Curveballs in the NFL

Jonathan Ferrey

What makes a curveball effective is that the hitter must first respect the fastball, and react to the change in speed and direction in situ. The same thing applies to this run from the 1st Quarter of Sunday's content.

2nd & 10 SEA 12 (8:36 1st Quarter) (Shotgun) M.Lynch up the middle to SEA 33 for 21 yards (E.Reid)

This is not the kind of play you are going to see often from the Seahawks in Tom Cable's scheme. One of the ways you know your offense has started to really get zone blocking is when they begin to move in sync. Most defenses playing against a zone running team take their key reads from the first step of the offensive line. The line should look like a wave cresting over the defense. Seattle completely changes that look for this run, and the result is the coach blocking a man from the sideline.

The Mad Russian (Breno) drives left and into the linebackers off the snap. Sweezy pulls, and heads against the flow of the remainder of the line. Unger will anchor to prevent any penetration from the tackle covering Sweezy, and the remainder of the line will block this is like a normal zone right. Wilson is going to read the edge and correctly ascertain that there were 2 men against his 1 and wisely hand the ball off to Lynch up the middle.

Notice the reaction of 55 on this play. He is blocked by the scheme itself, which is a thing of beauty. He has an uncontested shot at the blind side of the quarterback, and all he does is stand around looking pretty. This is a consequence of the normal response a defense employs to counter the zone blocking scheme. If this were a normal zone left he would have done the correct thing. This was not a normal zone left. He is playing as if he has backside contain responsibility when in fact he needs to be reacting to a dive. A similar thing happens to the 1-tech (91). Notice how unsure both players are during this play. This is not a defense that is confidently attacking and trusting what they see.

If I let my imagination run wild and change the defensive play call such that we see a Wilson keeper a couple of things change. First, if Sweezy has been taught to read the same key as Wilson on this play he can bypass his seal block on Aldon Smith and convert into a 298 pound lead blocker. Second if there was a scrape exchange on for this play the SAM linebacker would be in for quite a shock as he rounded the corner. I'm getting shivers just thinking about it, especially seeing how The Bevell is anticipating and countering potential defensive adjustments.

Side Note: San Francisco plays with 6 men in the box, countering our 11 personnel with a nickel package. It is pretty easy to run for 20 yards when you can't even smell the linemen trying to tackle you.

This play does everything you could ask of it. Much like the curveball it is effective by itself, but has the additional impact of improving the "bread and butter" plays the Seahawks would run for the rest of the game. Being able to mix-in these kinds of looks both on film and in game will serve the purpose of keeps the reads honest. The talent disparity in this league is downright microscopic. So much so that you can never take anything for granted; even playing a 20-point underdog at home. Something that can cause a 1/10 second hesitation on the line of scrimmage can be the difference of a full yard in the size of a running lane.

These kinds of schematic change-ups are what separate offenses that seem to operate at will and ones that sputter along. Seeing evidence of this level of complexity this early in the season super-charges my already inflated expectations of what this offense can eventually accomplish this year. It hasn't been pretty up to this point, and I wouldn't expect us to pull out all the stops this week, but seeing the last two weeks worth of game film has given me a kind of giddy enthusiasm. Not just as a fan of the Seahawks, but as a fan of clever offense and innovative play design. This team is headed for special things. Transcendent things. Superb things. Even Owls.

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