Football is a game played with eleven players on each team. All NFL and college football fans know this. Aunt Sally knows this. So how do the Arizona Cardinals not know this? Chuck Zodda looks at the Seattle Seahawks punt block and renders a verdict.
Math is an important skill for a number of professions. Some vocations require the use of trigonometry, calculus, or more complicated disciplines. Others involve simpler concepts such as percentages.
For a personal protector on an NFL punt unit, mastery of only one basic computational skill is necessary: the ability to count from one to eleven. And unfortunately for the Arizona Cardinals, their personal protector Justin Bethel (#28) received an F in arithmetic on Sunday.
With 11:15 remaining in the third quarter, the Cardinals trailed the Seattle Seahawks 9-3. Having a chance to get back in the game, Arizona’s offense promptly went three-and-out, forcing the Cardinals to bring on their punt unit:
Circled in yellow are the two Cardinals punt gunners. We highlight them here only to show that they exist on the field and to provide a count. After extensive analysis, our mathematicians have confirmed that there are two, and only two, Cardinal gunners. There are no additional Arizona players outside the numbers.
The end zone angle provides a more detailed look at the tight punt formation centered on the left hash mark:
Circled in yellow are the helmets of every Cardinal present in this formation. Once again consulting our math whizzes, we have confirmed that there are indeed eight Cardinals in the tight punt formation. After adding these eight to the two gunners present in the previous view ‒ and using our fingers ‒ it is now obvious there are only ten men on the field for Arizona.
This is a bold strategy by the Cardinals. The man in charge of running the operation for any punting unit is the personal protector. Bethel stands six yards behind the line of scrimmage. His responsibilities are straightforward – he is to call out the protection scheme, execute the snap count, and most importantly, count the players on the field to make sure that the entire punt unit is present and accounted for. Bethel’s failure to complete the last item on his checklist is critical to Arizona’s failure here. The Cardinals flunk basic math.
At the snap, the Seahawks rush all eight men near the line of scrimmage:
Indicated by the yellow T’s, Arizona has enough men to block seven Seahawks. For much the same reason, the red arrow on the right side of the screen shows that DeShawn Shead (#35) has an unimpeded path to the punter: The Cardinals simply do not have enough men to block all of Seattle’s players. This is neither the fault of punter Drew Butler (#2) nor long snapper Mike Leach (#82). The error rests squarely on the shoulders of Bethel.
As the play continues, Arizona actually gets decent blocking from most of their line:
There are strong walls obstructing the incoming Seahawks on both sides of the formation. Arizona actually does a phenomenal job of picking up the incoming rushers and properly identifying their blocking assignments. However, Shead is seven yards away from Butler and still unblocked on the right of the frame. This is a major problem, as Butler is merely half a step into his release. The result is predictable:
Shead doesn’t just block the ball with the tips of his fingers. He blocks it with his elbows. The snap-to-kick time for this punt was 1.95 seconds, below the 2.0 seconds that teams typically target. The following GIF shows just how quickly Shead reached Butler:
There is no time for Butler to react or to do anything as Shead essentially tackles him after making the block. He has nowhere to go.
However, the play isn’t over yet:
Circled in yellow, the ball is now bouncing backwards towards the end zone. If Arizona is able to recover the ball, the Cardinals still have a chance to make something positive out of this play. Any blocked kick is returnable by either team, with the kicking team able to pick up a first down by advancing it past the chains. The nearest Seahawk to the ball is tight end Cooper Helfet (#84, circled in red), who is tied up by blockers and being driven over a pile of Seahawks and Cardinals. It looks unlikely that he will be able to get into position to thwart a potential Cardinal recovery.
As the play continues, tight end Rob Housler (#84) from the Cardinals makes a beeline to the ball:
Indicated by the yellow arrow, Houser is the closest player to the ball. He also appears to have a number of potential blockers for a run, as there are several Cardinals in the immediate area. However, Helfet has not given up on the play. Circled in red, he has pulled himself out of the pile, and is in pursuit of Houser. This is a phenomenal effort by Helfet, as his relentless pursuit forces Houser to the sideline.
After picking up the ball, Houser’s brief run for glory is quickly snuffed out by Helfet:
While the average career for an NFL player is approximately 3.3 years according to the NFL Players Association, there is a strong likelihood that Helfet will be successful in the WWE after performing a move like this. Still images don’t do it justice, so we once again turn to the brilliance of GIFs:
Helfet, a Duke alumnus, clearly knows the value of being educated in math. While on many special team plays, the difference between success and failure often comes down to execution; in this case, it was the pre-snap failure by Bethel that doomed this punt for the Cardinals. Although Seattle only managed a field goal on the ensuing possession, with backup quarterback Drew Stanton in the lineup for the Cardinals, those three points were more than enough to bury the birds.
All video and images courtesy NFL.com and NFL Game Rewind.
Follow Chuck on Twitter @ITP_ChuckZ.