Last Sunday afternoon, Duane Brown manned his left tackle spot as his Houston Texans invaded Century Link Field to engage in a wild 41-38 shootout that his team lost to the Seattle Seahawks (gamebook).
Today, he is not back in Houston where the Texans are preparing to face the Indianapolis Colts. Today, Duane – a former three-time Pro Bowl pick and one-time First-Team All-Pro – is still in Seattle, where his new team – the Seahawks – are preparing to face Washington.
To say that Brown will be a welcomed addition to the Seattle offense would be a profound understatement. Even though they won the Sunday shootout on the strength of 452 passing yards and 4 touchdowns from the arm of Russell Wilson, the Seahawk running game reached near historic lows that afternoon.
That they finished with 33 yards on 21 rushes is a gross overstatement of the effectiveness of the Seattle ground game. Those 33 yards were made possible by two late Wilson scrambles that totaled 32 yards. Beyond that, the Seattle running game was a stunning 1 yard in 19 carries. This total includes 6 tackles behind the line of scrimmage that totaled 19 yards in losses. Seattle’s very first running play of the day was their only running play the entire game (not counting the scrambles) to gain more than 3 yards. It gained 4. Thereafter, the last 18 running plays lost a total of 3 yards. Even conceding that two of those were kneel downs, the last 16 handoffs to running backs produced a total of minus 1 yard. Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls – two sometimes star running backs) combined for 12 carries for minus 1 yard.
This is domination that you rarely see anywhere in the NFL – much less against a contending team. So, they will have a place in the lineup for Duane Brown – most probably left tackle.
The player who started at left tackle for Seattle on Sunday – Rees Odhiambo – was a third round pick in 2016 and made the first seven starts of his career this season. He was an obvious weak link against the Texans, as Houston’s star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney turned him inside out all night. Seattle made some attempts to help him with tight-end Jimmy Graham, but Graham wasn’t up to the task of stopping Clowney either.
The problem in Seattle, though, is that left tackle isn’t the only weak spot on the line. In fact, if you watched the Seattle running plays, it would be hard to say that any of them won even a third of their individual matchups. Throughout the game, Odhiambo could well have used some help from guard Ethan Pocic. But when Ethan wasn’t up to his elbows in troubles of his own, he was needed to help center Justin Britt – who may have had the poorest afternoon of any of the Seattle linemen.
Given the low yardage totals, it goes without saying that none of the linemen created much space. In Britt’s case, though, whoever lined up opposite of him seemed to spend quite a bit of time in the Seattle backfield. This was mostly either D.J. Reader or Brandon Dunn. At least once, it was middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney who lined up over center and shot past Britt into the backfield.
Beyond the inability to run to the offensive left (where Clowney was waiting – and the difficulties running up the middle (where Britt and the guards had trouble keeping the Texans out of the backfield) – the Seattle offensive line’s inability to get through the Houston defenders to the second level allowed McKinney and fellow linebacker Zach Cunningham to run mostly unimpeded from sideline to sideline. So even when the Seahawks tried to turn the right corner, they usually had a couple linebackers waiting for them.
One of the most far-reaching implications of Seattle’s inability to generate anything from the offensive line was its effect on one of the staples of the Seahawk running game – the read option.
The interesting thing about most option plays in football – including the read option – is that the option belongs to the defense. The defensive front seven chooses whether the quarterback hands off or keeps the ball. In the several read options they ran on Sunday, Russell Wilson never ran the ball. His four carries for the game were two scrambles and two kneel downs. Houston’s defensive ends never bit on the running backs, because they knew they couldn’t be hurt by them. The only running threat was Wilson, so every single time Houston opted to put the ball in the running back’s hands.
Duane Brown can’t get there fast enough.
Regarding the Crowd Noise
Seattle, of course, is famous for the crowd noise. As opposed to – say – the Kansas City fans, whose enthusiasm for the game is natural, the Seattle crowd goes out with the intention of affecting every single offensive play run by the opposition. As this phenomenon has gone on for several years now, I think it’s reaching a point of diminishing returns.
Early in the second quarter, Houston faced a fourth-and-1 on Seattle’s 48-yard line. The crowd – which had been going full blast for the entire game – tried to find a higher level to try to interfere with the play. But they didn’t really have a higher level. They had been on “10” the whole game when their amplifiers didn’t have an “11.” The noise level did, actually, rise a bit, but not enough to make a difference. Lamar Miller burst up the middle for 2 yards and the first down, and four plays later Deshaun Watson was tossing another touchdown pass. By the second half, the Texans were completely comfortable in the midst of all that noise.
It’s kind of like a pitcher who only throws 100-mph fastballs. At 100-mph, that heater is a lot to deal with. But if you keep seeing it over and over, it gets to the point where it doesn’t seem as fast as before. And then, when that pitcher gets in a jam, he doesn’t have anything extra to reach back for.
I wouldn’t, for the world, suggest that the Seahawk fans vary their crowd noise – much less suggest that they just come to enjoy the game. Some of them, I’m convinced, are more interested in making noise than watching the event. I’m just suggesting that their fastball might be more effective if they learned to throw a change-up.
Speaking of Houston
I know I have spent the entire post talking about the offensive linemen instead of showering love on the quarterbacks. They were terrific, and made for some truly great theatre. I will have more to say about them later in the week.
On this evening, though, I do want to recognize the very first World Championship by the baseball team that resides in Houston – yes the lowly Astros are at long last Champions of the Baseball World. I fondly remember the great battles we had with them when we were in the same division. We always had the greatest respect for those Astro teams and for their fans. And from what I can tell, the respect was mutual. Congratulations, Houston.
And a Final Note
As the national anthem protests still seem to be making headlines – the Texans staged another protest before this game – I think for the next several posts I will offer a link to my insight on the whole thing. I encourage everyone who has not read it to take a look.