Something I noted on twitter after the Seahawks' loss to the Arizona Cardinals was Seattle's need to be able to run against their blitz looks and take advantage of mismatches. I know you're probably tired of hearing about it (or maybe not -- why would you get sick of a Super Bowl run?), but during the Seahawks' 2005 season, particularly with that squad's limited experience in the passing game after losing their two top receivers, the running game became Seattle's weapon against pressure looks. I've talked before about the rumor that during that season, Mike Holmgren, according to the reports, had only two actual run calls in the playbook, with seven emergency runs that Matt Hasselbeck could audible to against pressure looks. Matt and Shaun Alexander became experts at exploiting mismatches in pressure looks, and Shaun's biggest runs came against nine-in-the-box defensive looks.
The Seahawks would go on to lead the league that year in 80+ yard drives -- not by throwing the ball for 400 yards a game -- but by showing simple balance and being able to win in almost all key matchups. It was Matt's ability to get into the right run call, and Shaun's understanding of whom he'd be matched up with 1-on-1, that gave that offense the ability to win those plays at a high rate, again and again and again, for repeated and consistent drives of 10-to-12-to-14-to-15 plays.
I had to smile, on Sunday, when a graphic popped up that Seattle had just put together two back-to-back drives of 80 yards or more for the first time since 2005.
I actually giggled (yes, I'm a grown man that giggles), because that graphic came up right after I had pointed to Marshawn's 36-yard run as a key moment for the Seahawks -- a moment that Seattle's running game made the Cowboys pay for a blitz. It was such a key run. You're probably saying I'm crazy, that it's just one big play, that I'm making all these comparisons on a random Fox stat graphic. Well, maybe, but let's take a closer look.
Seahawks line up with two backs and three receivers and the Cowboys respond with their base personnel. Safety Gerald Sensabaugh will creep in just prior to the snap, and along with Demarcus Ware, Bruce Carter and defensive end Jason Hatcher, bring four-man overload pressure to the left side of the offensive line. I'm not sure whether this was the original playcall by Darrell Bevell or a check by Russell Wilson, but it was an excellent scheme against this look.
On the snap, you can see Carter, Hatcher, Ware and Sensabaugh coming hard at the offensive left. The Seahawks run right, and Sean Lee is stonewalled by Michael Robinson in the playside A-gap.
As Robinson meets Lee head-on, this leaves LB Victor Butler to maintain containment to the playside.
You ever heard the term "stick your foot in the ground and get downfield"?
This little explosive move that Lynch gives to Butler as he's lined up outside is pure genius; it helps Lynch's blocking just a bit and leaves the lane clear for him to run through, rather than having to avoid Butler or break the guy's tackle as he bursts outside. These are little moves the number one backs make to spring big plays.
Marshawn's run right against an overload blitz from the left broke the Cowboys' back at that point, and as a result, you could see that defense become a step hesitant in making plays. The defense's aggressiveness was tempered just a little bit, perhaps just in the back of their minds. These hesitations can be minute, but make a big enough impact to provide openings. Two plays later, in a run-heavy look with three tight ends, the Seahawks struck downfield with precision to Anthony McCoy and took a commanding 20-7 lead.
The next Seattle drive the saw the Seahawks move the ball 88 yards downfield -- and though you can argue the Dallas defense might have been tired, I believe a large part of it was a hesitation in respect for Marshawn's ability to run against the blitz. After this is established, you have a defense on their heels most of the rest of this game. Though the difference doesn't look very big, when you really look at it, it's not just a tired defense, it's a defense that's unsure what to do or how aggressive it should be. A thinking defense is a slow-reacting defense, as I've heard said around here before.
This happened time and again during the Seahawks' 2005 season -- Seattle would face an aggressive defense that was pursuing the football, and then Shaun would rip off a huge run. All the sudden you'd see linebackers hesitate and safeties tap their feet and wait to take an angle in the open field instead of coming down hard into the box. This is when the Seahawks offensive line started to build consistent running lanes, blocking became more definitive and Shaun could consistently gain four yards at will.