If versatility is a virtue, Marquise Blair must be a saint. The second-round defensive back out of Utah was thrust into a starting role in the Seahawks’ secondary just three weeks ago and has since played major snaps at both strong and free safety positions, the latter beginning on Sunday against the Buccaneers. After strong (lol) performances against the Ravens and Falcons, Blair’s play on Sunday drew tepid criticism from Pete Carroll, whose statement resembled more of an anti-joke than realism: “He got through the game.”
Much of Blair’s supposed struggles in center field stemmed from both how he was positioned before the snap and his tendencies immediately following. In fashion sure to have Gregg Williams salivating, Blair consistently lined up 20 yards off of the line of scrimmage, essentially neutering his ability to tangibly affect plays. On this snap, watch how Marquise continues to backpedal after the ball is hiked, despite his depth:
Blair isn’t even in earshot of the targeted receiver, let alone close enough to make a difference. In contrast, look at how much further forward Earl Thomas used to line up as a Seahawk (*sobs*):
While Blair is not Thomas — nor should be expected to be, especially in his first-ever start at free safety — the disparity is staggering. Thomas’ positioning, post-snap patience, and decisiveness are a reminder as to why he was so valuable in Seattle’s defense and why I am dead inside.
But Blair has not been alone in his pre-snap endeavors. Before being placed on Injured Reserve, free safety Tedric Thompson was positioning himself similarly deep.
Just look at this poor sap. My guy is halfway from Atlanta to Charlotte by the time the ball is thrown.
The fact that both have both lined up so deep doesn’t necessarily mean that Blair is already as good of a free safety as Thompson was, but I will choose to believe it anyway.
It also means that this positioning is driven by scheme. It seems that Pete Carroll knows his defense is bad — having the opposite of a pass rush will do that — and is trying oh so hard to avoid giving up deep receptions. Blair’s priorities are further confirmed by his sluggish reaction to this outside pitch:
Carroll is clearly confident in his defense’s ability to stop the run — especially with Bradley McDougald so often playing close to the line of scrimmage — if he’s comfortable eliminating the free safety from the majority of plays.
The Seahawks’ strategy of funneling everything underneath worked a little bit too well against Tampa Bay, allowing Jameis Winston to move the ball effortlessly. While Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are without question a terrifying duo, the approach ended up being counterintuitive; Seattle failed to stop Tampa Bay through the air for much of the day.
With this schematic caveat in mind, we can analyze what Blair actually put on tape in his first start at free safety. It’s not surprising how little the Bucs’ offense attacked deep with how loosely Seattle clung to the intermediate depths. But when they did, Blair broke on passes decisively.
On this snap, the Seahawks are in quarters, with Blair and McDougald split deep. Evans runs deep through McDougald’s zone, who carries the receiver all the way into the end zone. While Blair’s decision isn’t difficult by any means, it’s reassuring to see both the certainty in his read — he breaks toward Evans well before the ball leaves Winston’s hand — and the range to actually arrive at his destination in time.
The following throw is uncatchable, but the rookie’s decisiveness and athleticism are similarly on display:
The red zone posed a different challenge for Blair: How can you play 25 yards off the line of scrimmage when less than 25 yards remain?! It was almost as if he had no chance but to try at that point. Unfortunately, Mike Evans is very good and Blair was no match for this whip, resulting in touchdown:
But on Tampa Bay’s previous touchdown, a bamboozling jaunt down the turnpike of shitfuckery, watch as Blair keeps his eyes on the quarterback and breaks on the pass:
Yes, the tip drill resulted in a touchdown to confirmed doofus Breshad Perriman. And yes, I would have preferred an interception to said touchdown to confirmed doofus Breshad Perriman. But the lightning-quick reflexes and lightning-quick speed are present, especially when attacking downhill.
Blair’s flashiest rep of the game reared its head in the rare instance that McDougald manned the deep middle third by himself.
On third down, the Buccaneers attempt to clear out space for a conversion via slant. Blair has none of it. When Winston completes his drop, Marquise is already flying toward the receiver. He easily makes the tackle, creating a fourth down, which is now more valuable than Bitcoin in the city of Seattle.
Blair’s aggressiveness is on display on this snap, partially to his detriment:
Marquise breaks on the screen pass before Winston sets to throw, but his overpursuit allows the defender to wash him out immediately, paving the way for a solid gain.
On Tampa’s initial rushing touchdown, this overpursuit — while less pronounced — is still apparent:
While it is preferable for Blair to make these plays rather than not make these plays, they are quintessential rookie mistakes and not damning in the least. The traits inherent to the Seahawks’ free safety archetype are present and exciting alike in Blair. Again, he is not Earl Thomas, and that is quite all right, for nobody is. Well, aside from Earl Thomas.
It will take time, tutoring, freedom, and positional continuity (@ peter clay carroll), but I am salivating at Marquise Blair’s potential to be Seattle’s free safety of the future.