2016 Seahawks Recap, Week 1: On One Leg
The first four quarters of 2016 packed in enough drama for an entire season, punctuated by Russell Wilson’s injured ankle. Instantly hobbled and walking with a hitch, dark premonitions were wiping out any optimism for 2016. Ask the Dallas Cowboys, the Arizona Cardinals or the Cincinnati Bengals what it means when a potential playoff team loses its starting quarterback. Wilson never appeared mentally shaken, and early concern ended in jubilation. Wilson led a seventy-five yard fourth-quarter game-winning drive that felt all too recognizable—if you’ve watched your fair share of Tom Brady, Joe Montana or Dan Marino.
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For the offense, an up-and-down day was salvaged by closing drives at the half and the conclusion, courtesy of Doug Baldwin.
On 1st and 10 with 37 seconds in the half, the offense lined up five-wide, with three high. Baldwin was between Jermaine Kearse and Luke Willson. The Dolphins were in the wrong defense and cornerback Bobby McCain knew it. Backpedaling away, he had to choose between Willson and Baldwin. He ended up in a void between the two, nullifying his presence. Wilson recognized the coverage mishmash and never made any other read but Baldwin. The 18-yard completion, complimented by a “Jumpman” grab from Baldwin, put the offense up against field goal territory.
The result was three points.
During the closing drive, Baldwin—who will one day win Dancing with the Stars—twice executed his murderous left step. At 4th and 4 and on the plus side of the two-minute warning, the receivers were again three high. This time Baldwin was in the slot. Facing former Seahawk Byron Maxwell, Baldwin charged forward, planting his feet so far in that Maxwell’s own feet became jammed by Baldwin’s left step. Maxwell became tangled while Baldwin twirled away, escaping across the field. He received the pass with not a Dolphin near him. It was a 22-yard gain. Not yet finished, Baldwin lined up in the slot on 2nd and goal. Using that same left step, he put McCain in the rearview mirror, extending his arms to bring in the touchdown.
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Momentarily trapped between the ground and Ndamukong Suh’s foot, Wilson’s ankle twisted around itself like a wrung towel. It left him playing as if he were living on a swivel. At one point, his foot was so flat he side-armed a throw into the dirt. He would later joke, “When I’m 43, 44, 45 years old, that’s probably what I’ll look like out there.”
In the fourth quarter, Wilson’s oft-mentioned “championship mentality” kicked in. He scrambled for four yards and began to walk with a healthier stride. The injury did have a silver lining of sorts. The offense abandoned the bootlegs and the draws and put Wilson at the helm of a shotgun-oriented spread offense, which Wilson used to negate the pass rush and slice and dice the secondary.
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The 2015 Jeremy Lane/DeShawn Shead combo unit carried over to 2016, with coordinator Kris Richard choosing to evolve the two-man team-up over risking a Cary Williams free agent clone. For Lane’s efforts, he had a deflection on a 3rd and 7, and he broke off coverage to upend tight end Jordan Cameron in a display of physicality usually reserved for the stronger Shead. And in a display of pass coverage usually reserved for Lane, Shead—with the Dolphins on 1st and goal—was heads-up enough to abandon his outside assignment and crash on Arian Foster, chopping the ball away. This type of coverage IQ was a marked improvement for Shead.
In an uncharacteristic move, the defense gave up fifty yards to Foster on a short pass. A few points stood out on this play. 1) The Seahawks were set to blitz from their nickel package, leaving only KJ Wright and Bobby Wagner as linebackers with Cassius Marsh playing hand down as a defensive end. 2) By doing so, Kam Chancellor was forced to play up and essentially fill the role of a linebacker. 3) A defender had to pick up or at least respect Foster pre-snap, so it was questionable when Chancellor lined up inside Marsh, never considering what he would do if Foster did not stay home for blitz pickup. 4) These shifts left Earl Thomas solely covering the rear from center field. 5) Tannehill saw the defense had no hat on Foster and had no backdoor protection down the sideline. 6) Earl Thomas saw the vulnerability and took a hard angle to Foster. This over-compensation forced Thomas to retreat. Foster’s double move spooked Thomas into attempting an arm tackle.
This type of exotic blitz, especially with this collection of players, was foreign for a unit who prefers to stay in their base D. It was a breakdown, but hopefully film study will address future instances. Kam should play outside or behind Marsh, where he can dump into the flat, if necessary. His dumped assignment would go to Thomas in soft coverage. By doing so, each player would patrol the sideline closest to him instead of crossing over each other.
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The Carroll-era Seahawks contains more winning football in six years than some franchises have had in the entire Super Bowl era. Still, before kickoff, the team was .500 in week one during said span, whereas the Dolphins were 4-2. This speaks to a tendency for slow starts from the elite Seahawks and for lukewarm starts for the subpar Dolphins. Both are now 4-3 on opening Sundays, yet the Seahawks have won 10+ games for four consecutive seasons while the Dolphins have topped out at 8. As much of a cop out as it sounds, week one may never be the Seahawks thing. Still, this victory could be the ugly win that separates a team for the one-seed—something the Seahawks earned in 2005, 2013 and 2014.
Something else happened during those years…
Four Sentences on the Future
Like the Dolphins, the Rams defensive line is fast, big and mean; however, the Hawks may want to take a lesson from the 2015 divisional playoff. Put Wilson in the shotgun, spread the field and throw the ball quickly. Last January, the offense spent 38 of 39 second half plays in the shotgun and scored 24 points—more than enough to beat the Rams. If the Shead/Lane combo works out, the Hawks can crunch the run and hopefully hold the Rams to single digits.
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