Tale of the Tape: The Seahawks' key third down plays

Otto Greule Jr

As Mr. Davis Hsu said yesterday in breaking down Seattle's 3rd down success percentage during the Russell Wilson era, the Hawks "needed every single one of their eight third down conversions when coming back from the dead last weekend to beat Tampa Bay."

As you know, the Seahawks went 8-of-12 on third downs, easily their best performance in that category this season, and these conversions were key in the comeback from being down 21 points late in the first half. Seattle gave up 200+ yards on the ground and had three turnovers (two interceptions while Seattle was deep into Tampa Bay territory and a fumbled kick return that gave the Bucs excellent field position), so these successes on third down were probably actually the difference in the game.

Check out Seattle's drive chart - the third down conversions tell the story of the game:

After an early Russell Wilson interception on third down, Seattle's next two third down attempts failed, leading to two punts. Due to some excellent plays by Mike Glennon, an incorrect pass interference call on Earl Thomas that negated an interception, then an untimely turnover by Jermaine Kearse, Seattle suddenly found themselves down 21-0.

At that point, Seattle would fail to convert on third down only one more time during the course of the game - the series following Golden Tate's huge 71-yard punt return - and the Hawks did get points out of that so it wasn't a total loss.

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Let's take a look at the tape. Davis and I were emailing this week about these particular plays, so his thoughts are in block quotes.

3-9-TB 47 (12:02 1st Q) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short middle to Z.Miller to TB 37 for 10 yards (M.Barron).

Said Davis:

This is a long down and distance, and something that Seattle has failed to pick up most of 2013. Tom Cable has Paul McQuistan trying to cut block the defensive end (that's how they do it on these quick throws at times, or maybe that's just how bad it's going) instead of blocking him straight up. McQuistan misses the cut block attempt, but it does slow the DE down for a split second and the ball is out before he runs unimpeded into Wilson.

DT Gerald McCoy, the former 3rd overall pick, is so awesome that RT Michael Bowie puts a hand on him, RG J.R. Sweezy can't control him, and RB Robert Turbin steps up to help as well.

Once the ball is snapped and Tampa lets Miller go into his route with no resistance, the play is made - there is a void in the middle, and Miller has an easy inside release - after making the catch, his momentum carries him beyond the sticks. Great catch by Miller and the ball is out fast - as Wilson and Miller are likely seeing the same thing (green grass) pre-snap.

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This is meant to be a bang-bang play so part of me wonders if J.R. Sweezy gives up better, more technical positioning on Gerald McCoy in order to reach and squeeze McCoy out of the passing lane. This is probably wishful thinking - McCoy dominated Seattle's interior all day - but regardless, the passing lane for Wilson is wide and clear here, and it's a relatively easy quick throw for a first down.

Zach Miller has an innate ability to fall forward, too, by the way. How many times have we seen Miller hit a yard or two short of a first down and see him spin, flail, and dive forward to pick up the necessary yardage? He does so in this case, spinning as he makes the catch, which helps him get the first down.

3-5-TB 21 (9:26 1st Q) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short left intended for Z.Miller INTERCEPTED by M.Barron at TB 11. M.Barron to TB 14 for 3 yards (J.Kearse).

Davis explains the curious protection scheme you see on this pick:

Seattle is in a dilemma: they have only five players at the line of scrimmage, while Tampa is showing seven men as potential rushers. Two of the seven Tampa defenders drop into coverage, so they only send five.  I think LT Paul McQuistan is doing the right thing by choosing to block DT McCoy instead of the defensive end.  G James Carpenter has to down-block into the A-gap as Tampa is showing a double A-gap blitz, meaning McQuistan has to block the inside man first.

On the right, Michael Bowie has to prepare to block the DE that drops into coverage on his side - he ends up blocking the DT and essentially Tampa's art of disguise works, because Seattle has five blockers blocking four men, and Tampa has schemed a defensive end totally unblocked.

I am not saying it is Wilson's fault or McQuistan's fault or play design - I don't know the rules. Here is the thing, if Wilson throws it to Miller's outside shoulder it's a catch and a first down, and Wilson refers to it post-game as "a bad throw". I don't know if he could throw to the outside shoulder with the DE crashing onto his face and all of this happens in a split second. I think the old Russell Wilson may have tried to avoid the DE, but I think Russell was making a point to get the ball out quick in this game and tried to fit it in there "bam-bam" to Miller.

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This is a play that you normally see Wilson pump fake on and scramble. Going forward, you'll probably see this again, considering the result of him trying to change his throwing platform to get the ball past an on coming defender. Wilson tries to sneak the ball past Clayborn by side-arming it a little bit, and the result is poor ball placement behind Zach Miller.

This pick came from the 21-yard line, so while technically it's not the redzone, this would be the first of two (de facto) Russell Wilson redzone interceptions. To throw two picks in the redzone and still win? That's probably fairly rare, and also tells you how many points Seattle could have scored in this one had those two turnovers been avoided.

3-4-TB 48 (6:06 3rd Q) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short middle to G.Tate to TB 29 for 19 yards (M.Barron).

Said Davis:

Tate runs a shallow cross. Seahawks leave six in to protect, including RB Marshawn Lynch. Lynch helps out on the blindside. Why is Tate open as he crosses - I could be wrong, but I think the linebacker is staring right at Wilson to guard against the scramble (I would be thinking that on 3rd and short) - or perhaps he has responsibility for Lynch if he leaks out.

The other reason the linebacker could be unaware of Tate is that he is focused on his drop as Tampa rushes four after showing six at the line of scrimmage pre-snap. Tate catches the ball in the spot the linebacker vacates. Once Tate gets the ball in open field - he does Golden Tate things.

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I would agree with Davis on this one - it looks like the linebacker that Tate runs past here is peaking into the backfield just in case Seattle has dialed up a Wilson scramble or dumpoff to Lynch. This means that his periphery is vulnerable.

Note the formation that Seattle runs from too - it's that tight-split Saints-eque formation that they've been using with increased frequency the past several weeks (mostly on third down, too).

3-3-TB 40 (10:01 4th Q) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short right to D.Baldwin to TB 34 for 6 yards (D.Revis).

Davis:

Notice the failure of James Carpenter and Paul McQuistan to contain DT Gerald McCoy. I think this one is more on McQuistan (can we get Russell Okung back, please?). Luckily, the ball is out in time and Russell Wilson avoids another hit, as the DT pulls up at the last second.

There were also two or three times where Marshawn Lynch leaks out into the short middle as a check-down in this game with some success, I have no idea if that holds the linebacker for a split second - or perhaps he is trained to drop to exactly that spot in his drop - as it seems strange that he would give Baldwin that much space, especially around the sticks. With the penetration, Wilson would not have time to hit Lynch as a 2nd option.

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The key thing for me on this play? Watch Wilson hold strong in the pocket, see the pressure, but stand up in the face of Gerald McCoy and deliver an accurate pass.

3-6-TB 30 (8:44 4th Q) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass deep left to J.Kearse to TB 3 for 27 yards (M.Adams).

Davis:

Notice that Tampa sends the end (Clayorn) on a loop and blitz six, while the Seahawks are in some sort of slide protection left and in max protect (seven blockers). Clayborn would come unblocked if the play lasted a few seconds longer, but the ball is out before he can get to his destination.

Tampa has five defenders to defend three Seahawks out in routes, which means that one of them (Kearse) is going to be one-on-one. Miller and Lynch have key blocks in this pass play with Zach Miller probably delivering the key block. Kearse does a great job of controlling the redline (see other series) and Russell puts it on his backside shoulder (outside shoulder) - right on the money.

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Only thing I can say about this play? Imagine the damage Wilson could do if he consistently has time to throw.

3-3-SEA 48 (5:09 4th Q) (Shotgun) M.Lynch left tackle to TB 48 for 4 yards (L.David; D.Landri).

The Seahawks actually picked up a few third downs by running the ball this week. Yeah, I know, weird.

Late in the fourth quarter, one of the biggest plays of the game was this Marshawn Lynch run.

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This is a read option look with zone blocking up front. It's blocked adequately at the point of attack - James Carpenter is meant to double down on the NT to help Lemuel Jeanpierre establish position and then move downfield to attack the oncoming linebacker. Carpenter makes sure that LJP has positioning but in the heat of the battle just makes sure that NT doesn't pop through and blow up the play behind the LOS.

The result is that Carpenter sticks to the NT a tick longer than he normally would (Unger would likely be better at reaching and getting into position here than LJP is), then sort of slides to his left to act as a human shield for Lynch. Marshawn works off of Carpenter long enough to get past the LOS and then breaks a couple of tackles from second level defenders before getting the first down. The second effort saves the drive.

As Davis put it above, Marshawn Lynch doing Marshawn Lynch things.

Seven plays later, Seattle finds themselves in another 3rd down situation, this time deep in the redzone at the ten yard line.

3-5-TB 10 (1:56 4th Q) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short right to D.Baldwin for 10 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

The most obvious thing to point out about this play is the absurd ease in which Gerald McCoy and Adrian Clayborn simultaneously club move past James Carpenter and Lemuel Jeanpierre. McCoy really had an amazing game and was in the backfield constantly - I'm sure a combination of his talent and Seattle's struggles with interior pass protection.

Thankfully, it's a very quick drop and read for Wilson, and he gets the ball out. Baldwin makes a guy miss and it's paydirt. Huge, huge play.

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Hoooooley shit. Tie ballgame.

On to overtime.

3-6-TB 33 (10:17 OT) (Shotgun) M.Lynch right tackle to TB 19 for 14 yards (L.Johnson; K.Tandy).

Seattle is facing a 3rd and 6 from Tampa Bay's 33 yard line. Failing to get yardage here would result in a somewhat harrowing 50-yard FG attempt for Steven Hauschka. Hauschka has been great, but obviously, you'd like to get him a little closer to take some of the pressure out of the situation. Seattle does just that.

They go to a bread a butter play - the read option look - but in this case, it seems to be a handoff the whole way (in other words, it doesn't really look like Wilson is ever planning on running this). Regardless, the fake holds Mark Barron (#23) on the backside, taking him out of the play, and Lavonte David (#54) fills to the backside B-gap. Lynch is headed to the B-Gap to the other side, off of J.R. Sweezy, and the Sweez pulls out his best block of the day.

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Sweezy seals the linebacker completely out of the play, and Michael Bowie does a good job of driving the end toward the sideline. The result is 14 yards, a first down, and Seattle gives Hauschka a much easier kick. (Seattle actually picked up 13 more yards on the next play to make it a REALLY easy kick.)

Read more from Field Gulls:

Xs & Os: Breaking down schematics & strategy

The Numbers Game: Analysis of statistics & the salary cap

The Offseason: News & notes on the Seahawks' offseason

Miscellany: Commentary, criticism, pop culture & more

Field Gulls Podcasts: Hear from your writers

NFL Draft: Prospect analysis, scouting reports

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