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The Drive: One night in 1984, Part 1

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Chuck Knox watches from the sidelines

For the next few weeks I am going to analyze the game tape of the Seattle Seahawks’ 1984 Monday Football win over the San Diego Chargers. My hackneyed sensibility implores me to write a “no spoilers” joke here. It won out I guess and we all lose for it.

1984 was Chuck Knox’s second season in Seattle. Knox had led Seattle to the franchise’s first playoff appearance in 1983. This achievement set Knox apart from all other NFL coaches.

Seattle went on a surprise run that season, making it to the AFC Championship Game before being blown out by the future Super Bowl Champion Oakland Raiders.

In 1984 the AFC West was the NFL’s best division, and despite being 6-2, Seattle was in third place.

And underdogs, as San Diego was favored by two points. But I won’t bore you with anymore history. What makes this game fun to watch is how well some of the Seahawks all-time great players played. We’ll focus on those plays, and I will provide context when appropriate.

Jacob Green is the greatest defensive end in Seahawks history. When he retired in 1992, he was ranked third in career sacks behind Reggie White and Lawrence Taylor. Those are two inner-circle Hall of Fame players, two best-to-ever-play-their-position dudes, and if you cook the numbers just a little bit, Green actually ranked second.

Green played two seasons before the NFL started tracking sacks as an official stat. In those two seasons, Green had 18.5 sacks, giving him an unofficial total of 116. He had amassed that total before his very brief stint with San Francisco in 1992. If those sacks were recognized, and Green had retired a Hawk in 91, his total of 116 would place him ahead of White (110) but still behind LT.

He achieved this total despite playing end in a 3-4. Not just any 3-4 either but one which featured no dedicated pass-rushing linebackers. Seattle instead depended on a quick, relatively small group of down linemen to rush the passer. In base formations, Green, Jeff Bryant and 260 pound nose tackle Joe Nash shouldered the pass rushing duties, and that group along with situational tackle Mike Fanning, accounted for 41.5 of Seattle’s 55 sacks. Seattle nevertheless ranked best in football at defending the pass allowing a staggering 3.2 ANY/A.

On third and eight from the Seahawks 42, Ernie Zampese called up a deep shot. This is a distinctly Air Coryell tendency and one that Seahawks fans, after last season, know pretty well. Sometimes, it works spectacularly well. Green made sure it didn’t work out for San Diego.

Prior to the snap, San Diego motioned out of Mike Holmgren’s favorite formation,

into this archaic-looking wingy thing.

Seattle was in man coverage. Nickel corner Terry Jackson trailed Joyner. Jackson was a steady starter for the Giants who would have one really great season playing nickel for Seattle before retiring in 1986. Rather than trying to figure out how he got four sacks in 1985, I present you this (sung by none other than Michael Jackson):

It’s a common name.

The purpose of this shift was to confuse and overload the deep safety. Prior to the snap, tight end acting as fullback Ron Egloff motioned to left tight end. Simultaneously, Charlie Joiner motioned from right to left slot. Joiner was 37 but still dangerous deep. He was in hot pursuit of the record for career receptions. Wide of him was Bobby Duckworth.

Duckworth led the NFL in average yards per reception in 1984. Seattle was facing two of the most dangerous deep threats in the NFL on the same side of the field. The tactic is simple but smartly conceived. One deep safety would be charged with staying on top of two routes, both manned by deadly deep threats.

It worked. Only, Green worked a lot harder.

Seattle ran an end-tackle stunt.

Green is 79. Chargers right guard Dennis McKnight has taken the bait. Or, perhaps this is just how offensive lines countered stunts in 1984, but right tackle Ed White is stuck maneuvering behind his guard in order to pick up Green. He doesn’t.

White is #67.

Green is working past him. His interior pressure prevents Fouts from fully stepping into his pass.

Oh yeah, Dan Fouts was San Diego’s quarterback at the time. And their coach was some dude named:

Coryell schemed a touchdown. Green’s pressure forced an incomplete pass.

The disquieting mass of pixels partway over the white of the sideline and partway over the green of Astroturf is the ball.

The Seahawks went three and out in the next drive. Who cares, right? Speeding ahead, San Diego attempted a trick play in their next drive.

It was a big pass by Lionel “Little Train” James. James had a brief but good run as a returner/scat back type. Just because it’s an awesome reception, here’s a short video of James snatching an errant pass and running for a first down.

James’s pass doesn’t merit much attention. He is slightly delayed by a blocking snafu. Being 5’6”, it looks like he simply looks to the sky, throws as hard as he can, and hopes his muscle memory can see what his eyes can’t.

The interception is pure greatness. Easley exploits that slight delay to backpedal into bracket coverage on Duckworth. All it took after that was elite reach, hands, timing and athleticism.

Easley led the NFL in interceptions, 10, and interception return touchdowns, 2, in 1984. Working as a backup, Easley also entered this game leading the AFC in punt return average, 13.7.

The Seahawks turned that pick into a touchdown scoring drive. It is perhaps fitting that it is utterly unclear how Steve Largent was able to get so open for the score.

Return next week for more grainy footage, more grainier still screen grabs, and more widely available info sloppily curated!