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Every Tariq Woolen target, Weeks 1 & 2: Just warming up

Yes, every one. Settle in for a meaty series of posts

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
not technically a target, but
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

There’s been some chatter about Tariq Woolen, the Seattle Seahawks’ latest fifth-round diamond. And none of it is about him being “in the rough,” not anymore.

Chiseled from the same body type as Richard Sherman, only with Deion Sanders’ speed, Woolen has harvested the most interceptions in the league through six weeks. That’s how you muscle yourself into the Defensive Rookie of the Year conversation. Four more picks in the next six weeks and he graduates to a different convo, where we drop the term “rookie.”

Over the next three days, this space will present every target thrown Woolen’s way, every righteous and ridiculous flag tossed in his general direction, and every interception recklessly lobbed at his zip code. (With his wheels, that’s basically anywhere in the secondary.) We’ve been waiting for the next Seahawks superstar corner. The wait is almost over. All that’s left is the crowning.

Week 1: Denver Broncos

QTR 2, 0:55 left. Pass is incomplete

Woolen follows KJ Hamler down the sideline and eases up a little when he sees safety help. Not sure that’s wise because a better placed pass yields a completion. Russell Wilson loves him some redline throws and maybe Woolen should’ve pursued until the end. But this option, forced into triple coverage, should have been an early red flag that something was up with the Broncos QB.

QTR 2, 0:38 left. Pass is incomplete

TW is step for step with Courtland Sutton and that’s cool. Quandre Diggs should’ve finished the job and that’s less cool. Bad decision and bad throw from Wilson, which doesn’t nullify Woolen’s excellent effort.

QTR 3, 13:37 left. Pass is complete for 18 yards

This is the first of several borderline clips that can be assigned to Woolen or someone else. As per the methodology laid out at the end of this post, I counted anything close as a target. And why not? Gives us more chances to look at the rookie. More clips, more better.

Should Woolen have broken outside sooner, once he had inside help on Jerry Jeudy? Perhaps. He’s the closest DB to the play. Recognizing these types of patterns sooner will only benefit him.

QTR 3, 10:28 left: Flagged for DPI, 31 yards

I didn’t like this call in real time and I like it even less after a dozen views. But in today’s NFL, prolonged hand-fighting will almost always favor the receiver or the veteran, and Woolen is neither. This is unfortunate, as Woolen could’ve made a play on the ball if he hadn’t been so engaged with Sutton. (Contact that Sutton initiates as much as Woolen, to be honest.)

Maybe if the rookie comes down with the ball, it’s not DPI? It’s worth a try.

QTR 3, 5:31 left. Pass is incomplete

Well looky here, Woolen positions himself far better on this go route to Sutton. Doesn’t get tangled up with the receiver, either. I’m not sure even a perfectly thrown ball turns into a touchdown. Just beautiful defense, textbook coverage, and almost TW’s first pick. Darn.

QTR 3, 4:43 left. Flagged for DPI, 21 yards

No surprise that Wilson would pick on the rookie a little bit here, with four targets in a single quarter. While a different official might see one or both of the Week 1 penalties in a different light, the second one is a pretty clear grab that only a vet could hope to disguise.

But if Woolen doesn’t hold Hamler, that’s likely a touchdown. So I love the process of committing this penalty on purpose, seems very heady to me if that was the plan. Felt like he was trying to keep four points off the scoreboard, and in the end it turned out to be all seven, after the fumble inside the one. So the ends justify the means?

Final line: One completion on four targets, for 18 yards. Zero INT, zero TD. 51 penalty yards. Didn’t get beat deep but gave up a lot of yardage anyway.

Week 2: San Francisco 49ers

I should get danger pay for rewatching any part of this game that isn’t Woolen’s blocked field goal.

QTR 1, 12:40 left. Pass is incomplete

Uchenna Nwosu gets credit for making Woolen’s passer rating stat look better by pressuring Jimmy Garoppolo into a hurried throw. Thanks, teammate.

QTR 2, 12:08 left. Pass is complete for 16 yards

Check Woolen out at the end of the play with the hard clap. Pretty decent chance he’s faulting himself for dropping one step too deep and thus breaking to the sideline a step too late. Nice hit though. He’s definitely a willing tackler, with good form, unafraid to use the appropriate amount of controlled aggression upon impact.

QTR 2, 7:55 left. Pass is incomplete

To set the stage a little, Geno Smith has just been intercepted; third down and nine now for the Niners; down 13-0, the Seahawks could really use a stop. Jimmy G’s pass is low but on time — hits Brandon Aiyuk in the hands, and he should come down with it at least half the time. Woolen is there, but a decent play by the receiver would have netted 33 yards. It’s a piece of good-but-not-great coverage that forces the offense to be perfect. Which works, in this case.

QTR 3, 12:21 left. Pass is complete for 14 yards

I like to think of this as the “worst” snap of the day for Woolen, and the most correctable, while somehow also being the least avoidable. If you keep guarding against a deep sideline pass, you’re going to eventually concede completions to the middle of the field, where you have help. That’s just life as a corner. Especially if the WR sets you up properly and then cuts inside. The well-timed push serves as an effective enough tackle.

QTR 3, 5:39 left. Field goal is blocked

“This isn’t a target, John.” WHO CARES.

A) The ball hits Woolen in the hands. Sounds like a target to me;

B) Woolen is the only guy who could’ve tackled Mike Jackson;

C) It’s probably good he didn’t do that;

D) The fans at the end don’t appreciate this play nearly as much as we did.

QTR 3, 4:42 left. Pass is incomplete

A lot of contact from Woolen, but within five yards. Nice to see him unpunished for a little physicality. The pass is poor and wasn’t going anywhere anyway. In this game, the Seahawks will take any measly break they can get.

QTR 3, 3:54 left. Pass is complete for 7 yards

Screen pass. Woolen is quickly washed out of the picture as Deebo Samuel steps backwards, uses his block, and creates something out of nothing. What are you gonna do? Make the tackle and live to see another play. Jordyn Brooks grasps a shoestring and Deebo goes down.

Final line: Three completions on six targets for 37 yards. Zero INT, zero TD. Again, Pete Carroll has to be happy that Woolen is keeping everything in front of him. Because if you’ve got a guy who can do that AND ballhawk a little, well...

To play spoiler a little, the final numbers I’ve compiled on Woolen after six games are the kind that make you drool like Homer Simpson eyeing the day’s first donut.

Pro Football-Reference lists 10 completions on 20 targets for 152 yards on Woolen’s page. They’re charting some plays I’m not, and vice versa. I counted anything where he was nearby, hence the extra targets.

Either way, the subsequent weeks will show us that attacking Woolen downfield is unwise. Which is why it’ll be so fun to see what the veteran QBs downwind on the schedule (Tom Brady, Matt Stafford, etc.) end up doing. Or not doing.

Methodology notes:

A) I included any play on which an impartial observer could reasonably conclude that Woolen was specifically targeted, participated in the coverage at the catch point, or was still responsible for the receiver (i.e., hadn’t been passed off yet). If it was a borderline decision, I included it. Specifically, this explains the inclusion of the second clip from Week 1.

B) If there are targets I missed, that’s fine, I don’t think an extra couple completions or incompletions here or there will change the overall evaluation. I welcome any amendments and corrections from commenters. I am not a proud man and many of you know more about the intricacies of pass coverage than I ever will.

C) Why include penalties? Those are negative plays for the cornerback, minus whatever calls are ticky-tacky. To exclude them would be painting a false picture of Woolen’s performance. First downs surrendered via laundry are still first downs.

D) Since my tweet above was published, I found one more completion on Woolen, for 23 yards in Week 3. So now, if you count all five of Woolen’s enforced penalties as completions against him and assign the proper yardage, which isn’t fair but is in some ways more accurate, his stat line becomes:


That’s still a passer rating of 35.8 and an atrocious day for any quarterback. The flags really aren’t a liability, overall. But are they typical? Well, Sherman was flagged 10 times in 2011 and Brandon Browner 19 as they began their Seahawks careers. Shaq Griffin had eight; Byron Maxwell six in his first full season. So, Woolen’s a little sloppy so far by Seahawks rookie CB standards. However, it’s worth noting that Woolen accounted for 52 of the yards in the Broncos game, with a couple DPIs. Since then his worst two infractions are a third-down hold in New Orleans that led to a score and an illegal contact that wiped out an offensive hold in the red zone. He’s been much, much cleaner since his debut. Progress!

Enough for one installment, already. Coming Thursday is Part 2, which “covers” Weeks 3 and 4. We get to see the picks materialize. The clips are gonna be chef’s kiss.