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Seahawks Replay Booth: Examining Jimmy Graham's role as a blocker in the Seattle offense

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"Blocking is an attitude."

This is something that Hall of Famer Warren Moon said Tuesday afternoon on Danny, Dave, and Moore's show on 710 ESPN when asked about Jimmy Graham's blocking with the Seahawks. Former NFL linebacker Dave Wyman had observed that there were a few instances where Graham looked disinterested in the blocking game, and Jim Moore wondered aloud if the Seahawks should consider just using the elite tight end as a pure "receiver" in the Seattle offense.

Moon and Wyman disagreed with that notion, pointing out that making Graham a pure receiver would negate the benefit inherent to the tight end position, where run vs. pass tendencies are tougher to identify by defenses and mismatches are more common. Moon talked about playing with Tony Gonzalez in Kansas City prior to Gonzalez' trade to the Falcons. Moon said that as he played in KC, he got better and better, and once in Atlanta, with time and effort, became a serviceable in-line blocker in addition to the great receiver he was. Moon pointed out that Graham obviously has the frame and size to do that, but is still learning to do those things.

But, the narrative or consensus right now, right or wrong, is that Graham is soft in the blocking game and not only that, gives no effort in improving in that area.

Ask Trent Dilfer. "Graham's a fantastic offensive weapon when split out. But when he's an in-line tight end, it's not perception, it is fact, he is unwilling and incapable to hold up in the run game as an in-line tight end," he said on Monday Night Football, "He's more of a spectator than a blocker. They're averaging zero yards per carry when he lines up as an in-line tight end...

"It's very important to understand who Jimmy Graham is. When he asked for receiver money (during his contract dispute), he should have gotten receiver money, because that's what Jimmy Graham is."

Is this true? Is he unwilling and incapable of holding up in the run game as an in-line tight end? Can we really make that jump when the Seahawks' offensive line leaks like a sieve in pass pro and has failed to consistently create holes in the run game in their own right? I turned on the game and decided to chart out how the Seahawks really see Graham, because play design and play-calling can tell you a lot.

Here's how it broke down:

Graham played 49 out of a possible 65 snaps, or 75% of Seattle's offensive plays. This was down somewhat from previous weeks (78% vs. CHI, 83% vs. GB, and 91% vs. STL), and the Hawks ran a variety of sets with Luke Willson, Will Tukuafu, and Derrick Coleman at times to mix things up. They both ran and passed out of these Jimmy Graham-less sets, and in general, it may just be a move to vary up personnel groupings more and feel out what works best in certain situations. It may be matchups, or it may be game flow. I don't know.

ACTION: RECEIVER OR TIGHT END?

Regardless, of Graham's 49 snaps, here's how he was used:

39 snaps running pass routes (80%)
3 snaps were pass blocking assignments (6%)
7 snaps were run blocking assignments (14%)

When I say "pass routes," that doesn't necessarily mean pass plays, but on these snaps, Graham lined up outside, either in the slot or out wide, and either ran a route or blocked downfield like a receiver would. In other words -- he was playing like "a receiver" would.

I saw three plays where Graham was asked to block for Russell Wilson in-line, in the trenches, and seven plays where he was asked to be a run-blocking in-line tight end. This is true "tight end" style stuff.

I feel like these splits make a lot of sense -- 80-20 -- they're not asking Graham to do pure Zach Millery tight end stuff too much, while at the same time, they are still getting him involved in there a little bit too. Perhaps to keep the element of disguise intact, and perhaps to continue to ease him into that role.

ALIGNMENT: RECEIVER OR TIGHT END?

In terms of alignment, the splits looked like this:

Lined up in-line: 20 snaps (40%)
Lined up outside or in slot: 29 snaps (60%)

So, in other words, he lined up as a "receiver" with a 60-40 split. This varied use both in-line with his hand in the ground and outside in the slot or outside -- it just implicitly works for me. I'm not sure I would want him to line up outside more or less than this. It just feels about right. This isn't New Orleans, and we knew the Seahawks would integrate him into the offense.

EXAMPLES:

2-12-SEA 18 (10:05 1st quarter) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short left to T.Lockett pushed ob at SEA 30 for 12 yards (J.Wilson).

This was Seattle's second play from scrimmage. The protection scheme was designed to match Graham up one-on-one with a defensive end, in this case, Jason Jones. This, honestly, is a scary thought to me, as it's looked pretty bad in the past when they've done this, but Graham gets the job done here -- pretty brilliantly actually.

So, I guess you could say this was a good start.

It wouldn't last long. Later that drive...

2-4-SEA 47 (7:33 1st quarter) T.Rawls right tackle to SEA 46 for -1 yards (T.Lewis).

This is a play that went a little viral on twitter because of Graham's whiff on the blitzing linebacker, causing Thomas Rawls to lose a yard.

I'm torn on this play. I don't think it was drawn up well, and I don't think the blocking accounted for a blitzing linebacker from the backside. If you watch where Graham lines up -- in the slot, as a receiver -- that's asking an awful lot of him to reach and block that linebacker as he blitzes immediately at the snap.

You can see the linebackers to the play-side wait and react to the run-pass option here, and I think Graham's job would've been to move forward and try to arc-seal the backside 'backer off from the play, much like receivers do in many of Seattle's run plays.

However, when that backer blitzes immediately, Graham, in the slot, is just out position to make that block.

From Nate Ernst -- here's the endzone view of it.

1

It looks like Graham holds up because he fears getting a block in the back called on him, and the result is that it appears he gives little to no effort in making the block. It's a subjective thing -- obviously you'd have loved to have seen him slide down quickly at the snap to get into the way of that linebacker, but it's a tough ask and frankly, he's a slot receiver in this formation. I'm not sure the blocking scheme was drawn up with the thought in mind that Graham would take away a blitzer from the backside. If that were the case, Wilson would've motioned him in-line or into the backfield.

Regardless, apart from all that, there are many that question the effort here -- i.e., "blocking is an attitude," and it's been used as an example of a half-hearted attempt on Graham's part. I don't know, to be totally honest. It doesn't bother me, because of what's asked of him there, but it definitely does look bad.

There was another play that was more egregious and obvious lack of attitude or effort. This was late in the first quarter after the Seahawks had sacked themselves into a 3rd and 22.

3-22-SEA 39 (1:59 1st Quarter) (Shotgun) F.Jackson left tackle to SEA 43 for 4 yards (J.Jones).

This is a scheme that Seattle uses pretty frequently, and you'll most often see Luke Willson acting as a de facto "fullback" in this style.

I got nothing. Graham looks confused first as to whom he's supposed to block, and then when he does find a guy, makes no attempt to block him. I am very wary to fault effort with any player, because it's so subjective, but this looks bad. I suppose you could chalk this up to inexperience picking up players to block in draw play -- but regardless, this is just a bad job by Graham.

Still, when it comes to what Moon said, "blocking is an attitude," there is reason for optimism for Graham. I saw at least two fierce and forceful blocks that Graham laid out, including this de-cleater chip on Jason Jones.

3-12-SEA 42 (11:15 2nd Quarter) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short left to J.Kearse pushed ob at DET 24 for 34 yards (G.Quin) [D.Taylor].

Yaaaaaas lawd.

This is textbook, and Graham shows no mercy. That's the kind of attitude you want.

Late in the game, when the Seahawks were trying to hold off the Lions, Seattle drew up a pitch play where Graham was asked to crack-back on the defensive end.

3-2-SEA 32 (7:19 4th Quarter) (Shotgun) T.Rawls right end to SEA 33 for 1 yard (J.Ihedigbo).

He did his job.

Rawls hesitates and fails to get the first down, but not because of Graham's blocking here.

Apart from these plays above, Graham's role as a "blocker" in the offense was negligible or inconsequential to the play. I did see him doing an excellent job of blocking as a "receiver" several times downfield, which you'd definitely expect, but obviously, his role as an in-line blocker leaves something to be desired. I do not believe it's lack of effort -- nothing about Graham as a human being really says that to me -- but I don't personally know the guy.

I would find it more likely -- call it Occam's Razor -- that he's simply learning to do something that he was rarely, if ever, asked to do in New Orleans, and he's only four games into that. This could manifest in confusion and indecision, which I think we saw in a few cases. Hell, I'm way more worried about the Seahawks' offensive line's ability to block than I am about Graham's -- and their main, and only role is to block.

It's clear that blocking is Graham's secondary role by a long shot -- and this is important to remember as he gets his bearings in this offense. The Seahawks' aren't trying to change him into Zach Miller. They're not trying to make him into an extra tackle. He ran routes on 80% of his snaps on Monday Night (with the Seahawks leading almost the entire time), and that percentage will be something to monitor going forward.

More importantly, right now, one-fourth of the way through, Graham's pace for the year would put him at:

72 catches, 696 yards, 8 TD

Keep in mind that the Seahawks' leading receiver last year was Doug Baldwin, who posted a line of:

66 catches, 825 yards, 3 TD

In my opinion, so far, so good. I think Russell Wilson should continue to look for Graham in the intermediate areas and the chemistry and trust will continue to develop.