by Rivers McCown
Two weeks ago we covered Seattle's upset of the Patriots. Last week, we covered Tampa Bay uglying it up against the Chiefs. Sunday, those teams faced each other, and underdog Tampa rode to the top again.
It's interesting just how this game blew up on the Seahawks. With Michael Bennett and Earl Thomas (among others) out, I had seen plenty of innuendo about this turning into a shootout. According to Oddsshark, 65 percent of bets came in on the over of 45. And after the first few minutes, it looked like that might be the case. Seattle's defense gave up two quick touchdown drives. And then, Seattle's defense held... and the problem became that only one offense showed up on the field in this game.
Yes, friends, just as we covered Kansas City's Andy Reid clock foibles last week, we can go back to a familiar problem trope for the Seahawks this week: a bad offensive line.
And while Wilson was under pressure, it has to be said that even beyond the pressure, Wilson looked uncomfortable and out of sorts when he actually did get throws off. He was picked off twice, including a game-sealer by Bradley McDougald, and had five other passes defensed. This might have been his worst game as a professional. About the only thing Seattle's offense could do in this one was let Wilson scramble down the field.
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But perhaps an undertold story here is that Tampa's defense isn't quite as bad as it was early in the season. Second-round pick Noah Spence has been steadily increasing his playing time, and with 5.5 sacks on the season he's probably second behind Joey Bosa in any logical ranking of rookie pass-rusher impact. While that impact has been slow in arriving, it has been desperately needed for years. The Bucs haven't had an edge-rusher worthy of acclaim since… well, since before Bennett hopped to the Seahawks. Tampa isn't going to morph into a dominant front four in front of our eyes down the stretch here, but now they've got enough of a rush to pull this kind of game out.
Tampa came into this game dead last in pressure rate, per Sports Info Solutions, pressuring passers just 11 percent of the time. They got pressure on Wilson on 34 percent of his dropbacks in this game.
And I'm not so sure we should count Tampa out of a playoff spot in a down year where nobody in the NFC beyond Dallas and Seattle has settled much through 12 weeks. Pass pressure and run offense improving in recent weeks have made the Bucs much less of a pushover than they may have seemed as of the last time they had a national television game.
By the VOA
Mmm ... ass kicking.
A Tale of Two Receivers
Through Week 11, every regular fixture (20 or more passes) currently in the Seattle receiving corps had an above-average DVOA. Every player, that is, except for Jermaine Kearse.
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I think it's awesome that Seattle has put together this UDFA program where draft status doesn't matter, and where the best player wins. I'm just not sure if Kearse is the player they think he is. Even beyond the fact that Kearse has five (5!) offensive pass interference flags this year, he has been brutal. This is compounded by the fact that the Seahawks seem to think he's a red zone threat.
If you look at Seattle's targets in the red zone through Week 11, Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham both had 10. Jermaine Kearse had nine. Baldwin has caught eight of those balls. Graham has caught five, with a penchant for the spectacular that he showed off against the Bills.
Kearse has caught none of his targets. He did create a pass interference in the end zone against the Falcons, but his DVOA on red zone looks is -81.3%. Against the Bucs, Russell Wilson was 13-of-15 for 101 yards when targeting Baldwin or Graham. Kearse caught one of five passes.
Kearse brings positives to the table in that he's fast and big and a decent blocker when he's not committing OPI. But I don't know that any offense needs this big a dose of Jermaine Kearse in it.
Mike Evans, on the other hand...
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) November 28, 2016
You're not going to see many players go against Richard Sherman and come away with that kind of split. The Tampa offense was largely shut down after the first quarter as Jameis Winston went through one of his low-accuracy days, but it's worth pointing out just how insane Evans' season is.
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Through Week 11, Evans had been targeted 121 times, and in Week 12, he added 11 more. Antonio Brown was the only other receiver to even be targeted 110 times through Week 11. For the sake of comparison: in Evans rookie year, he played 15 games and had just 123 targets.
Evans has had to carry this kind of workload because, frankly, Tampa's front office seems absolutely clueless and befuddled by the concept of depth at receiver. Vincent Jackson was old and bad before he was put on IR. This left the Bucs running with Adam Humphries, a camp tryout success story, as their No. 2 receiver. Cecil Shorts and Russell Shepard have come off the scrap heap in recent weeks, but this is a bad situation.
So, like any receiver forced to accept this much volume with an inaccurate quarterback, Evans has suffered from an efficiency standpoint. He has the lowest DVOA of any top-15 DYAR receiver. But given just how much volume has been forced on to his plate by the offense, this is a rather remarkable season.
Hopefully someday soon, the Bucs will recognize how good he could be if they had more than one NFL wide receiver on the team.