Any Given Sunday: Rams Over Seahawks
by Rivers McCown
Coming into this week's 19-13 letdown against St. Louis, Seattle had put on a show on Monday Night Football. No, I'm not talking about the disputed Golden Tate Hail Mary catch, I'm talking about the job they did putting pressure on Aaron Rodgers.
As J.J. Cooper tirelessly documented, the Seahawks notched eight first-half sacks on one of (if not the) the best quarterbacks in the NFL. If not for the fact that it shared a stage with one of the most memorable officiating gaffes in the history of sports, Seattle's defense would have been under the spotlight for the entire rest of the week.
The problem was that they had zero second-half sacks. The Packers adjusted, fixed their routes and protection schemes, and worked in some quicker drops.
If there was one glaring weakness the Rams faced coming into Sunday's game, it was their utter inability to keep Sam Bradford clean. Free-agent signee Scott Wells went on injured reserve with a broken foot, and left tackle Rodger Saffold was out with an MCL sprain. The Rams came into this game with a tackle tandem of Jets reject Wayne Hunter and Chiefs reject Barry Richardson on opposite sides of Bradford. The offensive line was ranked 30th in adjusted sack rate through Week 3's games, which was right on pace with what they did in 2011, when they finished 28th.
But instead of Bradford getting pummeled, the Rams followed that Packers second-half tape to a T. Seattle notched just two sacks, and most of their pressure came inside from tackles Brandon Mebane and Alan Branch.
Obviously, the Rams domination on special teams played a key role in their victory this week. Greg Zuerlein deserves a ton of credit, as does the play we'll talk about in a second. But to be able to win on special teams, the Rams had to duel the Seahawks to a draw on the field, and the big reason they were able to do that is that they schemed away from Seattle's sacks.
By the VOA
Is that our fourth-straight Dewey Defeats VOA game to lead off the season? You better believe it is. Special teams comes out a lot closer than you would think based on the way the game unfolded, for three reasons:
a) the touchdown play gets scored under offense/defense, not special teams;
b) the onside kick is not included in the special teams rating because it is a "non-predictive" play (St. Louis won't be called upon to defend against surprise onside kicks very often);
c) the Rams allowed a 69-yard return to Leon Washington and returned one of their own kickoffs to the five-yard line.
|Dewey Defeats Rams|
|Team||Total VOA||OFF VOA||DEF VOA||ST VOA|
For those curious about the touchdown and DVOA: we may end up switching fake field goals and punts from offense/defense to special teams at some point, but that's not how it is now.
Call of the Game
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St. Louis' lone touchdown of the game came on a play you might not see again for years. The kicking team came on to the field for fourth-and-goal at the Seattle 2 after Bradford's pass to Danny Amendola was short-hopped, but Amendola never left the field. Because of that, he was able to avoid an illegal substitution penalty for being out wide on an attempt, and none of the Seahawks special teams players noticed him hanging out on an island outside.
The ball was snapped, the throw from punter Johnny Hekker was a lazy strike, and the Rams had one of the easiest touchdowns you'll ever see. Pete Carroll admitted that he was furiously trying to call timeout, but couldn't get the attention of an official.
To lead off the third quarter, Carroll attempted a surprise onside kick. It failed. The Rams recovered, kicked another field goal, and put Seattle in a nine-point hole with a rookie quarterback that they don't completely trust at this point. St. Louis' rush made sure that it was a lead that would never be relinquished.
Spotlight on Russell Wilson
Seattle's rookie quarterback is playing ... well, like a rookie. Russell Wilson isn't getting to his secondary reads. His ability to escape pressure is top-notch, but completely unfocused at the NFL level right now; he ran himself into a few sacks or hits that he shouldn't have been taking. He also pulled a few rabbits out of his hat, but as we all know, that's not a sustainable formula for NFL success on its own.
Most importantly though, his pre-snap diagnosis and hot reads are a problem. The Rams were able to create havoc with Wilson when they brought the heat. Jeff Fisher was a big fan of the slot corner blitz in Tennessee, and bringing it against a rookie quarterback created some predictable results. But for now, let's start with a simple one.
The scenario: Seattle has a third-and-2 at their own 35, trying to get some momentum after a Richard Sherman interception. Seattle runs the shotgun, with four wideouts and tight end Evan Moore split out to the left hash. St. Louis counters with a single high safety nickel set, with both of it's linebackers showing blitz.
Notice the three-on-two advantage the Seahawks have on the near side of the field in that first picture. That should be a glowing red light for a quarterback: this is where the ball needs to go. A pre-snap adjustment should have been made to take advantage of what the Rams were doing.
The ball is snapped, and the Rams send five, dropping Jo-Lonn Dunbar into coverage. But instead of looking to his left, Wilson takes the snap and locks directly on to his primary read.
See the wide-open receiver in that shot? Yeah, that's not his primary read. Feel ignored, Ben Obomanu.
He tries to force the ball to Tate, and gets very lucky that the ball was tipped at the line, because Tate was completely blanketed by the defense.
Notice the bracketed coverage. And hey, for good measure, let's go see how the other side of the field fared...
Sorry Sidney, but it is not.
Second-and-15 from the Seattle 44. The Seahawks desperately need to get into a convertable third-down situation. Here's the slot corner blitz I was talking about, again, Seattle comes out with Wilson in the shotgun. Instead of four wideouts, we have three wideouts, a tight end, and Robert Turbin in the slot. St. Louis has two high safeties in the nickel at the start of the play.
Cortland Finnegan, circled, is the one coming on the blitz. That means that Wilson's left is again going to have an advantage in the short passing game. That means that Wilson is again going to ignore this and lock on to his primary target.
And again, we see zero pre-snap checks from Wilson. I don't want to throw out the possibility that they know Finnegan is coming and don't want Wilson to have to pass around him. (Same goes for the first play.) But it just seems really out of sync with their plan considering they are trying to minimize the impact that Wilson can have on the game. It's a tough throw to the right with tight coverage, or an easy throw to the left.
Wilson's head is stuck on Turbin. A running back on a linebacker in space isn't exactly the most appealing matchup, but thankfully Turbin is able to create some good space from the linebacker and Wilson, to his credit, steps up and delivers a strike.
So if it's a successful play, why are we yapping, McCown? Because we are process-oriented rather than results-focused. This was a nice throw, and Turbin did a terrific job of getting depth. Not every running back in the league is going to beat a linebacker in man-to-man coverage.
Meanwhile, how'd that left side turn out?
Doug Baldwin with no one within five yards of him.
I'm not saying that Wilson is doomed, that he's a bad quarterback, or that these plays are entirely his fault. The coaching staff may have called for him to go to the right no matter what. They may not let him audible. There are a few explanations that go beyond "he is not getting the job done on his presnap reads."
But Wilson is locking on to his primary targets on the tape. And it's costing Seattle yards in a season where they have one of the best defenses in the NFL.