2015 Seahawks Re-Watch, Week 14: Baldwin Blows Up
The Seahawks faced a unique situation. In week 3, while playing for the Chicago Bears, quarterback Jimmy Clausen had started in place of the injured Jay Cutler. Against the Ravens, the defense was set to face Clausen again, who was starting in place of the injured Joe Flacco. Given Clausen’s ineffectiveness in week 3, a week 14 bounce back felt unlikely; however, the Ravens were not the Bears. Almost always competitive in the first-class AFC North, the Ravens were an uncharacteristic 4-8, due mostly to injuries, with a league-leading number of players on the injured reserve list. Still, the Ravens were respected for their relentless play, having lost only a single game by a touchdown or greater. For the Seahawks, this was a “trap” game, a game where a for-sure victory could quickly turn into a contest. The Seahawks had had a habit of playing to their competition in 2015, and while they had carried fourth quarter leads against some of the NFL’s best, they had also struggled mightily to defeat lesser competition.
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It was clear what had caused the 2-4 start, and it was clear why the Hawks had rebounded. Once living off defensive and special teams touchdowns, a potent passing attack had led to sizeable leads. While the entire unit had stepped up, no player took a greater step toward greatness than Russell Wilson. Previously a passer who was prone to winging it, and who was missing the advantages of his tandem with Marshawn Lynch, Wilson had become the hottest quarterback in the league. In the last three games, he had thrown for 879 yards. His production was matched only by his efficiency. Against the 49ers, Wilson completed 83% of his passes for an 8.79 average. Against the Steelers, it was 70% and 11.50. Against Minnesota, it was 79% and 10.15. Difficult to doubt a quarterback who was averaging a first down on over 70% of his drop-backs.
Wilson’s primary target was the often overlooked Doug Baldwin, a gritty player and persona who had never complained about the size of his role in the offense and was vocal about his demands that the other pass catchers follow suit. What had led Baldwin’s burst was his running style. Baldwin was able to go off-stride and change direction with precision, oftentimes using shoulder and head movements to disguise his feet. In doing so, he was tying defenders into knots and then blowing past them, where he would be—by no exaggeration of the term—wide open with nary an opponent’s jersey in sight. Against the Steelers, Baldwin put up 145, for a 24 yard/catch average. Against the Vikings, it was 94, for an 18.8 yard average. Against the Ravens, it was 82, for a 13.7 yard average. Out of Wilson’s 11 touchdown passes during the last three weeks, Baldwin had accounted for five. Against the Ravens, he and Wilson added three more.
For his final TD, Baldwin was covered by cornerback Ladarius Webb. Webb, whose slight nudge on Baldwin had prevented an earlier touchdown, had decided he needed a bigger cushion against the speedster. Backpedaling from Baldwin before the snap, Baldwin started at Webb furiously but then laid off the speed while still accelerating and lengthening his strides. The result was like an off-speed pitch in baseball. At the release, it felt like the pitch would come in hot, but it arrived so late that the batter had already swung. In this case, Webb had panicked when Baldwin rushed him and had gotten happy feet, forcing him to leap when Baldwin stutter-stepped to the outside. Webb flopped onto his hands and knees. He was turned so far around that he was able to watch Baldwin complete the catch.
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Earlier in the week, the team had jettisoned cornerback Cary Williams. Rarely was a free agent acquisition cut in the middle of the season, rarer so in the first year of his deal. But general manager John Schneider was known for mid-season moves, having famously traded Percy Harvin during the 2014 campaign.
Filling William’s corner spot was a competition between DeShawn Shead and Jeremy Lane. For Shead, Lane threatened to shorten his tenuous grasp on the job, but only if Lane could reproduce his promising play from 2014. What complicated the matter was that Shead and Lane shared little overlap as players. Shead liked big hits, hard tackles, and because of such, had forced a few fumbles; whereas, Lane was far and away the better cover corner. He understood his assignments and typically stayed in position, taking fewer risks, though he was not afraid to jump a route should the opportunity present itself.
Against the Ravens, Shead broke up several deep passes, and made some on point tackles, but he had the toughest game of his young career. He gave up a lot of yards, and at times blew his assignments. On consecutive plays, Clausen threw along the sidelines, one time over Shead and one time on a comeback. Both ended in completions, the first for 35 yards and the second for 21. The drive itself had started with only 38 seconds left in the half and eventually led to a Baltimore field goal. On the flipside, Lane was hardly perfect, as he was still a tick too slow. His lack of physicality cost him dearly, especially when covering former Seahawk Chris Matthews. Matthews was able to get around Lane, establishing sideline position before extending to catch the ball.
To this end, the game was uniquely frustrating. Neither player was great, neither was terrible, and neither had distinguished himself; yet, both were why Jimmy Clausen threw for 274 yards, whereas Clausen had netted only 63 eleven weeks earlier.
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The final score was 35-6, led by another five TD pass performance from Wilson. On a 16-0 TD/INT streak, the offensive struggles felt decidingly solved. On the back of Baldwin’s performance was Tyler Lockett, who finished the day with six receptions for 104 yards and two touchdowns. The rookie was a phenom and a freak—smart, aggressive, fast and opportunistic.
The Seahawks were finally on a winning streak. The team had kept this season from sinking and were being rewarded for it. Now 8-5, the Seahawks were potentially one win away from a playoff birth.
Week 15 will post next Tuesday, June 7th.
Previous posts in the Re-watch Series:
Week 1, The Rams…Again | Week 2, The Pack Attack | Week 3, The Good News Bears? | Week 4, Kam’s Big Comeback | Week 5, The Cincinnati Heartbreaker | Week 6, Lockette’s Great Grab | Week 7, Karper-can’t | Week 8, Sherman Shines | Week 10, The Tales of Two Halves | Week 11, My Name is Thomas Rawls. | Week 12, The Youth Movement | Week 13, A Complete Win