He’s short and quick, a playmaker that can line up all over the formation and pin defensive backs on their heels. He can then turn them around full circle or run by them for big plays. He’s not Percy Harvin, however — he’s Doug Baldwin.
If you didn’t know who Baldwin was two weeks ago — and you should have — then you surely know him by now. He racked up six receptions on seven targets for 106 yards against the San Francisco 49ers in the championship round, including a quarterback friendly 51-yard reception that saw him weave all over the right side of the field before eventually hooking up with quarterback Russell Wilson. Two of his receptions came on third down, and four went for a first down. Call him Mr. Reliable, if you will.
As the Seahawks continue their dream journey, they’ll have to rely on him once again to complement their ground attack, and there’s a good chance he can be counted on because he’s not just getting open due to fancy designs. He’s getting open because he’s able to on his own.
He’s exceptionally quick-footed and runs routes with sharp technique, keeping his shoulders squared while running vertically before breaking off with abrupt quickness against man coverage. When faced with zone coverage, he finds areas to sit down in between defenders or run behind them to get into openings like he did on his first catch against the 49ers.
His team was losing by a field goal. There were three-and-a-half minutes to go in the first quarter, and Baldwin lined up at the point of the Trips left formation on third-and-seven. He was the only receiver of the three on the line but avoided bump-and-run coverage because of the formation. Not to mention, the 49ers were playing zone, so they were always going to give him a head start.
He took two straight strides and then weaved to the inside, running past the inside shoulder of linebacker Patrick Willis, who was expanding past the right hash, and behind NaVorro Bowman. He ran right on top of that same hash until he broke across the middle of the field at the 25-yard line. There he crossed past the far hash and behind the flat defender for 1o yards prior to rising up to catch the pass over his head and complete the deep crossing route.
The sharpness is what constantly stands out. It’s because he does it with consistency on all routes and throughout them. On the particular play above, he was sharp getting into the route and maintained discipline as it unfolded across the field. Some receivers will run too far up, and others will run far too short. Baldwin did neither.
When he’s faced with off coverage from defensive backs, he doesn’t have any less success. In those situations, his quickness will stand out more because he’s in an isolated situation, which he dealt with late in the third quarter against cornerback Tramaine Brock.
His team was still losing, this time by four. It was second-and-10 with the ball on the 49-yard line, and he was well outside the numbers. As a matter of fact, Baldwin was the single receiver to the side. Across from him was Brock positioned with a seven yard cushion.
When the play began, Baldwin crossed over the border into 49ers territory with his head over his toes and his arms swinging. This wasn’t a vertical route, but he had to make it look like one. That’s the goal of every receiver; make the routes look all the same. If they can do that, they keep the corner guessing on his heels. In addition, he was running a hitch route, which naturally had a stem of half a dozen yards before a break.
The break is key because it needs to be quick. Not all receivers are able to get quickly out of their break. Those who are taller and bulkier, or speedsters will be slower because of a lack of short area quickness. Baldwin is quick and fast, but not bulky or a track star, so he’s fit for this route.
After roughly five yards, Brock turned from his backpedal and started to shuffle, which signaled to Baldwin it was time to break his stem. Within two steps, he had his body turned and facing Wilson for the catch.
Baldwin’s combination of technique and quickness could prove to be more problematic for the Denver Broncos on Super Sunday than Harvin’s return. The Broncos are missing cornerback Chris Harris because of injury, which is troubling because he was arguably their best cornerback, especially defending versatile receivers like Baldwin. Now they’re left to defend with Tony Carter, who has, at times, filled in admirably, but is not the same player.
One thing’s certain: Carter will get to know Doug Baldwin.