At the bye, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Tariq Woolen (praise his holy name) is still very much in the conversation for Defensive Rookie of the Year. And not just because of this...
...which we will get to, and not just because of the stats, which we will get to, but because he’s getting better, even if the touchdowns are happening now, as we knew they would. He wasn’t going to skate through his entire rookie year without surrendering a couple.
If you’re in the mood for a visit to the archives, the four previous installments of this series can be found here:
You’re holding Part 5 in your hand right now. Which encompasses seven targets over two games, but I could not help myself and included four pieces of bonus footage. In advance, you’re welcome. Don’t forget to tip your moderator.
Week 9: vs. Cardinals (again)
QTR 2, 10:32 remaining, pass complete for minus 2 yards
My theory here is that K.J. Wright has been teaching Tariq Woolen a thing or two about screen ESP. pic.twitter.com/aLvlm8QTna— John Parodyvid Fraley (@johndavidfraley) November 17, 2022
Beautiful. Woolen reacts like a caffeinated mountain lion and devours the poor little red birdie as soon as he receives the football. What I want to draw attention to here is the anticipation. TW falls back into coverage, diagnoses the screen during Kyler Murray’s windup, and takes three steps (count them!) while the ball is in the air. The Seahawks used to have an off-ball linebacker who did that kind of shit and blew up about a billion screens. Wonder what happened to him.
QTR 2, 5:58 remaining, pass is incomplete
Early in the season, quarterbacks generally gave up on trying to beat Woolen down the sideline and elected to find their receivers in patterns breaking in toward the middle of the field. It worked, for a while.
My favorite Woolen play (not really, but kinda) of the season. This is the route he was getting beat on in Weeks 1-7. Not anymore, QBs. He sees it coming a mile away pic.twitter.com/Pzv6D495ZC— John Parodyvid Fraley (@johndavidfraley) November 17, 2022
Until, in Week 9, it suddenly didn’t. One of my favorite moments so far in the whole 2022 campaign is this pass deflection. The five interceptions all induce various levels of swoonery, but this moment represents real in-season progress, a turning point. And Woolen is even upset at himself that he didn’t make a better play! At least that’s how I choose to interpret his body language.
QTR 4, 3:35 remaining, TOUCHDOWN to Zach Ertz (6 yards)
Third and final target against the Cardinals from Week 9. It's a TD, so, sadface everyone, but perfect offensive execution is really hard to defend. Ertz gets inside Woolen, runs a perfect route, and the ball is on time. pic.twitter.com/7Ee1O7mqkC— John Parodyvid Fraley (@johndavidfraley) November 17, 2022
After a couple dozen rewatches, I’m still trying to decide if I want to fault Woolen for giving up the inside route. The larger point, though, is that a ball on time with flawless location, to a veteran who knows exactly what he’s doing, is exceedingly hard to defend, even for the best DBs in the game. A worse throw might be defensed some other time; a worse route might be run some other snap. Gonna hand it to Ertz and Murray on this one. They are good, you know.
BONUS MATERIAL: QTR 2, 0:29 remaining, good communication
Contrast this with what will happen in the fourth quarter against the Bucs downthread.
BONUS: good pre-snap communication with Josh Jones. (Included because of a future play against the Bucs.) pic.twitter.com/ldOVB8ujmQ— John Parodyvid Fraley (@johndavidfraley) November 17, 2022
Back in the opening weeks, Woolen and Josh Jones has barely shared the field; at midseason he and Ryan Neal were just getting in sync. So encouraging to see them share responsibilities when it’s seamless like this. Now they just have to get on the same page more consistently. Only one way to get there: reps.
BONUS MATERIAL 2: Oh no you don’t
The Cardinals left tackle (74) is supposed to clear out whatever undersized DB gets in his way on this toss run play. Spoiler: Tariq Woolen is not a “whatever undersized DB” and he is having none of it.
BONUS 2: Cardinals LT D.J. Humphries (74) has intent to pancake Woolen on this run play. Intent is all he gets. Tariq still makes the taql. pic.twitter.com/r0pE934Egy— John Parodyvid Fraley (@johndavidfraley) November 17, 2022
Don’t read the tweet. It contains an unforgivable pun.
An interesting fun fact is that in the seven pass plays immediately preceding the touchdown, Murray looked left exactly once with the clock running. The other six dropbacks he glanced over at Woolen’s side before the snap and then kept his eyes focused on the other side of the defense. Kyler didn’t even dignify his receiver with a read until Ertz entered the red zone.
End of the day, Murray went 1-3 for four yards and a TD when targeting Woolen. Considering the score was in garbage time, that’s more than acceptable, no?
Week 10: vs. Buccaneers and that Tom Brady fellow
QTR 1, 14:18 remaining, pass is incomplete
Julio Jones beats Woolen deep but the ball is overthrown. Again, this is one play where they let him maintain contact with the WR without throwing the flag. Really nice to see that measure of respect from the officials so early in Woolen's career pic.twitter.com/mk1TgeZcKx— John Parodyvid Fraley (@johndavidfraley) November 17, 2022
Pretty much everything of import is said in the tweet, so five quick bullet points:
- How cool is it that we barely ever see QBs go over the top now against Woolen?
- Brady wasted no time in testing him though
- Lots of contact downfield, no flag means Woolen is gaining respect with the stripes and controlling the grabby nature that spoiled a couple of his early games
- Thank goodness for overthrows
- Julio Jones has still got it.
QTR 2, 11:29 remaining, pass is complete for 4 yards
Four yards gained on target 2. Woo pic.twitter.com/93IQFtNh7t— John Parodyvid Fraley (@johndavidfraley) November 17, 2022
QTR 3, 7:19 remaining, pass is complete for 18 yards
Not Woolen’s best snap of the day. That comes next. Here he’s slower than usual to turn his head, not that he would’ve had much of a play on this pinpointedly accurate throw from the GOAT.
Unusual to see Woolen react late to the ball coming his way, but that's what happens here as 18 yards are gained. Precise throw yields the longest completion of today's thread. pic.twitter.com/NkDipPsn1g— John Parodyvid Fraley (@johndavidfraley) November 17, 2022
QTR 3, 6:39 remaining, INTERCEPTION
Why make you wait? It’s the play of the game if the Seahawks come back and win, and a reason to smile if they don’t.
Tariq Woolen reassures his teammates he's got this. Yeah. He had this. All the way. pic.twitter.com/9z0OfGprqN— John Parodyvid Fraley (@johndavidfraley) November 17, 2022
There is no reason to refrain from showing another angle. Woolen baits Fournette so hard. pic.twitter.com/rzQuhaNcvR— John Parodyvid Fraley (@johndavidfraley) November 17, 2022
Brady was penalized for tripping. But the official mistakenly announced “Tripping, offense, number 12.” Won’t you allow this little itty bitty correction?
Tripping, DEFENSE, number 12 pic.twitter.com/bySoi6LtNX— John Parodyvid Fraley (@johndavidfraley) November 13, 2022
Cheaters almost never prosper. There’s always that one exception to the rule, though.
BONUS MATERIAL: Everybody Loves Julio
This has absolutely nothing to do with Woolen, and I don’t care. If we ever have to draft offensive players to play defense, I’m taking JJ in the first round.
On his birthday, Cody Barton intercepted Tom Brady. We all witnessed it. But real quick, why not appreciate how good of a linebacker Julio Jones (6) would've been in a different life. pic.twitter.com/BkYjOpXLgm— John Parodyvid Fraley (@johndavidfraley) November 17, 2022
BONUS MATERIAL 2: Slightly less effective teamwork
Upthread I mentioned how Woolen and Josh Jones were on the same page. This time, less so.
BONUS to wrap up the thread: Woolen and Josh Jones work it out before the snap but end up somewhat in each other's way, allowing Chris Godwin to score on Tom Brady's 1,000,001st quick-out completion. The WR technically belongs to Jones. Good simple play design. pic.twitter.com/auS8tQUP1Z— John Parodyvid Fraley (@johndavidfraley) November 17, 2022
You can make an argument that Mike Evans (13) commits some light OPI along the way, but it’s a flimsy argument and I dislike it when referees call all the ticky-tacky stuff. Godwin is just savvy enough to get to the end zone line, cut outside, and trust that neither DB will be able to follow him sufficiently. He’s right, and Brady is on the money, as usual. If Jones and Woolen don’t have to switch off that’s another story, but the play is designed to box them into a choice that frees up the outside receiver. Tough play to give up when a stop would’ve given the Seahawks new life. But that’s the way the wienerschnitzel crumbles.
In Germany, Woolen added to his pick total and limited Brady to 22 yards on 2-of-4 passing. Unfortunately, we did not get a “u mad bro” moment and will have to settle for a much less satisfying “u temporarily sad bro.” Little victories.
P.S.: Statistical Recap
Pro-football-reference assigned the final score above, the Godwin grab, to Woolen, even though it appears that he and Jones switch responsibilities at the goal line. If you remove that target, and it’s more than fair to do so, quarterbacks have the following line against Woolen, through ten weeks:
Completion rate of 54 percent; just under seven yards per attempt; more than twice as many picks as teeders. It all computes to a 51.5 passer rating. The TDs in the Chargers and second Cardinals games account for the recent rise in Woolen’s rating against, which had been 47.1 through eight weeks.
One final statistical note concerns the fumble recoveries — Woolen has fallen on two loose balls so far, which can be construed as part luck, part being in the right place at the right time twice. Let’s not minimize that aspect of his game: Malcolm Smith won a Super Bowl MVP award right before our very eyes, largely for being in the right place at the right time twice.