Seahawks’ Tariq Woolen, beat by Kyler Murray, takes it out on Tom Brady

By the way, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Tariq Woolen (praise his holy name) is still very much in the conversation for Defensive Rookie of the Year. And not just because of this…

…which we will get to, and not just because of the stats, which we will get to, but because he’s getting better, even if the touchdowns are happening now, as we knew they would. He wasn’t going to skate through his entire rookie year without surrendering a couple.

If you’re in the mood for a visit to the archives, the four previous installments of this series can be found here:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

You’re holding Part 5 in your hand right now. Which encompasses seven goals over two games, but I couldn’t help myself and included four pieces of bonus footage. In advance, you’re welcome. Don’t forget to tip your moderator.

Week 9: vs. Cardinals (again)

QTR 2, 10:32 remaining, pass complete for minus 2 yards

Beautiful. Woolen reacts like a caffeinated mountain lion and devours the poor little red birdie as soon as he receives the football. What I want to draw attention to here is the anticipation. TW falls back into coverage, diagnoses the screen during Kyler Murray’s windup, and takes three steps (count them!) while the ball is in the air. The Seahawks used to have an off-ball linebacker who did that kind of shit and blew up about a billion screens. Wonder what happened to him.

QTR 2, 5:58 remaining, pass is incomplete

Early in the season, quarterbacks generally gave up on trying to beat Woolen down the sideline and elected to find their receivers in patterns breaking toward the middle of the field. It worked, for a while.

Until, in Week 9, it suddenly didn’t. One of my favorite moments so far in the whole 2022 campaign is this pass deflection. The five interceptions all induce various levels of swoonery, but this moment represents real in-season progress, a turning point. And Woolen is even upset at himself that he didn’t make a better play! At least that’s how I choose to interpret his body language.

QTR 4, 3:35 remaining, TOUCHDOWN to Zach Ertz (6 yards)

After a couple dozen rewatches, I’m still trying to decide if I want to fault Woolen for giving up the inside route. The larger point, though, is that a ball on time with flawless location, to a veteran who knows exactly what he’s doing, is exceedingly hard to defend, even for the best DBs in the game. A worse throw might be defended some other time; a worse route might be run some other snap. Gonna hand it to Ertz and Murray on this one. They are good, you know.

BONUS MATERIAL: QTR 2, 0:29 remaining, good communication

Contrast this with what will happen in the fourth quarter against the Bucs downthread.

Back in the opening weeks, Woolen and Josh Jones barely shared the field; at midseason he and Ryan Neal were just getting in sync. So encouraging to see them share responsibilities when it’s seamless like this. Now they just have to get on the same page more consistently. Only one way to get there: reps.

BONUS MATERIAL 2: Oh no you don’t

The Cardinals left tackle (74) is supposed to clear out whatever undersized DB gets in his way on this toss run play. Spoiler: Tariq Woolen is not a “whatever undersized DB” and he is having none of it.

Don’t read the tweet. It contains an unforgivable pun.

An interesting fun fact is that in the seven pass plays immediately preceding the touchdown, Murray looked left exactly once with the clock running. The other six dropbacks he glanced over at Woolen’s side before the snap and then kept his eyes focused on the other side of the defense. Kyler didn’t even dignify his receiver with a read until Ertz entered the red zone.

At the end of the day, Murray went 1-3 for four yards and a TD when targeting Woolen. Considering the score was in garbage time, that’s more than acceptable, no?

Week 10: vs. Buccaneers and that Tom Brady fellow

QTR 1, 14:18 remaining, pass is incomplete

Pretty much everything of import is said in the tweet, so five quick bullet points:

  • How cool is it that we barely ever see QBs go over the top now against Woolen?
  • Brady wasted no time in testing him though
  • Lots of contact downfield, no flag means Woolen is gaining respect with the stripes and controlling the grabby nature that spoiled a couple of his early games
  • Thank goodness for overthrows
  • Julio Jones has still got it.

QTR 2, 11:29 remaining, pass is complete for 4 yards

Whoop-dee-doo.

QTR 3, 7:19 remaining, pass is complete for 18 yards

Not Woolen’s best snap of the day. That comes next. Here he’s slower than usual to turn his head, not that he would’ve had much of a play on this pinpointedly accurate throw from the GOAT.

QTR 3, 6:39 remaining, INTERCEPTION

Why make you wait? It’s the play of the game if the Seahawks come back and win, and a reason to smile if they don’t.

Brady was penalized for tripping. But the official mistakenly announced “Tripping, offense, number 12.” Won’t you allow this little itty bitty correction?

Cheaters almost never prosper. There’s always that one exception to the rule, though.

BONUS MATERIAL: Everybody Loves Julio

This has absolutely nothing to do with Woolen, and I don’t care. If we ever have to draft offensive players to play defense, I’m taking JJ in the first round.

BONUS MATERIAL 2: Slightly less effective teamwork

Upthread I mentioned how Woolen and Josh Jones were on the same page. This time, less so.

You can make an argument that Mike Evans (13) commits some light OPI along the way, but it’s a flimsy argument and I dislike it when referees call all the ticky-tacky stuff. Godwin is just savvy enough to get to the end zone line, cut outside, and trust that neither DB will be able to follow him sufficiently. He’s right, and Brady is on the money, as usual. If Jones and Woolen don’t have to switch off that’s another story, but the play is designed to box them into a choice that frees up the outside receiver. Tough play to give up when a stop would have given the Seahawks new life. But that’s the way the wienerschnitzel crumbles.

In Germany, Woolen added to his pick total and limited Brady to 22 yards on 2-of-4 passing. Unfortunately, we did not get a “u mad bro” moment and will have to settle for a much less satisfying “u temporarily sad bro.” Little victories.

PS: Statistical Recap

Pro-football-reference assigned the final score above, the Godwin grab, to Woolen, even though it appears that he and Jones switch responsibilities at the goal line. If you remove that target, and it’s more than fair to do so, quarterbacks have the following line against Woolen, through ten weeks:

22-41-276-2-5

Completion rate of 54 percent; just under seven yards per attempt; more than twice as many picks as teeders. It all computes to a 51.5 passer rating. The TDs in the Chargers and second Cardinals games account for the recent rise in Woolen’s rating against, which had been 47.1 through eight weeks.

One final statistical note concerns the fumble recoveries — Woolen has fallen on two loose balls so far, which can be interpreted as part luck, part being in the right place at the right time twice. Let’s not minimize that aspect of his game: Malcolm Smith won a Super Bowl MVP award right before our very eyes, largely for being in the right place at the right time twice.

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