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The Drive: Will Dissly’s miniature masterpiece

NFL: OCT 03 Rams at Seahawks Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

My wife made a canny observation while we were watching last Thursday’s game. “Rashaad Penny looks fat.” This is in many ways why I love sports. What matters most happens before our eyes and however we wish to interpret what we see is, if maybe wrong, at least not a lie. Conversely, I was sitting on the bus some months ago, and a young man who styled himself a sports fan, was loudly bragging about how he had fooled his friend. Specifically, that he had not actually watched a basketball game and when prompted to talk about it only paraphrased Stephen A. Smith. The dupe believed him and his expertise. Of this he was exceedingly proud.

Bewilderment may be caused by going into or out of the light, it is said, and many perhaps most would rather never bother. Knowing the gross particulars of something lends confidence. This guy sucks. This guy’s great, or overrated, or JAG, or a choker, &c. et c. etc.

Setting aside how Rubenesque Mr Penny actually is, I wanted to provide a brief look at someone I mistakenly underestimated. Will Dissly is a player I knew mostly as a shadow. He did this in college. He did this at the NFL Combine. But he has now played more than half a season in the NFL, and whether it is Wilson’s knack or Schotty’s scheme, Dissly has been excellent. And unlike most acts of performance, that excellence doesn’t really need to escape the undertow of preconceived opinion. He cannot be disqualified for a gaffe, or negatively reviewed into irrelevance, or marginalized through black lists. Much of the joy of sports to me is that sports never needed and generally does not benefit from the miasma of coverage which accretes like so much space junk. Now, before I faint from fatigue, let me fart my own little miasma.

Dissly’s 38-yard reception was a product of gawdawful coverage. Look at this garbage!

I’ve laid on less leaky water beds. Dissly’s by the lower 30>, functionally alone. DK Metcalf, who’s turned in a bit ahead of the top 30>, has drawn both safeties. It’s a little portrait of how he contributes even when he’s not targeted. But let’s look instead at a play in which Dissly did something.

2ND & 3 AT SEA 36(03:41)

(3:41) R.Wilson pass deep left to W.Dissly to LA 39 for 25 yards (T.Reeder).

Schotty dials up the ol’ switcheroo.

Once again the threat of Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are exploited to draw the defense opposite Dissly. Lockett runs horizontal to and behind the line of scrimmage. Metcalf runs a deep crosser. But this time Dissly earns his bread through excellent execution. Here’s how.

As the inside tight end, Dissly gets a free release. This is important, because ideally his route should be breaking left just as Metcalf and Lockett have pulled the coverage right. It’s not a timing route in the classic sense but timing matters.

Opposite Dissly is Troy Reeder (#51). Reeder is presumably both faster and quicker than Dissly.

Dissly’s first move is subtle. He lowers his shoulder and engages Reeder. This creates a seeming stalemate which in fact gives Dissly a few advantages.

It allows him to control the depth of engagement, which helps him avoid getting lost in the disorder of colliding bodies. From the wide angle you can see how he uses his right shoulder and left hand to create a running lane.

He also establishes what could be called “outside leverage.” When the moment comes to turn up field, Dissly has established that Reeder will be inside and Dissly will be free toward the sideline. Finally, by colliding with the coverage defender in a seemingly innocuous manner, he sets up a little bitty dip and rip.

Reeder’s grabbing is exploited to create vital separation. It’s a not ton, in one sense, as in Dissly is never far from Reeder, but it’s a ton, in another sense, as Dissly has acres of room to run into in order to get and stay open.

That’s where Wilson throws—toward Dissly’s outside shoulder.

The pass may not have led Dissly quite enough, but he finds the ball, contorts without breaking stride, and even reads the carom off his helmet.

Dissly would seem to be capable of being a good blocker but I do not know yet whether he is even a capable blocker. He’s willing and he’s strong but he sometimes takes bad angles, which is not uncommon for a young tight end. When he does engage, it’s more of a hat on a hat type block. He’s not running guys over. He’s not getting run over. But he by no means humiliates himself as an in-line blocker, and that may be what matters most for now. A tight end can realistically improve his blocking in year 10, but the tricky business of working your pattern to create separation, finding the ball in the air, and converting a good enough pass into a reception, is usually learned in the first few seasons or never learned.

Dissly’s learned it. He’s precociously savvy. He’s not fast and that’s not gonna change, but he’s good at converting the separation he has into a reception. Now, he still hasn’t faced particularly challenging coverage. He isn’t influencing coverage schemes like, say, Jerramy Stevens did. It’s probably always going to be better if Dissly is no more than the third biggest threat, even as he increasingly looks like Seattle’s no. 2 receiving option. But he’s a good fit, and though we rarely give enough attention to what receivers do when they’re not targeted, Dissly seems capable of highly efficient contributions when he is targeted.