Film Study: DK Metcalf, Seahawks make a perfect match

DK Metcalf wasn’t supposed to be available in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, let alone at the 64th overall pick, but landing with the Seattle Seahawks turned out to be a dream come true all the same.

Metcalf’s unique skillset fits Seattle’s offense like a glove, as he showed in Sunday’s record-setting performance that sent the Philadelphia Eagles packing from the playoffs. His 160 receiving yards were the most by a rookie in NFL playoff history, and he could have had a much bigger day.

Let’s start with the obvious: Metcalf is really, really big and really, really fast.

That was apparent on his tape from Ole Miss and made him a household name at the NFL Scouting Combine, where he tore up every drill but the short-area agility exercises. The poor agility tests drew concerns about getting in and out of breaks, but they haven’t mattered to the Seahawks, who simply ask Metcalf to do what he does best: run.

Metcalf’s two biggest plays Sunday — a 53-yard score in the third quarter and a 36-yard gain to ice it — came primarily from his speed and size. While the defense could have handled each better, Metcalf’s tools helped him punish the mistakes.

On the touchdown, the Seahawks called a shot play — a post-cross combination — with a 7-man protection just as the Eagles brought two defensive backs on a blitz. Nickelback Cre’Von LeBlanc came off the offense’s left (to Metcalf’s side) edge, and Jalen Mills came from the right. The goal was to create a free rusher (or two) and force a quick throw. But the Seahawks had the bodies to protect, allowing quarterback Russell Wilson to exploit a coverage error.

With free safety Rodney McLeod dropping down to the offense’s left flat, it appeared that cornerback Avonte Maddox was supposed to drop deep, creating an inverted Cover-2. Instead, Maddox played Metcalf from an off-man, outside leverage position. He was late getting set, even stepping forward as the ball was snapped.

That’s instant death against Metcalf, who avoided McLeod in his release, went inside Maddox and left him in the dust on a post route.

Wilson’s throw was just a hair long to hit Metcalf in perfect stride. No matter — the 6-foot-3 wideout plucked the ball with his nearly 35-inch tentacles, managing three off-balance strides before tumbling and rolling. He beat Maddox so badly that even after falling, he had time before he was touched to rise and score.

Metcalf’s 36-yard reception on third-and-10 for the game-sealing first down was similar, though more of a mismatch than a blown coverage.

The Seahawks ran a lock screen (fake screen-and-go) from a bunch right, with Metcalf at the point of the bunch. The Eagles called a Cover-0 blitz and matched three defensive backs over the three receivers from an off position. Metcalf released inside, matching him on safety Marcus Epps.

After hesitating to fake a block, Metcalf burst vertically and separated from Epps instantly, gliding further away with each step. Wilson’s throw was slightly short (if out in front, it was a walk-in touchdown), but Metcalf slowed, elevated and high-pointed the football. Once again, his separation provided room for error — Epps tried to “play the triangle” and dislodge the ball on the way down but was too far away.

Most terrifying about both plays was Metcalf’s acceleration. Despite his size, he’s not a long-strider who needs a runway to build up speed. That’s exceedingly rare for a big man, which is why he’s so valuable in Seattle.

Last year, we explored why Tyler Lockett fits perfectly in a vertical offense with Wilson, and much also is true of Metcalf. Even better, his size gives the Seahawks what Lockett doesn’t, but both can play the same roles. Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer uses both interchangeably on post-cross combinations, as he did on Metcalf’s touchdown and other plays Sunday.

One such call sprung Metcalf open on a crosser on Seattle’s second possession, but pressure disrupted Wilson, and he scrambled for 22 yards. If Wilson had a hair more time, Metcalf easily would have gained 30 with a chance for more.

Pressure also averted two possible touchdowns for Metcalf. Later that drive, a tunnel screen had Metcalf set up in space, but Derek Barnett got in the throwing lane and forced Wilson to go low. With blockers in front, Metcalf might have scored from 18 yards out.

One offensive snap after his touchdown, Metcalf had a chance at a 75-yard score. He burned Mills on a sluggo and was a yard or two clear up the right sideline, but Vinny Curry hit Wilson, forcing a long throw.

It’s not absurd to say Metcalf could have had 10 catches for 250-plus yards and three scores.

That’s what crazy athletic traits — the kind that stress the geometry of opposing defenses on every play — can do. Tyreek Hill is the ultimate example, and while nobody is in Hill’s class, the Seahawks have two who are in the next tier.

Metcalf certainly has holes in his game. His hands can be inconsistent (remember the would-be 38-yard TD he dropped in Philadelphia in Week 12?), and for his size, he’s just adequate on contested catches. He might never be useful on sharp lateral patterns like whip and option routes. But his tools make him a unique weapon, even if he never rounds out his game.

Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s top priority this week will be to prevent Metcalf and Lockett from getting loose deep. But even with that priority, he’ll have no choice but to leave one of the two on an island at times. It might only take one play to swing the game.

–By David DeChant (@DavidDeChant), Field Level Media

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