Seahawks vs. Saints: Percy Harvin returns to practice; revisiting his potential impact on the offense

Steve Dykes

Percy Harvin is practicing again this week and assuming things go smoothly with no setbacks, it's looking like there's a solid chance he'll play in Saturday's matchup with the Saints. Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, and Golden Tate have all indicated in separate interviews over the past week or so that they think Harvin will play, so while time will certainly tell whether or not this is all just a big frustrating roller-coaster-ride tease, it's looking up at this point that this is really happening.

Said Baldwin on Monday, when asked if he thinks Harvin is ready:

"I think so. You know, he looks good, he's healthy. He told me he feels good, and he looks good out there with us. He hasn't gone through a full practice yet, just because, you know, they're bringing him in slowly, but he looks really good.

On Harvin's role in Seattle's offense?

"Without a doubt, if he's playing, he's going to be a big part of our offense. The Seahawks have invested a lot into him, so they're going to do everything they can to utilize him to the best of their abilities. I expect that if he's healthy, that he'll have a full game plan ahead of him."

Pete Carroll supported this thought today in his presser, saying:

"In my mind, if he's playing, he's playing. If Percy is playing, that means we're going to do whatever we planned to do with him. And what he wants to do."

At this point in the season, it makes sense. Harvin has taken the last five weeks and worked to get to the point where he can get play, and in my non-doctor opinion, Seattle really doesn't need to hold back with him if he's healthy enough to get on the field. Obviously, if the Seahawks take a commanding lead early on against the Saints, there's reason to hold him out while looking toward the next game, but the idea of easing Harvin back in for 10-15 plays in this Playoff situation, if he's healthy enough to get out there, seems a little conservative, even for this front office.

So, we shall see.

In the spirit of unbridled optimism, I thought this would be as good of a spot as any to share some of Field Gulls' analysis from the past few months on what Harvin could do in Seattle's offense. Apologies if this is all regurgitated stuff to you, but for people that missed it the first time or for new readers (or for people that like to read things twice), here are a few theories on schemes the Hawks may use to utilize the weapon that Harvin is on the football field. Or, as Carroll alludes, some things the Seahawks "planned to do with him."

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"PERCY PLAYS"

From Halloween, following Seattle's hard-won victory in St. Louis:

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 game-plan 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 and spreading the defense.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Fourth Quarter.

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.

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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.

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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.

"THE FORCE MULTIPLIER"

From November 11th, the week following Seattle's win in Atlanta.

The Seahawks have officially activated Percy Harvin from the PUP list, releasing DT Michael Brooks to make room on the roster. From what Pete Carroll was saying this morning, it's looking like they'll try to have Harvin practice fully this week and go from there; barring any setbacks, we could see Percy in limited action as soon as this weekend. Per a source of Adam Shefter's, it would be considered an 'upset' if Harvin were unable to go Sunday against his former team, the Vikings.

Jacson and I were having a little back-and-forth this afternoon about the future of Golden Tate on this roster, and I figured this would be as good of a place as any to point out a few items about what the addition of Harvin means to the offense and why having Tate and Harvin in the same offense is potentially game-changing. As we saw on Sunday against the Falcons, Tate is an explosive, 'big-play' type of receiver that can make spectacular catches down the sideline, over the middle, in space, and flip the field in the kicking game, and what Percy brings to the table is a similar (yet unique) skill-set and ability.

First, some numbers:

According to Football Outsiders, in 2012, no receiver had more total broken tackles (19) than Percy Harvin (Harvin only played in nine games... so that context is bananas). Similarly, in 2012, no receiver had more broken tackles per touch than Golden Tate (context here is that Tate's volume of touches was lower).

This year, as a corollary to the ability to consistently break tackles, Golden Tate is averaging 8.9 yards after the catch (per ProFootballFocus), which is tops in the NFL at the receiver position. Wanna know who led the NFL in that category last year? Percy Harvin.

Why is this ability important?

The Seahawks are a team that values toughness, ball control, and want to punch you in the face and wear you down as the game goes on. Shortly, they should have the two toughest-to-tackle receivers in the NFL on the field at the same time.

Of course, Seattle will also have Marshawn Lynch on the field - a guy that presently sits at 518 yards rushing after contact, 2nd in the NFL only to Adrian Peterson. Harvin, Tate, and Lynch will be receiving handoffs or passes from Russell Wilson.

This matters. More so to this team than perhaps other teams. Why? Pete Carroll believes passionately in creating explosive plays and the power that a team can derive from those types of momentum shifters. Having the players capable of creating these plays at any given time means that the Seahawks have increased their power to hit on those plays exponentially. Adding another home-run threat into the mix means the defense has yet another threat to account for.

I believe that Pete Carroll sees 'explosive plays' - runs of 12+ yards and catches of 16+ yards - as force multipliers.

The D.O.D. defines a "force multiplier" as "a capability that, when added to and employed by a combat force, significantly increases the combat potential of that force and thus enhances the probability of successful mission accomplishment."

Examples of so-called force multipliers in a military sense include superior technology, favorable geographical features and/or advantageous weather. These can apply to football as well. For instance, better technology in the weight room, practice field, meeting rooms, lunch rooms, etc, can change the dynamic of a team. The idea of using geographical features and weather as a force multiplier relates to the idea of homefield advantage - in Seattle, it's the crowd noise, cold, rain, etc.

Other military force multipliers that can be directly related to football include superior training and/or experience, a fearsome reputation, successful deception, and better morale. Teams can be generally confident, but morale seems to be a pretty variable and fickle beast. Explosive plays - if morale is down - can be powerful to swing the esprit de corps.

I think that Pete Carroll loves the explosive play because he believes they become force multipliers in that they have a great influence over morale. Will the addition of Percy Harvin's dynamism to this offense help to increase exponentially the Seahawks' ability to make explosive plays? That's what I'm hoping for, eventually.

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I think it's important to note, though, that while Tate and Harvin have some similarities in playing style, they'll be used differently in the offense and actually do play different positions.

First off, Tate has taken full control of the X spot on the outside - this position is also called the split end - and playing this role requires a certain mindset and tool box. Harvin, meanwhile, is likely to be primarily a slot receiver, but in my mind, will be used all over the formation as a joker of sorts - in motion frequently, in the backfield, running vertical and width-gaining routes to exploit weaknesses in the defense. On the outside, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse are likely to rotate at the Z position - this is the old Sidney Rice spot, and it's also called the 'flanker.'

As a precursor to Percy's return, it's worth reviewing the differences between the three spots, because each 'role' has different responsibilities and defining characteristics. Also, it's worth pointing out that Percy can probably play the slot and the Z, and did so in Minnesota. He could most likely even fill in at the X spot if needed.

Former Husky/NFL QB and now KJR analyst Hugh Millen broke down the differences in the spots in detail last year, and I wanted to re-post them here.

"I think it's a lot like in baseball, you know, the difference between a second baseman and a third baseman," said Millen, when asked to describe the differences between X and Z. "You know, they're both infielders, but their job duties are much different, and so it goes with wide receiver. It's also like in basketball - everyone knows who the '3' and the '4' are, and that's been committed to the average fan's memory, but I always thought that X and Z would be similarly committed to memory as well."

They're not, really. So, he went on, "Ok, so the wide receivers are designated with the term "X" and "Z" and it's been that way for decades. The X receiver is the split end. He is the widest receiver away from the tight end. What's unique about him, -- as opposed to the Z receiver, who is the flanker, and the other wide receiver -- is that the X receiver, in most formations, and of course, there are a lot of exceptions, but in most formations, the X receiver, the split end -- and those expressions are used synonymously -- he is tethered to the line of scrimmage."

"He's on the line of scrimmage, he cannot go in motion, and so, when he's facing a cornerback, as he almost always is, the cornerback can jam him at the line. So, your X receiver, he better have the profile of a guy that has the speed to get down the sideline, he better have the quickness to get away from the corner, and he better be good coming off a press."

Golden Tate.

"In almost all routes, that corner has him in man-to-man. Now, if he runs a shallow cross and it's zone, then the corner will let him go, but most routes up the field, that corner's going to be covering the wide receiver, man-to-man. Now, who is a corner? In the NFL, the corner is the guy on the playground, when you play tag, that always won. He's got that great agility. He is the cheetah running down the gazelle on the Serengeti. The corner is the best athlete on the football field, and I'll even include receivers and running backs, in that group, because think about the skill-set for a cornerback. He doesn't have to have great hand-eye coordination. He just has to be able to follow you. And, so those guys are hard to beat, and particularly for an X receiver, if he's getting a jam on you, you gotta have that ability to get off the line of scrimmage."

This is why the question exists as to whether or not a receiver that has had success on the inside, in the slot, can easily move to the outside. It's not just a matter of running different routes.

"Now, the Z receiver, the 'flanker,' who is on the opposite side of the split end, he, in most formations, is going to be off the line of scrimmage a few yards. That enables the tight end to be eligible, because if the Z receiver were on the line, it would make the tight end ineligible. That flanker, that Z receiver -- and again, those terms are synonymous --that is still a wide receiver. He's going against cornerbacks, he has to be able to have the speed and the acceleration to beat cornerbacks, but, from time-to-time, you can run him in motion because he's off the line of scrimmage, you can get him down in the slot and run for passes over the middle, so, there's a little bit of the characteristics of a slot receiver inherent in the Z receiver. But, by and large, those guys are much different than the slot receiver."

This is the role that Kearse and, ostensibly, Doug Baldwin are slated to rotate in at. I do believe both can function very well there. I would imagine Percy gets some time at the Z spot too. Part of the value of Kearse is that he has experience in all three spots, and I'm guessing there will be a good amount of rotating, as I'd say pretty much every Seahawk receiver right now can play all three spots.

As for the slot, where I'd expect to see Harvin make his hay:

"From the slot standpoint, in zone coverage, a linebacker will usually walk out and kind of be head-up over you, if you're a slot receiver, and you've kind of got to be able to beat a linebacker. But, he's not going to trail you - he'll pass you over in zone, so if you're a slot receiver..., he's now going in between the safeties, and the linebackers, and he's got an entirely different challenge to beat those defenders, than he would when he's lined up as a wide receiver (X or Z)."

This is why Harvin becomes dangerous - with Percy on the field, you're going to see him matched up against linebackers at times - and this is a huge matchup advantage for the Seahawks. Conversely, if the opposing defense responds with a nickelback instead of a linebacker in order to match up with Percy, Seattle will have an easier time, in theory, running the football.

"HOW HARVIN HELPS THE RUN GAME"

From November 26th, after Seattle's win over the Vikings.

This article was written just before we found out Harvin had aggravated his hip injury.

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.

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:

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Analysis from Davis:

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"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.

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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."

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(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.

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Here's Seattle's response:

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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.

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From Davis:

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"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.

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All of these things create mathematical advantages for the Seahawks on paper - especially in the run game."

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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).

Screen_shot_2013-11-20_at_4

More from Davis:

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"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.

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(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."

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(: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....

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... and then on the next kick

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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).

Screen_shot_2013-11-20_at_4

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.

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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:

-- So now you have Percy Harvin. What do you do? - Via Arif Hasan (Must Read) Field Gulls

-- Percy Harvin, the running back - Field Gulls

-- Percy Harvin: He'll help - Field Gulls

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