Note: This is a guest post by Curtis Allen and the latest piece in a weekly series. Curtis looks at the Seahawks and their opponents and discusses key factors…
The Seahawks’ season is on the brink. Talk of ‘the Seahawks could still make the playoffs’ is nearing the end of its legitimacy. At 3-6, facing a tough opponent, they must find a way to put together a win on Sunday.
The chips are down for sure. Questions about the way they are playing and what the future holds hang over this team like a fog. Changes may be inevitable one way or another.
That does not mean it is time to fold on this game. Arizona is looking mighty good so far this season. But let’s not kid ourselves, when division teams play each other, you throw the records out the window and steel yourself for a dogfight.
The Seahawks have too much pride to just give a middling effort. Which is good, because this week’s game is going to take something special from this team to come away with a win.
Defend Kyler Murray
Murray has missed the last two weeks with a sprained ankle and Kliff Kingsbury indicated early this week that Murray has ‘a chance’ to play Sunday. The Seahawks would do well to prepare as if he is playing this week.
Murray has taken a big step forward this season and his impact is being felt by his team, the division and all over the league.
He is leading the NFL in completion percentage by a healthy margin, aided by his receivers, who have the second-fewest dropped passes in the NFL. (Note: the Seahawks have the fewest). Also helping is his accuracy has improved dramatically. Last year he had 88 bad throws that counted for 16.8% of his total passes. This year? He is on pace for only 56 bad throws for 12.3% — a very healthy drop and good for a spot in the Top-5 in the NFL for that category.
He is maturing as a passer and taking it out on defenses across the league.
Is he playing the same style he always has, just at a higher level? No. He has changed his play significantly. He has vastly reined in his rushing attempts in 2021. So far this year he only has 147 rushing yards in eight games. For comparison, he gained more rushing yards in only the first two games last season.
The Cardinals have given him so many weapons for the passing game, and supplemented that with good runners, Murray does not need to run the ball as much to provide the team with offense.
He is still deadly with his feet though. He just uses them differently. Primarily this season, it is to escape the pass rush and buy time for receivers to get open — and he is doing an absolutely incredible job at it.
This year when being blitzed, he has – I cannot believe I am typing this – a 142 QB rating, 27 first down throws, seven touchdowns, only one interception and has only been sacked seven times. For comparison, last season when blitzed, his QB rating was a mere 88, with only five touchdown throws the entire season.
He has mainly done it by turning a weakness into a strength. As recently as last season, his accuracy was poor when on the run. If he had time to reset his feet and throw, and if the receiver was reasonably open, sure, he was fine. But throwing on the run and into a tight window was a wild adventure and could be exploited.
No more. He has improved greatly in this area, to the point where he is now among the top quarterbacks in the league at throwing on the run.
Take a look at this highlight package from the Cardinals’ Week Six game against the Browns:
Cue the video to 0:33. Murray takes off and throws a bullet to Christian Kirk a bit across his body. Look at his mechanics on that throw. They are not great, but it works for him. No coach would show this play to his quarterback to demonstrate proper technique. But it is right on the money and it moves the chains.
Now look at 0:53. Murray glides to the left, does not set his feet but still hits Kirk again in the end zone with zip and accuracy for a brilliant touchdown throw.
At 6:18 he moves out of the pocket and finds Rondale Moore in space for a conversion on third and 9.
How in the world do you defend that kind of athleticism and accuracy? Particularly when you have AJ Green, Zach Ertz, Christian Kirk, Rondale Moore, and DeAndre Hopkins running around in the secondary?
I am going to call back to a quote from last year’s first Watch Points post I did on the Cardinals when talking about Murray: Don’t get rattled by a dazzling play. You’ll get opportunities against him. Stay disciplined and do your job.
He is going to have some really nice plays. Some plays that will even make you shake your head. But you have to keep your head up, maintain your assignments and count on your teammates to do their job.
Is there a way to take the edge off of his play, perhaps at a few key times that can disrupt him and frustrate this brilliant player? There is.
The Seahawks need to employ a delayed blitz / spy role defender against Murray on Sunday.
How can that be an effective weapon against him? Go back to that video and cue those three plays and watch them again. Watch Murray. Is he scrambling because there is pressure right up in his face? No, he is not.
He has developed a habit this year that has yet to be properly exploited. He scrambles to get a better view of the field and buy some time – not simply because he is being chased by a rusher and is an amazing escape artist.
Someone like Jordyn Brooks, Jamal Adams, Ryan Neal or Bobby Wagner would be an ideal weapon to just stay put for half a heartbeat after the snap, see the play develop and where the lanes are open to Murray and then use all your speed to take off into that lane.
At worst, you block his view and clog a passing lane. Maybe even get your hands up and defense a pass. At best, you frustrate him by taking a way a comfortable habit he has developed and make him stay in the pocket more often — containing those incredible feet and making him susceptible to being sacked.
Look at 0:53 on the video again. Ronnie Harrison Jr (#33) is in No Man’s Land at the 14-yard line. He has dropped into a zone but the second Murray took off running to his area he could have attacked and closed quickly enough to effect the throw. But he did not, so all he can do is flail his arms up at Murray in a half-hearted attempt to bat a ball 3 feet above his reach.
One of the major reasons Murray is having so much success against blitzes is this habit he has developed is a great practical way to just get away from pressure that is coming right off the snap. It is a ‘programmed response’ to pass rushers.
What a spy does is it lets Murray make the first move, and commit to where he is going, rather than react to a blitzer coming full steam at him that he can just sidestep with his speed and agility.
Let’s look at a couple examples of this. Cue the video to 7:52. Troy Hill comes on a DB blitz. Murray takes his usual step to escape but senses the trouble and is trapped. He only has one way to move – forward, into the easiest sack Myles Garrett will record this year.
Cue it to 8:08. LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah comes on a delayed blitz on a third down. Does he get the sack? No, but he occupies a lane, and Murray has no choice but to dump it off to avoid the pressure, and they fail to get the first down.
It may be argued that dedicating a man to Kyler Murray is a luxury the defense cannot afford. That is fair considering all the players they have that can catch passes. But stopping the passes at their source is the top priority. It will likely mean being aggressive and taking some chances, and that is not the Seahawks’ strong suit this season. But these are chances worth taking.
A few key stops in this area could short circuit this lightning fast processor and give the Seahawks a chance to wrest control of the game away from him.
Take your shots on this defense
Arizona has done a fine job with their defense this year and it is showing. They are fourth in the NFL in scoring defense, fourth in yards conceded, fourth in passing yards conceded and 19th in rushing yards conceded. All fine marks that contribute to their success.
That does not mean they are unbeatable. In fact, they have been frequently been susceptible to the explosive pass play.
Two weeks ago the Cardinals defense surrendered nine explosive pass plays to Jimmy Garoppolo and the Niners. Last week, the Panthers ran a very conservative short-passing offense for Phillip Walker to run, and yet he still managed to get two explosive pass plays, while the running game chipped in three explosive runs in the win.
The point being — there are opportunities there for the taking. Russell Wilson will have another week of healing and practice reps to get ready, and he has a demonstrated history of being able to burn this Arizona defense.
How about targeting rookie Marco Wilson at corner? He was taken just before Tre Brown in the fourth round this year and has played virtually every snap for the Cardinal defense so far this year. How is he doing?
Not good so far, to put it lightly. Of the top-50 most targeted defenders in the NFL, he has allowed the highest quarterback rating – a ghastly 126.1. He has five touchdown passes conceded (tied for 2nd worst in the NFL) and has four missed tackles.
As Hugh Millen likes to say — they got a pigeon on their side. Light him up.
This is a player the Seahawks should toy with. Have Metcalf run some simple slants on him to get into his head. Then a slant and go route.
He is 5’11”. How about throwing a ball up there and letting Metcalf go get it like he did in the Jacksonville game? That was as good-looking a play as any deep bomb.
We also know that Tyler Lockett has had success against this defense. Last year in two games he had 24 catches for 267 yards, four touchdowns and fifteen first downs.
The history of success against this team is well earned. They need to find that aggression again and not shy away from this challenge.
Of course, Russell Wilson will have to be upright in order to make those throws…
The Offensive Line Must Play Well
The offensive line has been dreadful the last few games. There have been challenges in all areas, from pass protection to run blocking. Even Duane Brown has given up more sacks this year than any of us are accustomed to seeing from his side.
They contributed to Russell Wilson’s rough day in Green Bay:
The Packers shut down the Seahawks downfield passing attack, allowing just 2 completions on 15 attempts over 10+ air yards.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) November 15, 2021
What is worse, the Packers achieved pressure with four or less rushers, leaving them free to flood coverage behind the line of scrimmage and take away the easy passes:
The Packers were able to get pressure without blitzing, generating 13 pressures and 3 sacks with four-or-fewer pass rushers (37.1% pressure rate).
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) November 15, 2021
J.J. Watt may be out for the season but the Cardinals still have Markus Golden and Chandler Jones as major threats. Those two have as many sacks this year as the entire Seahawk defense combined.
They must be contained. Any talk of jump-starting this team begins with getting Russell Wilson going again. He just cannot function without time to throw.
Time for the boys up front to dig deep and put together a solid performance on Sunday.
They also need to find a way to get some holes for the running backs. The Cardinals have been effectively attacked with inside runs lately, just the kind that Alex Collins likes.
.@Budda03 flips in to the end zone for SIX! 🙌
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) October 3, 2021
A productive running game will surely light the way to success. It will keep the red-hot Cardinals offense off the field and give Russell Wilson his opportunities to survey the field and make plays.
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