BY Art Thiel 10:28PM 11/15/2020

Thiel: Wilson bearing too much of Hawks’ load

In the 23-16 loss to the Rams, Russell Wilson played like someone trying too hard to be everything to everyone. Yet coach Pete Carroll doesn’t trust him on fourth down.

Popular as he is, even Russell Wilson can feel nearly alone. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Listening to Russell Wilson talk himself up after the Seahawks’ third loss in four games Sunday, I couldn’t help but think of Stuart Smalley, Al Franken’s needy nerd character on Saturday Night Live.

Said Stuart earnestly to the mirror: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”

That’s how fast things have unraveled since the Seahawks were 5-0 and early favorites to make the Super Bowl, and Wilson was everyone’s favorite for the MVP award.

No matter his dismissal of the idea, Wilson is straining under the enormous pressure of carrying the franchise, which was plain in the 23-16 loss (box) to the Rams in Los Angeles.

It doesn’t help that teammate and friend SS Jamal Adams referred to him earlier in the post-game Zoom chats as “the chosen one.” The intent was honorable and innocent, but what I know about the Judeo-Christian tradition suggests there is only one, and no mere mortal qualifies.

Good as Wilson was and will be again, he needs some some help, physical and psychological. Adams said he tried to supply some post-game, after two more interceptions and a lost fumble gave Wilson 10 turnovers in Seattle’s three losses. Wilson said his locker-mate told him, “I believe in you, 3.”

Said Adams of his chat: “I said, ‘You the chosen one, man. I don’t want anybody else as a quarterback.’ I believe in him. He’s gonna bounce back. Sometimes in life, you can’t control certain things.”

Wilson, normally the one saying similar things to teammates, was appreciative.

“That meant a lot to me,” he said. “Especially the type of player he is, how hard he plays. You got a lot of respect for people who lay it on the line every day.”

The informal therapy session was inspired by several things: Losing for the fifth time in six games with the Rams, falling to third place in the NFC West, and hearing for the second week in a row coach Pete Carroll say, “I don’t recognize us.”

Most urgently, the Seahawks need to get over themselves because they play a home game Thursday against the 6-3 Arizona Cardinals, to whom they have already lost, and are riding a sugar high from their Hail Mary win Sunday over Buffalo.

Everyone, including Wilson, was in agreement that his second-quarter interception of a 22-yard pass to the end zone was an egregious misplay, the likes of which the Seahawks haven’t seen from him.

It wasn’t just that the throw to TE Will Dissly was easily pickable. It was that his pre-throw rollout exposed acres of green space that would have made for a big rushing gain, normally his forte.

“I’m screaming for him to run because he’s got 10 or 15 yards,” Carroll said. “It was a decision we’ve rarely seen . . . bad play.”

Wilson agreed: “I should have ran it,’’ he said. “I think I’ve just got to get better. I’m not going to make it overly complicated. It’s not on anybody but me.”

Yet there was another misplay that suggested the pressure has Wilson in disarray.

Trailing 23-13 with eight minutes to play, Wilson had the offense on the move to the LA 38-yard line. On a third-and-four, Wilson was distracted by player positioning. The play clock ran out and the Seahawks were penalized five yards for delay of game. The next play, Wilson threw a short pass on a crossing route to TE Greg Olsen that was picked via an unarguably brilliant effort by CB Darious Williams.

“I was trying to get it off, get the ball snapped, and it hit zero right when I was snapping it, so they called it,” he said. “We had a great great play called the next play, and the guy  made a great play. Laid out and caught it. We let it rip and it was there, and the guy made a great play. Simple as that.”

But it was the delay of game that was mystifying. Normally an ace in situational football, Wilson was caught losing track of time.  That almost never happens to him. But as most of us know, such lapses can happen under high stress.

Wilson isn’t the only one under stress. Carroll made a decision on Seattle’s first drive of the third quarter that was dubious at best.

After a Wilson third-down scramble left him inches short of a first down at the Seattle 39, Carroll burned a timeout in a fruitless challenge of the spot. The offense stayed on the field while Wilson tried to draw off LA’s defense with a hard count. When that failed, Carroll  called for a punt instead of going for it with the league’s highest-scoring offense.

“I don’t want to give them the ball at the 40 — that’s like a turnover, like you just handed them an interception, if we don’t get it,” Carroll said. “Let (punter Michael Dickson) kick the ball inside the 10-yard line and go play defense.

“It was too early in the game. I just felt like it wasn’t worth it.”

Dickson did his job, punting to the 12. The beleaguered defense didn’t. The Rams went 88 yards in 14 plays for their only points of the second half and a 23-13 lead.

Carroll wouldn’t second-guess himself.

“The players would love to go for it, and I know that and I’d love to go for it too,” he said.  “I have to work against my nature to go ahead and kick that ball right there. But I would probably do it the same way again.”

Russell Wilson was sacked six times and hit 12 times. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

The problem is that it conveys an unmerited trust in the defense, still the NFL’s worst. The strategy made sense in the Legion of Boom days, not now.  This is an offense-first season and roster.

Because of the injury absences Sunday of RBs Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde, there’s certainly reason to pause about the choice. But there has to be a belief in this offense to get that first down. Otherwise the usually implacable quarterback might sense a loss of confidence.

Carroll and Wilson are the rocks of the franchise. When they start to crack a bit, trouble is at hand. Each is doing his best to help compensate for injury-induced weaknesses. Unfortunately,  pressing rarely works. And injury news just keeps coming.

Just over a groin injury, Adams left in the first quarter with a shoulder injury, then returned to finish the game. But it was evident that he was operating at times one-handed.

Asked how hard it is to tackle with a bad shoulder, he said, “It’s pretty hard. I will say it was hard pretty much the whole game. But I’m a warrior, man. It’s never about me, it’s about this team. I’m gonna do whatever I can to get out there as long as my legs are moving.

“Obviously, I went back out there and I was in a lot of pain, all right. I won’t sit here and lie to you.”

That sounds like an injury that might take more than four days to heal. Carroll sounded optimistic about the return of Carson for Thursday, but even Carroll hinted that his health projections are not med-school certified.

“I’ve been pretty wishful thinking on these guys,” he said.

The one aspect of this wobbly enterprise — the Seahawks  scored their only touchdown Sunday on the opening possession and have held a lead for for about three minutes in the past two games combined — that might be quickest to heal is Wilson’s mind.

He seems onto the task, spending a couple of minutes assuring his audience that his self-confidence is unshakeable.

“I know who I am,” he said. “I’m a great football player.”

He’s good enough. He’s smart enough. Doggone it, the 12s would like to see that.

 


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YourThoughts

  • 1coolguy

    Not to be too extreme, but I didn’t recognize RW in this game at all. The throw to Dissly was simply a “is he out of his mind?” misplay, incredibly not RW-like, more like a freshman QB. The coup de grace was his taking a sack at the end – why he didn’t throw it close to a receiver or through the end zone is beyond me. His taking sacks now is so automatic it’s as though he has become gun shy, not that I blame him.
    No doubt the absence of a running game is huge, but with a defense as porous as ours and an O that is also going nowhere, to not have the confidence RW can sneak the ball 3 inches speaks volumes. I know “the book” says to punt, but these are very, very difficult times.
    The defense yet again appeared to be shot from the outset – I sure hope the cavalry arrives soon or this season is beginning to look dim after starting with so much hope.
    Good luck with Murray Thursday – What I saw today was scary.

    • art thiel

      RW is not a robot, especially vs. Rams. They’re in his head. Carroll made a mistake in not going for the 4th and inches, even without Pocic. And on that play, I’d have gone empty and thrown to Dissly.

  • Husky73

    Wait a minute– Trump said that HE was the chosen one…..what gives?

  • jafabian

    The Rams originally started with their offensive strength, the rushing game, but quickly figured out they could throw the ball against the pseudo LOB. The Hawks secondary gave such a cushion you’d think they were working for Sleep Country USA selling beds. And that was happening the entire game. The linemen did their part but the receivers beyond Met-Lock need to step it up. Not sure why the TE’s aren’t used more though missing Chris Carson probably affects the passing game to a degree. Now the Hawks are 3rd in the NFC West and have lost 3 of their last 4. Can’t panic but can’t take things for granted either.

    • art thiel

      No Griffin. No Dunbar. Weak secondary. And give credit to McVay’s offensive schemes. It’s a hard crew to stop.

      To your TE point: They’re averaging 7.2 targets and 5 catches. Under-used weapon.

  • Matt712

    Wilson’s turnovers in Buffalo were not nearly as egregious as the ones in this game. His achilles heal has long been interior pressure. Add to that, Aaron Donald owns a timeshare is Russ’ head. And of all days, when Donald came to visit said residence, Wilson’s center happens to be some guy named Kyle.

    Russell Wilson was not ‘neutral’ on Sunday. He played scared the entire game. Pete Carroll coached scared. The defense gave the team chances. Russ and Pete were too frightened to take them.

    • art thiel

      Agreed about the time-share. Fans should get together and buy out Donald.

      Not sure I’d say scared. But McVay has given the Rams an edge.

  • 2nd place is 1st loser

    Russell’s culinary skills of “letting him cook” has unfortunately turned him from being an executive chef to being a fry cook at Denny’s lately. Having zero running game has put a ton of bricks on his shoulders that has apparently taken its toll. Carson’s running ability is very good, “when” he’s playing. Unfortunately he’s hurt quite a bit and the backups are just not Carson grade backs. Thursday’s game will be telling, if they allow the Cards to squeeze out a victory, it could potentially be season changing going forward. Go Hawks.

    • Kevin Lynch

      Huge game Thursday. Lose that game and you are two games back, counting Arizona’s tie-break advantage. The Cardinals are the more dangerous division challenger as they don’t have to play the Buc’s and the Rams do. Arizona’s schedule is a little softer than L.A’s. The Cards only two rough games after Thursday are against the Rams. Seattle has an easy schedule coming in but might not be able to make up the difference if they lose Thursday night.

      • art thiel

        A loss to AZ isn’t a killer because the Seahawks would be 1-3 with two left in December vs. SF and LA to get to 3-3 in division. SEA’s softer schedule means 12-4 is a reasonable outcome. Not guaranteed, obviously, but the path is plausible.

  • Jonathan M Perez

    The game was effectively over when Pete Carroll did not go for it on the 4th and inches in the first half. The best way to keep the leaky defense off the field is to keep extending drives. This isn’t like the defenses from a few seasons ago where pinning an opponent way back means a quick turnaround. I’m giving Carroll the benefit of the doubt that the Seahawks usual history of excellent Decembers plus a much softer final third of the schedule gets them to 12-4 or 11-5 and first place in the NFC west.

    • antirepug3

      Apparently a QB keeper/sneak is not in the Hawk playbook.

      • Chris Alexander

        Maybe if the starting center wasn’t inactive with a concussion. They did a QB sneak on a goal line play recently so it’s in the playbook. But there, in that situation, with Aaron Donald lined up across from him . . . that’s a suicide play with your franchise player.

        • art thiel

          The Ram D-line is not one to sneak against.

      • Jonathan M Perez

        they pulled one off in Buffalo I believe. I was amazed. Even Brock Huard was saying something that he had never seen a QB sneak in the Wilson/Carroll era

        • art thiel

          You’re right. And I was surprised too. But that call behind a rookie at center is asking a lot.

          • Jonathan M Perez

            Art shouldn’t any NFL team have a few basic run game staples for short yardage situations? Even backups and rookies have played enough football to be proficient at that. Heck even one of those jet sweeps or bubble screens could have worked in that scenario. The “hope they jump offsides” strategy doesn’t even work for Aaron Rodgers anymore in today’s NFL

        • antirepug3

          And I have always wondered about that. Seems like QBs like Brady have no problem using the keeper on short plays but the Hawks/Wilson rarely use it.

    • art thiel

      December is a crapshoot for the entire NFL while traveling in a raging pandemic. And the Seahawks lost three games last December for the same reason now — three top running backs lost to injury.

  • antirepug3

    “Carroll and Wilson are the rocks of the franchise. When they start to crack a bit, trouble is at hand”

    That is it in a nutshell…and they are cracking. The defense is in disarray especially on the back end. It is like no one knows their assignments especially pass coverage. Ya can’t make up for inadequate man coverage with a soft zone, prevent defense. Those schemes only prevent one from winning a game. Opposing defenses have figured out how to pound the Hawk offense down to a three-and-out operation. It may be that a major overhaul like what John and Pete did in the first couple of years is in order. But, it is too late for that this year.

    • art thiel

      Talent level at this point in the season can only go down. Success is about strategy and health. The OC is has to figure a way to free up Metcalf.

  • Kevin Lynch

    You nailed it, Art. The ‘Franchise’ fellow is taking a physical beating and maybe a mental one as well. It shows in a lack of clarity and reaction time, etc. He can recover. But he has to have better pass protection and he has to have a reliable back to hand off to. Carson, Kit Carson, John C. friggin’ Fremont or somebody who can help him get over the mountain! I painfully watched Peyton Manning get massacred his last two years in Denver because his line could not pass block. Killing.

    • art thiel

      A healthy Carson is vital to their success. Hyde is good, but not as powerful. Carson was voted by players into the NFL’s top 100, so he has wide respect.

  • WestCoastBias79

    Thing is, even with their inability to get off the field, the defense did occasionally hold, and held the Rams to 23 points. If you would have told me before the game the defense held Sean McVay’s unit to that number, I’d be ecstatic and think sure win. Wilson hasn’t been the same since taking some brutal hits in the last Arizona game. I do wonder if they’re hiding something wrong with him. Not only did he continually make poor decisions, his clock management at the end of the game was atrocious. Injuries often lead to poor decisions, it’s hard to think straight when you’re in blinding pain.

    • Chris Alexander

      After giving up 17 points and 240 net yards of offense on L.A.’s first 3 possessions, the Seattle defense gave up only 7 points and 139 yards of offense on their final 6 possessions (not counting the possession after the Rams recovered the onside kick). That’s actually pretty damn impressive.

      On the other side of the equation, Seattle scored points on 3 of their 5 first half possessions, including a team record 61-yard field goal at the end of the half that pulled them within 4 points of the lead at 17-13. But they only gained a total of 119 yards and only scored 3 points in the second half.

      That’s the story of the game right there: the defense finally didn’t suck but the offense was inept. Hope they get it figured out in the next 48 hours or so.

      • art thiel

        That is what happened; why, is another matter. I think the SEA O-line was beat up in the second half, and they’re not admitting it. Collins also obviously tired out in his first game back.

    • art thiel

      While I wouldn’t dismiss steady pains as a problem, he did enough things right to suggest that physical problems aren’t a big issue. He struggled in December too against the Rams. Donald and pals are in his head like no other opponent.

      • WestCoastBias79

        Good point. The Rams own the Seahawks. I think this would have been six in a row if it wasn’t for the Paul Allen game last year where the only reason they lost was Greg the Leg missing a very makable field goal. McVay is 6-2 against Carroll.

        • art thiel

          No doubt about the Rams edge, which also plays into Wilson’s urge to press.

  • Mark Maples

    I don’t much like saying this Art, but in general about the Seahawks right now, uh, ok, just cue the music please. I know you know it.

    Feelin’ better now that we’re through
    Feelin’ better, ’cause I’m over you
    I learned my lesson, it left a scar
    Now I see how you really are

    You’re no good
    You’re no good
    You’re no good
    Baby, you’re no good
    I’m gonna say it again
    You’re no good
    You’re no good
    You’re no good
    Baby, you’re no good
    I feel better now, and will watch holding my breath half the time here near Rochester NY. Of course they’re good, they’re just not good enough. Right now.

    • 1coolguy

      Ronstadt was one of the best! The original female rock star

      • LarryLurex70

        What about Janis and Tina?

      • Husky73

        Brenda Lee

    • art thiel

      We’re just here for your therapy. Hope you’re better now.

  • coug73

    Ball security is #1 for QB’s at any level. I suggest we go back to a 55 or 60% run game and pick the time and place to throw the ball. Running back by committee. Call it ball control if you must.

    • 1coolguy

      Until we get running backs healthy it’s what we have, unfortunately.

      • art thiel

        Right. Homer and Dallas aren’t first-down backs. Unless Hyde/Carson return, counting on Collins for a full game is silly.

  • Husky73

    A few weeks ago, Pete was a genius, Russ was MVP and the Hawks were SB bound. Man, you frontrunners can turn! The NFL is a war of attrition. Other teams have injuries, but the Seahawks have been decimated. And, in a few days, they will roll their gurneys into a Thursday night contest.

    • Stacy Pemberton

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    • art thiel

      My guess is most fans are worried about three losses in four games. They’re entitled. It’s part of the deal — bandwagons and hearses, week to week.

    • Cheryl Gilmore

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  • woofer

    Wilson wasn’t himself. Maybe he is playing hurt and not telling. Both his failure to run on the throw to Dissly and his willingness to give himself up early to sacks suggests a guy whose top priority is protecting an injured body.

    • DJ

      I agree. There is something wrong with him, that may also be affecting his mechanics, what with some of these errant throws.

      • art thiel

        For obvious reasons, the Seahawks would never share Wilson’s hurts until it’s bad enough for the injured list. I do think it is as it seems: He’s forcing the issue because of the defense’s shortcomings.

  • DJ

    Thanks Art. Tough times fer sure! All of the deficiencies are finally adding up to where Russell can’t do enough to bring in a win, and it’s easy pickin’s for the really good opponents. I still believe in Russ, and it’s too bad that he’s been put in the position to where he’s not himself, not at his best. I’ve never seen Russ make such mistakes nor never heard Pete Carroll sound so baffled. It’s a bit disturbing. Either there’s more to the story than what we’re hearing (like Russ is suffering from migraines, or another debilitating ailment) or the combination of effects, injuries, COVID, and general personnel unfamiliarity has created a special doomsday sauce to derail what should be a pretty solid team, with an above average defense.

    One thing that I find baffling, and it’s in retrospect, not taking in all of the factors at the time, but it seems that rollouts and screen passes sure would create some space for Russ, one of the best mobile passers – especially when he’s getting pressured or sacked by staying put and trusting the pocket. The creativity to allow Russ to be at his best is missing. Even without our stout running attack, you’d think more diversions could come about to free him. Still – (let’s) GO HAWKS!

    • art thiel

      Most good defenses learn to keep contain on Wilson. Maintaining the edge was a priority for the Rams, who exploited the SEA need to often double-team Donald. Seahawks offense didn’t score a TD against these guys in December, either.

  • BB46

    We saw a few things. Biggest to me is Pete doesn’t trust his offense to pick up 6 inches when the have to. Kinda playing not to lose instead of to win.
    Also,,,, Seems early Russ was getting the ball out Bam, Bam and getting first downs. I don’t know if the rams changed their D but later seemed Russ was looking for bigger plays and they weren’t there. Plus the blitz’s got home. Russ couldn’t escape near enough.
    Obviously the injuries are adding up. No real power backs left to push for extra yards. Pass protection isn’t as good. That may be because Russ is holding the ball to long looking for the bomb. I agree that he didn’t look for Metcalf near enough. I don’t care who is matched up against him. We let a mans reputation take him out of the game.
    Letting Russell cook is our best chance. But what is left in our pantry doesn’t allow for the tastiest recipes. (And you can quote me Art. LOL)

    • art thiel

      Let’s all throttle back on the cooking analogies, m’kay?

      I think Collins, a bit of a power back, tired out, unsurprisingly. Seahawks fell back to one dimensional, which worked well for the Rams because Ramsey can single-cover Metcalf.

  • Chris Alexander

    I know that I’m in the minority and that ALL of the media hot takes are that Pete messed up by not going for it on 4th and inches. But I actually think he made a right call – with one small caveat.

    Situationally, Pete’s right. The ball was on their 42 yard line. If they go for it and don’t get the first down, they hand the Rams the ball on the edge of field goal range, with the very real probability that they extend their lead.

    There were over 28 minutes remaining in the game at that point and the Hawks were only down 4. Regardless of how good their offense is, how bad their defense is, or how much you do or don’t believe in either unit, pinning the Rams deep and forcing them to drive the length of the field gives Seattle a better chance to keep it a 1-score game.

    Personnel-wise, the Hawks were without their top 3 running backs (Carson and Hyde were inactive, Penny is still on the PUP list) and were rolling with their 6th string (?) running back who had only officially joined the team 11 days earlier. Their starting center was inactive with a concussion and their starting left guard left the game in the first half. In their places were Kyle Fuller (making his first start at center) and Jamarco Jones (filling in at guard).

    Opposite that pair of young linemen? The league’s BEST defensive player, Aaron Donald, chomping at the bit, ready to DESTROY whatever play the Hawks tried to run.

    Up to that point, Alex Collins was the only running back who had taken a handoff from Wilson. In the first half he gained 26 yards on 7 carries; half of them on his touchdown run on the Hawks’ first possession. He’d added 3 yards to that total on the first play of the second half. The other 2 plays in the second half had been Wilson scrambles that netted 3 yards each, leaving the Hawks with 4th and inches.

    Raise your hand if you honestly believe that Seattle would have picked up the first down on a running play if they’d called Alex Collins’ number and asked their backup O-linemen to open a hole for him with the best defensive player in the game on the other side of the line.

    Personally, I would give them about a 1% chance. And I think I’m probably being generous given that I’m both an optimist and a huge “homer” when it comes to the Hawks.

    So what does that leave? A pass play? Let’s look at what was going on with the Hawks at that point in the game.

    1. DK Metcalf hadn’t been targeted a single time.
    2. The Hawks had called 14 pass plays since the last completion to a wide receiver.
    3. Tight ends hadn’t caught a pass since the first quarter – Olsen had a catch on the Hawks’ first possession and Hollister had one on their second possession, right before the end of the first quarter.

    Sounds bad right?

    To be fair, the Hawks had 4 completions on their last possession of the first half. But all 4 were throws to running backs and one of them was a super-dangerous flip pass that Russ threw to avoid a sack. More to the point though, the 2 backs that caught those passes (Homer and Dallas) wouldn’t have been in the game on 4th and 1.

    How do we know this? When the Hawks lined up to try to draw the Rams offsides, they had 3 WRs (Metcalf, Lockett, and Moore), a tight end (Olsen), and a running back (Collins) in the game. They’d already burned a timeout by wasting a challenge so if they were going to run a play, that was the personnel grouping they were going to have to do it with.

    As mentioned, I’m a huge “homer” when it comes to the Hawks but the second they broke the huddle, I knew there was no chance they were going to run a play. No chance. They simply didn’t have the right personnel to do so. And I’m sure the Rams knew this as well.

    So that brings us to the Seattle defense . . .

    Yeah, they’ve sucked pretty bad this year. And yes, the Rams had moved up and down the field at will on their first 3 possessions and had 17 points to show for it. But the defense had gotten a takeaway and forced a punt on the Rams last 2 possessions of the first half so there was at least SOME belief on the sideline that they could be up to the task if Dickson pinned the Rams deep. And pin them deep, he did; the Rams started their drive on the 12.

    After giving up a 16-yard run on the first play, Seattle’s defense had a chance to stop L.A. and get the ball back when the Rams faced 3rd and 13 on their 25. Obviously it didn’t work out and the Rams ended up going 88 yards and putting 6 points on the board. Grrr!

    That was, however the last time the Rams got any points and their last 3 “meaningful” possessions of the game netted them a total of 21 yards on 16 plays. So the defense DID step up . . . just one possession too late.

    Now, here’s where the frustration over the punt falls apart for me.

    1. After the Rams scored their touchdown (and missed the extra point), Seattle was down 10 with over 21 minutes left to play.
    2. Seattle’s offense had the ball 4 more times and only managed to score 3 points.
    3. In the second half of the game, Seattle’s offense ran 33 plays and netted a total of 119 yards (67 rushing, 52 passing), with 30 of the plays and 110 of the yards coming after the reviled decision to punt.

    And yet everyone seems to think that Seattle would have (a) gotten the first down; (b) gone on to score; and (c) not simply punted a few plays later (or turned the ball over on downs).

    It seems illogical to me. I mean, I get being disappointed by the decision and being frustrated by the loss, but Seattle did NOT lose the game because Pete wasn’t “brave enough” to go for it on 4th and 1 at the beginning of the 3rd quarter in a 4-point game.

    __________________

    Alright, now for the “one small caveat” that I mentioned.

    IF there is a play in the playbook that gives DK Metcalf the ball on a jet sweep and IF the Hawks have ever practiced that particular play, I’d have gone for it. Handing the ball to a pissed-off DK Metcalf with a full head of steam and an angle to the sideline is the ONLY play that I’d have considered though. And only then if the team had practiced it.

    Absent that one play, with that one player, I’d kick the ball given everything that was known at the time.