The Seattle Seahawks (7-3-1) lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Arizona Cardinals (4-6-1) lost to the Atlanta Falcons. The Los Angeles Rams (4-7) lost to the New Orleans Saints. The San Francisco 49ers (1-10) lost to the Miami Dolphins.
Apparently, this wasn’t the week to be a member of the NFC West.
Physical Play Makes Up For Injured Defense
Outside of the first quarter, a thin defensive unit—missing Pro Bowlers Earl Thomas and Michael Bennett, starting cornerback DeShawn Shead, and fill-in linebacker Brock Coyle—used physicality to force Tampa Bay out of their offense. Frank Clark drew a holding penalty in the end zone for a safety. Kam Chancellor made an incredible open field tackle on Doug Martin to (probably) save a touchdown. Cassius Marsh got underneath tight end Cameron Brate to take down Martin for a loss. Ahtyba Rubin reached in to strip the ball from Martin. Yet, no one contributed in the same manner as KJ Wright. North of three minutes left in the half, with the Buccaneers on the Seahawks’ 33-yard line, Wright blew up a screen pass to Martin, tackling Martin for a two-yard loss. Minutes later, Wright dropped a shoulder so hard into Brate that Brate was knocked backward before going out of bounds, causing the quarter to expire before the Buccaneers could attempt a field goal.
Wright’s best play was early in the third quarter, on 3rd and 1. The Buccaneers had committed to the run all afternoon and this short yardage situation was no different. The offense brought in an extra offensive lineman and used Brate as a fullback. Despite these big bodies, Wright got antsy, approaching the line. He flinched his left leg in a step toward the bottom side of the line. He knew where to attack this run, and he knew why he needed a quick step to the outside. At the snap, offensive guard Kevin Pamphile (64) headed upfield to take out Wright, but Wright’s step down caused Pamphile to slide past him. By the time Wright made his move, Bobby Wagner (54) was being taken out by Brate. Wright split the remaining run blocking in two.
One cannot oversell the intelligence and instincts it takes to make a play like this. KJ owned the day.
The Black Sheep of the Seahawks
Among the litany of big name injuries, an underappreciated loss was third-year center Justin Britt. His absence gave an opportunity to Joey Hunt, a rookie and sixth round pick. Hunt joined a duo of other rookie starters, offensive guard Germain Ifedi and offensive tackle George Fant. Out of a five-person line, the offense fielded three rookies and the results were about what that statement implies. Blaming rookies, who were in this trial by fire by no fault of their own, is counterproductive, but it was hard not to see their inexperience as limiting the offense. The plays called were often figured out by the defense and they took advantage of the offense using the silent count, which is like saying, “Hey, we’re snapping the ball right……..now!” Even considering these tiny tip-offs, they don’t fully explain what happened. It’s hard to say the Buccaneers were guessing correctly because it’s hardly guessing when you’re guessing correctly on almost every play. Seriously, did the Buccaneers call the psychic hotline or did they get a copy of the playbook or what?
The pre-snap work and aggressive play from the defense broke down the passing lanes. A lot of inaccurate throws from quarterback Russell Wilson (3) were off-mark because he had no other release angle.
As the pocket instantly collapses, Wilson steps up, only to find Kwon Alexander (58) there, which forces Wilson to side-arm an attempt to Jimmy Graham (88).
The worst part of being a young offensive lineman isn’t even so much learning the playbook or dealing with veterans who possess professional level tools and techniques, it’s dealing with the psychological torture of the position. Nothing can break the spirit and composure of an inexperienced offensive lineman like third and long, when a linemen feels like an invasive military is closing in on all sides but his flank.
Here is an example of a simple look the Buccaneers used throughout the game on third down, this particular play being 3rd and 14. Four defensive lineman (from left to right: Noah Spence , Robert Ayers , Gerald McCoy , Ryan Russell ) are lined up against five offensive lineman (from left to right: George Fant , Mark Glowinski , Joey Hunt (53), Germain Ifedi , Garry Gilliam ). All four defensive linemen are lined up diagonally, with each defensive end, Spence and Russell, playing wide outside the offensive tackles, Fant and Gilliam. This alignment leaves a large portion of unmanned space on either side of center Hunt. (Knowing the Seahawks need 14 yards for a first down, the Buccaneers are guessing the play will not be a run).
At the snap, inside rusher Ayers charges into Fant and Glowinski, while McCoy charges into Ifedi and Gilliam, essentially clothespinning both sets of linemen against their neighbor. Outside rushers Spence and Russell loop around the closepins, attacking the now-even-larger vacancy in Hunt’s space. This leaves Hunt with one body to use and two rushers coming his way. He picks up Spence, which Ifedi apparently didn’t anticipate, because Ifedi becomes stuck on his initial assignment (McCoy). Whether Ifedi could’ve stopped Russell mano a mano is a hard question to answer, but turning his shoulders and hips away from the pocket practically guaranteed his usefulness on this play was spent. He couldn’t even challenge Russell’s approach or partially obstruct him or, hell, even try to get away with holding. As a result, Wilson is forced out of the pocket before even his underneath receiver breaks from his route.
The play was a throw away with zero yards gained.
Not only does Kam make the big tackle, pay attention to before the snap. He and Terrell make a great last second adjustment when both Jeremy Lane (20) and Wagner (54) trail wide-receiver Adam Humphries (11) across the formation.
The Hawks Lost, So The Season Is Over, Right?
Not by a long shot.
This loss does mean the one seed is about out of reach, but that is no shocker.
The greatest takeaway is Wilson’s burst is back and, while he does not yet have top speed, he ran away from a few linebackers on Sunday. It’s time to bring back the backfield deception that made the Hawks one of the most prolific rushing attacks in the NFL. If anything about this Buccaneers game was tragic, it’s that Wilson was far more willing than offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to embrace the notion that this game was a low-scoring slugfest where grinding the clock and winning field position trumped yards in the passing game. And while Thomas Rawls had a hard fought but pedestrian 38 yards, and some of his decisions did not inspire the greatest of confidence—including a potential screen pass that looked like half the offense was running one play while the other half ran another—this contest was never more than a two-possession game. A greater commitment to the run, with more throws to players coming out of the backfield, was exactly what the offense needed to fool this aggressive Buccaneers attack.
In Rawl’s defense, his first two runs involved spins in the backfield to avoid contact. He was being asked to be Barry Sanders.
The other bit of good news is the defense surviving a Sunday without Earl Thomas. Don’t expect that to become a trend, but defensive coordinator Kris Richard went away from some of the nickel package usage to help the new guys adjust. Kevin Pierre-Louis, Cassius Marsh, and Jordan Tripp saw increased snaps, helping to alleviate some of the pressure on DeAndre Elliott, Steven Terrell and Neiko Thorpe. The secondary only gave up 220 yards over the air, which is the fourth least amount this year for Jameis Winston, and is below the Hawks average of 248 surrendered yards. It’s nice to see the elasticity of this defense be tested and know the unit can come back strong. Also, it’s nice to know that—for the second consecutive week—I don’t have any gifs of these three getting pantsed.
Thanks for reading!
In case you missed it…
Week 1, On One Leg | Week 2, The Spread Will Save the Seahawks, Exactly Like It Did Last Year | Week 3, Could Trevone Boykin Be The Future? With Doug Baldwin, He Might. | Week 4, Kam Chancellor’s Modified Role Improves Entire LoB, Takes Defense to New Level | Discombobulated But Still Dangerous, The Cardinals Lie Ahead – Seahawks Bye Week Special | Week 6, Seahawks Defense Comes Up Strong, Team Passes First Test | Week 7, Defense Wins Championships But This Vanilla Offense Needs An Attitude | Week 8, As Injuries Mount, Seahawks Still Poised For A Super Bowl Run | Week 9, The Hawks Deal Blows To The AFC East, Real Test Comes This Sunday | Week 10, Bam Bam Kam Is Prosise-ly What The Hawks Need, Finally Time To Put The Hurt On The NFC | Week 11, Seahawks Dash Eagles Playoff Aspirations, Red Hot November Continues