Meet Doug Baldwin, the Unsung X-Factor of the Seattle Seahawks

Tyson LanglandNFC West Lead WriterJanuary 22, 2014

Nov 3, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin (89) celebrates his touchdown reception against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the fourth quarter at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

In 2011, wide receiver Doug Baldwin broke onto the scene for the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted free agent. As a rookie, the 189-pound speedster tallied 51 receptions, 788 yards receiving and scored four touchdowns.

He also became the first undrafted rookie free agent in NFL history to lead his team in receptions and receiving yards. Based on his play, it was evident him and quarterback Tarvaris Jackson had an inseparable bond on Sundays.

Unfortunately for Baldwin, that bond was taken away from him in 2012. The Seahawks moved on from Jackson when they drafted Russell Wilson out of Wisconsin and signed Matt Flynn in free agency.

Additionally, Baldwin had a hard time staying healthy on a regular basis in 2012. Despite missing two regular-season games, he battled through various upper and lower-body injuries. The most devastating of the three injuries he suffered was a shoulder injury prior to Week 3.

Baldwin ended up contributing in both playoff games last year, but his season as a whole was viewed as a disappointment.

A look at the most sure-handed receivers in the NFL, via Pro Football Focus

2013, on the other hand, has been a different story. The third-year wideout out of Stanford finished the regular season as one of the most sure-handed receivers in the game. According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Baldwin dropped two measly balls on 52 catchable passes. This meant he had the 10th-best drop rate in the league.

As far as overall receiving numbers go, Baldwin amassed 778 yards receiving on 50 receptions and scored five touchdowns. Of his 50 receptions, 36 of them went for first downs and 14 went for 20 yards or more. It’s safe to say he has been Wilson’s safety blanket all season long.

Nevertheless, pundits shouldn’t pigeonhole Baldwin. Even though the numbers suggest otherwise, he is one of the most gifted and complete wide receivers in the NFL. Shoot, in my eyes, Baldwin will be the unsung X-factor for the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.

His play has picked up in a big way after a subpar outing against the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round of the playoffs, and he currently means more to the Seahawks’ passing attack than any other wide receiver on their roster.

With the help of NFL Game Rewind, let’s take a look at what makes him such an integral part of Darrell Bevell’s offense.

First things first: Baldwin is a route-running extraordinaire.

On this first-quarter play against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 10, the Seahawks offense deployed a “12” personnel look. Baldwin was split out wide as the flanker, tight end Luke Willson was the split end and wide receiver Golden Tate was in the slot.

The Falcons defense rushed four and dropped seven into coverage out of their 4-3 alignment.

NFL Game Rewind

As soon as the ball was snapped, Baldwin jolted off the line of scrimmage and ran a “3” route nine yards downfield. Left cornerback Asante Samuel had decent coverage versus the 5’10” receiver, but Baldwin proved to be too quick out of his break.

NFL Game Rewind

The well-executed route resulted in a nine-yard gain. By no means was that play a highlight-reel play, but it was as textbook as it gets from Baldwin’s standpoint. He ran a good route, showed good acceleration and separated well.

On this second play, Baldwin put on a clinic in terms of high-pointing the ball.

With 16 seconds left to play in the first half versus the Minnesota Vikings, Bevell’s offense used an “11” personnel grouping on offense. Wide receiver Percy Harvin was in the slot, Tate was the split end on the left side of the formation and Baldwin was the flanker at the right wide receiver position.

The Vikings defense tried to counter Seattle’s “11” personnel grouping with man coverage out of a 4-2-5 alignment.

NFL Game Rewind

In theory, Minnesota made the right call defensively, but Baldwin ran a beautiful “9” route down the sideline and blew by cornerback Xavier Rhodes.

Once he got by Rhodes, Baldwin made a heads-up play and correctly positioned himself between the cornerback and the safety. The safety should have been there to knock the ball away in the end zone, but his coverage over the top was late.

NFL Game Rewind

The end result was a 19-yard touchdown pass. Wilson hit the honey hole between the two defenders, and Baldwin went up and caught the ball at its highest point. Based on his height, few would label No. 89 as a leaper, yet his 37-inch vertical would beg to differ.

This last play will touch on Baldwin’s short-area quickness and how he uses it to excel in the screen game.

Against the St. Louis Rams, Week 8, Seattle’s offense utilized an “11” personnel look in the fourth quarter. Tate was split out wide on the left side of the formation, Jermaine Kearse was in the slot closest to Tate and Baldwin was in the slot closest to the line of scrimmage.

The Rams defense tried to cover the Seahawks’ screen pass out of “11” personnel with man coverage in the 4-2-5.

NFL Game Rewind

St. Louis’ attempt to stop the screen pass was valiant, yet Seattle’s wide receivers (Tate and Kearse) laid a couple of stout blocks and Baldwin did the rest. Once he caught the ball behind the line of scrimmage, he stuck his foot in the ground and motored up field.

NFL Game Rewind

By the time the play concluded, Baldwin had registered a reception, 12 yards receiving and 16 yards after the catch.

Obviously, the wall of blockers on the left side of the formation helped spring Baldwin’s big gainer, but his short-area quickness in the open field proved to be just as crucial. Without adequate vision and the necessary get-up-and-go, the shifty wideout wouldn’t have been able to garner those yards. 

Clearly, Baldwin’s body of work consists of other key attributes, yet those are his deadliest traits on a weekly basis. However, head coach Pete Carroll doesn't necessarily agree with that notion. If it was up to him, he would throw in the term "competitor" to describe the wideout's body of work.

Here's what Carroll told Clare Farnsworth of about Baldwin's competitive nature:

He’s a great competitor. He’s got tremendous focus on battling and fighting and clawing and scratching. He comes through, and it works for him in really crucial moments. So he’s just been clutch for us and we need him a couple more times.

Baldwin will look to utilize his competitive edge and the three aforementioned attributes in the Super Bowl against one of the NFL’s best cover corners, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

On paper, Rodgers-Cromartie has the clear-cut advantage over Baldwin. Opposing quarterbacks are completing 46.9 percent of their passes into his coverage area and garnering a quarterback rating of 69.8, via PFF.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie's rating by the week, via Pro Football Focus

Let’s not forget the fact that Rodgers-Cromartie has prototypical size, great recovery speed and top-notch instincts as well. Baldwin is in for an uphill battle on Super Bowl Sunday, but that’s OK—because he is playing his best football of the season right now, and the Seahawks will help him succeed by moving him around in a wide variety of formations.

Furthermore, Harvin’s return will present Baldwin with more favorable one-on-one matchups down the field.

There’s a lot to like about the undrafted free agent’s chances in the biggest game of his career, which is why it’s not too premature to believe he will be the unsung X-Factor versus defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s defense.

Until then, Baldwin is just waiting on his moment. The good news is, he doesn’t have to wait much longer.