Four-by-Four: Eight Plays From Seahawks' Preseason Opener You Should Care About

If you missed the first preseason game, fell asleep with the drabness of exhibition football or simply want to learn more about which Seahawks impressed, Matty F. Brown is here to highlight plays which exhibited the skillset of certain Seahawks depth players.
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Offense

Yeah, we managed to get exciting plays out of the offense despite the messy end result!

1. Dominick Wood-Anderson is... good?

Don’t click off this article! There is reason for this! Dominick Wood-Anderson had a nightmarish game in many ways: he dropped two passes, had one false start and was flagged for an illegal formation call on special teams.

What was so galling is that this game was the perfect opportunity for a tight end lower down the depth chart to impress. Colby Parkinson and Tyler Mabry were out injured, plus starters did not play. And based off the TV copy, it looked like the 23-year old Wood-Anderson was certain to be included in the first round of cuts. Yet, the 2020 undrafted free agent out of Tennessee survived!

This is testament to his run game work. Wood-Anderson showed himself to be an excellent blocker, moving people, fitting it up right and finish his well. Gap or zone, Wood-Anderson managed to get it done, sealing and reaching defensive ends to finish in excellent position. He spent some time in Seattle in 2020 and it’s easy to see why the Seahawks wanted to give him another shot after Saturday. We all have bad days.

2. Freddie Swain's catch

Freddie Swain, running the intermediate crossing route, managed a lovely adjustment to the football thrown behind him by Geno Smith. The 2020 sixth-round pick then transitioned quickly as a runner and attacked downhill, adding some yards after the catch. Before Dee Eskridge had even practiced, Swain made a statement in the No. 3 receiver competition.

We will see a lot of this concept from Shane Waldron’s Seahawks offense. It is a movement pass where, after lining up with two immediate receiving threats to either side of the formation, Seattle managed to put four in the pattern to one side of the field. They will mix up which players run each route: slide, laid down flat, cross and big corner.

You can see how the run fake got the Las Vegas defense and its cover 3 out of whack. The man tasked with getting back to Swain’s crossing route was in a very difficult position. He saw hard outside run action from the offensive line and therefore scampered to his left downhill. The slide route also must be respected by the linebackers as though it is a split-action run block, further selling the run fake before looking to out-leverage whichever defender is in the flat (just like how a puller can suck certain guys up).

While this linebacker muddied run-pass read was taking place, Swain had already started on his crossing route. What makes the play particularly nasty to defend is the tight split of Swain, meaning that everything happens so much faster. It took him less time to run across the field.

This example was particularly interesting because the quarterback half-rolled to his left and the field. From a timing perspective, it’s impressive that Seattle has already managed to make this slightly trickier example sync up smoothly.

3. Aaron Fuller's catch

The previous play is something that Brian Schottenheimer ran in 2020, albeit approaching things from a more Russell Wilson-first standpoint. The 2021 Seahawks will look to major in the above, while the biggest difference with Waldron’s attack is likely to be the tempo and the style modes of attack.

Aaron Fuller’s impressive moment arrived on a concept that Seattle ran frequently last season. Faced with cover 1 robber, man defense on the third down, Smith hit Fuller’s backside shallow route versus the off coverage. The throw was short of the sticks.

However, Fuller—a 2020 undrafted free agent out of Washington—managed to break the tackle of the defender and pick up the first down. There has been plenty of talk around Waldron’s offense creating yards after the catch. This was a rare example of a player creating YAC for themselves.

4. DeeJay Dallas' touchdown

We did not see the Seahawks shift or motion much. Pre-snap movement is an element that a lot of fans wanted to see from Waldron. The reason for this is likely to be the mundane nature of preseason scheme. Plus, Seattle players need to learn and execute the basic concepts first. Only then can window dressing be applied.

DeeJay Dallas’ touchdown, Seattle’s only score in the game, did feature an intelligent pre-snap shift from the Seahawks. This may well have been Waldron noting the Geno Smith sack, where Las Vegas relied on an end to peel with the running back and pressured a 3x1 bunch. Seattle shifted from a bunch 3x1 nub formation into a 2x2 alignment that broke the Raiders’ blitz. The Seahawks’ adjustment changed their pass strength.

No player peeled with Dallas’ route into the flat. Las Vegas busted its pressure coverage. Alex McGough did well at quarterback to stay calm in the face of contact. He recognized the situation and waited long enough to hit Dallas. Dallas showed impressive awareness too, visibly understanding the significance of the Raiders’ pressuring yet no player peeling to cover him.

What Dallas was able to in the open field was exhilarating. He blended power, elusiveness and speed for major YAC and a touchdown. If the 2020 fourth-round pick, still just 22 years old, has improved his pass protection, then Dallas is an exciting candidate for the passing down/third down back role—maybe even more playing time than that.

Defense

5. Alton Robinson's get off + Ryan Neal's interception

I think I had my face buried deep in a vat of coffee in the buildup to Ryan Neal’s interception. As I switched from my caffeine dosage back to the screen, I saw the backup strong safety highpoint the football in the buzz zone (outside underneath) coverage of cover 3 sky. The 25-year old Neal tracked the floating ball well. Signed to the Seahawks' practice squad in 2019, Neal continues to make plays and is leading the competition to play as the dime safety/sixth defensive back when Seattle transitions into pure pass/two-minute mode on defense.

I could not figure out why Nathan Peterman’s throw was so off, though. Re-watching the tape showed that Alton Robinson made it happen. Robinson’s get-off on the play was astonishing. Playing at LEO defensive end, he timed up the snap beautifully and was so much quicker off the ball than anyone else on the field.

Robinson then worked a near-arm flipper and ripped through to get the desperate tackle’s arms off him. He was able to finish at the bottom of the pocket, showcasing valuable ankle flexion to cut off the corner and win back to the quarterback. This was a pressure-pressure, with Peterman avoiding a sack to instead throw a pick.

“Coming out of my rookie season I wanted to work on my rush angles and just understanding the game more,” the 23-year old Robinson said after the game. “I think last year I was kinda running around just trying to find the ball more than knowing what to expect from offenses and things like that. So I think I got a little bit better there but there's always work to do.”

How did he do this?

 “Just watching film and asking questions from a lot of the older guys, coaches. Things like that.” 

The mature mindset of the 2020 fifth-round pick is clearly serving Robinson well and he already managed to prove technical refinement in the first preseason game. He worked a bit with Cliff Avril once more this offseason. When you think of that legendary Seahawks DL pass rush, one major part that stood out was their snap anticipation skills.

6. Alton Robinson: edge setter, Ben Burr-Kirven: flyer

Robinson played well in the run game too. At SAM LB, he executed the “hammer in the fit” requirement superbly, setting a firm edge versus jet motion towards him and an arc releasing tight end. Robinson widened with the tight end’s path then created knockback and depth, forcing the jet man to cut his run inside. Robinson was clean to then cut back to the ball carrier and make the tackle.

“He's able to play in all of the pass rush situations, the nickel packages as an end,” Pete Carroll said postgame of Robinson’s usage. “And we're also bringing him along as an outside 'backer too for early downs, in base packages.”

Robinson was fantastic throughout the matchup. His young rival for the SAM LB role, 2020 second-round selection Darrell Taylor, looked raw, like a man who had spent a year out of football. Taylor also looked a bit light and the long arms he threw lacked the power he needed.

Robinson’s level of play raises an intriguing factor of whether Benson Mayowa is still considered the first-string SAM, or if Mayowa is instead a LEO defensive end again. If Mayowa is indeed the SAM, how much will Seattle properly open up the competition? Robinson has already earned the shot at starting.

Ben Burr-Kirven had a big game too. On the jet, Seattle was in a reduced, 4-3 shaded front and pirate stunting. Burr-Kirven was on the backside of the stunt and in a low-conflict gap. He fell back with the jet well and could have triggered a tad sooner. However, he played off Jarrod Hewitt at defensive end well and outran the releasing tackle. Seeing the ball, he hunted the jet down inside-out and ran through the contact for a solid shoulder hit.

The third-year linebacker received ‘first-string’ action over Cody Barton, lining up at the MIKE spot in the defense besides Jordyn Brooks. When Brooks hopped out of the game and Barton joined Burr-Kirven, the former Washington Husky still popped. He brought burst, tackling and assignment execution that showed him to be a player the Seahawks can rely upon. I particularly enjoyed his processing in fire zone coverage, where he expertly processed the final receiver that he was supposed to cover. Tellingly, Burr-Kirven always ended up around the football.

7. Gavin Heslop's tackle + Ben Burr-Kirven's gap stack

A common theme to these preseason games is players who are scared to make a play, paralyzed by an over-cautiousness and worry of ‘messing up.’ Then there are those who are fearless.

Cornerback Gavin Heslop had an okay game. Most catches to his side, the right, were underneath and Heslop came up physically to make a hit. His patience at the line of scrimmage in press can be worked on, with Heslop overplaying certain release moves and having to recover more than you would like. He also bit on a pump-fake in cloud coverage, allowing a deeper corner route catch. It was a smart move from the Raiders, given they had been throwing to Heslop’s flat a lot versus cover 2 prior to this throw.

Yet, Heslop has the confidence to pull his trigger and go for it. The ability to make plays is also derived from understanding the scheme. It’s about knowing when and where the opportunities for individual plays are located within the scheme.

Duo or crunch runs are gap-based concepts that are essentially like running power without the puller. Most NFL teams get into 13 personnel to run these plays. It brings the cornerbacks into the run fit and you will often see the runner bounced out wide, where he then stiff-arms a hapless corner into the ground.

Heslop here understood what he was seeing. He had the duo action from the No. 1 and No. 2 receivers. He saw a heavy run key. And then he took his shot, attacking off the edge to drop the running back for a loss with Seahawks-style tackling.

If you think of the Seahawks' defense at their best, they have always wanted corners who can come up and tackle, make big hits. The new mold of smaller corners like D.J. Reed is real, as evidenced by Seattle’s drafting of Tre Brown and movement of Damarious Randall to outside corner from safety. Heslop, however, hits even bigger than his six-foot, 197-pound frame indicates.

Burr-Kirven was quality on this play as well. After weighing only 230 pounds at the NFL combine, Burr-Kirven has been hit with size concerns and criticism. Yet here, from the MIKE spot, he stacked the A-gap with physicality that should alleviate those worries.

He crept down patiently, seeing the double team on the 3-technique and also the running back’s path. Burr-Kirven stayed in his A-gap, then dipped and ripped past the climbing left guard with fantastic pad level. He avoided the knocked-back tight end and was a super strong presence in the A-gap. The running back is looking to read the MLB on these plays and got a firm bounce read from Burr-Kirven.

That Burr-Kirven was able to end up near the tackle right in the backfield shows how effective his duo run fit was.

8. Cody Barton's sacks

While Cody Barton was somewhat outshone by Burr-Kirven, Seattle’s 2019 third-round pick out of Utah still made some plays and ended up with two sacks.

The first arrived on an exciting three-deep, three-under fire zone from the Seahawks out of their “stick” bear front. Barton showed patience to wait for the movement of the 3-technique to clear. He also got his pass read during this waiting process.

Barton then kept his blitzing path off this movement tight enough, beating the right tackle through the C-gap with enough hand usage and speed into the backfield; then wrapping up Peterman well.

Barton’s second sack was an example of on-field intelligence. Seattle came out in its nickel even mugged front and looked to rush just the four defensive linemen, playing cover 1 robber man defense behind it.

However, Barton spied the opportunity to make a play. He told the Seahawks’ broadcast in the on-field interviews following the game that it was a “hug rush,” also known as a "green dog."

Essentially, Barton was in man coverage with the running back. After stepping with the back and a potential check-and-release, Barton saw the daylight on the interior of the pass protection, while also understanding that the back was not going to run a route. he added on to the rush. Down went Peterman in a Barton bear hug.