Question from Marshall Faulk this week: Sometimes a player with the most heart has the Professional Grade resilience that can will a team to victory, no matter the circumstances. Which player leaves everything on the field?
I think that while the Seahawks have many leaders on both sides of the ball -- Kam Chancellor, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman, Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Max Unger -- no one sets the tone on the field more than Earl Thomas and Marshawn Lynch. Their intensity, physicality, and drive permeate to the other players on the field around them and they collectively raise their play.
Going back over the past eight games, in which Seattle has gone 7-1, one thing that the Seahawks have been able to achieve on both sides of the ball is that killer instinct in finishing games.
The last four games serve as great examples of this:
Vs. Arizona, Week 12:
Leading 19-3 in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks took back possession of the football with almost seven minutes left in the game (seven minutes!) and never gave it up, eventually taking a knee at the Arizona 3-yard line to end the game. How absolutely demoralizing is that?!
At San Fransisco, Week 13:
The Seahawks held the football for almost ten minutes in the fourth quarter, and the Niners only had three total drives in the whole second half, allowing Seattle to easily control, then finish, a 19-3 ballgame.
At Philadelphia, Week 14:
The Seahawks gave up a touchdown to Zach Ertz down the sideline with 12:09 in the third quarter, and that made the score 17-14 in favor of Seattle. Seattle would go on to score a touchdown on the next drive to push the lead back to ten, and from that point on, the defense stepped up their game, holding the Eagles to 16 net yards on five possessions (16 yards in 27 minutes!), suffocating any thought of a momentum shift in Philly's direction. The offense did their part in "finishing" the ballgame as well, taking over after an Eagles punt at the 4:11 mark and running the clock out from there.
The ability to take possession of the football with over four minutes remaining in a two-score game and not give the ball back? That's exactly the type of demoralizing ball control the Seahawks strive for.
Vs. San Francisco, Week 15:
The 49ers had four possessions in the second half last week, two in the 3rd quarter (both ending in punts), and two in the fourth quarter (both ending after failed fourth down tries). The biggest blow for the Niners was the fact that they could get zero points out of a 14-play, 55 yard drive in the fourth quarter that drained almost eight minutes off the clock, but the nail in the coffin was absolutely Seattle's "killer instinct" to finish them off when San Francisco took control of the ball, down two scores, with 4:02 remaining.
Let's take a look at that defensive series for Seattle:
1-10-SF 45 (4:02 4th Q) (Shotgun) C.Kaepernick pass incomplete short left to B.Lloyd.
I think this play is a great example of the necessity in having your quarterback and receiver on the same page, or, maybe more accurately, having your receiver run a precise route. There's no way for me to know without seeing how this play was drawn up, but it looks an awful lot like Brandon Lloyd runs an 8- to 9-yard out route when he's supposed to be hitting the sideline at five yards.
If you look at the top of the screen, the Niners run what looks like a mirrored route combo with Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. At the bottom of your screen, on the play's left side, Anquan Boldin runs the same route as Davis does opposite, but Lloyd rounds his route off at a very dull angle, drifting downfield an extra three or four yards. Look at where the pass comes in.
The play would've gone for five yards to set up a shorter second down, and overall it was defended like a normal Seahawks Cover-3 play with bail-technique by the cornerbacks. Maybe you'd like to see Tharold break on this a little more quickly, but overall, nothing glaring in the defense, especially at midfield.
2-10-SF 45 (3:59) (Shotgun) C.Kaepernick sacked at SF 37 for -8 yards (B.Irvin).
In 2nd and 10, this is where the Seahawks can really pin their ears back and get after Colin Kaepernick, and that's exactly what they do.
With Bobby Wagner threatening a blitz in the A-Gap prior to the snap, Fullback Bruce Miller (next to Kap) has to be wary of a blitz up the middle. However, when Bobby bails at the snap and Byron Maxwell comes in on a corner blitz, you can see Miller slide under Kap to pick him up.
So, with Miller taking the corner on the blitz, there's only one more thing that has to happen for this blitz to be a success: Jordan Hill has to occupy two blockers, the left tackle and the left guard. Hill is initially lined up in the 3-technique spot inside of Bruce Irvin, so assuming the protections have been set, LG Mike Iupati "gets" responsibility on Hill, with Joe Staley on Irvin outside.
At the snap, Hill attacks at an angle that suckers Iupati to his left and at the same time draws the attention of Staley. This allows Bruce to sneak under Hill. This is called a stunt, or a twist. (I'm not sure what the difference between the two is, so if you know, tell me in the comments below). The key for this play to work though, is S-P-E-E-D. Iupati is a former All Pro and this wasn't his first rodeo - guards are taught to sniff out and pick up stunts, and he actually gets close to getting in front of Irvin to stuff him at the. Almost being the key word.
Watch it in the endzone angle: Bruce's blistering speed on the stunt is what makes it work. He's around and through the crease in a flash, and he draps Kap down for a big sack on 2nd and 10.
Note: Watch Miller realize what's happened, and get stuck trying to decide on who to take (he ends up on "neither").
3-18-SF 37 (3:22) (Shotgun) C.Kaepernick pass short middle to B.Miller to SEA 49 for 14 yards (B.Wagner).
Third down is a little frustrating to watch because of the result -- a pickup of 14 yards -- but you have to like Cliff Avril beasting through Jonathan Martin to hit Kaepernick. Kap does what he does and shrugs off the sack attempt, and unfortunately the middle of the rush is wide open for him to step up into (I always hate that). He dumps it off to Bruce Miller, and it sets up an fourth down.
4-4-SEA 49 (2:38) (Shotgun) C.Kaepernick pass incomplete short left to B.Miller.
On fourth down, Bruce Irvin comes up big again with his second big play on a comeback-thwarting defensive series for the Seahawks. It reminds me of the Carolina game somewhat, where Bruce got back-to-back sacks to end the Panthers' attempt at late-game heroics.
Here, Bruce acts as the spy on Kaepernick to make sure he doesn't run for a first down if the pass rush breaks down. With the help of some good coverage downfield, Kap is forced to move out of the pocket, and Bruce uncoils in pursuit.
It's sometimes easy to forget that Irvin was a 4.4 guy at the Combine, but it's pretty apparent here. He closes with great explosion, which forces Kap to make a quick decision before getting hit. He rushes the throw, it falls incomplete, and the Seahawks take over with 2:32 remaining in the game.
The offense does their job, eventually assembling into the victory formation about a minute later.