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Neanderball, Week 7: Seahawks vs. Ravens (2nd Quarter)

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NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Hello everyone, and welcome back to the second installment of Week 7’s Neanderball. As with all good horror movies, we began in Part 1 with a generally upbeat experience that gave the audience a false sense of normalcy. Now is when the floorboards start creaking, the doors start slamming on their own, and the protagonists suggest splitting up to cover more ground.

All mentions of left and right are from the perspective of the Seattle Seahawks offense. The Ps and Rs in the drive headings indicate sequences of runs and passes, with commas denoting first downs. Plays in brackets were called back due to penalties, and quarterback scrambles are counted as passing plays.

Drive 3, Q2 11:06 (Seahawks 7, Ravens 6) - PRRP, PP, PPP

1st and 10. Do I have deja vu, or did the Seahawks already try this tomfoolery with Lockett in the backfield on the last drive? He runs around pre-snap like Michael Jackson with his hair on fire, his faithful shadow in the Ravens backfield does the same, and nothing of note is accomplished. Wilson throws with linebacker L.J. Fort in his face thanks to some dubious pass protection decision-making by Chris Carson, but appears to get a good throw away to DK Metcalf anyway. Unfortunately, Metcalf is being covered tightly by cornerback Marlon Humphrey, and a merely good throw was not going to be good enough. Whatever this play was meant to accomplish - I assume a jet sweep to Lockett to the right - it did not. Tear it out of the playbook, please.

1st and 10. A roughing the passer penalty on Fort gives the Hawks a do-over. Schotty lines up Chris Carson deep in the backfield and two TEs left, which in this case means Willson and, ah, Joey Hunt, our backup backup center. The Ravens think it’s a run: they line up in a 5-3 and when the ball is snapped, all eight men in the box surge forward without hesitation. It is indeed an outside zone run to the right, with Justin Britt pulling to act as lead blocker, but Ifedi manages such an insignificant push against outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson that Britt runs into Ifedi. Inside backer Josh Bynes reacts so quickly that Iupati is left to frantically chase after him as Bynes fills the Jones-Ifedi gap, and L.J. Fort, unblocked by Britt, is about to close off the outside edge.

Carson knows a lost cause when he sees one and cuts back, taking advantage of a clear win by Jamarco Jones on his man to find daylight. Hunt’s defender manages to disengage and lay hands on Carson to keep the gain merely medium-sized.

2nd and 5. Some plays are complicated, and understanding them is like reconstructing a crime scene. Some are not, and reconstructing them is as simple as watching Ifedi fail to hold his block against outside linebacker Tyus Bowser, who brings down Carson for a gain of a yard. I’m too disgusted to even manage a Super Mario pun.

3rd and 4. The Ravens bring four and Ifedi struggles against outside linebacker Matthew Judon’s speed rush, but the rest of the pocket is sufficiently clean that Wilson has no trouble stepping up and out of trouble. Malik Turner immediately comes open over the middle, but in one of those quirks of football geometry, the shuffling of the very large linemen in front of Wilson closes the throwing lane, i.e. he’s too short to see that Turner is open. Wilson scrambles for a better view, Turner scrambles too, and the Ravens defensive backs take far too long to realize that Turner is wide open.

1st and 10. It’s once more first and ten, baby, the down and distance when all sins are washed away and anything is possible. The Ravens bring six on a delayed blitz, but the sixth rusher gets lost in traffic and never makes it anywhere close to Wilson, who sends a beautiful ball soaring toward David Moore, who’s double-covered in the end zone. It doesn’t seem like an easy catch, but it nonetheless looked catchable. It’s hard to look at a pass like that and not dream on what might have been, knowing how the game ended up going later.

2nd and 10. Seattle sends four receivers out wide to give the whole “downfield pass” business another try, and the Ravens look to make us pay by blitzing six. Every part of the Ravens plan fails: each of the six blockers (including Carson) win their blocks, Wilson throws an accurate, lightning quick pass, and David Moore runs a sharp route before embarrassing cornerback Brandon Carr with a display of post-catch agility that picks up a first down. More of that, please.

1st and 10. The Ravens send the Seahawks a cease and desist letter with respect to passing the football in the form of an ungodly seven-man blitz, made even more complex by appearing to rush eight, and at the last moment dropping one man into coverage. Defensive end Chris Wormley beats Jones cleanly and inside linebacker Bynes does the same to Jacob Hollister, but the real crisis is caused by inside linebacker Fort beating Carson. Wilson gets the ball away to Lockett in the end zone, but the throw is just a little long. Some plays are just born under a bad sign.

2nd and 10. Undaunted, the Seahawks take once more to the air, and this time, perhaps because defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is tired of shouting “blitz!” into his headset, the Ravens bring only four rushers. With five blockers, everything should have gone smoothly, but you know that’s not how this team rolls in 2019. Judon beats Ifedi to the inside and Wormley discovers Iupati’s not particularly agile when forced to move laterally, forcing Wilson to run for his life and ultimately throw it away.

3rd and 10. Wink Martindale gets his voice back and screams “blitz!” so loudly that all the Whos down in Whoville wince. Six rushers obey and lay siege the Seattle blocking scheme. It doesn’t matter because Wilson thinks he has Metcalf on a go route down the left sideline and gets the ball out quickly. It turns out he doesn’t have Metcalf, and I’m chalking this one up to Metcalf not winning his route: his positioning allows the much smaller cornerback Anthony Averett to keep his much smaller body between Metcalf and the ball. It’s the kind of thing I’d expect to see improve as our big-bodied rookie WR gains experience, but for now, it’s a frustrating way for a promising drive to end. Field goal.

Drive 4, Q2 6:31 (Seahawks 10, Ravens 6) - R, RPP

1st and 10. When CJ Prosise somehow made it through the preseason without any of his limbs falling off, I allowed myself to imagine big things for the fleet-footed running back, and warned that Penny - at that time still considered a contender for RB1 - would be very lucky to remain RB2. That Prosise was given this carry in the first place causes me to suspect that Prosise has begun to supplant Penny in practice, much as Mike Davis began to at about the same time last year. Seeing what Prosise did with this carry does not give me much faith that Penny has any chance of winning the RB2 slot back.

Do you remember the first play of the game, when Iupati and Fant both pulled to block for a Carson run to the right? Well, here they are doing it again, and every single defender in the box bites on a run to the right. By the time the nearest linebacker, Bynes, realizes he’s made a terrible mistake, stopped, and taken his first step in the correct direction, Prosise has already reached top speed on his run to the left and is impossibly far away. Jaron Brown throws an iffy block that forces Prosise to make a cut to avoid a tackle by cornerback Marlon Humphrey, and Earl Thomas is in position to keep the fire from destroying the whole neighbourhood by making the tackle after 17 yards.

1st and 10. Willson sets up next to Ifedi, but deeper than usual, and I wonder if this was done to help sell the possibility of a pass. Instead, it enables him to easily cross behind the formation to throw a lead block on a nifty running play. The rest of the line comes out their stances acting like they’re zone blocking for a run to the right, and even Carson initially looks set up to run to the right, but I think Willson pulling across the formation is the smoking gun in terms of deciphering Schotty’s true intentions.

It didn’t work all that well, but rather than kick dirt in the face of any Seattle player, I want to applaud the instincts of inside linebacker Josh Bynes. While the world is moving to the right, he hesitates, sees Willson crossing behind the formation to the left, and breaks to the left as well, even before Carson cuts left. I dare you to pause the footage at the moment Bynes (#57) commits, and tell me that you would have predicted the play was going to the left.

The result of this masterful piece of linebacking is that Fant is suddenly thrown out of position to make the sealing block on Bynes he’d been setting up for, and although Willson makes his cut block on outside backer Jaylon Ferguson, there’s now an excess of traffic in what should have been a giant hole in the line. The U.S.S. Carson is consequently forced to sail perilously close to the arm span of defensive tackle Brandon Williams, who drags him down to Davy Jones’ locker with all hands lost.

2nd and 6. Writing these drive summaries has given me more appreciation for the quieter forms of deception employed by offensive coordinators, and I think this play is another example of well-conceived shenanigans from Schotty. Wilson fakes handing off a jet sweep to Lockett to the left before dropping back, and the Ravens are further stressed by Carson booking it to the right to potentially catch a lateral pass there, which Wilson further sells by staring him down. The result is a remarkably timid pass rush that gives Willson (Luke) time to leak through the line and make tracks downfield for a potentially big completion. Wilson (Russell) snaps his gaze back upfield and fires away, but the pass is a little long, or perhaps Willson a little slow to his spot, and the pass falls incomplete.

3rd and 6. Both Schotty and Martindale empty their backfields, leaving only Russell Wilson and Earl Thomas not on the line of scrimmage. The Ravens bring five, and then a sixth on a delayed blitz, but protection is excellent. Wilson has Jaron Brown wide open on the right sideline for a first down, but Brown wasn’t who Wilson wanted. Wilson wanted Lockett.

Recent Ravens trade acquisition Marcus Peters was responsible for covering Brown, and there was a lot of talk by the announcers about how Peters deliberately baited Wilson into throwing to Brown by appearing to leave him open. I don’t believe it. Peters has a somewhat infamous reputation for freelancing instead of sticking to his assignment, but Peters has a job despite his freelancing because his instincts are often on the money. Having now watched the play a couple dozen times in slow motion, I think Peters tracked Wilson’s line of sight, saw Wilson’s eyes on Lockett running deep across the middle of the field, and cheated toward Lockett. Wilson decides he doesn’t like the throw to Lockett, who is now bracketed, and aborts the throw. The instant Wilson lowers his arm, Peters plants his foot in the dirt and breaks back toward Brown, who is still standing in the same place like an Easter Island statue.

Wilson should never have thrown the pass to Brown, but not because Peters was laying a trap. I don’t think he’s that kind of cornerback. Wilson shouldn’t have thrown that pass because you don’t throw across the field to a stationary receiver as a second read - the defense has too much time to react. This is especially true when there’s an extremely athletic defensive back with a nose for the ball in the vicinity.

Brown does Seattle no favors laying back and waiting patiently for the ball to arrive, Peters intercepts it at full speed, and he’s away upfield for a pick six. Oh, bother, as Winnie the Pooh would say.

Drive 5, Q2 4:56 (Seahawks 10, Ravens 13) - PPR, P, RRP, PPP, P, PP

1st and 10. It’s been a source of steady reassurance this season that whatever part of the Seahawks offensive machine might seize, clog, rust solid, or fall off, Russell Wilson will do his job. It is thus highly distressing to report that the only reason this play - a straightforward 5-10 yard gainer to Hollister to give the offense some breathing room - doesn’t work is because Wilson throws an inaccurate pass. It’s unnerving to watch, if I’m being honest. Like watching Michelangelo wake up hungover and accidentally take the nose off the statue of David.

2nd and 10. The Hawks line up five receivers out wide, and the Ravens return to their piratical ways, sending six rushers after Russell, including a safety. The thing about coming at the king, though, is that you’d best not miss. None of the rushers get home, and Wilson completes an easy pass to Metcalf.

3rd and 1. Stopping Carson from picking up a yard on 3rd and 1 doesn’t seem easy. It’s been done before, it’ll be done again, but I wouldn’t want my paycheck riding on making it happen. The line blocks to the left, and when you watch Carson’s eyes you’ll see that his run to the right, off Willson’s hip, can’t even fairly be called a cutback. The objective from the start was to wash all the big bodies out of the play to the left and let Carson take on strong safety Clark one on one for that yard. That is exactly what happens, and Clark can’t get square in time.

1st and 10. Play action, and Lockett and Metcalf both take off downfield. Metcalf runs a crossing route that physically interferes with cornerback Marlon Humphrey’s ability to stay with Lockett, his assigned receiver, and when I watched the broadcast of the game, I remember the announcers describe this as a natural pick play. I was prepared to do the same, but the more I watch it, the more I think Humphrey believed he was playing a zone defense and “handed off” Lockett to follow Metcalf. It’s the only way to explain the way he smoothly shifts to mirroring Metcalf instead of trying to push through him to get to Lockett, and it explains his physically visible panic and indecision a heartbeat later when it’s clear that nobody has Lockett at all. Justifiable feelings, because Wilson shows no mercy hitting Lockett for the chunk gain.

1st and 10. You may remember that when we last discussed defensive tackle Brandon Williams, he was taking Hollywood by storm with his gruesome remake of the Temple of Doom. This time he’s back with a remake of Red Dawn. The Soviet Union, played here by Chris Carson, is invading the Baltimore backfield through the wide-open Jones/Ifedi gap, and only a plucky band of teenagers, played here by 336-pound, 30-year-old Williams, can stop them. The climax arrives when Williams single-handedly defeats the evil empire by laying both hands on Jamarco Jones and throwing him bodily across the path Carson intended to take. Brandon Williams is a scary, scary dude.

2nd and 6. Blessedly, Williams commits a neutral zone infraction and hands us 5 yards. If he bleeds, we can kill him. The jet sweep to Lockett Seattle’s been threatening all game finally rears its scaly head, and the initial execution of the run fake to Carson is on point, right down to the cameras slewing around at the last moment as they realize they got got. You know who wasn’t fooled, though? Safety Chuck Clark. As the entire defensive backfield shifts to the right mere seconds before the snap, just as Schotty intended, Clark shouts something and points to the left, and several defenders return to their positions on the left. I’m not too enthused with Willson’s blocking job, but it’s Clark who killed this play. Two to three Ravens defenders are loitering when Lockett arrives who would not have been there but for Clark.

3rd and 9. I’m beginning to realize that the Ravens’ habit of crowding the line of scrimmage is, in addition to snuffing out runs, a great way to disguise blitzes. Wink Martindale sends seven after Wilson, but Martindale should have brought a bigger boat. Humphrey is left one on one with Lockett, and Wilson fearlessly launches the ball toward the pair of them, trusting Lockett to make a play. He does.

Of note, Jamarco once again struggles with his block.

1st and 10. Just as I’m beginning to think I’ve got it all wrong and the Wilson I know and love is back, he overthrows Moore on a deep shot down the left sideline. Carson’s block on Fort is not teaching tape material, but it’s not the source of the malfunction. Wilson just straight-up misses.

2nd and 10. Jacob Hollister, let it be said, runs triple A-rated receiving routes. In this case, he stops on a dime, turns crisply, and catches the ball, fuss-free. And a good thing too, because as usual Ifedi gets clowned by his defender, in this case outside linebacker Matthew Judon.

3rd and 4. The clock is now very much an issue, with 53 seconds remaining and 28 yards left to drive to the end zone. The Ravens bring six on a delayed blitz but the ball is out of Wilson’s hands immediately to Lockett, who beats his man and receives a somewhat generous forward progress ruling for a first down.

1st and 10. 28 seconds left. The tension is palpable, and Carroll’s unsuccessful decision to waste our last time out on a challenge for pass interference is justifiably taking a lot of heat for engendering that tension.

Russ wants to go for the throat and the Ravens know it, only sending four and playing very conservatively with their back seven. Judon blasts Hollister back off the line and then finishes him with a spin move, but an edge rusher alone on a tight end was a brutal mismatch to begin with. I put more blame on Carson and Ifedi’s situational awareness, as both players stand around looking for something to do while mere feet from them, Judon is undressing Hollister. Carson takes the “see no evil” route and has his back turned the whole time, while Ifedi repeatedly notices Hollister struggling, but apparently thinks it’s bad form to interrupt a gentleman’s duel.

Wilson takes off for a first down, rescuing the situation.

1st and 10. 19 seconds left, but Wilson getting out of bounds has at least stopped the clock. 13 yards to go. The Ravens again only rush four, looking to keep everything in front of them and deny the Seahawks the end zone. Others might disagree, but I thought Wilson had Hollister reasonably open in the middle of the field between two defenders. Wilson didn’t want it. He’d already put six points on the board for Baltimore with an interception, and I assume his thinking was that he didn’t want to take three off the board for Seattle with another one in the red zone.

2nd and 10. 13 seconds left. This is it, the last charge before we’ll be forced by the clock to kick a field goal. Seattle knows it, Baltimore knows it, and they only send three rushers, leaving every other man-jack to defend the end zone against the flood of receivers Schotty unleashes downfield. I’m convinced Wilson had Carson on a corner route into the end zone, and Wilson saw it too before thinking twice and pulling the ball down. I’m even more convinced Wilson could have completed it to Hollister, who makes a sharp cut and is crossing the five-yard line (which I have just learned is called a “dig” route), and the only explanation I can genuinely reach for why Wilson instead throws the ball away is this: our Hall of Fame QB is on tilt.

So, comrades, while we will go into the half tied 13-13 with a Ravens team playing awfully similar football to the Seahawks of yore, I would not have blamed anybody who felt at this juncture like the storm clouds were gathering and the black dog (or bad omen of your choice) was roaming the Seattle sideline. A chip shot field goal by Myers ends the drive, the quarter, and this second installment of Week 7’s Neanderball.