Being a Seahawks wide receiver comes with a catch

Posted Dec 5, 2013

The Seahawks ask their wide receivers to do so much more than just catch the ball, which is why you won’t find leading receivers Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin listed among the league leaders.

Golden Tate is the leading receiver on the team with the best record in the NFL, but his 46 receptions during the Seahawks’ 11-1 start would lead only four other teams and rank 45th in the league.

Doug Baldwin leads the Seahawks in receiving yards, but his total of 663 would lead just six other teams and ranks 33rd in the league.

The Seahawks don’t have a leader in touchdown catches; they have four – Tate and Baldwin, fellow wide-out Jermaine Kearse and tight end Zach Miller, with four each.

So why is Pete Carroll smiling?

“That’s by perfect design,” the Seahawks’ fourth-year coach said through a sly grin of the four-by-four situation when it comes to his team’s leaders in TD catches.

But the way second-year quarterback Russell Wilson distributes the ball to whoever is open on any given play is not a joke.

In 11 games, the Seahawks have had six players either lead the team in receptions or share the lead – Tate (six times), Baldwin (four), Miller (three), running back Marshawn Lynch (two) and wide receiver Sidney Rice and rookie tight end Luke Willson (one each). Tate (11) and Baldwin (10) have had games with double-digit targets, but also games where they’ve been thrown one pass (Baldwin) and two passes (Tate).

Rice played in eight before a knee injury ended his season. Percy Harvin, who was acquired in a March trade with the Minnesota Vikings, has been limited to one catch after having hip surgery Aug. 1. So Baldwin is starting at flanker for Rice and still getting snaps as a slot receiver in the three- and four-receiver sets. And playing without Rice and Harvin also has meant more plays for Kearse and Ricardo Lockette, who was signed off the practice squad in late October when Rice went on injured reserve.

“It’s been a great plus to our season, when we’re getting guys banged up and not everybody is there, that guys can elevate and rise up and be big factors and contribute to the winning plays of the game, not just making it through it,” Carroll said.

So rather than wringing his hands, Carroll is pleased by the show of hands among the remaining wide receivers.

“It’s a really cool group of guys,” he said. “We’ve seen such great flexibility and playmaking out of all of them. They just have a variety of skills and they show up and they’re really good competitors. They bring their skills to game day and they’ve been able to come through for us.”

Each receiver, of course, would like to be the go-to guy and produce numbers worthy of Pro Bowl consideration. Instead, each is happy to do his part on the only team in the league that has clinched a playoff spot and can become the first team to win its division with a victory over the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on Sunday.

“I would have to tell you, honestly, that this is probably the best receiving corps in the NFL from the top down,” said Baldwin, who then offered his own response to that claim by adding, “Some would probably look at me like I’m crazy, because nobody has 1,000 yards.”

Baldwin also had the answer to that. “We don’t throw the ball often enough to get 1,000 yards,” he said.

In fact, only the 49ers (304 pass attempts) have thrown the ball less than the Seahawks (316). And they definitely are in the minority, as the league average is 427.5 pass attempts. But then no team has run the ball more than the Seahawks (396 times) and they are one of only three teams in the league that runs more than it passes – along with the 49ers (379-304) and Carolina Panthers (377-366).

“But if you look at the efficiency of the receivers from the top down, it’s unreal,” Baldwin said. “You’ve got Golden Tate, who is probably one of the most electrifying receivers in the game when he gets the ball in his hands. Then you have the most efficient guy in the league in Jermaine Kearse. Every ball that’s thrown to him, it’s pretty much caught.”

That’s a point worth examining. Kearse’s 15 receptions have come on 23 targets, meaning he has caught 65 percent of the balls thrown his way. But Baldwin has an even higher percentage (.727) with 40 receptions on 55 targets. Tate is at 63 percent (46 receptions on 73 targets); while Miller, who’s tied for third on the team with 27 receptions (on 42 targets), is at 64 percent.

“We have elite receivers – and yes, I said elite receivers – on this roster that are capable of doing so much more,” Baldwin said. “But we’re winning games, and that’s all that matters.”

Baldwin omitted himself from the discussion, and that plays into the selflessness of the way the receivers approach their roles in the Seahawks’ run-oriented offense.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” he said. “I’m healthy. I’m thankful for my opportunities I’ve been given this season. Blessed to be where I’m at, and healthy. So I’m just trying to make the best of those opportunities.”

And the coaches are thankful for each and every one of these wide receivers, who are as willing to block for Lynch as they are to layout in an effort to catch a Wilson pass.

“You saw great examples of our wide receivers in this last game, and how they’re not afraid to be physical,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said of the 34-7 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Monday night. “Some of the blocks – whether it’s Jermaine putting a guy on his back on the screen we threw out to Golden or asking our wide receivers to block a defensive end at the point on a toss crack – our receivers love it.

“They know our mentality. They don’t want to be left out in it, so they love to be physical.”

And they also know a 1,000-yard receiving season just isn’t within their grasp in this offense, and this season that already has delivered so much team success.