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The Drive: The Dark Knight - Year One

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NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Today we analyze and grade every target received by DK Metcalf against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s a marathon, a veritable triathlon of a read, and so I won’t delay. Plus, since I am writing this only after writing the rest of the piece, and since I am running on rice cakes and DRY Soda, I am working my hardest to avoid a Monkey Bites Typewriter situation here.

1ST & 10 AT SEA 25(11:30)

(11:30) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short left to DK.Metcalf to SEA 36 for 11 yards (V.Hargreaves).

DK Metcalf is a little flat footed off the snap.

Not the most impressive movement to get open: He sort of staircases his route, zigging out and up twice, before swiping at but not contacting Vernon Hargreaves. This reception is achieved through read and timing. Russell Wilson targets Metcalf before Metcalf is out of his break, and though the separation is modest, it’s more than enough.

Wilson is well into his windup before Metcalf has begun to break.

Metcalf has just finished turning toward Wilson. The pass, circled, is very nearly to him. Metcalf’s curl is pretty crisp—especially for someone so big and so fast.

What separation he achieves he achieves through the threat of going deep. The coverage scheme forces Hargreaves into being the last line of defense, and he prioritizes tackling over coverage. It’s a passive bend-but-don’t-break kind of coverage, in which the sizzle is generated through the pass rush, and the secondary is relegated to steamed broccoli status.

The pass rush is a 5-man, 5-gap rush which is perhaps intended to funnel passes toward the middle, where Tampa has concentrated four of its six coverage defenders. And though concentrating coverage on Jacob Hollister may seem somewhat foolish, it is worth pointing out that Carl Nassib very nearly tips this pass.

The rush then is also the underneath coverage.

EPA: 0.72

Grade: P

Metcalf achieves what is asked of him. He’s fast and that speed keeps Hargreaves in retreat, but it’s a simple route one might expect any competent receiver to achieve. The pass is completed because of excellent timing, and, to a lesser extent, because the Bucs’ coverage scheme is very passive.

1ST & 10 AT SEA 32(06:18)

(6:18) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass incomplete short left to DK.Metcalf (J.Dean).

Metcalf’s jump off the snap isn’t much better here, but it’s better than David Moore and about equal Tyler Lockett. Lockett motions in and out, slipping as he motions back outward, and so Metcalf matching his release is just okay.

If we isolate Metcalf, this route and the Bucs’ response is near-identical to Metcalf’s last target. He runs a 10-yard curl. The Bucs rush five in five gaps—containing Wilson and occupying his throwing lanes. Wilson begins his throwing motion early, well before Metcalf is out of his break. And the ball is very nearly to Metcalf when Jamel Dean tips it away. Dean’s coverage of Metcalf is the vital difference.

Dean is a huge, wicked fast corner who plays Metcalf with swaggering insouciance for Metcalf’s power and deep speed. Whereas Hargreaves was in full retreat, Dean scraps. He prods and pokes and harasses Metcalf throughout the route.

Handsy defensive backs open themselves to potent counterattacks. Fuck that sentence. Anyway, my point is, Dean gettin’ all up in Metcalf’s shit creates a legal gray area in which officials are much more likely to call defensive pass interference and allow offensive pass interference. Metcalf needs to muscle up but he doesn’t.

This next screen grab says it all.

Metcalf is airborne and flying backward. He has negative separation. Dean is grounded and breaking toward the ball. Metcalf’s enormous frame is only minimally cutting off Dean’s path to the ball. Dean swats it down incomplete.

The only other pertinent consideration is how Wilson throws the ball. It’s much more lofted, perhaps accounting for the near tip on the last target, and that trajectory and corresponding velocity gives Dean a few extra microseconds to make a play on the ball.

EPA: -0.54

Grade: C-

Metcalf’s hand-fighting is subpar but he does achieve space away from the sideline. Wilson could have targeted Metcalf’s back shoulder. That would have allowed for a reception, maybe. But from the snap into the route and through the catch, Metcalf is plagued by a bold defender who he does little to shake.

1ST & 10 AT SEA 49(13:30)

(13:30) G.Fant reported in as eligible. DK Metcalf left end to TB 44 for 7 yards (V.Vea).

I am not going to break this down. It’s ... fine. It won’t change your opinion about Metcalf’s change of direction ability. He’s a runaway truck in all the best and worst senses of that expression.

EPA: 0.40

RD & 5 AT TB 29(11:13)

(11:13) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass incomplete short left to DK.Metcalf (J.Dean).

Metcalf is on it. Of the pass plays in which he was targeted this is his best release by far. He’s working from the right slot just below the <30.

He achieves outside position right away.

Dean attempts to hector him again but Metcalf is much more game in his hand-fighting this time. His technical route running is also spot on. Check out how well he lines up linebacker Levonte David creating a natural pick for Rashaad Penny. Penny’s running a slant underneath and he’s wide open.

Holy Christ do I wish Penny would get up to speed. Can’t throw away perfectly executed plays because the quarterback simply does not trust the schemed-for and most-open wide receiver. Wilson doesn’t though, and that leads him to attempt a much more difficult pass on third and five. Yuck.

Once again DeKaylin achieves a subtle victory. I’m foreshadowing me Gullivers. Dean is all over Metcalf but Metcalf dictates his space away from the sideline. He achieves the position he wants, creates the natural pick, and has room to work with when he breaks out toward the sideline.

Ball in flight, defender trailing, Metcalf just needs to get both feet in.

A great receiver, which Metcalf is not yet, turns Wilson’s overthrow into a completion. If we are apportioning blame, Wilson deserves most of it, because it is an overthrow and it’s an overthrow created through poor mechanics.

Tampa is again attempting to create underneath coverage through this five-man containment style blitz. Wilson doesn’t have a great throwing lane but that doesn’t excuse him not stepping into the throw. The results are predictable.

The throw is higher than Swizz Beatz hairline -or- this throw be high, says I.

EPA: -1.20

Grade: A-

Metcalf does everything well except for the required toe tap. On another note, Gary Oldman named his son “Gulliver,” which means, in translation, he named his son Glutton Oldman. Thanks, dad.

DK wasn’t targeted again for a very long time. I would like to think in the interval between targets Metcalf thought to himself:

08:03

TWO-POINT CONVERSION ATTEMPT. R.Wilson pass to DK.Metcalf is complete. ATTEMPT SUCCEEDS.

A simple one: Metcalf gets a free release, negotiates traffic, and simply outruns Dean.

He begins his crossing route very shallow, almost just behind the defensive line. This creates the free release.

Dean is beat. Wilson just needs Metcalf to clear the underneath coverage.

Which he does.

Metcalf makes the easy grab.

EPA: 1.00 (suggesting PFR probably hasn’t changed their formula since the NFL changed the distance from which extra points are kicked. The real value is probably 1.05.)

Grade: A

An easy assignment knocked out of the park.

1ST & 10 AT SEA 25(03:18)

(3:18) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short left to DK Metcalf to SEA 31 for 6 yards (S.Bunting, D.White).

Jaron Brown motions pre-snap.

This causes Tampa to go into off coverage of Metcalf. His jump is a little sluggish.

His route is pretty weak. He rounds the cut badly, and is surprisingly slow as he runs the slant.

The latter may be intentional. It doesn’t quite follow from what I can see, but Wilson targets Metcalf opposite his momentum. The read may be to break off the route and reverse toward the sideline.

Which is exactly what Metcalf does. Sean Murphy-Bunting has exposed himself to an outside move by ceding contain to better square up Metcalf. But some combination of Murphy-Bunting’s sound tackling and Metcalf’s just okay change of direction steals all of the presents from Whoville.

Except for one little blue-bowed gift containing this deleted scene from Attack on Titan.

In summary, DeAndre Hopkins really saved my ass in fantasy with that meaningless touchdown reception.

EPA: 0.26

Grade: B-

It’s not a great route. The coverage all but allowed the reception. Though Metcalf does show excellent chemistry with Wilson, it’s not excellent enough. The slant is neither a good slant nor well cut off, and a route which is defined by its run after catch, contains none.

1ST & 10 AT SEA 37(02:01)

(2:01) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass incomplete deep left to DK Metcalf [D.White]. PENALTY on TB-S.Bunting, Defensive Holding, 5 yards, enforced at SEA 37 - No Play.

Another late retreat; another slow get off—probably his worst. (Metcalf’s above the upper <40)

Intrusive images of Marcus Peters prevents Wilson from passing to DK here.

[Scramble drill] Metcalf’s route lacks creativity. He heads straight up field, very slowly, and improvises a really ill-conceived curl.

Wilson doesn’t want any of that either. But the pass rush is impotent and Wilson has steeled his nerves. What might Metcalf do next?

Get held is the answer. In toto, the route is a sluggo double move. The slant stinks. The double move involves a full stop. It also involves a looping, meandering corner route which Metcalf doesn’t seem to run at full speed. I mean, maybe he’s just protecting his hamstrings. That seems to be all the rage, and I imagine it’s no treat for the body to attempt to run full speed while being held by the jersey. If Metcalf had one of those tear-away Earl Campbell jerseys, maybe this is a score. Somehow, it seems Metcalf could’ve maybe broke free and caught up to this pass.

I can’t fault him. What he didn’t achieve with execution he achieved with intimidation.

EPA: 0.33

Grade: B-

The initial route isn’t great. He’s far too passive against off coverage. A rookie being able to follow Wilson’s lead in a scramble drill is impressive, but though he knows to improvise, he doesn’t seem to know how to improvise. His looping turn up field wastes time, but at the same time, it forces a hold. Such is the story of many rookies. The gaps in execution are filled through abundant talent. However picky I might be about the particulars of this sequence, Metcalf forces a hold and moves the sticks.

ND & 4 AT TB 4(08:30)

(8:30) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass incomplete short left to DK Metcalf.

Nice jump off the snap.

Metcalf’s route is really round and soggy. Murphy-Bunting has no trouble whatsoever keeping up with him.

Through positioning, size and speed Metcalf retains a tiny window of openness.

Tiny and vanishing, as before the ball hits the ground, Metcalf and Murphy-Bunting have tangled feet. The pass, which is inaccurate, falls incomplete.

EPA: -0.85

Grade: D

Metcalf struggles with short routes which depend on achieving separation through an explosive cut. In such a compressed area, running such a short route, Metcalf’s deep speed is neutralized. This route is supposed to take advantage of his height, size and crazy hops. Metcalf hasn’t yet realized his potential at catching jump balls. Until he does, drags, which maximize his deep speed even in tight spaces, are probably a better route to run.

1ST & 10 AT SEA 47(04:34)

(4:34) G.Fant reported in as eligible. R.Wilson pass deep right to DK.Metcalf for 53 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Here’s the view of this play provided by our computer overlords.

Gorgeous, truly gorgeous.

Metcalf gets a good jump which is also kind of bad. His reaction is quick, but he spins like a gun turret, pivoting into his slant.

All the same time, he gets vital inside position on Dean. Dean plays him very physically, and the two are pretty much locked up until Metcalf makes his second break.

It’s counter-intuitive but while Metcalf can look sluggish in his breaks at slower speeds, he’s absolutely electric cutting while running near full speed. You also see that savvy stiff arm he throws Dean, which is how this:

Becomes this:

Becomes this and this:

Dean ran a 4.31 at the NFL Combine. He just learned there’s always a faster gun.

EPA: 4.94

Grade: A+

Metcalf achieves inside position, initiates contact to set up his move, and works an explosive cut and disguised push off into massive separation. When the throw comes, he catches it in stride, and leaves Dean to make a desperate lunge at his afterimage. Dean doesn’t touch that either.

2ND & 10 AT SEA 25(00:42)

(:42) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short left to DK Metcalf ran ob at SEA 43 for 18 yards (J.Whitehead).

I suspect no one wants to risk a false start. The shotgun snap is about to reach Wilson but his receivers are all still in their blocks.

Metcalf runs a shallow crosser.

His spacing is very good and he hardly loses a stride receiving Wilson’s pass.

Dean closes but Metcalf plants and swats him away.

Doing so just about exhausts Metcalf’s momentum. He has to flee already-running defenders from very nearly a dead stop. How does that go?

Not too badly.

EPA: 1.74

Grade: A

Great play call which makes this pretty easy for Metcalf, but short of housing it, he executes this about perfectly. He spaces the shallow crosser so as to avoid underneath coverage while maintaining the angle on Dean. He works a sick move which is equal parts power and agility. And he gets back up to speed in a flash angling efficiently toward the sideline, maximizing distance while minimizing clock spent.

1ST & 10 AT TB 31(00:27)

(:27) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short left to DK Metcalf pushed ob at TB 25 for 6 yards (L.David).

This time he’s electric quick off the snap. The little Irish dance he performs seems to mesmerize Dean.

Metcalf still has good space upon receiving the pass.

But he attempts an ill-advised inside move which 1) works toward Dean’s leverage, 2) puts him at risk for being tackled in bounds, and 3) allows additional Buccaneers to close in on him.

He turns back toward the sideline using a stiff arm to keep Dean at bay.

Metcalf runs through an arm tackle. (I’m hitting the wall, friends.)

And gets out of bounds.

EPA: 0.27

Grade: B+

Metcalf shows a nice little move before turning toward Wilson. He also shows very good situational awareness. The inside move could have failed, but it didn’t, and so I am not inclined to deduct much credit for the attempt. Really, it’s not a matter of what he did, which was pretty much all good, but what he didn’t do. He didn’t significantly change the game. He modestly improved Seattle’s chances of making a field goal. For that, he gets a B+.

2ND & 10 AT TB 44(07:45)

(7:45) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass incomplete deep right to DK.Metcalf. PENALTY on TB-J.Dean, Illegal Contact, 5 yards, enforced at TB 44 - No Play.

Not a great get off.

Metcalf runs a double move, but so doing, he runs into Dean. Dean gets flagged but, given that Metcalf initiated contact and Dean has a right to hold his ground, Metcalf didn’t really force the penalty. It’s more like Dean had sloppy technique.

The pass is underthrown. Metcalf could cash in a freebie PI if only he would work a bit harder to come back to the ball through the defender. Instead he concentrates on actually catching the pass. It’s honorable but it’s not savvy.

EPA: 0.87

Grade: B

Another play in which Metcalf doesn’t do a whole lot wrong but also more or less relies on his athletic gifts. Some day soon he’ll be working for that PI and deriving full value from every mismatch.

3RD & 6 AT TB 35(06:55)

(6:55) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass deep left to DK.Metcalf to TB 6 for 29 yards (J.Dean).

This is my favorite play of the day.

Very good jump—Metcalf seems to be improving as a player mid-game.

Metcalf works another double move. Something very subtle will determine if this pass is complete or not. Remember a dog’s age ago when I mentioned Metcalf dictating how far from the sideline he is? He does that again, and it’s decisive.

Here he is exiting his double move. He has to keep Dean inside of him, but in cutting inside, he has to avoid allowing Dean to ride him into the sideline. When we think of Metcalf being a powerful receiver, stiff arms and broken tackles probably come to mind. But the ability to continue to win space while tightly covered probably doesn’t.

It should. We can see Metcalf cutting toward the sideline. He continues but can’t shake Dean.

Dean seems to be winning the battle. If this trend continues, he can negate Metcalf by steering him out of or nearly out of bounds.

Right when he needs to, Metcalf straightens his route. Instead of continuing to drift toward the sideline, he uses his slight advantage in speed and his slight advantage in power to keep sufficient distance from the sideline.

The computer tracking makes that clear.

If you compare Metcalf and David Moore’s routes, you can see that Moore is running in an ever narrowing space. He has the slightest of deviations inward at the end of his route, but by then it’s irrelevant. Metcalf corrects his trajectory. So that when he needs to create separation, he has somewhere to separate to.

When he falls, he falls in-bounds.

EPA: 3.55

Grade: A+

Power, savvy and precocious situational awareness sets up Seattle for the win.

Long ago, oh so damn long ago, the Seahawks were a very bad team and I covered that very bad team. I hyped Jim Lawrence Mora. I discouraged, of all things, an In Ruskell We Trust movement. I also probably fueled some of that. We hung our hopes on Aaron Curry. Though maybe I should write “We hanged our hopes.” And for a few years, a few of the best years of my life, me and a bunch of really nice people made a life out of obsessive watching and analysis of godawful football.

In two seasons Seattle won nine games. Seattle has won seven games through nine weeks of this season, and from what I can tell fans are unhappy. Okay, I get it. Russell Wilson is Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Zach Scott, Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton all rolled into one. He’s living greatness and because he plays quarterback in the NFL, he ensures Seattle is a contender every season. That Seattle has been little but a fringe contender for a long time now sucks. It’s disappointing.

When we were all down and out, using humor often toxically acerbic humor to have fun with what was inherently a drag, we complemented that toothsome negativity with hope. Sometimes, at the bleakest moments, our hope wasn’t even definite. It was the prospect of a high draft pick. It was confidence that Paul Allen was the best owner in sports. It was faith in the fan base and its resilience. It was belief in reversion to the mean.

We also had those few rookies who kicked down the door of the NFL and, if almost always in a losing effort, kicked a little ass. Sometimes, a lot of ass, and those young dudes, those hungry dudes, those not yet at their full potential dudes, elevated a rag and bones team down to down, week to week. They would be there. They would be part of whatever good days were to come.

Ever since Seattle lost Super Bowl 49, ever since we found in the fruit we plucked from the Tree of Life a rusty razor blade, and the Seahawks transmogrified from young dynasty to drunken boat, this team has been in decline. Good players got worse. Great players were forced to retire. Depth thinned. Seattle’s defensive scheme was wholly solved. Drafted players busted. All-time greats bitched and moaned. Earl Thomas flipped off Pete Carroll from a medical cart. It was as if the debt of a Faustian bargain were due. Regard our hellish fall.

DeKaylin Zecharias Metcalf is a volta. He’s living hope. All that jabber about what he couldn’t do and what he wasn’t good at; man, where are all those hot take artists now? Our man rocks a binky because he’s crazy young. He torched the NFL Combine because he’s crazy talented. He leads all rookies in receiving yards and touchdowns because he’s crazy good. He’s the leading edge of a renewal, a new day, a new era in the Seahawks history, not the Legion of Boom era but the Russell Wilson era.

The three cone and the short shuttle are stupid tests of agility. Nothing like either ever happens on a football field. A lot of people bought into bunk. We’re in a glorious time for bunk. We’re in a glorious time for social climbing. We’re in a glorious time for bitter diatribes directed at those more successful. Google just suggested that I mispelled “bitter” and perhaps intended to write “bitch.” I kid you not. I am punchy right now. I’m oh so damn punchy. Something so bad I can’t even write about it happened yesterday, and I’m Mr Overshare. Football is a totally unfair way that some of our lives are better and some of our lives are worse. Fans make it possible and contribute nothing but their money and time. Garishly paid people part of an incredibly exclusive in-group make decisions all evidence suggests most are totally incapable of making. We, for no good reason, invest our happiness in these strangers. This year, for no good reason, those other boobs fucked up. They saw an incredibly talented, mature, driven, decent young man, and talked themselves into believing he would be a bust. He’s not. He’s a bridge, a boon, a gift to a blighted city, and if he’s not Batman, it’s only because Batman never kills people.