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Waldron-22: Kenneth Walker gets going in the passing game

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals David Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Kenneth Walker III didn’t find much space to operate against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ imposing defensive front, but he still managed to make his mark in the passing game. In fact, Walker put up season highs in targets, receptions, and yards, as he tied for the team lead with 6 catches on the 8 passes thrown his way for 55 yards. He did most of his damage in the second half, and particularly on Seattle’s first touchdown drive of the morning (or afternoon, if you are going by Munich time). The fact that Shane Waldron is continuing to look for ways to get their rookie running back involved in the passing game is wonderful to see, as even the best rushers in the league will still have days where daylight is hard to find between the tackles. So let’s take a look at the tape!

Screen passes? Why not! I don’t actually have the data in front of me, but the Seattle Seahawks have had issues with screens on both sides of the ball. But this play materializes exactly like it was drawn up on the proverbial chalkboard; the offense lines up in 11-personnel with Lockett and Metcalf opposite each other outside. Marquise Goodwin motions behind the formation and fakes the jet sweep. This play fake gets Devin White, Lavonte David, and Sean Murphy-Bunting to take just a step in the wrong direction, but it is enough to create some space on the left side, which sets up Walker with some wide open space to work with.

Tampa Bay only rushes four, but the protection holds up; by the time Vita Vea recognizes the screen and tries to shut it down, Austin Blythe has him sealed off thanks in part to his own excellent reach block, and partially thanks to a nice chip from Phil Haynes as he releases out to lead for Walker. In fact, Haynes and Damien Lewis deserve a ton of credit here as they work their butts off to get out in front of Walker and put the over-matched defensive backs Jamel Dean and Murphy-Bunting on their heals. Dean would eventually make the tackle, but not until Walker had picked up 23 yards and put the Seahawks near the 50. I love the play design to fake the jet sweep, and keeping Charles Cross at home to block Anthony Nelson gave Geno plenty of time to set up the screen and then deliver an easy pass for a big pickup.

This clip has two plays back to back. In the first one, the Buccaneers just have excellent coverage in the backfield. As we saw multiple times on the day, Tampa Bay was able to get pressure without sending extra guys, which left them to drop seven into coverage and effectively blanket the four receivers that the Seahawks send out into routes... that is until Kenneth Walker sneaks out as a safety valve and receives the dumpoff. Not a lot to say here other than good execution by the offense on a play that could have just as easily resulted in a coverage sack. Instead, the pass pro holds up, Geno goes through his reads and then finds Walker for 13 yards and a first down that puts them within striking distance of the red zone.

The second play is the only reception by Walker on this drive that didn’t net a first down; it did, however, put the Seahawks inside the 30, and Smith found Lockett for a touchdown two plays later. In this play, Walker releases up the middle and looks for the dumpoff just in time, as Tampa actually does send extra pressure on this one; Antoine Winfield Jr. is bearing down on Geno off the edge, and Murphy-Bunting is doing likewise from the left side (Fant picks this one up though). Good use of the running back as a safety valve in both of these plays, as Tampa Bay has good coverage on the back end in both of them.

Even though the outcome of the game was frustrating, I still saw some positive performances on the offensive side of the ball on Seattle’s touchdown drives in the second half. Geno Smith deserve credit here too; he seems to be pretty adept at deciding when to play hero ball and when to simply grind it out and try to keep the chains moving. This team doesn’t need to be overly reliant on deep strikes and big plays, but that isn’t to suggest that they aren’t capable of eating up chunks of yardage either.

Kenneth Walker, as well, is proving to be a multi-faceted weapon for this team; this is particularly impressive given that he only caught 19 passes for 136 yards during his entire collegiate career, according to Sports Reference. As a Seahawk, he already has 18 receptions for 103 yards. Walker is dangerous in space, and it looks like Waldron is willing to find ways to get him into the open field, which is a scary thought for opposing defenses. Hopefully we will see the rookie continue to make a name for himself in the passing game while also finding some more space on the ground against a Las Vegas Raiders defense that ranks 22nd in rushing DVOA and 32nd overall in weighted DVOA, according to Football Outsiders.