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Time After Time: A Look at Week 1 in the NFL

The Giants give the Cowboys the precious gift of seconds on the clock, Andrew Luck still doesn’t know what hit him in Buffalo, and questions abound in Seattle. All of that and more from a fantastic welcome back to football.

O Coughlin, my Coughlin. The Giants have thrown away some games in truly infuriating fashion during the Eli Manning–Tom Coughlin era, but Sunday night’s dramatic 27-26 loss to the Cowboys felt particularly painful. Maybe it was because the near-victory felt totally unearned (in the way that many great New York wins from this era have felt) before being given away; it was as if the Giants had found the keys to the car, snuck out the window after curfew, and gotten the car started without waking the parents up, only to forget one key element before subsequently driving through the garage door.

Let’s just run through those final few minutes and detail what went wrong. If you’re a Giants fan, you may want to skip these next few paragraphs. Sadly, I have to write them. After the Cowboys scored against a hyper-conservative Giants defense to make the score 23-20 with 5:08 to go, the Giants took over needing three or four first downs to seal up the game.

Their first mistake came on the first third down of the possession, after the ball had been knocked downfield following a play. After two real-time minutes of desperate negotiations with the referee and clock operator, the Giants lined up with their play already called as the clock began to run at 4:20 with 40 full seconds remaining on the play clock. Manning recognized this and told his linemen not to get into their stances; had he wanted, he could have burned 39.5 seconds and gotten the clock down to 3:40 or so before snapping the football. Instead, he took the snap at 3:57, leaving 18 seconds on the play clock. Let’s just remember that number for now.

Manning hit Odell Beckham Jr. on a quick hitch for a first down. Rashad Jennings ran for 27 yards on the next play and then picked up 7 yards on the ensuing first-and-10, forcing Dallas to take its first timeout with 2:25 left. Jennings then ran for 2 yards to seemingly set up a third-and-1 and another Cowboys timeout, only for veteran Cowboys lineman Jeremy Mincey to slap Giants left tackle Ereck Flowers’s helmet off, producing a personal foul that left the Giants in great shape. They were up three with 2:17 to go and the ball on Dallas’s 16-yard line.

That set up the second critical mistake. The Giants ran Andre Williams into the line on first down for no gain, which would have likely forced the Cowboys to use their second timeout, but the Giants foolishly lined up in an illegal formation with nobody on the line of scrimmage covering Flowers, the left tackle. The Cowboys declined the penalty, but it stopped the clock, saving them a timeout that would come in handy later. This was a totally sloppy, entirely unforced error from a veteran offense.

After a Jennings run lost 4 yards, Jason Garrett then chose to let the clock run to the two-minute warning. After the warning, the Giants caught a break. Demarcus Lawrence jumped offside on third-and-long, giving Manning a free play and an opportunity to force the ball into Beckham, who picked up what appeared to be a backbreaking 16-yard reception. The Giants had the ball on the 4-yard line with a three-point lead and a new set of downs. Their win expectancy was surely in excess of 95 percent.

The penalty did have a hidden silver lining for the Cowboys by stopping the clock. A lot of people — including me — were confused about why the clock stopped after the penalty, given that the Giants obviously declined it. As CBS’s Pete Prisco pointed out on Twitter, it’s an NFL rule that the game clock will start on the snap within the final five minutes of the second half after a down that includes the clock stopping after a foul by either team, regardless of whether the penalty was accepted or declined.

This sounds really cheap and easy to exploit for teams that need to stop the clock and have five yards to burn, but if I’m interpreting the rule right, it’s harder than it seems at first glance.1 You can’t just jump offside before the snap and be unabated to the quarterback while the clock is running, because that will result in a penalty and the clock will continue to run. You can’t hold somebody during a play, because that’s an automatic first down. You can’t commit a personal foul. There aren’t many cases where a team can simultaneously commit a penalty that aids its cause, but this happened to be one of them.


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Obviously, because we would have seen teams exploit this rule before now.

Then, the drama struck. Jennings ran into the line for 2 yards, forcing the Cowboys to use their second timeout. He plunged forward for another yard on second down, at which point the Cowboys used their last timeout. If the Giants hadn’t lined up like a high school team and picked up the illegal formation penalty, the Cowboys would likely already have been out of timeouts. It’s impossible to say exactly how they would have used their timeouts differently, but it seems likely that the unneeded timeout saved Dallas at least 17 seconds. That brings our counter of Giants time wasted up to 35 seconds.

You know what happened on third down by now. The Giants chose to throw the football. It didn’t go well. Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo called for the famously mobile Manning to go play-action and waggle to his right with just one receiver, Daniel Fells, to that side of the field. Fells was engaged by a defender and never got into his route, and when Manning saw Sean Lee and Tyrone Crawford bearing down on him with nobody open, he instinctively threw the ball away.

This was critically dumb on a few different levels. Most of the criticism I’ve seen after the game has been toward the Giants for calling a pass, but my guess is that those arguments are mostly outcome-driven. Arizona coach Bruce Arians called for a pass when his team was trying to seal up the game with its final drive2 against New Orleans on Sunday and promptly got a 55-yard touchdown pass to rookie David Johnson. Arians was rightly called aggressive after the game, not naive for putting his team’s lead in danger. Calling for a pass in itself isn’t an awful decision, and if Manning throws a touchdown pass, nobody’s bothering to criticize the play call this morning.


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Not counting a Carson Palmer kneeldown.

The mistake that McAdoo and Manning made was not planning for what to do if the pass wasn’t there. Given that the Cowboys had called a timeout before the play and given the Giants a chance to discuss their play call, one thing had to be made clear: the clock couldn’t be stopped under any circumstances. Once Manning felt pressure or didn’t see an open receiver, he needed to give himself up and take a sack. That would have kept the clock running and burned another 40 seconds while providing for a marginally more difficult field goal attempt. The difference between a 19-yard field goal and a 28-yard field goal is far less meaningful than a six-point lead with 1:37 left and a six-point lead with :57 left. We can add another 40 seconds to our counter; the Giants have now gifted Dallas 75 seconds of time.

Then, faced with another tough decision, the Giants likely made another mistake. They could have chosen to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line to try to seal the game for good, but instead chose to kick a field goal to go up six and kick deep to Dallas. I understand the logic of wanting to extend a lead and ensure that it was going to take a touchdown from Dallas to lose, but that logic also ignores the plain reality of how other coaches think. They often optimize their decisions to extend the game for as long as possible.

Trailing by three in a two-minute drill, coaches will almost settle for a field goal to try to push the game into overtime. They optimize their decision-making to tie, which only improves their chances of winning to 50 percent (or whatever the implied odds were from the pregame spread), because they still have to win in overtime. Down six and without any other choice, they get aggressive and optimize their play calling to try to score a game-winning touchdown.

I can’t prove it, but if the Giants had gone for it and failed, the most likely scenario would have been a field goal attempt from Dan Bailey which would have sent the game into overtime. Even deciding to go for a field goal wouldn’t have been the worst thing if the Giants had used the clock properly throughout, since they would have left the Cowboys with only 14 seconds to march downfield for a touchdown. Instead, they promptly played vanilla coverages while the Cowboys used 1:27 to march down the field with ease and score with seven seconds to spare. Jason Witten finished off the drive versus a Cover 2 look by fooling middle linebacker Uani’ Unga into dropping deeper into the end zone before cutting in front of him at the goal line for an easy game winner.

Truthfully, the Giants shouldn’t really even have had the game to win in the first place. They were badly outplayed by the Cowboys for most of the contest in just about every facet of the game. Deathly afraid of getting beat downfield with their inexperienced-and-ineffective safety combination of Landon Collins and Brandon Meriweather, the Giants played a conservative scheme and allowed the Cowboys to complete a seemingly endless run of shallow crossing patterns for steady chunks of yardage.

Steve Spagnuolo’s unit picked up stops from unlikely sources. Dallas’s receivers dropped a number of passes (a feat that the Giants, particularly Preston Parker, were happy to try to match) that would have extended drives. The Giants forced three turnovers, one of which was an interception that bounced off Witten’s steady hands. Even more unexpectedly, they turned those other takeaways into paydirt. The Giants had just one return touchdown all last season; they had one Sunday on a Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie scoop-and-score and nearly had a second with Trumaine McBride returning a Tony Romo pass to the 1-yard line. This wasn’t one of those games where a fearsome Giants pass rush was forcing the opposition into mistakes; the Giants were handed this game by the Cowboys and basically decided to give it back.

Romo, one of the few Cowboys who played really well, delivered a phenomenal performance. Neither of the interceptions was really his fault; the pass to Witten was a little behind where Romo would have wanted to place it, but it was still very catchable and unlucky to be picked off. He was actively calling out Giants blitzes and changing his protections to fool those blitzers into thinking he was going to be doing something entirely different with the football, something Cris Collinsworth noted during the broadcast. He also produced another late-game drive for a comeback victory, a fact that will conveniently be forgotten the next time we have a national debate on whether Romo is clutch.

The win, however, came with a serious cost for Dallas, which announced two key injuries after the game. Rookie defensive end Randy Gregory, playing a meaningful role in the absence of the suspended Greg Hardy, went down with a high ankle sprain that will likely cost him four to six weeks. The same timeline is in play for star wide receiver Dez Bryant, who (per Jerry Jones) will require surgery after breaking his foot. The Cowboys become the latest remarkably healthy offense from 2014 to start breaking down after the Packers and Steelers lost stars during the preseason. Dallas’s 11 starters missed a total of seven games last year; Bryant will nearly hit that total by himself by the end of October. Romo was able to pull this one out late without his star wideout, but he may not find other teams around the league as giving as the Giants.

A Functioning QB? Oh Man, This Is So Odd

Last week, I wrote that I expected the Bills to finish as one of the eight worst teams in football. On Sunday, they looked like one of the eight best teams in the league. They stomped a mudhole in the Colts, dominating the would-be Super Bowl contenders in a blowout that was far less competitive than the 27-14 scoreline would seem to indicate.

Naturally, I wanted to take a look back at this one overnight to see what happened, and I went in with a few questions. What did the Bills do to virtually shut down Andrew Luck? How did Tyrod Taylor look during what appeared to be an impressive starting debut? And are there still reasons to be skeptical about Buffalo’s chances of making a playoff run in 2015?

Let’s start with the defense. Rex Ryan’s unit downright stifled Luck & Co., holding them scoreless for most of the game before allowing two second-half touchdowns. Luck was picked off twice and honestly could have easily thrown at least one more, with Stephon Gilmore dropping what would have been a third pick. The preseason MVP candidate averaged just under 5 yards per attempt, marking just the third time he’s been held under that figure in 49 regular-season starts. It’s hard to remember a game in which Luck seemed so flustered that didn’t involve the Patriots and January.

The Bills had a very clear game plan and executed it to perfection. And if you’re even remotely familiar with Rex Ryan or his lineage, you’ll have a great idea of what that game plan was before I even say the word. They blitzed the bejesus out of the Colts. They blitzed so many times and with so many people that I became convinced Ryan was filming an epic movie and sending thousands of CGI’d extras after Luck on every passing down.

Ryan sent 26 blitzes after Luck on Sunday, eventually backing off once the game wasn’t close. That’s more than any other team in football blitzed during Week 1. It’s particularly notable because the Bills just had a wildly successful year under previous defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, whose calling card is sending the front four and virtually never blitzing. His Bills defense sent only 135 blitzes all season in 2014, which is just under 8.5 extra rushes per game. Only three teams sent fewer blitzes than the Bills did last year. Things are different with Ryan in town.

Blitzing Luck is hardly a foolproof plan; last year, his QBR was 16th in the league among qualifiers when teams backed off and sent four men or fewer, but when the opposition blitzed, Luck had the ninth-best QBR. Luck has a preternatural ability to maneuver in the pocket, step up past pressure, and fire strikes with defenders all around him. Look at the numbers from Sunday and it doesn’t seem the pass rush was a big deal, as Luck was sacked only two times for a total loss of three yards.

The structure of how Ryan blitzed Luck, though, was what made it work. Time and time again, Ryan sent pressure up the A gaps on either side of center Khaled Holmes. Kyle Williams, in particular, had a monstrous day when the Bills used him on delayed rushes or in two-man games with the players around him. Instead of using them to loop around Indy’s tackles and create pressure on their own, Ryan needed his rushers on the edge to stay disciplined and keep contain on either side of Luck, trusting that the pressure up the middle would disrupt Luck’s throwing lanes while preventing him from stepping up in the pocket.

The tactic worked, and the Colts didn’t really have an answer for it. They had an early screen set up for the mostly-anonymous Frank Gore that looked like it was going to go for a big gain, only for an errant Luck delivery to render the idea moot, and the fades they threw were either tipped away or intercepted. Although they found success with one deep pass to T.Y. Hilton during the first half, Luck and Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton made the natural progression to assuming that the Bills were just going to blitz every freaking down and transitioned toward relying on hot reads to get the ball out quickly.

That’s a logical counter, especially for a team with athletic, speedy receivers who are dangerous after receptions like the ones the Colts enjoy. Typically, the Colts do major damage after the catch; last year, they averaged 5.7 YAC, the seventh-highest rate in the league. On Sunday, the Bills secondary absolutely shut them down after receptions, even after losing starting safety Corey Graham on the first play from scrimmage with a concussion. Indy’s receivers averaged just 2.9 YAC, the second-worst rate in the league during Week 1.

Ryan trusted his cornerbacks to stick to Indy’s receivers in man coverage, and while they occasionally were able to get open for a reception or two, they didn’t get far. On third-and-long, Ryan was able to put his defensive backs on the sticks and have them drive on underneath passes. Rookie second-round cornerback Ronald Darby was notably impressive in his first professional game after a rough preseason, picking off a long Luck pass to Hilton, who eventually left the game in the second half with a knee injury. Actually, if you want to know what this game was like for Indy’s receivers, the simplest explanation is this picture-perfect German suplex Bacarri Rambo laid on Donte Moncrief:

rambosuplex

As for Buffalo’s quarterback, his day started off ignominiously; Tyrod Taylor’s first snap came at wide receiver with Matt Cassel in the shotgun, as Ryan’s propensity to run the Wildcat long after it was cool in New York reared its head in distressing fashion. After that, the Bills didn’t do anything particularly exotic with their new quarterback, at least by those standards.

Taylor ended up with fantastic numbers. He was 14-of-19 for 195 yards with a touchdown, throwing in 41 yards on nine carries. The former Ravens backup finished with an 88.2 QBR, the fifth-highest figure so far this week. By any account, it was a success.

In this case, though, the numbers oversell Taylor’s actual performance. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman installed a very simple, conservative game plan that was designed to give Taylor safe passes with opportunities for his receivers to run after the catch. His first attempt was a designed swing pass to LeSean McCoy for 20 yards, and many of Taylor’s other passes were cut from roughly similar cloth. If you’re somebody who loves screens, swing passes, and checkdowns, you will want to watch the Taylor tape in the privacy of your home.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, and it’s fairly common for offensive coordinators to start with such conservative schemes before ramping up as the season goes along. Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles received similarly limited instructions last season. It’s also true that when Taylor needed to make his one deep pass of the day, he nailed it. With Vontae Davis absolutely locking down Sammy Watkins, Taylor had his most frequent success picking on slot cornerback Darius Butler, including a beautiful 51-yard touchdown pass to Percy Harvin.

Honestly, the throw that augured the most promise for me with Taylor was a third-and-8 conversion against one of the few blitzes Chuck Pagano sent. The concern with inexperienced mobile quarterbacks like Taylor is often that they’ll try to run their way out of trouble, shuffle aimlessly in the pocket, and end up making a bad decision or taking a sack. Watch Taylor stand tall in the pocket, take notice of the pressure without panicking, and make an effective throw to an open Robert Woods versus Butler for a first down:

tyrodpocket

If I’m being honest, that wasn’t always the way Taylor played. As the game went along and the Bills got away from scripted, safer throws, Taylor struggled. He didn’t always handle pressure with the depicted sort of calmness and threw a pair of passes under the rush that could have been intercepted. On a less charmed day, those passes would get picked off.

There’s reason to be cautiously optimistic about Taylor. He wasn’t a flop by any means in the way that some overmatched quarterbacks can be from the moment they step on the field. At the same time, the Bills spent virtually the entire game in situations that didn’t ask very much of Taylor. They didn’t need to make regular throws downfield to pick up big chunks of yardage and weren’t in a situation where they needed their quarterback to help them catch up. It’s hard to imagine the clearly stage-managed Taylor being that sort of quarterback for the Bills, at least based on what I saw yesterday.

The same might be true for the Bills as a whole. This was a day when a lot went right for them, when the opposing team wasn’t able to break free from their pressure or capitalize with big gains on the few chances they had. Teams will get more tape on how Ryan implemented pressure and on Taylor and won’t be quite as blindsided as the Colts were this week.

And, if you’re a Bills fan, you don’t need me to remind you of how a dominant win in Week 1 doesn’t necessarily prove you’re about to have a big year. It was back in 2003 that a Bills team with Drew Bledsoe and the newly signed Lawyer Milloy stomped the Patriots in Buffalo in Week 1, 31-0, forcing four picks out of Tom Brady. Afterward, Patriots players famously had to deny reports that they “hated” Bill Belichick. They proceeded to win 17 of their next 18 games en route to a second Super Bowl victory. The Bills finished the year 6-10. It would be silly to see a great game from the Bills and assume that it’s going to lead them to future failure, but it’s also not proof that they’re a finished product. Each game in a football season reveals a little more about a team than what we knew the previous week. On Sunday, I found out that the Bills might be pretty good.

Somebody Help Cam

When we did the Mad Libs portion of our live Grantland NFL Podcast in Brooklyn last week, one of the questions raised was identifying who or what would make Cam Newton stop smiling. My answer was Michael Oher, Carolina’s new left tackle. Do you remember back to when you were in junior high and had a crush on somebody and how you were afraid to bump into them or make it seem obvious that you had feelings for them when you were around them? That’s how Michael Oher treats Chris Clemons here:

clemonsspin

We’ll check in on this as the season goes along.

Longing for Chancellor?

The other upset-which-might-not-have-been-much-of-an-upset came in St. Louis, where the Rams beat the Seahawks for the second consecutive season, this time in a 34-31 overtime thriller. And while last year’s dramatic victory required two moments of stunning special-teams brilliance from Rams coordinator John Fassel, this year’s win was a back-and-forth slugfest that saw the Rams give away the lead and narrowly regain it before a pair of crucial overtime plays by the Seahawks.

Naturally, the big story coming out of the game for Seattle revolved around missing safety Kam Chancellor. The Seahawks defense gave up 27 points,3 but what was even more concerning was how they gave up those points. Last year, the Seahawks allowed just 39 plays of 20 yards or more, which was comfortably the lowest figure in the league. (Buffalo was second with 46, and the league average was 61.) On Sunday, the Chancellor-less defense allowed the Rams to hit eight plays of 20 yards or more, which is the most allowed by any team so far in Week 1.


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Excluding Tavon Austin’s punt return touchdown.

The most notable of those big plays was the 37-yard bomb from Nick Foles to Lance Kendricks that tied the game with 59 seconds left, in part because of who Kendricks beat for the touchdown. That happened to be Dion Bailey, Chancellor’s replacement in the lineup, who was in coverage and slipped on the play. It seems difficult to blame a guy for slipping and suggest that the far-better-known player wouldn’t have slipped, but let’s say it’s fair to consider Bailey culpable for that mistake.

That’s one bad play. I ran through the other 20-plus-yard plays and don’t think there were any others really involving Bailey. Breaking down coverage without knowing the play call is always a dangerous game, but in most of the other cases, Bailey was on the other side of the field and couldn’t have had anything to do with the play. A seam route to Jared Cook over the middle went between two linebackers. A play-action pass to Stedman Bailey for 29 yards came while Dion Bailey was run-blitzing and near the line of scrimmage. A critical 21-yard fourth-quarter completion to Kenny Britt came with DeShawn Shead in coverage. Foles even fit a beautiful corner route between Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas.

The only exception I can find is a wheel route to Cook for 20 yards on the final play of the first quarter, where there appeared to be miscommunication. Bailey appeared to be standing over Cook like he was in man coverage before the snap, but when Cook went in motion, Bailey didn’t follow and gestured like he was passing him off to a defender on the other side of the formation. Cook ran free on the wheel route and was tackled by Cary Williams, who looked agitated after the play in the way that cornerbacks who have been witness to blown coverages look agitated.

It’s hard for me to say the play in question was Bailey’s fault. While I suppose Chancellor might have improved the defense on non-big plays or allowed it to play differently, I really don’t think he would have made much of a difference in terms of how Seattle handled those big plays outside of the touchdown pass to Kendricks.

The argument that Sunday’s game proved how Chancellor deserved a raise seems iffy to me. If anything, I think you can make a better case about how Sunday proved that Russell Wilson deserved what he was paid this offseason. If anyone ever tells you Wilson is a system quarterback or that he gets routinely carried to wins by his defense, show them this game against the Rams, where his offensive line was being ragdolled like they were boys against men for most of the game and Wilson had to run for his life and make guys miss on virtually every passing play to make anything happen.

When St. Louis pieced together its dominant defensive line, this was the sort of game it must have been dreaming about. Wilson has been sacked six or more times in a game on four occasions, and three of those days have come against the Rams. They sacked him six times Sunday, knocking him down a total of nine times, and it’s a miracle those figures aren’t higher. Aaron Donald was, bar none, the most impressive player I saw on any field in Week 1. St. Louis’s front seven appeared to be spending as much time in Seattle’s backfield as Wilson and Marshawn Lynch. It was a dominant performance and one that raises concerns about this Seattle offensive line going forward.

The defensive line also came up with the final play of the day. I’ll spare you the jokes about how Pete Carroll finally chose to run for it on short-yardage, but that game-ending stuff is a reminder that even the league’s best short-yardage back doesn’t get 1 yard when he needs to every time. Here, my suspicion is that the Seahawks had a genuine4 read-option play called, which the Rams snuffed out beautifully. Chris Long stayed at home on the edge to force Wilson to hand the ball off, and Michael Brockers — who is, remember, arguably this team’s fifth-best defensive lineman — shot through the gap between J.R. Sweezy and Garry Gilliam to meet Lynch in the backfield. The play never had any shot of succeeding, and it wasn’t because of a bad decision. It was because the Rams out-executed the Seahawks.


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As opposed to plays that have the action and look of a read-option but are designed handoffs to Lynch, which Seattle also does a fair amount of. The Seahawks tend to go to the read-option in key situations, like during that fateful comeback against the Packers.

There was also a bizarre decision when it appeared Carroll chose to attempt an onside kick at the beginning of overtime, a move that was later revealed to be purely accidental when Steven Hauschka admitted that it was actually a failed squib kick. Carroll wasn’t trying the onside kick, but it’s actually a very reasonable gambit, given that you can recover an onside kick and promptly win in overtime by kicking a field goal without needing to give the ball back to the opposition (who, by rule, had a chance to possess the ball) and while sacrificing only about 30 yards of field position. Brian Burke, who now works for ESPN, wrote about this very topic in 2011. I don’t think it made sense for the Seahawks given that they were favored to win the game, but it’s a brilliant idea for a team with a good offense and/or a great kicker from distance.

Strangely, the player who stood out to me as emblematic of why Seattle might have lost this game was, entirely indirectly, Tyler Lockett. Lockett didn’t do anything wrong; in fact, he had a brilliant punt return5 for a touchdown and looks every bit the return genius he seemed during the preseason. When I wrote about the Lockett trade this May, I criticized the move, not out of any doubt that Lockett was a good player, but out of the opportunity cost Seattle spent in doing so.


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The Rams were supposed to regress to the mean in terms of returns allowed for scores after giving up 10 such returns last year. They gave up two Sunday. Maybe they’ll get around to not giving those up next week.

It’s really hard to write about opportunity cost in terms of football because the cost is so difficult to see. The Seahawks gave up third-, fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-round picks to Washington to move up 26 slots and grab Lockett, basically valuing him as equivalent to the 27th pick of the first round. Most teams wouldn’t draft even a great return prospect that high — remember that Devin Hester was a late second-rounder and Dante Hall was a fifth-round pick — so it’s reasonable to expect that Lockett will need to deliver some as a wideout to justify the trade.

Even if that happens, and I think it will, the Seahawks will have paid an enormous premium to make the move. It’s easy to see the value of Lockett because you can actually watch him play; he’s a tangible asset to the team. The opportunity cost is so difficult to see because you can’t really imagine what the players John Schneider might have taken would look or play like in Seattle’s colors. On Sunday, you couldn’t see them, but they were missing. Seattle’s offensive line was torn to bits while starting two undrafted free agents (Gilliam and center Drew Nowak) around a seventh-rounder (Sweezy). They had another undrafted free agent, Bailey, starting at strong safety. A fourth undrafted free agent, Shead, was in coverage on that third-and-15 conversion by Britt.

There’s no guarantee Schneider would have found stars with those middle-round picks in the exact spots where his team was lacking on Sunday, even if he’s found players like K.J. Wright and Sherman in the middle rounds in years past. But there’s also no guarantee he couldn’t have found a useful return man as an undrafted free agent, either. The difference between Gilliam and a third-round tackle prospect might not have stopped the Rams defensive line single-handedly, but we’ll never know whether it might have done enough to influence a key play or two. That gap between drafted talent and replacement-level talent is the opportunity cost that comes with trading up for a luxury item like Lockett. He looks to be a great player, and Schneider is no dummy. But if you’re looking to understand why opportunity cost matters, look at the guys who were stretched in meaningful roles for the Seahawks on Sunday.