RENTON — The play took about five seconds to unfold, but it was a week in the making, and in addition to being one of the biggest plays in Seattle’s overtime win in Houston, Doug Baldwin’s jaw-dropping, 25-yard catch was also a perfect illustration of why the third-year receiver is so valuable to the Seahawks offense.
Sure there was the incredible combination of catching ability and body control at play to allow Baldwin to make the highlight-reel catch on the sideline, one that helped keep alive what would turn into a 98-yard scoring drive, but to hear Baldwin break down the play, there was much more than athleticism and an very accurate throw involved.
In practice, the Seahawks had run that play a little differently during the week leading up to the Texans game, but based on his film study, Baldwin had a hunch about how it would end up looking.
“It played out just exactly how it was going to play out,” he said. “We practiced it a little bit differently than how it happened, and I thought it was going to happen the way it happened in the game, but we had practiced it a different way.”
On one of the game’s most decisive plays — the Seahawks were down 14 points and facing third-and-seven from their own 5-yard line — Baldwin was lined up in the slot with Golden Tate to his left. Russell Wilson initially faked a quick screen pass to Baldwin, while Baldwin ran at cornerback Kareem Jackson as if he was going to throw a block for Tate.
Jackson didn’t buy the fake, however, and stayed with Baldwin as the receiver released down field, which meant instead of having a free shot down the sideline, Wilson was throwing to a relatively well-covered Baldwin. That’s what Baldwin thought might happen, which is why he didn’t go full speed at first so as to better set up the back-shoulder throw he knew was coming.
“I was anticipating that the guy wasn’t going to stick with Golden and he would kind of fall off onto me,” Baldwin said. “I talked to Russ about it and Russ said he would give me a number of different types of throws. I figured it might be a back-shoulder type throw, so I didn’t run as fast as I could to get by him; I kind of just set him up so that the back-shoulder would be there, and then Russ threw a beautiful ball for me.”
That’s a very long way of saying that Baldwin knows his stuff. As Pete Carroll points out, Baldwin has tremendous quickness that helps him be a good slot receiver, but perhaps more important than that is the preparation and the feel for the game that makes the former undrafted free agent one of Seattle’s most important offensive weapons.
“The key is actually preparation; knowing what they’re going to do before they do it,” Baldwin said. “I watch a lot of film studying the way guys are going to try to attack me, whether it be a type of press or the way they’re off or just the way they’re sitting on certain types of routes. Then after that, getting the total picture of what the coverage is going to be. Then when I’m in the game it becomes second nature. I know what’s going to happen, I’ve seen it on tape, so I can just react to it and not be surprised on it.”
Despite playing fewer snaps than starters Tate and Sidney Rice, Baldwin leads the Seahawks with 216 receiving yards through three games. Even more significantly, he seems to come up with big plays when the Seahawks need them most, whether it was his other spectacular sideline catch in Carolina or his 51-yard catch that set up a touchdown against San Francisco.
According to FootballOutsiders.com which uses advanced stats to rank players and teams, Baldwin, based on defense-adjusted value over average (or DVOA), is the third-most valuable receiver in the league through three games on a per-play basis.
“He has kind of savvy and has an instinct for finding the spaces,” Carroll said. “He really has a very, very good quickness to get in and out of breaks … so we try to utilize him to do that. He’s like a lot of the classic slot guys that have that knack and sense inside, so that coupled with the chemistry that he and Russell have, and continues to grow, makes him a very valuable target in those situations. And he’s obviously a big-play guy, too. He can make the big play when the chance comes. So he’s come through a lot for us.”
And despite his undrafted status, many who know Baldwin are not surprised by the impact he has had in the NFL.
“I always admired his work ethic and obviously he’s got a lot of physical traits that go well with being an NFL player,” said Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who played with Baldwin at Stanford. “I admired his work ethic and football smarts. I remember feeling really comfortable with Doug in his last year of throwing balls up there and saying, ‘Hey Doug, go make a play.’ He had a phenomenal senior year and it was fun for me to see that and be a small part of that.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.