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Neanderball: Seahawks vs. Vikings, First Quarter Offensive Analysis

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NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to this week’s first installment of Neanderball, featuring the Seattle Seahawks and the Minnesota Vikings. Like an alien from a sci fi horror movie, Neanderball continues to evolve, which sometimes means sprouting a third eye or an extra leg, or in this instance, chopping up the analysis into bite-sized pieces that require less commitment from the reader than Finnegans Wake. What you have in front of you is Seattle’s offensive play chart from the first quarter, with more to come later this week.

So what’s the theme? Sometimes this column is a murder investigation with no witnesses, no murder weapon, and no body, but this week, Russell Wilson gave me all the answers. In his post-game interview, Seattle’s QB1 told reporters that the Vikings played both of their safeties deep to deny the Seahawks the long pass - which opened up the run game. If you’re looking for a broad conclusion about how the Hawks beat Minnesota, search no further.

That said, there’s a lot of details to love about Monday’s performance, so let’s get cracking.

Drive 1 (Q1 14:55, Seahawks 0 Vikings 0)

1st and 10.

In last week’s Neanderball, I expressed dissatisfaction with the deeply unimpressive blocking of the Seahawks’ wide receivers. The one semi-exception was DK Metcalf, who lacked technique but at least put his back into it. Maybe Brian Schottenheimer noticed the same thing, because I’m noticing a distinct uptick in Metcalf being used to throw key run blocks. In this case, Metcalf jumps inside to double linebacker Anthony Barr. Chris Carson slips between Duane Brown and Metcalf, hits the hole, and powers through a tackle attempt by cornerback Xavier Rhodes for a 9 yard gain.

2nd and 1.

Carson shows remarkable patience waiting for his blockers to open something up. Joey Hunt obliges by nailing linebacker Eric Kendricks, which gives Carson the space to lunge forward for a few yards and a first down.

1st and 10.

Defensive end Everson Griffin lays a superhuman swim move on Duane Brown to force Russell Wilson to roll out, but what turned this from a passing play into a 4-yard scramble was really the downfield commitment to blanketing Seahawks receivers. By the time Wilson finishes his drop, both safeties are playing 30 yards off the ball and 10 yards deeper than any Seattle receiver, who are both covered underneath, as well.

2nd and 6.

There are just massive holes for Seahawks RBs to run through, and that’s due to some very good work by their entire offensive line. Linebacker Anthony Barr doesn’t do Minnesota any favors by hesitating to fill the run gap until Rashaad Penny had already got up to speed.

3rd and 1.

This play design sells a power run to the right: jumbo TE Fant motions left to right, and Tyrone Swoopes, in as a fullback, hits the line to the right after the snap. Wilson then tosses the ball to Carson for a run to the largely undefended left. While I would have liked to see the quicker Penny on a naked backside run like this, lining up the power back behind a fullback was an effective aspect of the ruse. Some credit for the stop goes to linebacker Eric Wilson for chasing down Carson inches from the first down marker, but for my money, safety Ant Harris beating Jacob Hollister’s block and not letting Carson fall forward for the first down deserves 70% of the applause.

Drive 2 (Q1 8:12, Seahawks 0 Vikings 7)

1st and 10.

Wilson surveys his primary options and then hits Penny for the checkdown in rhythm over the middle of the field. Watch how deep both safeties bailed after the snap. Wilson only had a handful of flashy plays on Monday, but what he did do was live rent-free in the head of Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards all game.

2nd and 2.

Iupati and Metcalf are both slow to hit their double block of linebacker Anthony Barr, who makes up for his earlier indecisiveness by leaping forward quickly enough to split his would-be blockers and fill the gap. Penny sees Plan A go south, and in a play I don’t think he would have made at the beginning of the season and definitely not last season, makes a decisive cut at the line into an open gap on the backside between Ifedi and Fant. First down.

1st and 10.

Play action, and every Viking in the longboat bails into coverage. There are so many Minnesota players downfield that one of them falls over and it has no material effect on Wilson’s passing options. Danielle Hunter eventually beats Fant to end the play.

2nd and 11.

A screen pass picks up 7 on the back of adequate blocking and an agile move at the height of the run by Penny, and I think it’s becoming clear that the underneath plays are there every time. Jacob Hollister once again throws a barely-hanging-on block when a decisive block probably would have meant a first down.

3rd and 4.

DK Metcalf and Josh Gordon are both proving to be utterly unstoppable on slant passes. Line one of them up outside, let them cut inside, throw it just ahead of them, profit. Empires have been built on less reliable plans. Teams are going to have to start providing coverage help over the top of the slant or eat 5-10 yard completions over the middle all game.

1st and 10.

David Moore takes a jet sweep around the edge, with Carson acting as lead blocker. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes sheds Metcalf's block to stop the play, but Moore is a big guy who’d picked up a lot of momentum by the time Rhodes reached out sideways for him, and Rhodes looked like he’d tried to stop a freight train one-handed. My shoulder socket aches just watching that tackle. Defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson completes Xavier Rhodes’ horrible day by butting him in the back of the head.

2nd and 5.

Penny ran like an absolute warrior on this play, again not remotely resembling the guy who drifted down to the third string last year behind Mike Davis. Tyler Lockett can’t hold his block, unexpectedly forcing Penny into a snarl of Seahawks bodies. Last year, that would have been the end of it. This year, Penny stays on his feet, gathers himself, and finds a way forward. Nothing could make me happier than seeing Penny begin a triumphant second act to his young career.

1st and 10.

Penny rightly bounces the run outside, and there’s just nobody in the vicinity to stop him. By the time safety Ant Harris comes up in run support, Penny’s picked up 9 yards. And no wonder - look where the safeties started!

2nd and 1.

Minnesota puts nine defenders in the box and double dog dares Brian Schottenheimer to call an inside run. Schotty calls an inside run, which picks up the first down thanks mostly to a generous spot from the officials.

1st and 10.

Wilson throws an inaccurate deep pass to Metcalf on a go route, but the inaccuracy is the least concerning part of this. The Vikings once again showed a two-high safety look, and you can see Harris break over the top of Metcalf’s route at the snap. With Metcalf bracketed between cornerback Mike Hughes and Harris, a more accurate pass might have been intercepted. I’m ready to chalk it up to frustration that Minnesota was committed to denying the kind of pass that Wilson was no doubt wanting to throw, but good lord I hope Wilson finds a better way to vent, like upending the Gatorade cooler or climbing into the stands and fighting a fan.

2nd and 10.

With the area between the line of scrimmage and the end zone relentlessly compressing like the Death Star’s trash compactor, the Vikings defensive line loses their rush lane integrity in their eagerness to get to Wilson. Russ makes them pay the price.

3rd and 3.

Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards had the same delayed epiphany I did about the paramount importance of making sure Josh Gordon isn’t allowed to run a slant against a single defender on third down, and ensures that Gordon is bracketed between cornerback Mackensie Alexander and linebacker Eric Kendricks. Schotty responds by filling a giant inflatable middle finger with helium and floating it over Edwards’ house: he lines up Metcalf to the left of Gordon and has Metcalf run a slant, too, delayed by about half a second to allow Gordon to draw the attention of the defense. Eat dirt, Edwards.

1st and 1.

The Vikings D and the Seahawks O engage in a tag-team sumo match about which I have nothing interesting to write. No gain.

2nd and 1.

The Vikings D and the Seahawks O engage in a tag-team sumo rematch, but this time, Hollister redeems himself after a quarter of dodgy blocking and seals the left edge, allowing Carson to cut outside and walk into the end zone.

That’s all for now. I’ll aim to post the second quarter tomorrow.