So the football gods granted a mulligan on Golden Tate’s low-rent exhibition after Ram cornerback Janoris Jenkins badly misjudged Russell Wilson’s third-quarter touchdown pass. Seattle’s defense, evidently wary from carrying the offense for four quarters, wavered on the final drive but provided a thrilling stand once St. Louis attained first and goal at the Seahawks 6-yard line with 44 seconds to play. My thoughts on the goal-line stand.
First and goal: Remember Dwight Clark and “The Catch”? Austin Pettis ran the same route running to the back of the end zone, then breaking in before reversing back by design to the corner. Though the Seahawks played a three-deep zone, Richard Sherman’s coverage responsibilities mirrored man-to-man. The coverage was sufficient if not spectacular, and fortunately for Seattle, Joe Montana wasn’t the passer. By the way, Clark was the No. 2 option then, and Pettis was No. 2 Monday night. Kellen Clemens’ first option was tight end Lance Kendricks in the flat, who initially got caught in the wash of Chris Clemens’ rush attempt and ran a sluggish route thereafter.
Second and goal: St. Louis went “11 personnel” with one running back, one tight end and three receivers, prompting Seattle to counter with nickel. Despite this, with Seattle in a one-high defense, the numbers would normally dictate the Rams to throw in standard “check-with-me’s”. However, the Rams ran a trap against Seattle’s “over” front – meaning the defensive line was shifted to the strong side of the offensive formation. In this alignment, defensive tackle Clinton McDonald was shaded away from the trap so Rams center Scott Wells had favorable blocking leverage. McDonald shed the block to assist Earl Thomas, who welcomed St. Louis halfback Daryl Washington to the Legion of Boom.
Third and goal: After inducing a Chris Clemons offsides penalty from an empty spread formation, moving the ball to the 1-yard line, the Rams tightened up with “23 personnel” – two backs and three tight ends – and ran the “power” play off left tackle. The scheme calls for down-blocking at the point of attack with the critical block being that of the backside offensive guard pulling and creating what is usually a violent collision with the playside outside linebacker – in this case Heath Farwell. Credit Farwell for a lightning-quick recognition of the scheme and acceleration to the ball carrier to beat the backside block.
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Fourth and goal: The Rams reverted to an empty backfield and Seattle employed the simplest math in the game: six rushers against five linemen blocking. Labeled “Cover Zero” by most and “Casino” by some, it’s the ultimate aggressive defensive call and, as the name implies, it’s a gamble because the coverage must be straight man-to-man with no safety help. With Walter Thurmond the unblocked Seahawk, Kellen Clemens had to decide quickly whether he liked running back Zac Stacy split wide on a “whip” route in-and-out against Bobby Wagner or the short corner route to Brian Quick in the slot against Brandon Browner. Many cornerbacks play slightly inside on such coverage because the greater threat is the slant route, and those cornerbacks are more susceptible to out-breaking routes like a corner. However, Browner’s strength allowed him to play head up, nose-to-nose, knowing he wouldn’t be outmuscled on a slant. Moreover, Quick was the split end on the play — and thus tethered to the line of scrimmage as opposed to off the line — and there were no adjacent receivers threatening to “pick” Browner. These elements gave all the advantage to Browner, who perfectly used his hands without drawing a penalty. It’s also clear Clemens expected Quick to take a higher angle closer to the back line, which would be consistent with the whip route run by Stacy underneath. A fitting end to a night belonging to defense.