During last night's Preseason Week 3 matchup between the Seahawks and Chargers, cornerback Cary Williams got beaten twice on slant routes midway through the 2nd quarter -- both for big gains -- two plays apart. Naturally, the chorus on twitter was that Williams is a bum, but my first couple thoughts on these plays were that a) the slant is the route that the Seahawks tend to frequently have issues with, just in that they use the sideline so much with their press-trail and press-bail cover-3/cover-1 style, and b) it looked to me like the issue on both plays was a technique problem that could be corrected with a little more experience.
When Williams arrived to Seattle this summer, he told reporters about adjusting to the Seahawks' style of secondary play. "They talk about being more patient," Williams said. "There's a lot of intricate things that are different than other places. They're more focused on the details, like I said, and it's an emphasis on those things and making sure you're focused on those small details on every snap."
They talk about being more patient. That's the key.
3-8-SD 28 (6:03 2nd Quarter) (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass short middle to K.Allen to SD 42 for 14 yards (D.Bailey).
It's a third and 8 here, and Williams is lined up across from Keenan Allen. Williams isn't pressing here, but he's up near the line. When Allen starts his route, Williams gives up ground before falling for Allen's outside foot juke-step. He turns his hips to run up the sideline, and at that point, it's all over.
He did it again two plays later.
2-9-SD 43 (4:45 2nd Quarter) (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass short left to K.Allen to SEA 44 for 13 yards (C.Williams).
This time it's not quite as bad -- he doesn't flip his hips, but he does hop around and try to guess on the route, giving ground to Allen before Allen has committed to a route.
Now, I don't know how they're coached on every particular play (so I could be misinterpreting) but these two snaps look to me like a lack of patience in the step-kick technique.
Jayson Jenks broke down the Seahawks' innovative technique earlier this summer.
The step-kick technique is pretty much as it sounds. At the line of scrimmage, Seattle's corners get in front of their receiver to press. Receivers usually shimmy and shake to create separation at the line — think of Doug Baldwin — but the Seahawks teach their corners to take one step sideways when the ball is snapped. That way, the corner is less tempted to react wrongly to the receiver's dancing. That's the "step."
Note, no backwards hopping or backpedaling or general giving of ground is advised. Jenks continues...
The "kick" in the equation comes when the dancing is over. At some point the receiver has to get going, and when he does, the Seahawks kick their foot backward to run with the receiver and keep him in front of them.
So, patience to wait until the receiver has stopped with his dancing off the line, then a "kick" or hop to react to the real route. This can mean that as the corner, you may find yourself about a step behind the receiver as you make up ground reacting to the real route. This is where length and makeup speed factor in to the Seahawks' prototype of cornerback. In trail technique, you have to be fast and long in order to keep up with the receiver, who typically will have a step on you.
Here the important point, though, per Jenks.
Perhaps the biggest requirement for the step-kick technique is patience. It can be a scary, lonely feeling standing idly while a receiver dances at the line. But instead of reacting to those moves, Seattle's corners are taught to wait, hold the line and pounce when he makes a move.
Once he does, they then make sure to never get beat deep.
On a very similar play...
3-8-SD 42 (12:30 3rd Quarter) (Shotgun) K.Clemens pass short left to A.Pettis to SD 44 for 2 yards (T.Simon).
... and situation -- another 3rd and 8 where Austin Pettis fakes the outside route before running the slant -- Tharold Simon demonstrates, perfectly, the step-kick technique. Patience first (he doesn't move until the receiver is into his frame, then takes one step), then follows with a kick left to adjust and catch up with the in-breaking route.
Richard Sherman appeared on American Muscle last summer and explained to draft prospect Vladimir Emilien how it's all about patience. This is the best visual explanation of the technique that I've seen.
"No offense," Sherman tells Emilien, "but I think I can help you."
"So, you see how you are hopping and jumping? Until he gets outside of my frame, I'm not going nowhere. He comes, I'm just here — he gets outside of my frame? That's when I hop. I'm always in control. Patience. If you can calm down your feet, and relax, it can help you."
The step-kick, or as Sherman puts it, the step-hop.
So, as a cornerback, you have to master the discipline of waiting until the receiver gets outside of your frame before reacting. As Jenks words it, "It can be a scary, lonely feeling standing idly while a receiver dances at the line. But instead of reacting to those moves, Seattle's corners are taught to wait, hold the line and pounce when he makes a move."
Here's the thing, though, before you kill Cary Williams, it's a very hard skill to perfect. Just ask Kris Richard, who stresses that "as simple as it is, you absolutely have to practice it and master it."
Tharold Simon showed some nice technique in that play from last night above, but if you watch how he defended Kelvin Benjamin in the Divisional Round of the Playoffs last year, you'll see how when the lights come on and you're on an island out there against a touchdown maker, it can be pretty damn tough to remain disciplined.
Simon gives ground immediately (probably nervous about the fade) instead of being patient at the line, and Benjamin jukes outside before running the slant. With those few steps back, it's already too late.
Still killing Cary? Well, maybe just watch this, from last year's game against the Chargers, and, you guessed it, Keenan Allen.
Now, I'm not saying that Williams wins the starting job -- Simon is likely going to give him a run for his money -- but I think that the two plays from Saturday night's game did really well in illustrating how difficult it is to play cornerback, and more specifically, the Seahawks' step-kick technique.
Something to watch in Preseason Week 4 and beyond.