Curb Your Enthusiasm? Or Always Sunny in Renton?
Arrested Development? Or Growing Pains? Welcome Back Cutter? Or Fresh Prince of VMAC? Scrubs? Or a Jem? Is Chris Matthews the Real McCoy?
The Big Body Theory.
Right now everybody loves Chris. The would-be Super Bowl MVP notched four catches, 109 yards and a touchdown, and provided a big target and big play presence the Seattle Seahawks have been seeking to develop since Pete Carroll walked in the door. Matthews is 6'5", a lucratively built specimen that could add a nice dimension to a passing game even if his ability to contribute never develops beyond modest. Tall, athletic developmental receiver prospects aren't uncommon. Even small contributions can be counted as success stories. But the ceiling on these guys often runs high, and it's hard not to daydream a little on what kind of game-raising levels a size mismatch receiver could provide for any team...
Winnipeg Blue is the New Action Green.
...especially when a team is as talented, and yet as in need of receiving talent as Seattle. Fresh off of three tremendous seasons, the Seahawks are among the strongest teams in the league at all aspects of the game save the passing game, which even still remains above average if not prolific. Seattle's receivers have inspired heated debate, at least, and belief in some, regarding their abilities & contributions. The group is the first thing Draftniks and casual fans alike think about when speculating on how the Seahawks could be improved in the offseason.
Matthews is under contract for the 2015 season at $510,000. We know he'll attend training camp. Paul Richardson's injury will make room for additional reps. The piece that remains to be seen is how realistic are our hopes for Matthews being a contributor next year?
Let's set aside How I Met Your Iowa Barnstormer, Schneider's Heroes, and all the other TV comedy puns for another time, and take a little trip to Arrington's Island to take a closer look at Matthews' 16 offensive snaps in the Super Bowl, to see if we can inform ourselves a bit more on Chris Matthews, the 2015 prospect.
Chris In Charge.
Q1 0:16 1st & 10 (Shotgun) R. Wilson sacked at SEA 23 for -2 yards (D. Revis).
Personnel: 01. Luke Willson is in with Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Ricardo Lockette & Matthews. Lockette & Matthews are split wide. Matthews is off the LOS to keep Willson eligible. Kearse & Baldwin align together in the slot to run a crossing route combo. Baldwin physically drives Darrelle Revis back through the 5-yard chuck zone before breaking in and eventually separating.
Matthews does not need to beat press. He runs a fade. He achieves a step of separation 25 yards deep; though covered, he was arguably a targetable receiver the entire time. As the 5th receiver dressed for the day, the 4-WR playcall is the primary reason he's on the field, here, along with the play concept's tactic of clearing out deep defenders for the Baldwin & Kearse crossing routes underneath suiting Matthews split wide over Bryan Walters.
Russell Wilson plays this one poorly. He's given an abundance of time in the pocket. Kearse & Baldwin are very open on this play. Kearse is open the whole 2nd half of his drag route; Baldwin breaks open shortly thereafter. Wilson checks down from the fades to Baldwin, winds up to throw but hesitates, then scrambles left, to be picked up by Revis for a loss. Baldwin breaks off his route as Wilson begins his windup, thus making him covered again, so the hesitation was not unwise, but the missed window was unfortunate; if Wilson was not going to target the fades after the first 12 yards, nothing else would change that after he was given extended protection. Baldwin crossed near the 1st down marker, and Seattle would punt after not making another first down on this drive.
Matthews did not substantially factor. He did his job. He did not beat his man until 25 yard depth, but was arguably targetable. As the 5th receiver, I understand the lack of confidence in tossing one up for him to go up & get, no matter his size. The late separation could be encouraging. The fact that the play call plumbed the depths of the WR corps that had been thinned by injuries and was the impetus to him getting on the field engenders a more stoic takeaway.
Q2 9:06 2nd & 13 (Shotgun) M. Lynch up the middle to SEA 22 for 5 yards (J. Collins, R. Ninkovich).
Personnel: 11. Blocking matters in Seattle. We want to evaluate Matthews on runs, as well.
Seahawks align trips left, Lockette & Kearse, Matthews in the Middle (last TV comedy pun I swear). Read-option look but designed run: Willson is tight right, to try to compel New England to either align Rob Ninkovich wide or chuck Willson's release. Wilson tries to feign the QB keeper but Ninkovich plays Lynch first, Wilson second. Seattle anticipated New England's Wilson containment game plan, and tried to use it against them here. A permutation of Seattle's 3 & 1 formation, the Seahawks tried to trick the Patriots into containing & pursuing Wilson, subsequently opening up a backside off-tackle hole for Lynch. Ninkovich & Jamie Collins quickly close on Lynch, but it left enough of an opening for Lynch to pick up 5 yards.
On the other side of the formation, Lockette dropped back to feign a screen. Matthews, off the LOS, demonstrated a willingness to engage and block Brandon Browner. He drives Browner back a step before Browner easily sheds the block with experienced hand-fighting. The block doesn't factor in the play, but shows the willingness on an assignment that's not the easiest he'll face, but not a successfully sustained block.
Q2 5:51 3rd & 1 PENALTY on L. Willson False Start, 5 yards, enforced at SEA 39 - No Play.
Personnel: 11. Would have been a play-action pass. Willson, Baldwin & Kearse align in an inverted triangle, Kearse at the top, on the LOS. Matthews is the X, the isolation receiver, on the left side, on the LOS, facing press from Kyle Arrington. Baldwin motions to Matthews' side, who makes an average getoff on a slant pattern. He initially gets past Arrington's press well, but Arrington's tenacity enables him to stay with Matthews' cut, after Matthews' shoulders get past Arrington's reach, by Arrington following up with a modest shove to Matthews' shoulder. Matthews displays a good cut and movement to get open on the slant for a guy his size, before the action ends, although not the short-area quickness to break away from Arrington -- which shouldn't surprise, as Arrington's slighter size enables quicker recovery.
Q2 4:57 1st & 10 (Shotgun) M. Lynch left tackle to SEA 45 for 5 yards (D. Hightower).
Personnel: 11. After Willson's false start, Matthews was pulled on the next play, a 3rd down pass, then returns on this one. It appears Matthews had not yet earned the trust and reps for more critical situations. Fresh set of downs established, they sent out Matthews again on another run.
Much more tenacious block. Again the X, aligned in the slot, Baldwin is initially set off the line, to Matthews' left. Baldwin motions into the pocket, Revis following. Matthews' assignment is to block Arrington in space and isolation, and he goes until the whistle. Arrington tries to pull away from the block to the right and then left, and tries to turn Matthews out. Matthews keeps his hands inside and prevents Arrington from getting away.
Q2 4:19 (Shotgun) R. Wilson pass deep right to C. Matthews to NE 11 for 44 yards (K. Arrington).
Personnel: 11. Defense: 3 CBs in man, 1 free safety. The reward for a block well done. On the next play, Willson motions right to make a 3 & 1 alignment with Baldwin & Matthews, Kearse in iso on the left. Matthews is wide right. He runs a fade, with some encouraging things, and of course a tremendous result. Not executed without a bit of awkwardness, however.
Matthews gets a good release, here. His length allow his first step inside to both get around Arrington as well as overextend Arrington into a disadvantage in covering the fade. Wilson rolls to the right and takes the shot. A fade's openness is generally read according to the release and the first 5 yards. Matthews aligns outside the numbers but releases to inside the numbers, ensuring he won't crowd the sideline. This is important as space to the sideline by the receiver contributes a large amount to the accuracy of a QB's throw on the fade.
He gets his hands up as perfectly late as possible, which makes Arrington's job that much harder. Not bringing the hands up too early to make the catch is easy to learn but hard to instinctively commit to, so this is a very encouraging sign. He still telegraphs to Arrington that the ball is arriving, but that's nothing to be worried about.
Matthews has the makeup to pose a deep threat. He doesn't have vertical speed to gain separation. That fact manifests in his effort to get past Arrington with his turning his shoulders to the sideline, to get over & around Arrington and in position for the ball. Conceivably the length of the route gave him enough time to adjust and turn his shoulders in, rather than out toward the sideline, but he turns his head to look the ball in, shoulders to the sideline. Should be a very correctable thing, a mental note, but absolutely the wrong technique. Matthews is able to recover as he positions himself to go up for the ball, flips his shoulders around correctly, and brings it in.
Devin McCourty plays this one poorly. He cheats toward Kearse's side, with Browner the only one of the CBs to retreat from press at the snap. Kearse is a true deep threat despite his lack of speed, and the coverage here reflects recognition of that fact, particularly relative to the other receivers. One reason why is the quality of placement of his first step. He wastes no movement or space, but puts his defender in a spot for himself to establish position for where the ball will be thrown. He doesn't achieve separation, yet poses some trouble for deep coverage. Similarly, Matthews' 44 yarder here was established by his first step. His longer gait could enable him to pose a more formidable deep threat than Kearse, if the rest of his game develops.
Seattle follows this play up with a no huddle run by Lynch for another 5 yards. Matthews executes a typical receiver block on Arrington, nothing noteworthy that we haven't analyzed before.
Q2 :06 1st & 10 (Shotgun) R. Wilson pass short left to C. Matthews for 11 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
There's so much chess-match intrigue that went on to produce this result I wish we had time to explore it all. Let's just take a brief peek. What's different between these two frames?
Kearse moves from a step off the LOS to on it, for one. New England's defense has changed quite dramatically, as well. From corner press to off coverage, back near the safeties. Ninkovich drops from a 2-point stance to 3-point, while Hightower moves from the read-option scrape assignment to form a 2-man LB corps, which widens out the safeties. Chris Jones shifts from 1-technique strong side, to weak.
Oh, and Bryan Walters turned into Ricardo Lockette. You see, the first frame was the formation before New England called a timeout, while the second frame was the formation called afterwards.
Seattle called a timeout first. They used 31 seconds and 2 timeouts to drive 80 yards and score a TD. After their 2nd timeout, they lined up, and Belichick pulled the old ruse. See what they're doing, then call a timeout and plot. Seattle had shown their formation, which broadcasts at least a few things to shrewd football minds. Both squads kept the same personnel, save for the metamorphosis of Bryan Lockette. Kearse & the adult stage Lockette swapped who was on the LOS. But New England changed every single thing about their approach to defending this play. Except for one assignment.
New England put Logan Ryan on Matthews for both these formations. He was aligned for off coverage both times. It was a true run & catch for Matthews, as Ryan's assignment put him in position to play this poorly. With acres of space for cuts to the inside or outside, and all the end zone behind, Matthew's size compelled Ryan to simply back off and stay in position to make a play on whatever reception attempt may come. It was over instantly. Matthews jogs forward and twirls upward to bring the ball in.
Athletic grace like this can make plays look easy. This one was easy. But the athletic display, the body control, the high pointing and quickly bringing the ball into his chest to shield are encouraging displays.
I can't help but wonder if full grasp of the playbook is as much or more of an impediment to Matthews getting on the field than anything else. It's not that we see any signs of him failing to grasp any concepts, but just that his professional career has been meager and he'd only been called up onto the 53-man roster in mid-December. Although now targeted twice and having delivered more than could be reasonably expected on both targets, Seattle's use of Matthews has so far been simplistic & isolated. Something Wilson was open to taking shots on, but not something that's integral to the concept & focus of a play. Let's take it to the second half and see if this impression holds up.
Q3 13:48 1st & 10 R. Wilson pass deep left to C. Matthews push ob at NE 17 for 45 yards (D. McCourty).
The feeling most people get when Chris Matthews catches; I felt this thrill going up my leg.
Somebody stop me, I'm falling in love.
Coming off a 15-yard run by Lynch that required safety McCourty to clean up, Seattle runs play action with 20 personnel (Tukuafu & Lynch). New England shows cover 2 but blitzes Revis from the slot, bringing Chung up to play Robber over Baldwin. It's disguised well; listening to the presnap protection assignments and watching what Wilson looks at before the snap, I believe Revis' squared stance gave it away: corners playing outside typically have their outside foot forward. Primarily assigned to Baldwin, Revis covered the slot a dozen times this game; on only two other snaps was Revis aligned square. The other 10 times he kept his outside foot forward. The first two times he was square, he didn't blitz. It's a technique that serves a couple purposes. One is to be ready to drive forward & out, to defend a screen. Both those snaps had Baldwin or Lockette fake a screen attempt on a Lynch run. But Seattle's personnel & formation here, with tukuafu in the backfield, and the large split between Baldwin & Kearse, isn't set up to run a screen out of.
Wilson was ready for the blitz, and anticipated that would pull the safety coverage toward Baldwin & Kearse, isolating Matthews more.
McCourty turns his shoulders inward as he drops back to take his single high assignment; it's the inward-facing shoulders and Wilson's expert, briefest of looking him off that keep Matthews open here. By the time Wilson turns his similarly-brief read to Matthews, it's already over.
If the quarterback play is shrewd and graceful, the catch is poetry in motion.
Matthews would follow this up with an unsuccessful but irrelevant block on Browner. He would run another vertical against Browner, a little physical at the end for both of them, not really open but targetable; Wilson appeared to be ready to take a shot, but was sacked. Matthews was Wilson's 3rd read, here, crossing from far right to far left, and was cocking back to throw when Ninkovich broke through.
He ran a skinny post that was a bit clumsy, but open, on an incomplete to Lockette. He ran another fade versus Browner and what was his most disrupted & least successful route run so far. He ran an unremarkable curl on the final drive, on the incomplete to Kearse, but was open on account of the zone coverage. Then a fade from the slot that was heavily attacked physically by Browner, and Wilson took the shot on him. He'd read it earlier & went away from it, but Wilson had time, came back to it late, and took the shot, probably based in part on trying to coerce a pass interference call. Matthews was tenacious. Browner got the best of him, down field, but Matthews was able to gain a yard or more on a stiff pushoff of Browner, before the throw. Both recovered & positioned well on the sailing throw that went from underthrow to overthrow as both guys jockeyed for position. Browner defended it well at the point.
What a different endgame that might have set up. 1:50, 1st & goal, instead of 1:06. Sometimes in football the window for the thing that works doesn't last long. Matthews showed on this last target how he could continue to be a factor and an option even against the more suitable defender Browner. The would-be MVP results versus Arrington and Ryan would probably not have occurred in full in a full game against Browner. But a couple of these catches would still be likely to happen, and with a larger slate of reps & targets in a game, it could very well add a dimension Seattle's been looking for, no matter who's covering him.
And only New England has Brandon Browner.
This was another micro study that genuinely changed my initial impression. I expected to find evidence to separate result from outlook, to find a raw, developmental receiver with some lucrative talent. The breadth of his route-running abilities still seems constrained; although he was open enough on the curl & skinny post, they were not well-run, just on account of his gait & high center gravity. That can be cleaned up.
Monster receivers like Matthews aren't usually tremendously versatile, and they don't need to be. Matthews poses a formidable matchup challenge, and in a limited set he demonstrated some mastery of the logistics for a red line-dominating deep threat. He may be more of an orange zone threat than a red zone, for the time being. But from the first step to gait, positioning, handfighting, body control, coordination and contested catching technique, I am surprised to find myself so impressed.
This is a guy to watch. Punk'd? I'm leaning towards Glee.