RENTON — There’s usually more than meets the initial eye when it comes to any play in an NFL football game.
So was the case with what on the surface appeared to be one of the more curious play calls of Seattle’s 30-29 win over the Rams last Thursday — the Seahawks’ final third-and-two play from the Rams 43-yard-line with 1:57 remaining, which turned into a pitch from Russell Wilson to Tyler Lockett for a loss of eight, a Seattle punt, and a last-ditch offensive series by Los Angeles that almost turned a Seattle win into a loss.
Why the heck wouldn’t the Seahawks just call a play like they one they did on second down, when Chris Carson ran up the middle for five yards?
Turns out, they did — which is worth examining as an interesting little peek into how football works sometimes.
As offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer noted Thursday, the second down play and the third down play were the same — same play call, same formation, same personnel.
On each, George Fant lined up as an eligible tackle to the left with two tight ends (Will Dissly and Luke Willson) lined up to the right. Wilson was in a shotgun with Carson flanked to his right, and Lockett split wide to the left.
And on each, Wilson had three options — hand off to Carson, or keep it and then either run around the edge or pitch it to Lockett, who came in motion from left to right to then essentially serve as a trailing back for Wilson.
On the first play, second-and-7 from the 48, Wilson saw that the Rams were in a zone (no one followed Lockett when he went in motion) and that the linebackers didn’t really crash the line at the snap (on each play, former Husky Cory Littleton served as a spy on Wilson, following him to the outside).
So, Wilson handed it off to Carson, who found a little crease for five yards.
On third down, though, the Rams played man (another former Husky, Marcus Peters, followed Lockett across the field when he went in motion) and Wilson saw Los Angeles’ linebackers also crash the line at the snap, essentially bringing everyone other than Peters and Littleton, who were following Lockett and Wilson.
That essentially created a two-on-two situation with Wilson undoubtedly hoping he could draw in Peters and flip to Lockett for an easy gain, or at least beat Littleton enough to get the two yards needed for a first down.
Only, Rams cornerback Aqib Talib then disrupted everything by quickly reversing course when he saw Wilson keep it and then able to get a hand on Wilson, which allowed Littleton to also then catch up and close off Wilson. Wilson, realizing he was going to be stopped for a loss, pitched it to Lockett. But Peters was right there as well and Lockett had nowhere to go and was tackled for a loss of eight.
So, should Wilson have just handed it off again to Carson to be safe?
Schottenheimer said no, and explained the situation in depth when asked about it Thursday.
“We ran the play the play before, and it’s just one of those situations where those guys have the chance to read it,’’ Schottenheimer said. “It’s two guys we trust. I trust Russ and Tyler. They (the Rams) came with everything they had, they brought everybody.
“The way it played out is the read was right because the guy came ripping off the edge (Dante Fowler), and then it was the guy chasing Tyler that showed up at first. Give them credit. That was one that when he pitched it, I was a little bit like, ‘Whoa, no.’ But again, you trust those guys, you trust Russ, he’s going to make the right decision. When he flips it to Tyler, you lose your breath for a second, but Tyler wasn’t going to let that ball get anywhere. It’s one of those things, it’s not what we hoped happen, but when it does happen, you’re kind of like, ‘Ok, we found a way to win the game and we ended up with the ball.’ Kudos to them. They made a great play defensively.”
Carroll also said after the game that Wilson made the right read.
“Razzle dazzle,’’ Carroll said. “Didn’t quite work out like we had planned.’’
And as Lockett noted later, the two-on-two situation was what the Seahawks were hoping for.
“It wasn’t drawn up like that, of course,’’ he said. “We were just handing it off, handing it off. They started trying to close in on it. When he took it out, it was kind of like two-on-two. I’ll take that any day and he’ll take that any day. The biggest thing was, I just told myself, just hold onto the ball and catch the ball. If he pitches it, just catch it. There’s no telling what’s going to happen. I know a lot of people were probably scared out there. Probably talking about why would they do that? At the same time, if it were to work, they would say, that was an amazing play. For us, it ended up working out in our favor. If we would’ve lost, people would have looked at that play.”
Indeed, the Rams almost made Seattle’s final sequence appear disastrous by quickly driving into position for a Greg Zuerlein 44-yard field goal. But, as Lockett said, “we won. So, we just scratch out that play.’’