Percy Harvin practiced heavily last week and there were multiple rumors emanating from the VMAC that the speedy wide receiver/running back had a decent shot at playing in Monday's game. Well, Harvin ended up experiencing some soreness in his hip and the decision was made to be careful with the recovery - he was declared out as early as Friday.
Regardless, a few things that the Seahawks ran on Monday looked like what I've expected to be Seattle's "Percy plays" - in that we saw Doug Baldwin sprinting from the wide receiver position, across the formation, pre-snap. In a game where the Seahawks managed 135 yards of offense and 3.4 yards per play, these three run plays averaged 6.67YPC and offered a glimpse into Darrell Bevell's plans for Harvin. This is just the tip of the iceberg though, and I'm guessing they added it into the gameplan with the idea that Harvin might be active.
For background on the concept, I'll let Greg Cosell explain it, because he's smart.
One tactic that I repeatedly see in college with both the quarterback under center and in the shotgun is a player from outside the formation, usually from a wide receiver position, motioning into the backfield with speed.
That places a tremendous pre-snap burden on the defense.
Think about it in the context of the Seahawks. You have Russell Wilson in the shotgun [in all cases below Wilson is under center, but Greg's analysis still carries over], with Marshawn Lynch next to him or behind him in the Pistol formation. If Lynch is next to Wilson, the defense must be prepared for read option, which presents its own set of tactical issues. If it's the Pistol, then the defense must be ready for the complete and multiple running game with Lynch, which of course is no easy task to defend. Of course, you can throw very effectively from these formations as well, with multiple play action and run action principles.
Now add Harvin into the mix, sprinting into the backfield. That gives the Seahawks so many more options, and the defense much more to digest, process and adjust to in a matter of seconds.
It's a very difficult balancing act for even the most experienced defense.
It's a fascinating dynamic. Even though Harvin is motioning tight to the formation, he is really stretching the field horizontally because of the speed with which he is crossing the field.
That kind of velocity motion forces the defense to widen. Why? What if Wilson takes the snap, and immediately hands the ball to Harvin racing to the perimeter? That attacks the edge, and puts the defense in a tough predicament.
The result, and I've just scratched the surface of the multiple skill set of Harvin, is the further integration of the college spread game with the NFL game despite the closer hash marks. It's a means of expanding the field, utilizing more space and forcing the defense to defend more area.
Harvin gives the Seahawks that dimension. I'm convinced they made the trade with that in mind. He will not simply be a wide receiver. He will be a movable chess piece that advances the continuing evolution of NFL offense.
Well, in Monday's case, Baldwin never received a handoff on these plays (shame, really), but his motion prior to the snap did draw the desired effect of widening the field.
This pre-snap movement acted as a de facto extra blocker in this scheme. That's important. Much like the read option does, the motion 'freezes' the backside defensive end and negates the necessity of cut blocking that player, as we'd normally see in a zone scheme.
Check out the first example.
1-10-SEA 37 (3:34 2nd Quarter) M.Lynch left tackle to SEA 43 for 6 yards (R.Quinn).
Below, you see the Seahawks in '11' personnel - 3WR, 1TE, 1RB, with Golden Tate on the line left and Doug Baldwin flanking him outside. Baldwin goes in motion prior to the snap and crosses Wilson just as he's turned. Wilson has the option to hand off but waits for Lynch.
The key here is that Sweezy is able to get out of his stance and move downfield immediately instead of cut-blocking the DT right in front of him. In some ZBS run plays left, you'd see Sweezy and Bowie both cut immediately. Here, Sweezy explodes out of his stance and moves to the second level, where he takes out the middle linebacker beautifully.
He's able to do this, in part, because Baldwin's movement prior to and after the snap 'freezes' the backside DE enough that Seattle does not have to block him or worry he'll crash down the line and get Lynch as Lynch dives off the weakside A-gap (off Max Unger's right shoulder).
Michael Bowie's cut block on the 3-technique on the backside is pretty nice as well. All this adds up to a six-yard gain on first down. You didn't see many of these 'positive' plays in this game, but I really liked the design here.
By the way, James Carpenter continued his beasting in run blocking in this game (evidence above), but he was also one of the more solid components in pass pro. That's two weeks in a row of consistent play from Carpenter so I'm beginning to think his conditioning is finally coming around.
Fast forward to the third quarter:
3-17-SEA 1 (10:37 3rd Quarter) M.Lynch left tackle to SEA 10 for 9 yards (J.Jenkins; J.Laurinaitis).
After a typical CF on first and second down, Seattle is backed up onto the one-yard line and just needs to provide Jon Ryan some breathing room for the impending punt. They run the "Percy Play" with Doug Baldwin here and again, it works well. I'll admit that the Rams were probably playing more to prevent a first down than to get a safety here, but regardless, people do their jobs and Lynch picks up 9.
The two players that Doug's motion takes out of the picture are #31 - the playside nickelback, and the backside linebacker. You can see their movement at the snap.
This opens up some space on the left side for Lynch to do his thing.
Here's another angle. The idea is that instead of seeing an aggressive, attacking defense on the backside, you get false-steps and diagnosis. This is subtle, sure, but it does matter. It also helps immensely to even up the numbers on the play side. Everyone does their jobs and you get positive yardage.
Look at big James lead the way for Lynch. It's too bad this was 3rd and 17. Cool design anyway.
1-10-SEA 20 (12:51 4th Quarter) M.Lynch left tackle to SEA 25 for 5 yards (K.Langford).
Seattle, by this point, was DESPERATE for some semblance of offense. The defense had been on the field for way, way too long, but somehow, the Hawks still had a slim lead at 14-9. The ensuing drive after a Greg Zuerlein field goal had an auspicious start when Lynch picked up five yards. On the Percy Play.
Below, the offensive line assignments change slightly. Sweezy cut blocks instead of moving downfield, and Unger moves downfield instead.
Sweezy executes his cut hilariously well, upending the NT. Bowie misses on the 3-technique, but he's kind of held up by the block, at least, and thus is slow to react.
Watch as the pre-snap movement creates a numbers neutrality on the play side.
Lynch does his thing in space. Picks up five.
Seattle bungles the rest of the drive as they attempt two passes - first to Golden Tate, who bobbles it and drops it, then second to Kearse, who drops a sure first down. Whatever. They won.
Watch for this pre-snap movement this week. I get the feeling it will become more of a regular thing.
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