Seahawks seal game vs. Panthers by reading the rookie defensive tackle

Grant Halverson

The Seahawks read rookie DT Star Lotulelei to seal the win in the season opener. Here is how it went down.

The Seahawks barely ran any read-option plays against the Panthers on opening day. After reviewing the film, I counted only five "read-option" plays by the Seahawks (I use quotes because it's hard to differentiate between true read-option and designed runs that look like read-options, but regardless..). These five plays accounted for 8% of the total plays and 25% of the rushing attempts by running backs in this one.

With the read-option only accounting for 8% of the offensive plays against the Panthers, it is no wonder why Russell Wilson gave a baseball analogy when explaining how much of a role the read-option plays in the Seahawks' offense. Wilson recently referred to the read-option as his "third pitch" with his "first pitch" being Marshawn Lynch and his "second pitch" being play-action. However, even though the read-option is not the bread and butter of the offense, it was the "third pitch" that delivered the strikeout in the bottom of the 9th to beat the Panthers on opening weekend.

With 2:14 left in the 4th quarter and the Panthers out of timeouts, the Seahawks needed a first down to seal the win. On 2nd and 10, the Seahawks huddled up in "12" personnel - 1 RB, 2 TEs and 2 WRs - and the Panthers combated this personnel grouping with their base 4-3 defense. The Seahawks, however, did not line up in a "traditional" 12 personnel formation but rather lined up in a formation that is usually reserved for 4 WRs. Out of this alignment, the Seahawks threw their "third pitch" and ran a read-option play for the first down to seal the game.

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First notice that by aligning Luke Wilson out wide, the Seahawks removed Jon Beason from the play before it even started. The Panthers knew that the Seahawks were trying to run out the clock so they were in their base 4-3 personnel with man alignment and a strong side run blitz called. This man alignment forced Beason to cover Wilson 1-on-1 on the outside.

Second, notice how rookie DT Star Lotulelei was the player that the Seahawks read on this play. This was slightly different than the majority of read-option plays that the Seahawks ran last season, in which the DE was often the player that was read. This variation involves Russell Okung putting a "kick-out" block on the DE instead of crashing down to double team the DT or getting to the second level to block the LB; and James Carpenter leaving the DT lined up over him unblocked to get to the 2nd level to block the LB instead of normally blocking the DT that is lined up over him.

As the unblocked man on this play, Lotulelei hesitated for a split second which was all the time Wilson needed to effectively hand the ball of to Lynch. Since Carpenter was no longer responsible for Loutulelei, he was able to get to the second level immediately and put a block on Luke Kuechly that sprung Lynch for game sealing first down.

This was a terrific play call by Darrell Bevell. The Seahawks offensive line had a lot of trouble establishing the run against the Panthers front seven throughout the game, with the inability of the Seahawks' interior offensive linemen to move the Panthers' DTs or get to second level to block the LBs being the cause of a benign rushing attack. What does Bevell do to remedy this? He calls a formation that removes one of those aforementioned hard to get to LBs from the middle of the field and a play that reads instead of blocks one of those hard to block DTs. Terrific play call, great execution and a wonderful come from behind victory on the road to start the season 1-0.

Lastly, this play or variations of it could be used next game against the 49ers. The 49ers are a defense with a great front seven that likes to play a lot of man to man coverage. How can the Seahawks' combat this? By lining up Luke Wilson and Zach Miller outside, the Seahawks can force NaVorro Bowman or Patrick Willis to leave the middle of the field to defend one of the TEs. Also, if Justin Smith is his usual dominant self and proves impossible to block, leaving him unblocked as the read man may be a strategy the Seahawks decide to implore. It certainly worked on the final play against the Panthers.

Big up to Danny for the GIFs!

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