Neanderball, Week 4: A Breakdown of Seattle's Offensive Performance Against the Cardinals

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Hi everyone, after a couple weeks off, I’m back with a study of what we did and didn’t do on offense in Week 4 against the Arizona Cardinals. The same caveats apply as last time: I don’t have any special knowledge of football, I’m just a caveman who loves the Seahawks and has access to a rewind button. 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.

General Thoughts

Chris Carson may have opened the door for Rashaad Penny with his fumble last week against the Saints (and with a generally mediocre rushing output). We’ll never know, because he karate-kicked it shut again with this game against the Cardinals. He’s the total package, folks, and beginning to turn into a walking football IQ test: the faster people figure out Carson is (despite his lowly draft status) an elite running back, the smarter they are.

During the punt-fest that was the third quarter, the peanut gallery grumbled that we should have gone for it on 4th down more often. Against another team, maybe, but we made the right call against the Cardinals, who had proved themselves capable of making a few explosive plays but unable to string together drives. That’s exactly the sort of opponent you want to force to drive the length of the field.


Most articles like this have a winners and a losers column, but it’s more fun laying blame than praising people, so we’re only going to focus on the players who prevented us from getting all 56 of the points we were technically capable of achieving against the Cards on our eight drives. Two drives ended in touchdowns, leaving scapegoats to be found for four punts and two field goals.

And, this will amaze you, because I didn’t see it coming either: the villains are Russell Wilson and DK Metcalf, primarily Wilson. I’m not joking. You’ll hear a lot of sportswriters faintly praising Wilson this week, because he didn’t do anything wrong, did he? And that’s true. But his decision-making and accuracy are also the root cause of our failures on five of our six non-TD drives.

When faced with blitzing defenders (which the Cards increasingly resorted to as the game went on), Wilson was often slow to recognize the problem and find the short receiving option the blitz inevitably leaves open. When confronted with long yardage, he often took the checkdown before waiting for the long routes to come open, even when protection was good. More than once he fled the pocket into a defender’s arms when he was not forced to do so, and his accuracy was occasionally iffy on end zone throws. Should we be upset with Wilson for any of this? Assuredly not. He’s a great QB and he’s not going to play lights-out every Sunday. But the nature and seriousness of these mistakes/tendencies are worth noting to see if they crop up in more competitive games, and to remind us that problems aren’t always obvious from the stat line or the highlight reel.

As for Metcalf, in addition to a costly missed block in pass protection that helped kill a drive, he failed to catch two end zone targets that sure looked catchable to me, which amounted to eight points off the board (two field goals instead of two touchdowns). If the only thing that changed was Metcalf making those two catches, we’d have beat the Cardinals 35-10. I expect Metcalf to have a Pro Bowl career with the Seahawks and he’s a rookie, so these things will happen, but that doesn’t make him any less of a problem in the context of this particular game.

Drive 1 - Q1 9:43 PRP, PR, RP, PPP (Field Goal)

Lockett catch for 8, great protection. On the second play, a Carson run for no gain, Duane Brown straight-up whiffs on a key block that would have sprung Carson. Brown appeared surprised by lateral motion from the defender he was supposed to pancake. On the third play, a pass for Jaron Brown, the Cardinals get no pressure, Wilson gets the ball out quickly, and Brown finds a pocket between three defenders and turns around. Truly beautiful stuff.

On first down, the Cards D-line achieves such horrifyingly quick penetration of the right side of our backfield that it makes me wonder if it was intentional on our part, because Wilson immediately flings it in the opposite direction to Dissly for six. On second and four, Wilson hands off to Carson, and I think the Cards saw something that tipped them off to a run, because just before the snap, one linebacker walks up to the line of scrimmage, and in the millisecond the ball is snapped, the other two immediately start moving forward. It’s a seven-man tidal wave, with the middle clogged and a free defender - inside linebacker Haason Reddick - waiting for Carson at the handoff like a limited-edition red version of the grim reaper. Make no mistake, Weeks 1-3 this is a tackle for a loss. It’s Week 4, though, and Chris Carson hits Reddick with a Freeney-esque spin move that teleports Carson three feet to the left, whereupon he runs for a mile, give or take.

The next down is another Carson run to the left, and the blocking was very good by everybody. Carson hits the hole and picks up 4, then another Lynch-like yard before four (!) Cards finally arrest his forward momentum. On the ensuing pass, the Cards do an interesting thing with the pass rush. They line up 5 guys on the line of scrimmage (middle three with hands in the dirt, outside two upright), with two linebackers behind them. The guy on the far left drops back into coverage, and the right-hand linebacker charges forward to create a five-man blitz intended to overload the right side of the Seahawks line. Ifedi, realizing he’s forced to choose between blocking one of two guys, makes an interesting choice and disengages with the edge rusher to pick up the blitz. I have no idea if he made the right call, but it was an extremely tough one either way. It left Wilson minimal time to throw, but also ensured that he had a clear throwing lane over the middle. Wilson hits Dissly just after Dissly gets behind the remaining linebacker, but just before the safety can pick him up. Timing was everything and we had it.

Now we have a first down in the red zone. The Cards once again line up five-wide opposite our O-line and bring all five on an obvious passing down. Every Seahawks O-lineman wins his block and Russ has a clean pocket for an end zone throw to Metcalf, who’s one on one and clearly expecting the ball. Wilson puts it outside where only Metcalf has a chance to make a play on it, and Metcalf just can’t catch it. I’m not upset, he’s a rookie and this is what happens getting rookies up to speed (in my opinion).

On second down, Cards rush four and Ifedi’s guy gets enough pressure on Wilson to force him to climb the pocket. It’s a very claustrophobic pocket, however, and Wilson decides to roll out to his right. Once he’s in the clear he immediately hits the "bugger this" button and arm-punts the ball into the stands. I know I approach blasphemy, folks, but I think Wilson was a little quick to move onto the next play. He had five receivers running around trying to get open and he didn’t look for any of them before deciding he was done with that shit. Also, a surprising number of empty seats in Glendale. That city just doesn’t care about its football team.

3rd down and Wilson has one more shot at six points. Here I go blaspheming again, but I wonder whether the incompletion that followed was on the O-line or on Wilson. It’s a shotgun snap and the Cards rush four. Wilson immediately back-pedals a few steps, and Brown and Ifedi appear to steer their respective edge rushers directly into him, forcing him to scramble back and to the left. Either both our tackles decided to allow their assignments an unreasonable amount of cushion, or the line expected Wilson not to move backward. My bet’s on the latter. Wilson’s pass for Metcalf is either a touch too long or Metcalf is a touch too shallow in the end zone. We kick a field goal and somewhere in Miami, Tony D’Amato is giving a speech about inches.

Drive 2 - Q2 13:49 RPP, P, PP (Touchdown)

On the opening play, there are eight defenders in the box and two defenders near the box. Even the guys theoretically covering receivers have their eyes absolutely fixated on Carson pre-snap like wolves on a wounded deer. I have no idea why you’d run the ball here. None. Blame Schotty, but also blame Wilson for not calling a time out or checking into something other than a ritual sacrifice. A miracle we only lost one yard.

Second down pass, the Cards rush four and Wilson fires a bullet to Carson for seven yards. This quick passing game is real. Wilson’s not making reads as far as I can tell, he’s just launching it to a pre-determined target. No idea if our pass blocking is improved because the Cards rarely if ever have time to get to Wilson in the first place. Also a good time to point out that often lost in our praise of Carson’s barbaric running style is his remarkably good receiving game. For a disciple of the Blood God, he’s sure got soft hands.

It’s now 3rd and 4, and Seattle comes out with three receivers bunched to the right, Dissly in to block, and Carson in the backfield. The Cards respond with an extremely threatening formation in which eight men appear poised to murder whoever has the ball. When the ball is snapped, five of them charge, and credit the O-line with figuring out which ones and blocking them all. Our receivers fan out into their route trees, Wilson steps up into a pocket that could double as a show home, studies his options until he’s damn well ready, and hits Jaron Brown for roughly a million yards.

On the next first down, I would love to understand what the Cardinals intended that defensive scheme to look like. In the moment before Wilson unleashes a bomb downfield to Lockett, there are four Cards ineffectively rushing the quarterback (one of whom appears to be getting egregiously held by Dissly, but it’s hard to be sure), and three more just kind of standing in open space looking stupid. Good.

We’re now about nine yards from the goal line, and the Cards sell out against the run, which is a terrible mistake. Our intent was always to pass, the blocking is excellent, and we have no less than three receivers open, including David Moore two steps ahead of his defender in the end zone. Russell Wilson, the Anointed One, my starting QB in fantasy football, sees this…and launches the ball into outer space. To err is human, I guess. On the next play, the Cards rush four, the Seahawks defend with five, and Dissly runs past several defenders to the corner of the end zone for an easy touchdown. They’re really not giving 88 enough respect - but on the other hand, it’s getting hard to keep track of how many Seahawks receiving options need to be accounted for: Carson is not just a decoy, Dissly is looking like the second coming of Tony Gonzalez, Lockett demands double coverage, and Metcalf is a deep threat every time he steps on the field. If the blocking holds up (or we scheme quick passes to avoid the need for the blocking to hold up), I don’t know that it’s possible to stop this offense. I really don’t.

Drive 3 - Q2 7:38 RPP (Punt)

Welcome friends, and join me for another play that should make people who remember Marshawn Lynch’s carries for the Seahawks see ghosts. The Cards line up in their 5-2 look and bring all five. The much-maligned Justin Britt appears to take two of them and shove them to the side, leaving Carson one on one with a Cardinals defender at the line of scrimmage…and Carson runs him over, dragging his body six yards before help arrives. On the next play, Terrell Suggs beats Duane Brown on a speed rush and slaps the ball out of Wilson’s hand. I’m not saying Brown is bad, but he sure looks mortal this year. Something to keep an eye on. 3rd and 10, and three Seattle receivers book it downfield. Dissly chips his blocker and then runs a shallow crossing route, with the idea seeming to be that we’d rather hit one of the downfield targets, but we’ve got Dissly in a pinch. Iupati allows inside pressure and Wilson steps up, which regrettably puts him in the path of the defender Carson had successfully blocked. Wilson unloads to Dissly for less than 10, punt.

Drive 4 - Q2 4:10 P, RR, RR, R, RPP (Field Goal)

The drive begins with a straightforward 12-yard catch by Dissly, who once again finds a nice spot the Cards have chosen not to carefully defend and makes himself at home awaiting an accurate and unhurried throw by the well-protected Wilson. I could get used to this.

On the ensuing first down, the Cards again line up in their 5-2 look and we run into the teeth of it. Even in slow motion and on multiple re-watchings, it’s not clear to me how we managed to pick up four yards. I’ll settle for the cliche that it looked like we wanted it more. Defending an inside run by the Seahawks looks like about as much fun as getting hit repeatedly with a baseball bat. A second inside run gets the first down, and it appears to have been well-schemed as well as well-blocked: the Cards defenders weren’t in the right places to make a stop.

Wilson in shotgun on the next first down and the Cards bring five, then everybody else in short order when it turns out to be another run. I think his initial gap was supposed to be between Iupati and Brown, and while it’s kind of open, Carson decides to be a picky eater and bounce it outside. Now that we’ve given him hosannas for violence and soft hands, we also need to give him some credit for speed. He picks up 6.

Wilson in shotgun on the next first down and the Cards bring five before Wilson hands off to Carson. This drive has a Groundhog Day feel to it. Good blocking gets Carson to the line of scrimmage with one man to beat, and Carson does it with speed (!). First down.

So now the Cards show a more traditional 4-3 look and the Seahawks also keep with their new tradition handing it off to Carson. This play is interesting, I think, because either it shouldn’t have worked or it worked perfectly and I can’t tell which. We double-teamed two of the four Cards D-linemen, leaving the guy coming off the right edge unblocked. There’s a miserable-looking escape route, but to even approach it Carson needs to get past the unblocked man - which he does with finesse - before blowing through an arm tackle into daylight, then pin-balling off a low-hitting linebacker and twisting forward for the first down. This is the kind of play that rewards watching the game again. Carson is the truth.

Our read-option is absolutely neutered if Wilson never keeps it, and teams are figuring out that Wilson never keeps it. First and goal run by Prosise gains nothing, but that’s not Prosise’s fault - the linebacker crashed down, so Wilson was "supposed to" keep it. If Wilson’s too concerned about his health to keep the football, that’s fine, I have no problem with that (especially when just this season, we’ve lost Luck and are losing Newton due to their history of playing hero ball), but then let’s tear that page out of the playbook altogether. The next play is a designed pass for Metcalf in the end zone, the pass is on target, Metcalf is in position to have dibs on the ball, and he just doesn’t quite make the catch - his hands come together too early like a mistimed bite while working the claw machine at the county fair.

On the final attempt at the end zone, Wilson has good protection, fires on target to Dissly, who has his defender beat, but a Cards defender named Byron Murphy, who was defending David Moore on a nearby route, recognizes while the ball is in the air that it’s intended for Dissly and has the time and wherewithal to break off his coverage and slap the ball down. Who do you blame for this? Did Wilson need to put more velocity on the ball? Did Dissly need to get to his spot faster, or run a slightly more shallow route? Is the play design at fault for leaving Moore’s defender close enough to Dissly to interfere? I don’t know, folks. Probably Dissly, but for now I’m filing it under "shit happens". Field goal.

Drive 5 - Q3 14:55 PR, RPP (Punt)

Welcome to the second half, which was considerably more miserable than the first half. But I don’t mind! Disaster is easier for a caveman like me to understand than excellence. A first-down pass is caught by Dissly for 5, and it’s kind of a microcosm of the game: Cards rush four, get no pressure, and Wilson rockets the ball out immediately without reading the field for a tidy gain. I’ve already waxed poetic about Carson, so I’ll say little about his successful run for a first down except to note that he moves with grace as well as power.

Poor CJ Prosise. He spends all this time getting healthy, only to get fed into terrible situations on seemingly every handoff. Metcalf misses his block and Terrible Terrell Suggs (I just made that up, I’m really proud of it - but seriously, Suggs is good) knifes into the backfield to drop Prosise. On second down, a well-executed play action allows Wilson to toss it to Brown to make it third and manageable, but I couldn’t help notice that Dissly’s defender, upon recognizing play action, bodily heaves Dissly off of him to chase down Wilson. Dissly is the source of a suspicious number of holds/blocking failures for somebody who’s supposed to good at that kind of thing. Something to keep an eye on.

On third down, Cards bring the house. Six blitzers, all of whom (!) are picked up by the O-line, which makes what happens next all the more inexplicable. Wilson either spooks while not actually under pressure or thinks he sees daylight for a scramble, and runs forward into a defender who otherwise wouldn’t have had a shot at him. Punt.

Drive 6 - Q3 10:09 PR, P, RPP (Punt)

On first down, the Cards bring five but fail to get pressure. Their secondary covers well downfield and Wilson rolls left to buy time before checking down to Brown for a rock-solid eight yards. On second down, Carson does Carson things and breaks three tackles, including one in the backfield, to pick up a first down. What’s it going to take for you ingrates to realize the stork has given us Son of Marshawn? Seriously.

On our next first down, the Cards rush four but protection holds up. Nobody gets open downfield, but Carson leaks out after finding nobody to block and is wide open for a 17-yard checkdown, which is really the best kind of checkdown.

First down, and Carson appears to stumble in the backfield, leaving a potentially bigger gain on the table and only picking up 3. On second down, the Cards bring five, and it’s a creative blitz, with one of their D-linemen dropping into coverage and a linebacker coming up to overload the right side of the line, much like they did in the first quarter. Ifedi is once more forced to choose between two rushers, and Wilson makes a decisive throw to Dissly for a couple yards. Credit to the Cards for a competent defensive play, I think.

And here’s where things go south. The Cards line up seven defenders on the line of scrimmage, and normally they’ll rush four or five. The Cards bring all seven, leaving Prosise on the right side with two defenders to deal with. This one’s on Wilson. He has Lockett over the middle and possibly a receiver to the left. What he doesn’t have is time to wait for his primary read to come open. A throw to Lockett is a guaranteed first down, and it’s the kind of throw Brady regularly makes to punish this sort of tomfoolery. Wilson need to get better at doing the same. Sack, punt.

Drive 7 - Q3 2:18 RR, (P)RPP (Punt)

Carson kicks things off by dragging multiple defenders for six yards, reminding me of absolutely nobody. When he hits a great hole on the next play (thanks O-line), outruns one defender and trucks another for ten yards, the resemblance to no one in particular grows stronger.

Moore gets called for blocking downfield when he’s less than five yards from the line of scrimmage. I don’t get it. Maybe you get it, but I don’t. Football is complicated. 1st and 20. These next plays are interesting because they display what many critics have called Schotty’s preference to surrender when faced with long yardage. Let’s see if they’re right.

On first down, a run for no yards. Like a prototype submarine that immediately sinks to the bottom of the sea, I’m not clear what was supposed to happen because so many things went wrong. Blame Schotty, blame the blocking, it was so bad it was kind of funny.

On second down and the same 20, the Seahawks come out with two receivers wide on each side and Carson in the backfield. Cards bring four, blocking is good, but nobody gets open downfield, so Russ takes the checkdown to Carson for peanuts. You can either blame Wilson for being too quick to give up while protection was still solid or the Seahawks receiving corps for not getting open, but you can’t blame Schotty for surrendering on the drive.

On third down and 15, five receivers run routes, and Wilson once again has good protection. Which is why there’s no one to blame but Wilson when, before three receivers have even finished their deep routes and while there’s no apparent pass rush in his face, Wilson unloads it to the checkdown. If anyone surrendered on this drive, it was #3.

Drive 8 - Q4 10:21 (P)PP, RRP, PPP, RR, PP, (R)RP, RR (Touchdown)

We now arrive at Seattle’s only drive of the fourth quarter, but it’s a clock-killing, game-icing monstrosity.

First down, and Wilson’s been giving me play clock-related heart attacks all season, so it’s not exactly a shock he finally gets bit. Delay of game, 1st and 15. Wilson slings the ball to Metcalf on the sidelines for a 6 yard gain, which is good, but you’ll never convince me to appreciate lateral passes. Ever. On second down, Wilson’s looking for a big play downfield that never develops. With Ifedi beginning to crumble (although to be clear he did as much as we could reasonably expect), Wilson sends it to Carson for a checkdown at the line of scrimmage. That’s all right though, because Carson breaks one tackle, runs past two more Cards, and trucks a fourth for the first down. And while this is indeed another opportunity to praise the large pile of skulls Carson is collecting at the base of his dread throne, it’s also a good time to note that the Cardinals appear exactly as good at tackling as they were in December of 2014.

On the next first down, Carson gets great blocking and runs for six. On second and four, Wilson pitches it to Carson for a run to the left which only gets two. When Metcalf, Duane Brown, Iupati, and Britt all miss or fail to hold their blocks, that’ll happen. On 3rd and 2, the Cards send 7, and then an eighth on a delayed blitz. Wilson quickly finds Willson, who catches the ball despite having a defender draped all over him. Is it possible the drops are no longer a problem?

The Cards go back to their 5-2 formation and bring six. Ifedi doesn’t pick up his blocking assignment (i.e. the guy right in front of him) and Wilson is sacked. Dude is in his fourth year. I’m sick of this kind of thing. If we keep him, it should be to move him inside. On second and 15, Cards once again bring six, and credit to Iupati for picking up a tricky move by his defender on the left side. The geometry of the blitz leaves Ifedi and Fluker to block four defenders, which obviously isn’t going to happen. It also leaves Brown wide open on the right side, but once again Wilson doesn’t see the hole in the coverage created by the blitz. He pulls it down and runs for four. On third down, the Cards screw up and only bring five, which the O-line picks up nicely. Wilson stands tall in the middle of a hurricane and finds Lockett for the first down.

Carson picks up four on first down, and then another 12 or so on second down after sending Kevin Peterson to Valhalla, and what is there to say about him I haven’t already?

A blocking miscue on the first of our first and goals (Willson is the guilty party) forces Russell to think fast, which he does: Lockett for four. On second and goal, the Cards bring six again. They’ve realized, I think that it’s the only way to get pressure on Wilson, who scrambles, looking for Metcalf (who doesn’t do enough on the scramble drill to help out), and Wilson runs for two.

But aha! Personal foul after the play on the increasingly frustrated Cards, setting up first down with two yards to go. Carson runs it in, but it’s brought back due to a hold by Dissly. See above concerns. We thought we were getting a young Zach Miller, but maybe we’re actually getting a young Jimmy Graham. There are worse fates, but lord I would love to see his blocking improve.

First down and 12. Chris Carson loses a yard on a dirt-nasty inside run where it appears - I swear - that Britt gets punched in the nuts. On second down, the Cards once again bring six, but after a brief delay, drop two of those guys back and bring a different two. Maybe smart, maybe not, but in any event Wilson has too much time, and sends one to Lockett in the end zone. The pass could have been a little better, and the DB makes a smart play on the ball, outfighting the smaller Lockett to slap it down. But now another flag, and it’s half the distance to the goal. On a Carson run, the Cards clog the inside and force him outside, where they swarm to the ball (for once) and bring him down for a loss.

The next play is the Prosise touchdown, and I’m deeply grateful because it’s a really cool play that I was excited to watch more carefully, and because writing about this drive has given me carpal tunnel. What I like about Prosise on this play is that he displays good vision to find his best shot through the traffic accident in front of him, he’s decisive about hitting it (the "it" in question being a space the size of a phone booth already occupied by a linebacker named Jordan Hicks), he’s got the power to put Hicks on the ground, and then the speed and shiftiness to run it away from the two Cards defenders who might have had a shot at him on the other side. I look forward to Prosise getting more carries this season: I think he might be something special.