Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf’s 10-catch, 177-yard performance on Monday night boosted his team to a 23-17 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, and in the process, made Seattle the favorite to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LV.
This may seem like the epitome of hot take hyperbole, yet when you really stop to consider the ramifications of Metcalf’s monster performance within the context of the game and playoff picture, it’s easy to see why the 22-year-old phenom’s outing on the big stage affirms the Seahawks as the best team in their conference.
DK Metcalf vs. Darius Slay: A closer look at a shocking mismatch
Speculation swirled prior to kickoff that Seattle’s Tyler Lockett might have another game like he did versus Arizona in Week 7, when he racked up 15 receptions, 200 yards and three touchdowns. DK Metcalf had only two catches on five targets for 25 yards in that overtime loss. When the NFC West rivals met again last Thursday, the Cardinals again let Lockett loose for nine receptions, 67 yards and a score, but Metcalf fared better with three grabs, 46 yards and a touchdown.
In those two head-to-head meetings against Arizona star Patrick Peterson, though, Metcalf couldn’t really get going. Drawing even more fanfare was his underwhelming outing in a 23-16 defeat against the Los Angeles Rams two weeks ago. Jalen Ramsey got physical in press man coverage with Metcalf, and it resulted in him catching two of four targets for a meager 28 yards.
Suddenly, this narrative emerged that Metcalf couldn’t get it done against the game’s elite cornerbacks. You can forget about that after Week 12’s evisceration of Slay, which Pro Football Focus broke down in finer detail:
To his credit, Slay, a three-time Pro Bowler, took it on the chin after getting smoked by the NFL’s new leading receiver:
Metcalf now has 1,039 yards receiving, which leads the league. Those few aforementioned underwhelming outings did come against divisional opponents, but nevertheless, a new narrative is coming out of this week. Metcalf has the savvy to make adjustments.
It was clear the Eagles were going to play to their strengths on Monday. Their defensive game plan revolved around shutting down the run and forcing Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson to beat them, presumably with a healthy dose of Lockett. With Slay on Metcalf, Philadelphia was confident its dynamic defensive back could win that battle.
Prior to this, there was reason to believe if Metcalf could get bullied before getting into his route, he wouldn’t find his stride and mentally check out of the game. To his credit, the second-year stud made sure to put that to bed, and proved that even if defenses went out of their way to stop him, his blend of size, speed and quickness could render those efforts irrelevant.
DK Metcalf dispelling pre-draft criticisms
The pressure Metcalf puts on an opposing secondary not only as a big-play threat, but also someone who can win with a variety of route combinations, is becoming increasingly evident, too, as NFL Next Gen Stats highlighted:
Prior to the 2019 draft, the big knocks on Metcalf that didn’t revolve around concerns about a neck injury were his slow 3-cone drill time at the NFL Scouting Combine, and how that would hinder his ability to run a more diverse route tree in the pros. Um, we can consider that a non-issue at this point, no?
Certainly looks like even at this early phase of his career, no route is a real problem for Metcalf. Whether it’s out-breaking, in-breaking over the middle, or deep go routes to capitalize on his 4.3-second, 40-yard dash speed, Wilson can deliver the ball however he likes to the former final pick of the second round.
Metcalf is only going to keep improving as his chemistry with Wilson grows and he gains more NFL experience.
How DK Metcalf’s epic prime-time performance is bad news for rest of NFC
Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has been criticized in the past for running the ball too much and getting conservative with his play calls. In 2020, he’s turned Wilson loose, capitalizing on the signal-caller’s uncanny deep-ball accuracy, which has led to Metcalf exploding into a legitimate superstar who’s averaging 17.9 yards per catch.
Now, let’s circle back to this new narrative: the notion that Metcalf’s emergence makes Seattle the top choice to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LV.
Think about the other top contenders in the conference for a moment. New Orleans is the current No. 1 seed, but Marshon Lattimore has to be shaking in his boots after seeing what Metcalf did to Slay. Plus, the Saints don’t have a quarterback who can deliver the ball downfield like Wilson, be it the injured and aging Drew Brees or current starter Taysom Hill, who’s more of a runner and has scattershot accuracy as a passer.
Although there’s a familiarity factor for the Seahawks to be concerned about against the Rams and Cardinals, if Week 12 is any indication, Metcalf is proving to have the football savvy to adjust his game quickly against elite cornerbacks. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are unsuccessfully trying to emulate Seattle’s downfield passing prowess, and don’t have the personnel at cornerback to mark Metcalf consistently.
And that’s really it. Every other team in the NFC postseason hunt has a losing record.
More food for thought: As Wilson astutely observed after Monday’s game, Metcalf’s numbers could’ve been even more ludicrous:
It also helps that as Metcalf is coming even more into his own, that the Seahawks wisely traded for pass-rushing juice in the form of Carlos Dunlap. Adding him and getting All-Pro safety Jamal Adams progressively healthier has helped Seattle allows 240 yards passing per game over the last three — well below their last-ranked season average of 328.8.
Metcalf is proving he can win even when opponents set him up to fail, or when they mark him with their best cover man. He’ll have an easier time going forward with Seattle able to establish a more competent rushing attack, now that Chris Carson is back after a four-game absence and Carlos Hyde is emerging as a legitimate option in the backfield. That’s bad news for anyone else in the NFC.
Further cause for adversarial alarm: Metcalf not only seems to thrive off being snubbed in the draft, but also even when coaches who are going against him try to compliment him:
Refusing to settle for even being mentioned in the same breath as the legendary Calvin Johnson is some kind of special intrinsic motivation. It seems like Metcalf is connecting with Wilson and taking a page out of the latter’s playbook. Wilson is a franchise quarterback who defied the odds, rising from undersized, mid-round draft pick obscurity to Super Bowl champion and perpetual NFL MVP candidate.
Additionally, if Week 12 is the authentic indicator yours truly suspects it to be, the Seahawks don’t even need their running game working for Metcalf to flourish, nor does Lockett need to produce to set up favorable matchups elsewhere on the field. Lockett managed only three catches for 23 yards versus Philadelphia, and the ground game produced only 76 yards on 30 carries.
The pressure Metcalf puts on the opposition, attributable to a surprisingly varied route tree, underrated football IQ and a ceiling that seems to get higher as the season progresses, gives Seattle an X-factor and not-so-secret weapon who can flip the outcome of a game on one play, one drive, or one masterpiece of gridiron performance art as he delivered on Monday night.