Schematic embarrassments aside, the 21-yard touchdown from Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman to tight end Kellen Winslow halfway through the third quarter of Seattles 38-15 loss to the Buccaneers last Sunday had all the elements of a great football crime drama. When a receiver is as open as Winslow was when he caught the ball, its generally assumed that one defensive player blew his coverage assignment. But in this case, it appeared that any one of five players could have been in the wrong place.
The play happened with 6:51 left in the third quarter, with the Bucs already up, 17-7. Tampa Bay lined up in 21 personnel (two receivers, two backs, and a tight end) with Winslow (82) in the left slot.
At the snap, Freeman did a great job of looking off to his right-side receiver, which took safety Earl Thomas (29) out of the play as he cheated up to help with right-side receiver Mike Williams as Marcus Trufant backed up to cover deep.
On the strong side, linebacker Aaron Curry gave Winslow a little bump before staying underneath to take the fullback on a little swing route. Linebackers Lofa Tatupu and David Hawthorne dropped into intermediate-to-deep coverage, and cornerback Walter Thurmond (28) covered a shorter route on receiver Maurice Stovall.
Safety Lawyer Milloy (36) defended the deep middle momentarily, but tried to come back over late when it was clear that Winslow was getting the ball out of a seam route. Freeman rolled to his left and threw the ball, Winslow took the ball at the two-yard line, evaded Thurmond and Milloy as they closed in late, and scored his second touchdown of the day.
So who blew it? As Pete Carroll said the day after the game, the Freeman look-off and play fake actually started a series of mistakes in motion.
We got looked off on the play and he (Freeman) stepped up and hung onto the football and then came back, he got the ball up the seam, he said. That was a zone. It was actually a three-deep zone is what it was and he got in the crease on us and made a real nice throw, looked us off and came back and ripped the ball backside.
“There are a couple guys that had a chance to make that play. They (Tampa Bay) did a nice job on it. Yeah, we could fix those things. Those things are fixable. We got looked off on a pump fake that really we didnt need to, but he sucked us into it. So its something that we could have done much better.
Weve discussed Seattles recent problems in pass coverage, and its certainly a problem when a quarterback can look off both sides of the stage and dictate the action with motion so easily.
St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, who the Seahawks will face in the regular-season finale, is conversant with rollouts, motion, and play action to a preternatural degree for a first-year NFL player. To gain a greater advantage, the Seahawks will have to discover a coverage discipline theyve lacked most of the season.