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Deon Butler’s game has always been about speed.
That will happen when you can run 40 yards in 4.38 seconds, as Butler did at the NFL scouting combine in 2009. And it only makes what had happened to the Seahawks’ second-year receiver in the recent two-game losing streak that much more puzzling. Butler had one catch for 4 yards against the Raiders in Oakland three weeks ago and three catches for 5 yards the following week against the New York Giants at Qwest Field.
Frustration does not begin to explain what Butler – and the entire passing game, for that matter – was experiencing.
But that all changed in one fling of Matt Hasselbeck’s right arm and what was a two-part flash of Butler’s fleet feet in Sunday’s big win against the Cardinals in Arizona. The 63-yard touchdown, which was 42 yards pass and 21 yards run produced the Seahawks’ longest offensive play of the season – and longest since Seneca Wallace and Koren Robinson hooked up on a 90-yard TD pass in Week 9 of the 2008 season.
It was the kind of chunk-yardage play that also will be at a premium this week, as the Seahawks prepare for Sunday’s game against the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in New Orleans.
How does so little suddenly become so much?
Butler took a few minutes this week to dissect the play, as he was sitting in a meeting room at Virginia Mason Athletic Center reviewing the video from Sunday’s game.
The first noticeable difference is that Butler is in the slot on the right side on the first-and-10 play from the Seahawks’ 37-yard line.
“It’s something we changed up, because usually I’m on the outside,” Butler said. “We had been game-planning all week to get me down the middle of the field on the safeties to use my speed.”
As Butler breaks from the line, he’s reading whether the best option is to cut underneath or over the top of linebacker Paris Lenon to reach his designated spot. Because Lenon is flat-footed as Butler approaches him, Butler opts to go over the top.
“The linebacker is usually going to carry you in the seam, which is a matchup we like to take all day,” Butler said.
The play then becomes a footrace between Butler and the middle safety – Kerry Rhodes.
“That’s a tough situation for a safety,” Butler said. “With the ball in the air, he’s got to find it.”
The line provides Hasselbeck with the time he needs as the deep route develops, but he still has to step up before launching the pass toward Butler. Rookie tight end Antonio McCoy blocks linebacker Will Davis on the right edge, while Hasselbeck is making a play-action fake to running back Marshawn Lynch and left tackle Tyler Polumbus is walling off defensive end Calais Campbell. Left guard Stacy Andrews peels back to take out defensive tackle Alan Branch, who gets the penetration that forces Hasselbeck to step up in the pocket.
All this while Butler is racing toward the 20-yard line on the opposite side of the field, as Lenon and Rhodes give chase and strong safety Adrian Wilson comes in to make it a trio of defenders.
“That linebacker’s not going to keep up with Deon Butler,” is the way former NFL coach Brian Billick put while analyzing the replay on the Fox TV broadcast.
But that Cardinal convoy has the left sideline blocked. That’s when Butler cuts back to his right and outruns everyone to the end zone – with tight end John Carlson and wide receiver Ben Obomanu coming over to provide blocks, if needed. Rhodes makes a dive at Butler’s feet, but whiffs. Carlson gets between Butler and Lenon to nudge the Cardinals’ linebacker at the 5-yard line.
“I saw three guys really digging to keep up, and (Rhodes) is about to cut me off, so I just stopped,” Butler said.
But for only half-a-blink.
“I never thought about going out of bounds. Never. At all,” Butler said. “So I hopped, and made my decision to cut back.”
On the hop, Rhodes actually gets a hand on Butler. But it isn’t enough.
“Then it was me, nobody and the end zone,” Butler said. “And I’ve never been caught from behind in my life. So I wasn’t going to start now.”
Butler looks up, and smiles.
“That just feels good when you see it on film, to see those guys hustling down there and they’re right there with you,” Butler said.
Before Carlson and Obomanu provide Butler with his last-few-yards escort into the end zone, they do their parts to make the play work. Carlson runs an out-route on the left side – opposite Butler – to occupy to defenders.
“That’s all we want him to do, just freeze them enough by keeping an eye on John so I could get behind them,” Butler said.
Obomanu, who is lined up outside Butler on the right side, runs a deep over route that takes care of that cornerback and also delayed Rhodes getting to Butler.
“If I’m not open, Matt is going to Obo,” Butler said.
That option isn’t needed, as Butler finds his sweet spot and Hasselbeck finds him with a sweet throw.
“We hadn’t even thrown it in practice, which was the crazy thing,” Butler said, smiling again. “We’d drawn it up and we know how it looks, so it just shows you that Matt really did a great job.”
Another nuance that is easy to overlook is Hasselbeck looking off the deep safety just before throwing the ball.
“That’s just Matt being who he is,” Butler said.
On a play that finally allowed Butler to be who he is. Read