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Waldron Watch, Week 2: Waiting for Waldron?

Seattle Seahawks v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images

Week two is in the books, and the Seahawks had an absolutely disheartening loss to the Tennessee Titans in overtime to open their home schedule in Seattle. This is the first home opener that Seattle has lost in over a decade. On a rainy but warm Sunday, the Hawks’ offense looked sloppy and out of sync early before picking themselves up at the end of the first half, only to fall apart again in the fourth quarter. After a game in Indianapolis where the team clicked right out of the gates, excitement was building for how they would perform at home in front of a crowd for the first time in two years, against a team that just surrendered 38 points to Arizona in week 1.

Outside of some early heroics from Russell Wilson and Tyler Lockett, the offense was stuck in neutral for much of the first half before becoming entirely unstoppable for the waning minutes of Q2, scoring three touchdowns — all coming under the 7:00 minute mark. However, this was about the only time that the offense looked in control today, as they only sporadically were able to move the ball in Quarters 1, 3, 4, and the better part of 2, before reverting to their worst habits in one of the ugliest overtime possessions imaginable.

The film

We all know how Shane Waldron called a great game in Indy last weekend. So why did he struggle so much today? There was some good mixed in with the bad, despite the final devastating results. But the fact remains that at the end of the game, Seattle’s offense had multiple opportunities to put the game away, and they failed every time. But before we get all negative, let’s take a look at a few of the early highlights.

Tyler Lockett continues to look phenomenal and do everything that we’ve ever watched him do. No-E is a model of consistency and playing hard every down. You can just barely see him at the top of the clip, running an incredible route and shaking his defender right around the 50, at which point Wilson — surrounded by solid protection but with a defender bearing down on him — uncorks a shot to the streaking speedster, who made a move so smooth that it could made Carlos Santana blush, and turned it up field and found 35 yards after the reception for a TD. This play design by Waldron is excellent, as the team only sends three players out into routes but still manage to create havoc for the defense. Dissly stays at home to block, as does Chris Carson. After the always reliable RW play action, Metcalf’s shallow crossing route draws three Titans defenders, and Tyler Lockett is left with a wide open field in front of him to play with. Give @TDLockett12 a canvas this large and you know he will create something beautiful.

Three Seahawks skill players accounted for all four of Seattle’s touchdowns today. Chris Carson nabbed his first and second of the season, and Tyler Lockett and Freddie Swain had a TD each. While DK Metcalf has had a frustrating start to the season, the second year player Swain emerged on Sunday as a viable third option on the team, collecting 5 receptions for 95 yards, including what should have been the game clincher on third down in Q4. Below are two clips — the first is the play itself, and the second is a breakdown of the breakdown that lead to a streaking Swain on his way to the house.

Once again, I love this play design. With Everett and Homer slipping out towards the sidelines, Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf each find the sticks and set up a route combo that stretches the defense horizontally and vertically in tandem with the running back and tight end. At this point, Wilson has at least two options that are past the line to gain, and another (Homer) who has a legitimate shot. The Titans loose their focus on Swain and try to keep everything in front of them, and the former Gator streaks past the entire defense for a wide open path to the endzone. It is great to see Wilson building chemistry with the young receiver, and even better to see plays like this that exploit the defense selling out to stop the first while at the same time providing multiple options for Wilson to get the necessary yards for a first.

The Final Drive of the first half

Okay, there is plenty to be massively disappointed about from this game, but I also found the team’s performance at the end of the first half to be one of the most encouraging things I have seen from the Seahawks in their short season thus far. As fans, analysts, and the public at large all seemed to acknowledge, Pete Carroll and “clock management” have not been exactly synonymous with each other. Enter Shane Waldron. Let’s start with the touchdown and then work backwards.

With time winding down and the Seahawks and fresh off Lockett’s touchdown, the Seahawks defense held the Titans to a field goal after an eight play drive that took more than four minutes off the clock. Starting with the ball and barely more than a minute left in the half, Seattle found themselves with two timeouts and the ball on their own 25. The play sequence that followed looked like this:

  1. Pass to Homer short right for 11 yards, out of bounds.
  2. Pass to Lockett short right for 8 yards, out of bounds.
  3. Pass short left to Freddie Swain for 12 yards, out of bounds.
  5. Pass short left to Metcalf for 8 yards, out of bounds.

In these four plays, the Seahawks found four different receivers for 39 yards and ran a whopping 17 seconds off the game clock, while also forcing their opponent to spend a timeout. And what came next was arguably my favorite play of the game.

On 2nd and 2 on the Tennessee 36, the Hawks dialed up a draw to Alex Collins that went for 25 yards before he collided with former Seattle safety Bradley McDougald. Not to get hung up on their success, Russell Wilson got the team lined up and threw a quick incompletion over the head of Metcalf in the end zone, stopping the clock and giving the team a chance to regroup. The next play would be PI in the end zone, followed by the Chris Carson TD, as the Seahawks ran seven plays and covered 75 yards in a mere :48, all without using their timeouts.

Returning to the draw to Collins, this is a perfect example of how the running game can be used effectively to force the defense off balance and keep the offense in control. Rather than “running to set up the pass,” the Hawks “passed to set up the run,” as the Titans were reeling and trying to find a way to shut down the un-shutdown-able marching offense. And the play design leading up to the draw was absolutely curated to perfection; quick passes to the outside with multiple players exploiting the sidelines and stressing the defense horizontally, Collins was able to find a wide open lane up the middle. While very few bright spots can be found on the offense after this point, I feel like this drive alone is enough to keep me from feeling too down about this brutal loss.

And then the second half...

But much like last week, the Seahawks offense pumped the brakes in the third quarter. They looked out of sorts, inconsistent, and failed to do much of anything, save for the aforementioned big strike to Swain. Their first drive of the half started decently enough, pickup up a couple first downs (including the extremely questionable blatantly wrong spot that gave Carson enough to move the sticks). Wilson was dropped for a loss on a play that looked bungled from the second it was snapped, as I honestly couldn’t tell if it was a Jet sweep, a misdirection run, or play action, but it looked to me in real time that every player had a different idea of what they were supposed to be doing and nobody wanted the ball. According to ESPN, it was listed as a negative rush up the middle for Wilson, so take that for what it is worth. But also take this for what it is worth: Waldron is implementing some new concepts in this offense, and while it has been a decently smooth process so far, negative plays like these should get minimized as the season goes forward. The difference between a successful drive and a punt could be one player getting his assignment mixed up, and this seemed like an example of that. Either way, nothing doing and the Hawks punted for the third time on the day.

Now, as great as the Seahawks drive to end the first half was, their drives to end the second half and their only possession in overtime were equally terrible. With :24 seconds on the clock and starting at their own 28, Seattle had an opportunity to make a statement and set up Jason Meyers for a game winner. Instead, they failed to capture the magic of their first half-ending drive and only ended up collecting 27 garbage yards to Tyler Lockett. And that looks absolutely wonderful compared to their single overtime possession. I have no desire to dwell too heavily on this, but I would just like to note that Wilson’s sack on third down was a flashback to too many sacks from seasons past. After looking smooth and totally in control at the end of the first half, this was a return to form in the worst way for an offense that has all too often seen their QB run straight backwards before getting taken to the turf at an inopportune moment. Whether Waldron can be faulted for his playcalling or play design here is difficult to say, but I can certainly assert that a QB as experienced and talented as Wilson cannot, should not, must not do this to himself or his team with the game on the line. End of story. And not only that, but if the cameras served us correctly, it very much looked like it should have been a walk-off safety. But enough dwelling on negativity, let’s move on.

Some major notes that jumped out at me

  • The Seahawks didn’t entirely abandon the run at any point in the game, but they used it much more effectively. Calling a draw on 2nd and two, inside Tennessee territory, with the clock stopped under a minute and two timeouts in your back pocket? Genius.
  • In spite of the above, the Seahawks continued to dial up effective passing plays sporadically despite leading for almost the entire contest. At the 12:17 mark in the 4th quarter, the Seahawks had a ratio of 23 passes to 16 runs (nearly a 3:2 split). This willingness to go with what is working — and not simply become one dimensional — is exactly what the Seahawks offense felt like it was lacking in 2020.
  • The aggression never went away. While Waldron had a number of quick in- and out-breaking routes dialed up for Wilson to play with, he also had some great deep shots ready to call at opportune moments. The 68-yard TD strike to Freddie Swain was a great example of this. In a game that ended up being a bit more of a shootout (run-out, for Derrick Henry and the Titans, of course), the Seahawks refusal to hesitate on dialing up big plays when they needed them caught the defense off guard and kept Shane Bowen’s squad backpedaling for much of the afternoon.
  • The final drives. See above.
  • After a game in which Will Dissly and Gerald Everett looked like a perfect combo, the tight ends were kept mostly under wraps, with Everett collecting a single three yard pass on the day.

Looking forward to Minnesota

While week one was a shining beacon of what could be, week two was a cautionary tale of what we all hope will not be. The Seahawks offense is experiencing some expected growing pains. But I will say this: the Seahawks have a big matchup in Minnesota against an 0-2 Vikings team that just allowed 34 to the Cardinals and missed a game winning field goal. Waldron will have the chance to get this offense back on track against a team that has surrendered 58 points in their first two weeks of play. This week three contest already feels like a potentially pivotal moment in Seattle’s young season. Can he do it?