q3 8:54 (Seahawks 18, Browns 20) - PP, R, P, PRPP
1st and 10. On the right side of this play, Willson allows Browns defensive end Chad Thomas a free release on Wilson in order to get open downfield. This in turn requires a quick throw, and Russ has Turner for 12 yards if he wants him…which Wilson inexplicably does not. This is an example of the price of throwing no interceptions in six games: Russ is sometimes cast in the role of overly-conservative portfolio manager warning about buying stock in newfangled companies like Google (what kind of name is that, anyway?), and we have to accept that frustration because it also keeps the Seahawks offense from investing the family fortune in Pets.com. 2nd and 7. Excellent blocking, excellent throw by Wilson, excellent route and catch by Willson for a first down. Luke Willson left us nicknamed Dubstep, because as one of our esteemed correspondents on Field Gulls joked, we were always waiting for the drop. He returns as a - so far - reliable receiver. Do people really change? Maybe. Darla, if you’re reading this, I sure have. Take me back, baby.
1st and 10. Britt can’t hold his block on this passing play, but he survives long enough for Moore to work his quietly competent sorcery and apparate into an uncovered space in the Browns defensive scheme. Wilson delivers the throw with the nonchalance of the best QB in the game. Accio first down.
1st and 8. Iupati stones his defender’s spin move, but the pass Wilson lofts to Turner has just a bit too much fairy dust on it. After an absolute gift of a pass interference call by the refs that should have all of us buying the Browns fans in our lives a round, it’s 1st and 3. On this Carson run, Browns defensive end Olivier Vernon casts down Willson into the turf and stands between Carson and the hole the O-line has made, like an angel guarding the gates to the promised land. But not like an adorable greeting card angel, more like the Old Testament kind with a flaming sword and a name like Aziraphaesteon. Carson is duly smote, and it’s 2nd and 6. Garrett beats Ifedi like a drum, but Wilson somehow manages to get rid of it. 3rd and 6. Watching Ifedi try to hold a block while Wilson waits for an open receiver in the end zone is like watching your cousin bobble the last bottle of vodka at a banger of a party after the liquor stores have all closed. In this case, the vodka remains inside the bottle and Wilson gets his usual heat-seeker of a pass away. Break out the red Solo cups, touchdown.
Drive 11, Q4 8:58 (Seahawks 25, Browns 28) - RP, P, P, RR, (P)RPP, P, R
2nd and 8 (7:04). Are you having a bad day? Woke up on the wrong side of the bed? Stepped on a Lego block? Forgot your anniversary? Do I have a cure for you. Watch 6’5, 331 pound Mike Iupati pull on this run play and block hapless Browns cornerback and normally-dimensioned human Terrance Mitchell, who’s listed at 5’11, 191 pounds. Is the sight of Terrance Mitchell flying through the air not enough to turn that frown around? Just behind Iupati is Pro Bowl candidate Chris Carson, who slaps Jermaine Whitehead into the dirt, leaves linebacker Mack Wilson’s tackle attempt standing at the altar, olé’s safety Damarious Randall off the field in the ancient tradition of Spanish bullfighters, and then seeing his doom approach in the form of oncoming defensive tackle Daniel Ekuale, turns to meet it like a Spartan instead of stepping out of bounds.
If you’re still not happy, remember that the Seattle Seahawks are now 5-1, and we’re living through the franchise’s Camelot era. Enjoy it, folks. Savour every play. That’s all for this week, and I’ll see you next Monday to sift through the aftermath of the Earl Thomas Revenge Game. Go Hawks.