The term "run-heavy offense" in the modern NFL is a bit of a misnomer. For the Seahawks, one of the "run-heaviest" teams in the NFL, the breakdown of called runs vs. passes is probably about 50-50: through 11 games, Seattle has thrown 286 times to their 358 rushes, but if you add in sacks (29), plus Wilson's scrambles (not sure), I'm guessing you're closing in on a nearly even balance between the two.
So, in reality, being 'run-heavy' in today's game essentially equates more closely to a being a truly 'balanced' offense. In the modern NFL though, this is becoming more rare. In the pass-heavy era, and more specifically, in the wake of Sunday Night's Brady v. Manning slugfest, Carroll had the audacity to come out and say he believes Seattle can still win even if Russell Wilson were to go down with an injury.
Pete does not believe in being "a throwing team"— Davis Hsu (@DavisHsuSeattle) November 25, 2013
Pete DGAF about NFL convention— Davis Hsu (@DavisHsuSeattle) November 25, 2013
Carroll might as well have come out and said "the world is flat" or the "world is round" cuz that is straight modern day NFL HERESY.— Davis Hsu (@DavisHsuSeattle) November 26, 2013
Here's what was said, from the horse's mouth, when Pete Carroll was asked about the Seahawks' commitment to being a 'run-heavy' team. This may be one of the best summations of Carrollosphy to date:
"It's the most consistent, proven championship formula in the history of this game. When you tie it all together - and it's not just that we want to run it, it's about "we want to take care of the football", "we want to own the football", and that's the biggest determining factor for winning and losing.
So, when you start tying it all together, a balanced offense gives you a better chance of taking care of those issues, better than just going to the throwing game. The throwing game is a great way to go, [but] it's most reliant on a quarterback that's got to be there for you. We have an offense that if Tarvaris [Jackson] plays in it, we're ok. We'll be fine, and we won't lose the momentum of how we play. It'll be different, but we'll be able to cope.
The drastic example is, look at when Peyton left the Colts. That football team fell apart until they got their new quarterback, and then they go back. I don't want to put our program in that situation ever. I want to always be ready to play with the guys that we have available, and give us a chance to keep winning and continue to win.
[It's] the way we want to play. We want to be physical, we want to be tough, we want to attack you, we want to get after you, we want to make sure you know you've played a very hard football game; when you play our team, we're going to beat the hell out of you if we can.
All that ties together with defense and special teams and a running game. You don't get that feeling when you're a throwing team. You can't get that.
So, that's why Marshawn is so important. When you put all these elements together, there is some thought here, I want to put together a football team that does a number of things really well, that there's a number of ways we can beat you.
That means we have to be able to be efficient in so many areas. It ties in with Jon Ryan, with [Steven] Hauschka, and ties with our returners now, I mean, our return game is as exciting as it can get right now with Percy and Golden back there.
Those are just more factors, more ways to win football games, so that we maximize our chance to keep winning and stay on top. So, all that fits together. I don't see that happening with a throwing game, I don't see that happening unless you've got three quarterbacks in your back pocket that can all do it, because if you lose one guy, or he gets a hamstring or something, then where are you?
It's not about winning just this game or this year, it's about a long-range approach to winning over a long period of time."
This isn't exactly a revelation, and if you've been around Field Gulls for a while, you'll have seen this philosophy mentioned probably hundreds of times, but it's a great encapsulation. Go back and read it again.
As for the offensive side of things, what Davis Hsu and I have tried to do these past two weeks is to get a little more specific with how Seattle plans to maintain this balance and identity. Even more specifically, we wanted to look at impact in which the 67-Million-Dollar Man, Percy Harvin, will make.
Both Davis and I believe that, (and credit goes to Davis for the inception of this idea), despite what Carroll will tell you about Harvin ("he's not going to change the offense"), his addition puts a bow on a calculated plan that combines all of the 'pillars' of Seattle's offense together in order to make them very hard to defend, on paper.
At least, it will likely change some of the formations and personnel groupings that Seattle will favor going forward. Specifically, look for an increase in the frequency of '11' personnel (3WR), '10' personnel (4WR), and '20' personnel (2RB/3WR).
The crux of the theory is that, somewhat counterintuitively, Harvin will help Seattle's run game as much as, or more than their actual passing game. Obviously, Harvin can be a game changer in the pass game and in the return game (important phases, both), but his addition changes the complexion of the offense formationally, which will help Seattle become more explosive in both phases.
To the tape!
1-5-MIN 28 (13:29 1st Q) M.Lynch right tackle to MIN 20 for 8 yards (J.Allen; A.Sendejo).
As we've done in the past, Davis and I teamed up on this article - there will be a few long snippets from Davis included, and he broke down a few key plays. Up first, a Seahawks run during their first drive of the Minnesota game. This was Harvin's premiere with the Hawks.
First, note the formation on 1st and 5, and Seattle is in '10' personnel with 1RB and 4WR:
Analysis from Davis:
"Seahawks have the ball on the MIN 28 yard line and come out in the 4WR set. The Vikings have to play single high safety with four defensive backs in man coverage with a six-man box. Russell Wilson is under center with Marshawn Lynch the lone back.
Even though there is no declared strong-side - the defense can "feel" pre-snap that the ball is going to the Seahawks right (defense left). They begin to flow in the correct direction.
The weakside defensive end is left unblocked, but he can't go full pursuit towards Lynch, as Russell Wilson is executing his bootleg. Once Wilson turns his body and the DE sees that there is no football - it's too late and he is no threat to pursue Lynch.
Focus I: Mobile quarterbacks add so much to the run game.
LT Russell Okung leaves the defensive end unblocked and does some sort of amazing reverse spin cut block. It looks awkward, but he stays with it and it does the job, eventually knocking down the defensive tackle. LG Paul McQuistan is working the combo block with C Max Unger, and is able to fall on top of the playside DT. It works. Unger is getting rocked back by the DT, who is trying to penetrate at the point of attack, but Unger stays with it and then is able to get to the linebacker. None of it is pretty - but all of it works.
RT Breno Giacomini works the DE outside and just pancakes him. That's gonna look good in the filmroom with Tom Cable. Welcome back Breno. Sweezy pancakes the playside LB as well. Lynch gets hit a few times, and then powers forward in a pile for 8 yards. Lynch doing Lynch things.
Again, not a spectacular play, but a play that MIN knew was coming (they know the play is coming pre-snap) and still can't stop it. If everyone executes their blocks, and Wilson holds the DE with his bootleg, the only person left to make the tackle is the safety (and he does eventually, with a little help from his friends).
Danny highlights Percy Harvin's blocking at the point of attack, just for bonus points."
(Danny taps back in):
Later in the first quarter, Seattle sends Percy Harvin onto the field, and dials up '20' personnel, meaning 3WRs and 2RBs. Seattle keeps a TE on the field almost all the time, or has anyway, but for matchup reasons, I'd expect these no tight end looks to improve incrementally.
2-7-SEA 25 (1:29 1st Q) R.Wilson pass deep right to D.Baldwin to MIN 31 for 44 yards (X.Rhodes).
In response to Seattle's personnel grouping and formation, the Vikings respond with a 7-man front and what looks like press-man on the outside and a single-high safety. So, in this case, Minnesota is more worried about the run than they are about the pass, and their called-defense betrays this.
Here's Seattle's response:
With a single high safety against a seven-man front against three receivers, Wilson immediately knows that at least two of his receiving options will have one-on-one matchups. This means, his only read is the single high safety. When that safety bites on Percy Harvin's slant over the middle, Wilson has an easy decision to make on the redline throw to Doug Baldwin.
Focus II: The Redline Throw.
Maybe you can guess now why Seattle put such a huge emphasis on the Redline Throw during training camp and the preseason.
The play is made that much easier because Baldwin's release is so technically brilliant. Baldwin fakes the inside slanting route, the corner gets caught flat-footed, and Baldwin is by him in an instant.
Lynch started the play by tilting the coverage to the line of scrimmage with the threat of a run, and then Percy tilted the coverage toward him with the threat of the pass. Wilson did his part in looking off the middle safety and throwing a catchable pass, and if I were nitpicking (which I am not), a better lead on this ball and Baldwin might have six. Regardless, 44 yards.
I'm not sure, but I would say the amount of times Seattle saw a 7-man box against this formation later in the game was pretty low.
2-10-SEA 21(11:04 2nd Q) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass incomplete deep right to P.Harvin.
Penalty on SEA-R.Okung, Offensive Holding, offsetting, enforced at SEA 21 - No Play.
Penalty on MIN-J.Robinson, Defensive Pass Interference, offsetting.
Seattle back into a 4WR set (10 personnel), in their 'read-option' looking shotgun formation.
"2nd play I want to look at - and I don't want to break down the play itself - but take a look more the defensive formation and the problems that Seattle's offense creates.
The Seahawks have the ball on their own 20 yard line and come out in a 4WR set. This is a very intriguing formation for the Seahawks now that they have Percy Harvin. Ideally, you would run this set with Jermaine Kearse, Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate and Percy Harvin. All four receivers have proven that they can win one-on-one match-ups. I am not going to write about the play (it ended up being a defensive pass interference call deep down the field in favor of Harvin offsetted by a Russell Okung hold) but I just want to talk about what the defense has to do in this situation.
VERSUS THE PASS
As a defense, you will likely have to play single high safety against the Seahawks if they play 4WR. If you play Cover-2 you will have a 5-man box and that won't fly (because Beastmode). So, most likely you will have four DBs in man coverage with a single high safety.
That single-high safety will have to follow Percy Harvin on almost all plays, I would imagine. That should leave the other three receivers in single coverage. Russell Wilson throws the ball to Percy in this scenario, into double coverage, and the play could have worked anyway (it looks like Percy misplayed it a little bit by turning to catch it instead of just running deep).
Regardless, this is a bad bind for opposing defenses. They better have an Earl Thomas and a Richard Sherman on their side. Russell Wilson has no problem throwing the ball to Tate, Kearse and Baldwin on single coverage, and he is accurate. If the Seahawks had a receiver on the outside that demanded double coverage on almost every play, I don't know what a defense would do!
VERSUS THE RUN
The Vikings' defense here has a six man box. The Seahawks' offense has five OL + Lynch and Wilson. On the read option, the outside DE must honor Wilson and not crash down - if he does crash - the linebacker behind him must perform some sort of swap/scrape exchange. I won't diagram the play, but if Wilson holds the DE and the five OL block the other five defenders (that is no guarantee, but it does happen), then Lynch won't be tackled until the safety makes the play.
Essentially, one of the tackles will perform a single block, and the other four OL will, ideally, combo block then move to the next level. The defense will need to keep a linebacker free to follow Wilson on a designed run or scramble. Obviously, the OL need to execute the play, and of course the defense is there to blow up the "Xs and Os," but "on paper," the Seahawks should have the advantage on a six-man box every time (whether they are in 3WR or 4WR sets).
Danny breaks down the 'math' aspect of this concept in his Read Option article, which fits in well with what we're talking about here.
The obvious rhetorical question Seattle now has to answer is this: "In theory, would you rather depend on seven men executing blocks for a run play to work (a two tight end or fullback type formation) or five men executing blocks to make a run play work?"
The odds of five guys hitting on their blocks is greater than hoping all seven succeed, in other words.
All of this is not just Percy Harvin. Percy is added on top of an offense that already causes problems. Percy Harvin adds to the existing receivers group, who have proven that they can win one-on-one. Russell Wilson has proven that he can throw the ball for chunk plays on redline balls and 50-50 balls. Lynch has proven that he is one of the top two to three backs in the NFL. The Seahawks have proven that they can run the ball. Russell Wilson has proven that he can get cheap yards via the read option when he chooses to.
All of these things create mathematical advantages for the Seahawks on paper - especially in the run game."
Speaking of the run game...
2-10-SEA 21 (10:56 2nd Q) (Shotgun) M.Lynch right tackle to SEA 44 for 23 yards (J.Sanford; A.Sendejo).
More from Davis:
"The Seahawks have the ball on their own 20 yard line. They line up in 11 personnel, or 1RB/1TE & 3WR.
I think this grouping, and '10 personnel' - the 4WR/1RB set - will be the most interesting personnel groupings going forward this season. In particular, I believe the 3WR grouping with Percy Harvin in the slot allows the Seahawks' offense to have its best five playmakers on the field at one time (Marshawn Lynch, Zach Miller, Percy Harvin, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin). This 11 personnel grouping puts a defense in a bad position.
Over the last few games, and perhaps the last few years, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin have proven that they can play outside, despite being sub-6-feet tall, despite probable skepticism from even Pete Carroll (a self-proclaimed lover of big receivers) himself.
Why is this personnel grouping important? If the defense plays Cover-2, at least one of the three receivers will be in single coverage, and if the defense plays single high safety, then two of the three receivers will be in single coverage.
The bottom line is that with Percy in the slot, and Tate and Baldwin capable of winning one-on-one on the outsides, opposing defenses will likely play Cover-2. Cover 2 plus a nickel corner to line up with Percy, well, that equates to a 6-man box.
A 6-man box and a read-option run between Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson is like stealing.
(1) If the OLB or DE chooses to "crash down," then the LB behind him must swap out (scrape) to defend Russell Wilson on the keeper. In this play above, Minnesota performs the swap/scrape, as you see the linebacker replace the defensive end, and now he is on the edge to guard against either Lynch cutting the play backside or Wilson on the keeper.
(2) The DE crashing down is eliminated in this play as Miller performs a wham block and slices across the formation to take him out.
(3) Notice Russell Wilson sprinting downfield after the exchange - this guy is hilarious! He never takes a play off. He is sprinting 20 yards downfield!
(4) Breno Giacomini adds insult to injury: not only does he block pony-tailed Robison out of the play, but then hits him at the end in the pile (poor guy).
(5) J.R. Sweezy runs ahead to the 2nd level and hinders the LB - it's very effective for the play.
(6) Max Unger single blocks the DT, and while he gives a little ground, Lynch is able to read Unger and the defender, and as the defender works to the sideline, Lynch is able to run inside. Lynch is so good at this type of reading in this scheme.
(7) James Carpenter makes a key block, and powers his man away from the lane and rotates his body perfectly as Lynch moves downfield
(8) Russell Okung is moving on a double team, but then redirects as he finds his linebacker possibly in a different spot than originally thought. No problem though, as the 'backer is out of the play.
This is a tough play for the defense (6-man box) with 5 OL, 1 TE, an All-Pro RB, and a QB that can run and pass. The math doesn't work for them - it's essentially 8 on 6!
Focus III: The read option.
I think this play is very difficult for a defense to defend unless they have some real All-Pro type players that play "up the spine". You need an awesome DT that can blow this play up and coupled with an inside linebacker that can get off the block and make the play. Or, maybe you need an "Earl Thomas" so you can play single high safety and add a 7th man in the box.
Adding Percy Harvin should increase the frequency of the Seahawks seeing Cover-2, which in turn will create a 6-man boxes in a 3WR set, and this should create a serious advantage in the run game for Pete Carroll, Tom Cable, Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson."
(:52 2nd Q) B.Walsh kicks 69 yards from MIN 35 to SEA -4. P.Harvin to MIN 46 for 58 yards (M.Sherels).
Danny aside: Because Carroll is talking about balance in all three phases, and specifically mentions how "our return game is as exciting as it can get right now with Percy and Golden back there," it's worth pointing out how big of an impact Harvin made against the Vikings. Here, he gets out past midfield, puts the Seahawks in great position to drive before the half....
... and then on the next kick
Back to the subject at hand.... the offense, and specifically facing six-man fronts out of 3/4WR sets. Below, Seattle is in their now more-frequently used '20-personnel' in I-formation.
1-10-SEA 45 (1:45 3rd Q) M.Lynch right tackle to MIN 47 for 8 yards (C.Greenway).
Focus IV: The Fullback lead play from the I-formation.
Seattle, under Pete Carroll and Tom Cable, have always favored the fullback lead-run from I-formation. The whole Michael Robinson-Marshawn Lynch connection grew from this. With the addition of Mike Rob back to the roster, they now have two fullbacks on their 53, for f*cks sakes. Who does that? Almost no one, literally.
It goes back to the physical brand of football that Carroll espouses - "We want to be physical, we want to be tough, we want to attack you, we want to get after you, we want to make sure you know you've played a very hard football game; when you play our team, we're going to beat the hell out of you if we can."
He wants to do that... yes, but he'd also like to throw it over your head when he gets the chance. With the addition of Percy Harvin, you might see the frequency of this concept increase from different formations. Normally, you'd see at least one tight end, sometimes two, but against the Vikings, the Hawks ran it from a '20' look and several times (no tight ends). In this case, as I pointed out above after Seattle got 44 yards on a redline throw to Doug Baldwin, the Vikings drop back into a 2-deep shell to protect against the deep pass.
Ok. So we'll do this.
Here's the overarching theory:
The Seahawks can now beat you in a number of ways - Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks run game - whether it's from the I-formation or read option style shotgun formations - is deadly against a six man front. Add in Wilson's mobility and he creates a mathematical advantage for the offense on bootlegs or option plays.
When the defense drops another player or two into the box, the pass game can take advantage of 7- or 8-man fronts with Redline throws. Wilson is not afraid to challenge one-on-one matchups, and Seattle has specifically accumulated receivers that win in one-on-one.
Using personnel groups to dictate matchups becomes Seattle's advantage, and boils down to the potent combination that Marshawn Lynch and 3WR/4WR sets presents.
Will teams play more two-deep shells? Will they challenge the Seahawks to throw deep now that Harvin is on the field? Will Seattle keep going to 3WR/4WR sets? It's a theory, but something to watch for in the coming weeks.
More from Field Gulls:
- NFL unPower Rankings, Week 13: Revisionist armchair GM'ing
- The Watch: Week 13 NFL/NFC Standings, NFL Draft order, rooting interest guide, more
- UPDATED: Brandon Browner reportedly suspended for a year
- Walter Thurmond suspension begins, Seahawks sign CB Perrish Cox
- Coffee & Cigarettes: Seahawks links for Tuesday