Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

30 Jan 2006

Important Unsung Players for Super Bowl XL

Ben Roethlisberger and Shaun Alexander? No, try these names for players who will play important roles in determining which team wins Super Bowl XL: Mack Strong, Kimo von Oelhoffen, Heath Miller, and LeRoy Hill.

Posted by: Ned Macey on 30 Jan 2006

36 comments, Last at 21 May 2006, 1:03am by Justin Strawhand


by putnamp (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 11:07pm

Shaun Alexander is a great back, but at times he struggles in pass protection and as a receiver.

Okay, this is the third or fourth time I've read this here, from an FO community poster or a regular contributor.

Can we please explain where this conclusion is drawn from? Alexander was the target of many throws in the first several years of his career in Seattle. It wasn't until two years ago that his catches dropped dramatically, and it's conceivable that it's because there was no need to run such plays. He has, to the best of my knowledge, never demonstrated a gross inability to catch balls. Please, tell me what I'm missing?

by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 11:22pm

He has, to the best of my knowledge, never demonstrated a gross inability to catch balls.

Er? Alexander's only caught 54% of the passes thrown his way. Running backs normally catch 80-90% passes thrown their way.

by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 11:36pm

Well, I don't follow the seahawks, so I can't give any careful observations, but here is Alexander's receiving DVOA stats this year (ranks in parens):

DPAR: -1.5 (36)
DVOA: -20.5% (39)
Passes: 28
Yards: 78
TD: 1
Catch%: 54%

That catch percentage is horrible and that's under his control, I would argue, even if you conclude the rest of the stats are due to design of the offense or play calling.

By contrast, here are Corey Dillon's numbers. Dillon had roughly as few passes thrown his way as Alexander. He's by no means a major receiving threat. He gets dump-offs when Brady's in trouble and screens when the Pats are trying to fool someone by appearing to run or especially when appearing to play-action pass against a speed-rushing or blitz-heavy team (obvious example was against the Colts in the 2004 playoffs).

DPAR: 4.2 (17)
DVOA: 18.6% (11)
Passes: 26
Yards: 181
TD: 1
Catch%: 85%

Dillon's catch percentage to me says that, while he's no Westbrook, he was used effectively as an option on bailouts and screens to keep defenses honest. I can't say the same thing about Alexander. I like him a lot and maybe he was better a while ago and can be better in the future, but this year he looks to have had problems.

by theload (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 11:38pm

Re: Miller

I would love to see the Steelers use him as more of a receiving threat. Too many times in the Steeler games this year have they kept him in to block. This could be due to injuries at LT, but i'd still love to see Miller rumbling with a wide open field more often.

by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 11:42pm

Hmm... Pat, the average doesn't look that high this year. Looks like more in the 70's from what I can see.

by Kevo (not verified) :: Mon, 01/30/2006 - 11:56pm


by Kal (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 12:22am

One problem with DVOA like that is that it doesn't differentiate between a receiver dropping a pass, a pass being overthrown, a receiver being covered or a receiver being near the ball when it was thrown away. Watching Seattle games I know that Alexander was the benefit of a lot of throwaway passes that he had no way to catch.

The important thing to take away from the stat is not that Alexander is bad at pass receiving - he's not great, but he's not horrible - but that Seattle does not put a lot of weight on throwing the ball to Alexander, one way or another. He's not a passing weapon like James is.

by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 1:19am

Ummm...if Alexander is a Tiki Barber look-alike, does that make him a Ronde Barber look-alike? If so has he been questioned in the disappearance of Southeast Jerome?

by SJM (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 1:26am

I'm glad I'm not the only person who thinks that Alexander looks equally as identical to Tiki as Ronde does.

by NF (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 1:55am

Could part of the problem with Alexander not being a good receiver be that his jersey number (37) is not receiver-eligible? :)

by putnamp (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 2:42am


Glad you said that, because I probably would've tried and sounded like a blubbering idiot, or something embarassing :p

by David (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 3:14am

Mack Strong is unsung? He's the only non-Eagles FB I know. That can't be coincidence.

by Theo (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 4:27am

Re #12:
who? Josh Parry?

by ian (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 7:28am

RE: #1,2,3,7 - If you look at Alexander's numbers since 2000, you'd see that he is a pretty good receiver - 273 receptions for 1387 yrds, 10 TDs, and a 63.6 comp %.

You'd also notice that in his last year (2000) Ricky Watters was still a big part of the offense, logging 1242 yards on 278 carries and scoring 7 TDs, meaning Alexander was the change of pace back. Watters' line as a receiver in 2000:
63/613 69.2%.
I'd love to see his career numbers as a reciever, since I think they are pretty good. Because I think they are good, I wonder, was his 69.2% completion ratio because he at the end of the line in his career or the victim of less than stellar QB's?

A quick look at the QB stats for the same time frame (2000 - 2005) would show the QB roster for the Seahawks with DPAR/DVOA for each:

2000 - Brock Huard -6.2/-28.5 (injured), Jon Kitna -11.5/-18.9
2001 - Hasselbeck -1.4/-14.0 (benched for a bad attitude), Trent Dilfer 11.6/7.5
2002 - Dilfer -4.4/-19.2 (injured), Hasselbeck 65.8/21.8
2003 - Hasselbeck (third year as starter) 87.1/23.5
2004 - Hasselbeck (fourth year as starter) 52.5/10.3
2005 - Hasselbeck (fifth year as starter) 88.4/28.4

I feel safe in saying that Ricky Watters played for better QBs than Jon Kitna and Brock Huard in the balance of his career.

(2004 was the year of the dropped pass in Seattle, but I don't know if that accounts for the dip in Hasselbeck's scores.)

The passes/yards, catch percentage for RBs in those years:

2000: Watters 63/613 69.2%; Alexander 11/41 45.5%
2001: Alexander 59/343 74.6%
2002: Alexander 78/460 75.6%
2003: Alexander 59/295 71%
2004: Alexander 38/170 61%
2005: Alexander 28/78 54%

Next, you could look at QB sacks surrendered by the offense:

2000: 46
2001: 48
2002: 33
2003: 43
2004: 30
2005: 24

Combine those four nuggets and you find it surprisingly easy to conclude that Alexander is a good receiver (his 2002 & 2003 receiving numbers are comperable with what Tiki Barber, Bryant Westbrook, and Edgerrin James put up this year) in a system that doesn't throw to the RB when it has a mature QB who has grasped the system under center except to break a tendency or to avoid a sack, which might result in a throw-away in the general direction of the RB just as often as it might result in a catchable ball.

To check this we might look at the total rushing and receiving yards gained by the offense and then break down the receiving yards by WR/TE and FB/HB and calculate the percentage of total yards gained by the FB/HB positions catching the ball.

rushing yds + recieving yds = total
2000: 1720 + 3198 = 4918
2001: 1936 + 3164 = 5100
2002: 1740 + 4257 = 5997
2003: 2009 + 3872 = 5881
2004: 2095 + 3552 = 5647
2005: 2457 + 3543 = 6000

receiving yds by FB/HB; % of total offense; % of total receiving

2000: 804; 16.3; 25.1
2001: 597; 11.7; 18.9
2002: 646; 10.8; 15.2
2003: 577; 9.8; 14.9
2004: 281; 5.0; 7.9
2005: 304; 5.1; 8.6

So, you see here that the role of the RB/FB in the Seahawks passing game has been deminishing since 2000, both in terms of the total yards gained, and in terms of the percentage of total receiving yards gained. That decline corresponds to changes and progressive command of the offense at the QB position - large jumps between Kitna/Huard and Hasselbeck/Dilfer, similar jump over Hasselbeck's third offseason in Seattle, which is precisly when Holmgren says a QB in his offense 'gets it'. There is a clear drop off in production between 2003 and 2004 that cannot be attributed to personnel, (Alexander and Strong the starters, Morris and Heath Evans the backups both years) and that change in production is also not related to rushing numbers. You can also see the effect of having a solid running game has had on the passing game, as Hasselbeck's numbers over the last two years have leveled as Alexander has risen to the top of the league in rushing. The common belief that Alexander is a poor receiver seems to be built upon a foundation of deminished opportunites as a receiver, and perhaps amplified by an increasing number of throw-aways by Hasselbeck. There also seems, from a fan's perspective, to be a significant reduction of screen passes, once a staple of the Seahawks offense, which further reduces the opportunities as a receiver for the FB/HB position, though I can't show numbers to back this up.

Some other nuggets about Alexander as a reciever:

Alexander's longest reception: 80 yds, which came on 1st down in the 2nd quarter to the left while leading versus Minnesota at Huskies Stadium in 2002 - the game he scored 5 times in the first half.

In 96 regular season games, Alexander has had 31 games with a reception gaining more than 10 yards - that is about a third (32.3%) of all games that he receives a pass and gains more than 10 yards.

Alexander's career YAC: 8.2

Anecdotally, I remember a number of times his rookie year when Alexander lined up in the slot as a WR or go in motion out of the backfield to run a 'Go' route because he was a faster option than a #3 WR and could get favorable match-ups against LBs, the fact that Kitna loved to throw that route for an INT notwithstanding.

by ian (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 7:44am

re: 14 - the receving yds by FB/HB numbers for 2004 are wrong. I forgot to add Morris' receiving yards to the FB/HB count. Here are the right numbers:

2004: 334; 5.9; 9.4

This smoothes out the curve nicely and further emphesizes my point about the diminishing role of the receiver coming out of the backfield for the Seahawks.

by ian (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 8:05am

re: 14 - A final note, the 28 passes at Alexander in the play-by-play has to include a lot of throwaways, since the "normal" stats have him with 15 receptions. In the drop-phobic Seahawks fan world that emerged after last season, 13 drops would be a grave concern and widely talked about, no matter how many yards the guy has on the ground, and it isn't the talk of the town, so to speak. So let's pretend that half (6) of them were Hasselbeck throwing it away 'in the vicinity' of Alexander. That means instead of 28 opportunities, Alexander had 22, of which he successfully caught 15 - that is a 68.1% completion average.

If you continue to play 'let's pretend,' and say that instead of tossing those six balls, Hasselbeck yields sixs more sacks, for a season total of 30 and you look for historical comparisons, you get a 30 sack season just last year, and Alexander with a 61 completion percentage and in 2003 you have Hasselbeck surrendering 43 sacks and Alexander's completion percentage was 71%.

by pawnking (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 8:59am

I confess to being a little confused by this article. It seems to be a huge disrespect to Jerome Bettis. I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but Bettis is playing his final game as the Superbowl in his hometown of Detroit. And yet, mysteriously, this fact is not getting any real play in the main media.

I would have expected any article about "unsung" SB players to include mention of this unsung fact. You obviously have a West Coast Bias, and should be called out for your Seattle favortism.

by Scott de B. (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 11:25am

So, you see here that the role of the RB/FB in the Seahawks passing game has been deminishing since 2000, both in terms of the total yards gained, and in terms of the percentage of total receiving yards gained. That decline corresponds to changes and progressive command of the offense at the QB position

And yet Brady dumps it off to Dillon, who has a better completion percentage than Alexander. Brady's command of the offense doesn't lead to lots of throw-aways in Dillon's direction.

It's a chicken-and-egg problem. Is Alexander catching the ball less because the Seahawks aren't throwing it to him, or are they not throwing it to him because he is having trouble catching it? Hard to say based on the above data.

by Dark Star (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 12:01pm

The real test would be to see if he could catch a chicken

by MdM (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 12:24pm

very informative defense of Alexander. The constant harping about his terrible receiving skills always kind of bugged me. I wondered why someone as athletic as him could possibly be such a bad catcher of the football.

Second, is it just me, or are there a bit too many amateur comedians around here. Aaron is funny and Mike Tanier is funny and after that, the dropoff is Maddox-like. I know I'm not funny, so I try to spare everyone else from the pain. Not saying you can't drop a punny line every once in awhile, but this is getting like the Eagles message board, where everyone likes to write "Urlakker" and thinks it's going to make people laugh.

by osoviejo (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 12:35pm

#14: Not that it matters, but the Seahawks played at Qwest Field (then Seahawks Stadium) in 2002, its first season of operation.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 1:35pm

The real problem with Ian's argument is that it contains a logical fallacy: he's corrolating number of sacks Hasselbeck took with the RB's completion rate. If you're going to argue he's not such a bad reciever, stick to the first part of your argument. I have issue with your assumption that half the throws are throwaways, since QBs generally don't throw away in the RB's vicinity (must be past the LOS) and the general high-percentage nature of throws to the RB out of the backfield. That said, I'm still not convinced, however, since even giving him a favorable bump, his completion percentage is still below average. As for the lack of complaining proving he's not making drops... not all incompletes that are the reciever's fault are drops, and fans don't really give a crap about RB recieving performance anyway.

by Falco (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 4:16pm

Re: 7, well-said. There is a danger in making individual skill judgments based on DVOA, because DVOA is measuring the final result each play, not necessarily the cause. At RB, the problem is further enhanced because there are so many different ways a RB could be used in receiving, such as:

1) running wheel routes, slants, and other routes past the line of scrimmage, similar to receivers;

2) short past the LOS options, such as after carrying out play action, and turning around as safety valve;

3) designed screen passes to RB;

4) swing/flat routes where RB is an option in passing play; and

5) dumpoffs by QB under pressure to RB in backfield.

RB's vary on how frequently they are getting the ball downfield, or by design of the play. Westbrook is an example. He is 2nd in DPAR, but his catch % is much lower than those around him. Is he worse at catching passes? No, quite the opposite. It is more likely because he runs a lot more routes listed in (1), which are lower % but higher reward.

Tomlinson's DPAR has dropped significantly this year. Worse receiver? or used differently? My impression from watching SD games is that with emergence of Gates, better line play and downfield passing game, he is far less a part of the planned passing game, and I can think of numerous dumpoffs that were poor throws under pressure, or were intentionally at his feet, and even some that were caught, but would have required a minor miracle to turn into a success.

I have watched every KC game. LJ does not strike me as a very good receiver hands-wise, but he is an excellent runner. Contrasted to LT, the vast majority of his "passes" are designed screens that take advantage of this and the mobile o-line.

I have not seen enough of Alexander to say what the "cause" of the numbers is. Most likely, it is that they do not run a lot of screens. I would note his catch % is significantly lower than other's with similar DPAR, so when he does catch it, he does more with it.

My impression of Pittsburgh's Defense is that it is most vulnerable to (4) flat/swing routes, above. Look at the tape of Plummer's INT in the 3rd quarter, where he forced it down the middle. If he would have checked down to the RB in the flat, he was wide open for at least a 15 yard gain. The LB's (that are not rushing QB) get deep to help in pass defense, leaving these sideline shorts open. Maybe Seattle will attack with Strong, running the LB's and safeties back with Jackson, Stevans, Jurevicius et al. Or maybe they will utilize flat passes to Alexander. The numbers suggest they do not do that very often, but we will find out if that means they cannot/will not.

by writer of the post (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 4:27pm

Catcher of the football?

by Andrew (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 5:10pm

Re: Alexander as receiver.

I think the knock on him is not merely the low number of passes, and the high incompletion percentage, but the lack of productivity when he gets the ball in his hands this way. Lets look at the past 4 years for Westbrook, Tomlinson, Barber, James, Holmes, Johnson and Alexander.

Westbrook Rec. Yd. Y/R TD % DPAR DVOA
2002 9 86 9.6 0 69% 0.0 -9.8%
2003 37 332 9.0 4 78% 12.5 41.7
2004 73 703 9.6 6 84% 14.4 21.6%
2005 61 616 10.1 4 64% 10.9 11.7%

2002 79 489 6.2 1 78% -4.5 -19.4%
2003 100 725 7.2 4 73% 1.4 -7.5%
2004 53 441 8.3 1 80% 4.1 3.4%
2005 51 370 7.3 2 66% -4.2 -20.2%

2002 69 597 8.7 0 73% 1.5 -6.3%
2003 69 461 6.7 1 70% -3.3 -16.7%
2004 52 578 11.1 2 66% 11.8 21.1%
2005 54 530 9.8 2 77% 17.8 42.7%

James (much better pre 2001 injury though)
2002 61 354 5.8 1 76% -5.6 -23.8%
2003 51 292 5.7 0 72% -3.3 -19.6%
2004 51 483 9.5 0 85% 14.7 40.2%
2005 44 337 7.7 1 88% 10.0 27.3%

2002 70 672 9.6 3 86% 22.2 45.1%
2003 74 690 9.3 0 82% 19.9 32.2%
2004 19 187 9.8 1 76% 3.6 18.5%
2005 21 197 9.4 1 66% 1.0 -3.7%

2004 22 278 12.6 2 79% 13.0 76.9%
2005 33 343 10.4 1 67% 8.5 23.8%

2002 56 460 7.8 2 76% 3.2 -1.3%
2003 42 295 7.0 2 71% 3.6 1.6%
2004 23 170 7.4 4 61% 1.4 -3.2%
2005 15 78 5.2 1 54% -1.5 -20.5%

I think the issues here are:

1) A really good RB at receiving will have a 9.5+ yards per catch number, and this will be reflected in his DPAR and DVOA scores. Alexander is at least 2 yards per catch below that threshold. 2 yards per catch is often the difference between 9 yards on 3rd and 8 and 7 yards on 3rd and 8. The first play is great, the second, usually worthless.

2) Although Alexander has shown an ability to catch in the past, it appears his skills are actually declining as his quarterback and he himself are maturing in the offense.

3) Its good to take a long-term view to avoid looking simply at a year where the running back or his quarterback were injured or recovering from injury. Thus comparisons like "Well, Westbrook only caught 64% of passes this year" aren't really valid when you consider that involved an injured McNabb and the immortal Mike McMahon.

4) Interestingly, Alexander doesn't appear that different statistically in actual production from the overhyped receiving abilities of LaDanian Tomlinson, who DVOA and DPAR looks rather low upon. Maybe if Alexander could throw halfback options for a TD, everyone would overlook his shortcomings receiving too.

5) It really isn't a valid arguement to say "well, Larry Johnson looks good because most of his passes are screens", etc. Larry Johnson looks good because he can catch the ball and make plays with it. Its really kind of inconceivable that if Alexander was also capable of Johnson-like screen pass rumbles and value, Holmgren wouldn't be serving them up to him in the play-call.

6) There is nothing necessarily shameful about being a poor receiving running back so long as you do the other part of your job - running - well. Rudi Johnson can't catch worth a darn either. Nor can Willis McGahee. Alexander is a good runner, and better than both of those guys. He's just a one-dimensional runner, in the same sense that a Quarterback who can't scramble is one dimensional. That works fine until your protection is taken away and you need to work with the other option.

by ian (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 6:10pm

re: 22 - Don't confuse the 'let's pretend' / speculation portion of the argument contained in #16 with the results of the analytical portion of the argument in #14/15.

The speculation happens because when you watch a whole season of Seahawks games, you just don't see Alexander being thrown to, and when he is thrown to, he catches the catchable balls. Yet the play-by-play records him as the receiver of record on 28 passes and he is credited with a catch only 15 times over the course of the season. As has been pretty well discussed, throw-aways, drops, and incompletions all look the same in the play-by-play records, so there isn't any way to definitvely say that Alexander didn't have 28 legitimate opportunities to catch a pass and likewise, nothing definitive to argue the other way either, hence, speculation. I'm not going to debate whether or not it is good speculation.

I will still argue that, for Seahawks fans and Seattle media, drops are a noteworthy issue and any player with 13 drops is going to be recognized as such and talked about because dropped passes were such a visible shortcoming last year.

Finally, I think you are looking at completion percentage and missing the point of the rest of the argument - Mike Holmgren doesn't call plays with the HB high in the list of options and Matt Hasselbeck doesn't get that deep into the options so HB doesn't get thrown to in the Holmgren system by design.

When the personnel were immature it was there, and Alexander was a dual threat, the historical record is clear on that.

What we can't know, and perhaps only Holmgren and Hasselbeck can tell us, is whether or not that means Alexander has lost his ability to catch the ball. Personally, I doubt it.

The only other way to check that theory I can think of is to chart the performance of the three other HBs in West Coast offenses in which Holmgren called the plays - Roger Craig, Ricky Wattters, and Dorsey Levens - and see if there is a correllation between them, and the 49ers and Packers, that is consistent with the Seahawks over a similar span of growing into the system. Those numbers aren't on-line, so I wasn't able to make that comparison last night.

by putnamp (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 6:59pm

Notice that the biggest drop-off in Alexander's receiving DPAR is this year, when Hasselbeck's passing game is sharpest, and he's hitting most of his receivers? It doesn't prove a thing, and there's no proven causation here, but I think it's a good indicator for the "play-calling" side as opposed to the "forgot how to catch" side.

Still, I can understand why someone might feel otherwise. It looks strange, and it doesn't make great sense from a play-calling standpoint. Still, Holmgren has been known to be a little stubborn in the past, so personally I wouldn't put it past him.

I'm going to go look up Alexander's receiving numbers during the stretch that Jackson and Engram were out. I guess I'll see if there's anything interesting there.

by DGL (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 7:06pm

If it is true that Alexander is a perfectly fine pass-catcher whose numbers are distorted by playcalling and small-numbers effects of things like dumpoffs, as is posited by some of the posters here who have watched most or all of the Seahawks game this year, then the Seahawks game plan for Sunday should include a lot of designed passes to Alexander. The Seahawks' coaching staff knows more than we do about Alexander's ability to catch the ball, and should know at least as much as we do about Pittsburgh's ability to defend passes to RBs. Plus, since the conventional wisdom is that Alexander isn't a great pass-catcher, throwing a lot to him will catch the defense unsuspecting.

by ian (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 7:29pm

re: 25 -

1) Although you give it as your justification, you don't assume that all HB passes come on third down, correct? Beginning with an arbitrary number for Y/R and then tying that to a DVOA/DPAR seems wrong. What you seem to be looking for is a receiving equivalent of the success rate for rushing - [ successful passing plays / total passing plays ] - but that doesn't exist.

2) I think it's wrong to say his skills are declining based on DVOA/DPAR, you have to say his performance is declining, and that decline in performance may include a decline in skills, but may include a lot of other things as well, like changes in the system, changes in the QB, and changes in the surrounding personnel.

3) Agreed, and it reenforces my point about changes in the surroundings being taken into account when talking about performance changes.

4) If you look at the backs - Thomlinson, Alexander, Westbrook, Barber, James, and Johnson - in 2005 they rank out combined rushing and receiving like this:

1. Johnson, 2. Barber, 3. James, 4. Alexander, 5. Thomlinson, 6. Westbrook

5) Its not at all inconceivable to say that Holmgren isn't calling screen passes. Look at the numbers - Alexander has 398 touches over 16 games as a starter that includes several stints on the sidelines in blowouts, while Johnson has 385 in 9 games as a starter, if he had played at that pace for a whole 16 games he would have had 512 touches.

For comparison, Tiki had 427 touches, Thomlinson 416 touches, James 410 touches. Westbrook who was injured and only played 12 games only had 259 touches, an pace for 345 touches.

By not calling plays in Alexander's direction, Holmgren preserves a offensive weapon for the playoffs that is fresh and healthy. Given the circumstances, what is inconceivable is Holmgren calling pass plays to Alexander when he has Stevens, Engram, Jackson and Jurevicius. And when Engram and Jackson were out? Hackett, Urban, and Hannam all stepped up - in the Dallas game they contributed 44% of the receiving offense and the tying score.

6) I refer you back to the original post (#1) where the question was asked, by a fan who sees a lot of Seahawks games, where the conclusion is being drawn from that Alexander struggles as a reciever. I maintain that Alexander doesn't necessarily struggle as a receiver but that the role of the receiver coming out of the backfield has diminished over time in the Seahawks offensive scheme, which leads to fewer opportunities for the HB to be a receiver. Why that is isn't clear and the only one who can say with authority is Holmgren, but there is a correllation between the decline of the backfield in the passing game and Hasselbeck's command of the offense.

by ian (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 7:42pm

RE: 28 - Agreed. I think that getting the HB established early as a receiving threat, especially if the TE is also established early, is perhaps the best way to give Polamalu just enough to think about to slow him down a half-step, which is my 'key to the game' for the Seattle offense. (cue cheesy sponsor logo and dramatic music)

Of course what I'd really like to see is a double tight formation with a full house backfield with two full backs leading the way to the left every play until the Steelers put 10 in the box and then a nice long seam route to the TE for a score. But that ain't gonna happen.

by DGL (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 8:43pm

ian - the problem with that approach is that most NFL defenses (at least those with minimally competent coordinators) will end up with 10 in the box on, like, the second play.

The deep TE seam doesn't work as well against the Steelers because they usually play a Cover 1 or Cover 3 - so the seams in the center of the field only go about 10-12 yards. They're more vulnerable long to deep corners and flys (flies?) -- patterns on the outside where the safety has farther to go to help. And there aren't a lot of TEs in the league that are strong on the deep corners -- those are more the domain of WRs.

by Groundhog (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 10:52pm

A possibility y'all aren't considering: The reason why Alexander doesn't get passes thrown his way has less to do with his ability to catch (admittedly not great) than with his ability to block. Because he doesn't block well, the Seahawks often pull him out when they're going to pass. Amazingly, this tip-of-the-hand to the defense hasn't hindered the Seahawks this year. It seems crazy to take out such a potent decoy as Alexander, but defenses haven't been able to stop these obvious pass plays anyway. The only real switch in these pass plays is the occasional fullback draw to Mack Strong, which have worked pretty well this year.

by ian (not verified) :: Tue, 01/31/2006 - 11:38pm

DGL - I know, I just think it would be cool to see a full house (wishbone, flying wing, something old school) in the Super Bowl.

But you're right, the bulked up middle-out rushing attacks of the leather helmet days are gone for a reason and Joey Porter and Troy Polamalu are symbolic of that reason.

For what it's worth, I'd bet a Venti that Stevens is faster than Jurevicius and at 6'7" 265 he'd make a big load for a CB if he ran that corner route from the wing or slot (not that Jurevicius is small or fast or anything). I'll add that to my list of things I'd like to see - Bryant McFadden (5'10" 190) manned up against Stevens on a corner route.

by DGL (not verified) :: Wed, 02/01/2006 - 2:43am

If memory serves, the Steelers have run plays out of a modified single wing formation (with either El or Ward at TB and the QB flanked wide to the "non-wing" side). And hey, they were the last NFL team to switch from the single wing to the T-formation, so you never know...

by B (not verified) :: Wed, 02/01/2006 - 11:09am

Anybody else find it interesting that in a thread about "unsung players" every post is about Shaun "MVP" Alexander?

by Justin Strawhand (not verified) :: Sun, 05/21/2006 - 1:03am

Re: 35

That is sort of interesting.