The Elephant in the Locker Room: If You Lose Containment, You Lose the Game

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

Early in the week, Colin Cowherd did an amazing takedown of a Minnesota fan who wanted to argue that Sunday’s game came down to mere luck. I wouldn’t have been as vicious as Cowherd was, but there’s a certain truth to the maxim that you make your own luck. As in, What do you do with an early snap that bounces off your shoulder pad?

Sheil Kapadia tweeted this still from the game on Sunday, and it says a lot:

Lost Containment 1

If you were in Wilson’s position at that moment, would you be thinking, “Now’s the time to make a play!” or would you be thinking, “Holy $#*@!” and go fetal around the football?

But there are a couple of technical things going on with this play that analysts haven’t talked about this week–technical things which will be keys in tomorrow’s game at Carolina.

The first of these is “containment.”

Everybody in the Universe knows by this time that Russell Wilson is one of the most elusive and dangerous backfield runners on the planet. One of the things you have to do to limit the damage is contain him–which is precisely what did not happen on this play. With five defenders running free at the 12:59 mark in the 4th quarter, there’s no way Wilson should have been able to avoid a sack.

But the Vikings “lost containment.” Check out the combined effect of Captain Munnerlyn’s fumble-and-sack lust and Wilson’s quick reflexes. He is too quick to the ball, and does not “break down” in approaching Wilson, leaving himself vulnerable to Wilson’s Houdini-like reflexes:

Lost Containment 2

Containment is something we were drilled on even in high school–and I distinctly remember one Friday night under the lights at Tahoma when I lost containment in very similar circumstances. On the last play before halftime, we had forced Tahoma to punt; I was lined up at left DE, and my responsibility on the play was, yes, containment. As with Jon Ryan’s first punt Sunday, the snap was bad and, as with the above early snap to Wilson on Sunday, the ball was rolling around loose on the field. All I had to do was… get to it before the punter did.

No! All I had to do was maintain containment. That was my assignment. The punter immediately retrieved the ball, saw that I had broken containment (just as Munnerlyn did on Sunday with Wilson), and quickly scooted around me to head downfield. To make matters worse, I slipped and fell while reacting to the punter’s cut around me.

But that wasn’t the end of the play. I jumped back up and, determined to make up for breaking containment, saw that the left side of the field was opening up for the punter’s long run toward the endzone. I took a good pursuit angle away from the pack and cleanly intercepted the punter 40 yards downfield for a devastating tackle and forced fumble.

Which brings me to the other key on this play: several of the Vikings gave up.

Let’s walk through this, shall we?

Note the horrific effect of Munnerlyn losing containment in the screenshot below. Not only does he allow Wilson to scoot around around him, the other four Vikings now have to go through Munnerlyn to get to Wilson, who, with one deft move, has turned a 5-to-1 deficit into a 1-on-1 footrace.

Lost Containment 3

Now take a look downfield just before Lockett catches Wilson’s pass:

Lost Containment 5

Griffen (97), Joseph (98), Munnerlyn (24), and others, having failed to chase down Wilson, are already starting to give up on the play while several of their downfield teammates (to the right of the shot) are belatedly racing back to the wide-open middle of the field.

Hardly a second later, with Lockett having barely gotten through his first move, Joseph has given up on the play entirely:

Lost Containment 6

Just a couple seconds after that, as Lockett nears the sideline, Griffen has also given up on pursuit though he trails the play by only five yards:

Lost Containment 4

Safety Harrison Smith (22) seems to be about the only Viking practicing sound pursuit technique on this play, and giving 100% until the whistle blows. Everyone else has gotten caught up in the panic of the early snap and the “Aw, crap! There goes Wilson again!” emotion of the situation.

Precisely what you cannot afford to do in championship-caliber situations. You cannot give up, and you cannot stop chasing plays downfield. Just ask Ahtyba Rubin, Seattle’s 300-pound DT who not long after this recovered Adrian Peterson’s fumble fifteen yards downfield–a fumble recovery that turned into the winning field goal. Moments such as these put Seattle in a position to win on Sunday, not luck.

And it’s moments such as these that will determine the outcome of this Sunday’s game, too.

For Seattle to win, they will need to stay disciplined and maintain containment on Cam Newton–and they will need to play through to every whistle. Every mistake, and every response to every mistake will matter 100%.

My heart tells me that this is Carolina’s year. Make no mistake, the Panther are now a championship-caliber team.

Yet the stats argue against my heart. Seattle knows how to play Carolina better than Carolina knows how to play Seattle, and the defense is simply not allowing touchdowns these days, especially on the road.

Seahawks 27, Carolina 16.

After two Super Bowl appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that there’s always some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

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