Hugh Millen’s Seahawks analysis: Breaking down defensive stands, Russell Wilson’s clinching pass
The Seahawks defense saved the day on some key third-down stops, and after struggling early, Russell Wilson made the right choice in targeting Luke Willson for the winning touchdown.
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Did the victory Sunday by Seattle represent some tectonic shift in the state and direction of the Seahawks? Probably not, but they won a losable game a week after losing a winnable game and given their current health status, that’s good enough.
While the game’s lasting memory probably will be the offense’s final drive, I have a simple default: In windless sunshine, if you hold an opponent with a healthy Pro Bowl quarterback to single-digit points, the bouquets go to the defense.
A few thoughts:
• The Panthers present an unusual challenge to defend not because of the complexity of their blocking schemes (see Dallas game), but rather the myriad option schemes featuring Cam Newton’s athleticism and 246-pound frame. Other mobile quarterbacks — such as Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III and even Russell Wilson — employ read-zone schemes, wherein the QB might keep the ball outside, or in what’s termed the “alley” between the offensive tackle and the wide receiver. Newton might keep the ball and take on linebackers between the hash marks.
Before Seattle ultimately found its defensive timing against this scheme, it allowed drives of 11, 12 and nine plays on Carolina’s first three possessions. Still, the Seahawks allowed just field goals. When a defense is forcing red-zone field goals, there are often what could be termed four-point plays: a third-down play near the goal line. On those plays, whichever team “wins” that play is going to earn a net of four points — the difference between the touchdown and PAT or a field goal.
Seattle won one such play early in the second quarter. On third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Carolina attempted a gap-scheme power play with the right side of the Panthers’ line blocking in toward center while a guard and tight end pulled from the left side. Credit Brandon Mebane for getting off quickly and with enough power to drive his man into the path of the backside pulling guard. That allowed a handful of Seahawks defenders to swarm Jonathan Stewart for a loss of 7 yards.
Before Carolina’s first field goal, Seattle won again. Right end Bruce Irvin used a deadly spin move to force Newton from the pocket. Though contain was lost, the right-handed Newton, moving to his left, was unable to find a receiver.
• More on Irvin: I can’t recall a better play he has made than his first sack late in the fourth quarter. At breakneck speed, he faked in, then went outside and turned the corner so tightly he was able to force his outside shoulder through Newton’s near hip. Had Michael Bennett targeted Newton’s near hip minutes earlier, he likely would have produced a safety.
• Wilson’s interception late in the first half went through Marshawn Lynch’s hands but, in my estimation, the interception mainly was on Wilson. After first looking right against zone coverage and finding nothing, Wilson wisely fired a heater to Lynch. But the quarterback was under no duress, and had a wide open passing lane. When throwing that kind of heat to a running back, the ball can’t be zinged above the shoulders. Instead it should be drilled into Lynch’s shirt, where he can use his body to cradle the fastball.
• Wilson more than made up for that with a brilliant winning drive featuring no indecision, good anticipation of routes on his four completions, deft running and, of course, a near-perfect strike to Luke Willson for the game-winner.
On the clinching play, Seattle ran four vertical routes against a single-safety cover 3 similar to its own. The key was the Seahawks’ five-on-four protection scheme, which allowed Lynch to release underneath and influence the Panthers’ inside, underneath zone defender. Willson then had inside leverage against safety Tre Boston.
Wilson had a choice between a receiver (Doug Baldwin) with more speed on his seam to the left or a tight end (Willson) with more strength to his right. Willson withstood the would-be arm strip from Boston and a good hit from the free safety at the goal line, so Wilson made a good choice.
• Game ball: Gotta go defense. For multiple quarterback pressures, Cliff Avril.
Hugh Millen is a former Washington Huskies quarterback who played in the NFL. He writes analysis on the Seahawks for The Seattle Times.