BY Art Thiel 06:22PM 11/06/2017

Thiel: On big pass play, Seahawks guessed wrong

For the Redskins’ final drive, the Seahawks played man coverage that left rookie CB Shaq Griffin without help on the deep pass. Second-guessers are having a field day.

One of many missed opportunities for the Seahawks Sunday: CB Richard Sherman couldn’t grab this potential interception of a Kirk Cousins pass. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Pete Carroll’s game-management strategy is based on one principle: Nothing over the top. In his view, a receiver who catches a ball behind the defense is the single most disruptive outcome of an opponent play. Not just the play itself, but for future play-calling; if any opponent senses vulnerability, more shots will be taken.

That’s why FS Earl Thomas is so important to the Seahawks. Whether by action or reputation, he denies the deep ball more consistently than any safety in the game.

But the injured Thomas was not available Sunday. Even if he were, he may not have been in the vicinity of the haymaker Washington QB Kirk Cousins delivered to WR Josh Doctson.

Defensive coordinator Kris Richard called for man press coverage in the hope that the extra manpower devoted to the pass rush would get to Cousins before he unleashed. That meant no safety was back to help.

As every Seahawks fan knows, the gamble didn’t work.

Rookie CB Shaq Griffin was alone in coverage on WR Josh Doctson, the Redskins’ first-round draft choice in 2016, who fully extended himself along the sideline to haul in Cousins’ perfect 38-yard throw at the 1-yard line.

“Helluva catch, helluva throw,” said Griffin Monday in the Seahawks locker room following the Seahawks’ worst game of the year, a 17-14 home loss to the battered Washington Redskins. “That’s something I never want to go through again.”

At that moment, the Redskins trailed 14-10 with 1:02 left. One play later, they were up 17-14 and on their way to an upset that stunned the Seahawks and the rest of the NFL.

“We made some progress in some areas, played a really good game on defense and had a really good fourth quarter finish for the offense,” Carroll said at his Monday presser. Then we gave it away.

“We got some real serious stuff that we got to get better at.”

The 16 penalties (especially the five pre-snap penalties) for 138 yards? Check. The three missed field goals? Check. The first-half offensive woes? Check.

But what about the last plays on defense that were such dramatic failures? It’s unfair to blame the defeat on a mistake after 59 minutes of generally superlative play by the Seattle defense that had surrendered just 205 yards to that point.

But the Redskins’ extraordinary drive of 70 yards in four plays over 35 seconds symbolized the breakdowns across the enterprise that made for an outcome that will be in yellow hi-liter when the forensics teams assess the carcass of the 2017 season.

Griffin said he let Doctson past him along the sideline and then lost track of the ball, perhaps easing a moment, thinking the ball wasn’t headed in his direction.

“It sucks to see a ballgame go like that,” he said. “That’s something I won’t let happen again.”

Carroll went light on his rookie for violating the prime directive.

“Shaq was in good position until about the 30-yard mark,” he said. “There was a little bit of separation that occurred. (Doctson) made a great catch on a great throw . . . sometimes that will beat it.”

Asked about second-guessing the defensive call of man-to-man instead of zone, Carroll said, “We could have played them differently, yeah. We had had a pretty good day rushing the passer (six sacks and 11 quarterback hits) and we wanted to see if we could get after it and continue to be aggressive. That’s what happened. There is always choices that you guys are – I don’t want to say famous for, but you guys . . .

“Let me say this. Often the outside observations are that (Seattle plays) too soft and gives up too much when playing prevent. Well, we certainly weren’t doing that. That one, they got us. It happened really fast.”

Carroll is right; we outside observers will second-guess the decisions, because the results were so pivotal. And especially because on the previous play, the Seahawks were beaten for 31 yards on a pass TE Brian Quick, who also beat the man coverage of CB Justin Coleman on a corner route.

“The one to Justin was a fantastic throw by the quarterback under duress the catch was good too,” Carroll said.

The trouble with the choice of man coverage is that by the end of the game, the group of players likely to be the most tired is the defensive line. That’s why Carroll believes in a stable of Clydesdale-like D-linemen. He prioritizes the need for the freshest possible rushers by rotating eight players in Seattle’s four-man fronts.

But DT Sheldon Richardson missed the game with a strained oblique muscle and DE Marcus Smith was removed from the game with a concussion. So the chances of getting to Cousins in the final 90 seconds was diminished. And suddenly, very costly.

But that was then. The Cardinals await in Arizona at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Griffin was shifting gears as he spoke.

“I definitely appreciate Pete having so much confidence in me,” Griffin said. “I take pride in it. That’s something I never want to do is let my coach and team down. They believe in me, so I have to believe in myself just as much.

“You get 24 hours to think about the last game and fix it. It’s already past. With a quick turnaround, you gotta have a short memory.”

That’s what players must do. The long memory belongs to the outside observers. This one will be hard to forget.


  • coug73

    It’s the National Football League, players are going to make football plays. Yes, even opponents. Thursday night football under the lights, what an abomination. Give the players the rest they need.

    • art thiel

      Wow. You went the full Chuck Knox: Football players make football plays. Makes me misty.

      • coug73

        Remember this one? The 5 P’s of success.

        • art thiel

          Also: “Your actions speak so clearly I have no need to hear what you say.”

      • Tman

        Remember the Chuck Knox Brain Cramp? I use that excuse all the time.

        • Tman

          Remember? You may be the originator of the term “Chuck Knox Brain Cramp”. Were you?

          • art thiel

            I think that originated with the man himself.

  • tor5

    This is surely Monday Morning Quarterbacking. And there’s a certain logic in what Pete is saying about prior success in pressuring Cousins. But still! Is it just me or is there a tendency to go contrarian when it most matters? 90 seconds left with a 4-point lead… who doesn’t play prevent? I’m tempted to mention another contrarian play that didn’t go well, but I shan’t!

    • art thiel

      Cousins beat long odds to hit on both passes. Then again, Wilson did something similar vs. HOU a week earlier.

      The NFL’s frequency of last-minute game-winners is why Carroll always wants the ball last. He knows his defense by then is gassed, as is true for all teams.

  • Matt712

    Dwight Freeney made an excellent point during a postgame interview that sometimes a loss like this is better in the long run because the lessons tend to stick better. A loss that stings this bad gives pause for the team to check its collective gut. It will be interesting to see how they respond on Thursday, and moving forward. Could be, that this loss was the bitter tasting medicine Seattle needed to start playing more consistently and better as a team.

    • art thiel

      It’s possible to construe this as a help,but I think it’s more a wish than reality. Losing at home to a sub.-500 team is always bad.

  • John M

    Anyway, Art, great explanations in your piece. The Hawks play a straight up defense very well, but the devil is most certainly in the details. Freeney, Brown and Richardson have shown to be good if expensive additions. The new O-line seemed to work out some communication problems in the second half. Maybe . . .

    • art thiel

      No one wants to admit transition problems with Brown, but it’s inevitable. He did well for the first time, but that doesn’t mean it was good enough to win.

  • woofer

    In terms of the playoffs, the situation is not exactly hopeless, but hopeless is not too much further down the road. You can see it from here. The Hawks need to win the division to get a bye and at least one home game, and the Rams are playing well and feeling good about themselves. We all know that playing successfully as a wild card is a hill the Hawks can’t really expect to climb. So turning it around soon is essential if the Rams are to be overtaken.

    In addition to missing the irreplaceable Thomas, one guesses that the excess of silly penalties reflects the inevitable rhythm issues attendant to incorporating the new guy Brown at the key left tackle spot. With time these problems improve. But will getting the offensive line upgraded from lousy to mediocre be enough to revive a running game that lacks a top of the line back? If not, another Super Bowl is probably not in the picture.

    And let’s give the Redskins some respect. They came into a hostile environment with a long list of key injuries for a game they had to win to stay relevant. They lost the lead with less than two minutes to go but didn’t lose heart, coming back with a dazzling final drive. Pretty impressive performance, I’d say.

    • art thiel

      The loss was large, but the bigger concern is how all parts of the team had to fail to create the WSH opportunity. Brown had only one pen, a false start, but anyone’s first start, especially at midseason, will have ripple effects. My guess is this was the O-line’s low point, and they still managed 437 yards.