Seattle started its drive with an overthrown pass. Matt Hasselbeck didn't intend to overthrow T.J. Houshmandzadeh, but within the framework of this drive, that play was essential even if unsuccessful. Greg Knapp had established the slot as a threat with the first play of the game. He had given the defense an unusual look by splitting the tight ends wide, and slotting the wide receivers on the inside. Had it succeeded, Houshmandzadeh could have curled his route back towards tight end John Owens and had a lead blocker to run after the catch.
Knapp then followed with a play action look that put John Carlson one-on-one against a linebacker. This time, the speed was on the outside and power on the inside. The play action featured first Owen Schmitt and then T.J. Duckett working as a sixth blocker. That would become a pattern, as would attacking the strong side.
On the next play, the receivers are stacked left and to the weak side. The run targets the strong side. Rob Sims and Sean Locklear miss their blocks, and Duckett doesn't get far enough fast enough, but the play ends in positive yardage and keeps the playbook open.
The Seahawks are now second and eight. They have dinked and dunked, but nothing seems remarkable about this drive as yet. Seattle again attacks the inside through the slot receiver and again doing so gets a favorable matchup. Andra Davis knows better than to get cute covering Houshmandzadeh, so he stays overtop and awaits the pass before closing. Housh is tough and he rarely drops passes. He takes the impact and receives for six. The inside is being exploited, Houshmandzadeh is becoming a primary target and Denver must adjust or be picked apart.
Seattle again breaks three wide, but Denver matches a safety against Houshmandzadeh instead of a linebacker. It's a subtle shift to protect a weakness. Deon Butler shifts inside, overloading the right interior and after a hop-hop the Seahawks are off. The beauty of this play is not just its boldness, but that Houshmandzadeh is not the only open receiver, only the best receiver open. Carlson gets open on the right. Butler drags into the left flat and is open. The Broncos are blitzing five, but the lineman that escapes is a sluggish nose tackle. Housh beats the safety and is free over the middle. Hasselbeck finds Housh for 13 and the first. Seattle has a drive going. Denver has a matchup problem.
Seattle runs an end around pass that doesn't work, but is built to empower end-around motion on handoffs. Marty Mornhinweg and the Eagles run it and I'm excited to see Seattle doing likewise. Eventually, the end-around motion must sell for the play to work, but if Seattle can buy even a split second of pause with misdirection, than that's an advantage it should take.
Seattle runs another stretch right that this time opens a hole on the left. Duckett gets a good release to the hole, but an arm tackle slows him and a missed block ends the run. This run is about keeping the run alive. Ideally, it breaks and Seattle has a new set of downs. If it falters a bit, Duckett picks up positive yardage and keeps Seattle out of a passing down. Third and six is pass-first, but with Seattle edging towards field goal range, Knapp known to attempt fourth downs and the inside passing attack alive, the run is possible and the run is still dangerous.
The drive doesn't end that way. The Seahawks break shotgun, but Schmitt and Justin Forsett are in. That allows a screen, a draw or a sweep right. On their right, the Seahawks stack Houshmanzadeh in the slot and Branch wide. Denver adjusts its safeties to compensate. The Broncos are in a 3-3 nickel. After the snap, we see the payoff. The backs are prepared to provide max protect. The Broncos don't blitz but rush four. The backs then release into opposing in patterns. Schmitt and Forsett are outlet receivers, and Denver is sitting on them like they are Chris Johnson and Steve Slaton. Each inside linebacker is assigned one, and neither inside linebacker impacts the play.
The action is first on the right and then, victoriously, on the left. Denver plays it wrong. Denver stacks right. Branch attacks deep and Houshmandzadeh attacks the intermediate middle. But the play is on the left. Seattle sends Butler streaking at and past Andre Goodman. Goodman has been around the league, has some ball skills but gets beat deep. Butler beats Goodman deep. With attention focused right, free safety Renaldo Hill can't hope to recover. Butler has a step and is clear to the end zone. Now the pass. Hasselbeck times it well and drops it just over Butler's shoulder. He makes a Jerry Rice reception and records his first professional touchdown. He doesn't score the touchdown though, that took eight plays, fourteen players and a plan.