A narrow Seattle Seahawks defeat, but one which brought hope ahead of Seattle’s matchup with the Oakland Raiders in London, England this Sunday. Losing 33-31 to the conference’s best team was a performance that demonstrated Pete Carroll can still get buy-in from young talent.
The play-calling and execution shame of Arizona, where the Seahawks went 0-fer on 3rd down, was also put in the rear-view mirror. The offense exploded, with Brian Schottenheimer calling far more play-action. Having only dialled up play-fakes six times in Phoenix, Schotty thankfully gave Russell Wilson a much higher dosage. Heck, the plays we’ll cover here total four.
This article is about rejoicing in the power of play-action. Marcus Peters was toasted into a cremated piece of bread; a flaming slice that had the fire alarm going haywire and the kitchen filled with smoke, fanning and coughing.
When the LA Rams traded for Peters, the league quaked with fear. A big-time corner joining the elite team, the pre-season favorite. Well that was sure to break the NFL:
But since a pick-six against the Oakland Raiders, Peters’ expected 2018 success hasn’t transpired yet and he’s consistently been burned by opponents in each of LA’s last three games:
Marcus Peters coverage stats over the last 3 weeks:— Jeff Ratcliffe (@JeffRatcliffe) October 11, 2018
Maybe it’s his calf strain injury; except Peters claimed post-game that he felt 100% healthy. Health possibly being a factor, Schottenheimer clearly decided to target the 25-year-old cornerback. All of the Seahawks’ ‘touchdown’ routes went after him. Wilson’s primary deep look went Peters’ way. This proved smart.
On one hand, Peters has intercepted the football at a record-breaking pace in his career:
This stems from his ball-hawking nature. His post-game comments were illuminating. When asked if he plays a “go big or go home” style of football, he disagreed:
“Nah, I play football Marcus Peters’ style,” he said.
“What’s Marcus Peters’ style?” The reporter asked.
“Marcus Peters’ style.”
“Can you explain what Marcus Peters’ style is?”
There are downsides to his play-style. Peters is constantly looking to bait the quarterback, anticipate routes and read the passer early and this features erratic to poor eye discipline when he should be focusing on just one receiver. The result is an over-aggressive corner who you can get behind.
On Tyler Lockett’s 39-yard touchdown with 9:11 left in the 2nd quarter, Seattle exploited Peters’ flawed eye discipline beautifully.
Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, looking to stop an effective run game, puts a double eagle front on the field for this 1st and 10. It’s a similar concept to what Seattle runs. Combined with his inverted cover 2 pass coverage, Phillips frees up his 8-man box to primarily play the run first. This is especially true for the line of scrimmage defenders; the 5 can attack. The Seahawks only have 7 blockers in there.
However, though the inverted cover-2 buzz match is a nice change-up look that provides a stout run-stopping defense, it leaves no middle of the field safety out there. Against a formation that is unlikely to produce more than two deep routes (George Fant is one of the tight ends) this is understandable. They have their two safeties ready to take away quick crossers.
It does leave Peters in a deep-half with matching responsibilities on Lockett though. Anywhere Lockett goes deep, Peters must follow. It’s a tricky assignment for the corner, because he is on a very lonely island with no help anywhere deep.
Both quarterbacks and receivers are trained to look for whether the middle of the field is open (MOFO) or closed (MOFC) throughout the play. To Wilson, this might have looked like a cover 0 type pass defense following the inside zone fake.
The middle of the field isn’t just open, it’s non-existent. The idea of the Mills concept that Seattle runs—that being a deep dig route and a post in behind it—is to halt the middle of the field safety with the dig and go in behind him with the post. Yet with no middle of the field at all, all Lockett faces is getting in behind Peters.
Against a rapidly approaching Lockett, Peters must get more depth. Instead he is guessing on the corner route and then the dig route, breaking his feet down too early. As Lockett bursts into his post, Peters’ allows his eyes to be drawn to Wilson rather than cutting with Lockett.
Meanwhile, the other deep half has been taken away by matching the dig route of Doug Baldwin. The result is a thoroughly beaten Peters and a glorious score courtesy of excellent placement from Wilson. Props to the 7-man pass protection picking up the 6-man pressure from the Rams. Peters’ reaction says it all. He’s sheepish—not Ram-like at all.
Lockett’s new contract is beginning to look like a steal, with the fourth-year wideout on pace for 1100+ receiving yards and nearly 13 touchdowns. He worked Peters all game, leaving the corner hanging on for dear life; which is of course an illegal move that resulted in defensive holding penalties.
Blistering speed off the line of scrimmage sees Peters stunned and slow to open. Lockett would separate from the 1v1 at his cut, but Peters yanks back on the crosser. Without the hold, the press cover 1 defense would have been beaten by the play-action flood Schottenheimer schemed. Wilson was looking Lockett’s way through a gaping passing lane before going down.
The Mills concept again beats the inverted cover 2. Phillips is running it once more in combination with a double eagle front on 1st and 10, clearly concerned about a rushing attack which totaled 190 yards and 5.9 per carry.
This time the buzzed down safeties are further back taking the hashes, walling the inside and matching intermediate routes. This frees up the cornerbacks to play pure over-the-top matching. Lockett faking the deep corner with a jab step and flash of head gear to the outside has Peters driving outside, opening the post route again. Desperation mode from Peters prevents another touchdown.
Schottenheimer showed brilliant self-awareness for both the touchdowns the Seahawks scored on Peters. It’s based around his frustrating tendency to call hitch routes run at the sticks against cushions of 5+ yards. This is a particularly noticeable playcalling trend on 3rd downs. You can bet Phillips logged it when gameplanning and that Peters noted it in film study.
This 3rd and 6 design is therefore masterful. The Rams rotate down into a press cover 1 robber, both the linebackers in the nickel package given green dog roles (blitz if your coverage assignment stays in to block).
The coverage call means Peters is left 1v1 in off-coverage with David Moore. Schottenheimer has Lockett run a flat route, which is the first piece of brilliance. A common concept for hitch/curl routes is the curl-flat concept—playing into the idea that Moore is running a hitch at the sticks.
At the sticks, Moore dips his head and near-shoulder inside—as though he is about to throttle down for the hitch. Peters bites. Moore continues on his deceptive path to the endzone. His go route is wide open in the corner; Wilson flashes gorgeous placement again for the go-ahead touchdown. He does well initially to look the deep safety off with a glance left to his alert sideline route.
The Future of the Offense: Please more Play-Action!
What was weird about these plays was that these weren’t the sort to hide or save for tougher opposition. Nor were they ones to hold back for a divisional game. These are basic, non-fancy play-action that should be a staple of this offense. Layering them into the every-game attack would be shrewd. After all, in a team that is primarily built to run, using the natural counter your quarterback excels at is completely logical.
Though read-option runs are nice from the gun or pistol, you must run from under center to get these deep types of play-action working. Under center play-fakes are better for the deep timing and it’s easier to protect the quarterback
The main conclusion from this offensive success is that there should never be a situation where Schotty calls just six play-action passes. According to Sports Info Solutions, Seattle is using play-action on just 21% of their dropbacks this season. Against the Rams, they had 12 play-action dropbacks compared to 11 normal dropbacks. Please: keep calling higher rates of play-action. (Staying out of third-and-longs is pretty important as play-action doesn’t work here)
With that addressed, the next area of improvement for the Seahawks is their normal passing game. The Rams tightened up against the run in the fourth quarter, yet Seattle could not take advantage via passing.
Russell Wilson on play-action Week 5 -- 12 dropbacks, 8 of 11 for 142 yards, 2 TD, 12.9 YPA, 72.7%, 154.4 passer rating— Danny Kelly (@DannyBKelly) October 8, 2018
Non play-action Week 5 -- 11 dropbacks, 5 of 10 for 56 yards, 1 TD, 5.6 YPA, 50%, 100.4 passer rating
Versus pressure looks out of trips formations, Wilson has a tendency to look to the isolated receiver first—something a defense can key on. More than that, there is a lack of “easy” quick tosses for the quarterback. When the defense has a +1 count in the box, or an unfavorable alignment for the run type, the best offenses will punish them with the pass. The Seahawks seem unable to do that right now.
Bubble screens under Darrell Bevell became despised by a large section of the fanbase. Nevertheless, they provide a horizontal stress for the defense, and would be a fast way to get the ball into the dynamic hands of Lockett and Moore.
Brock Huard had some nice ideas to combat aggression during the Chicago mess:
Read Option, Sprint Right Option, Speed Option....TE Screen, Gap Screen, Slot Screen, Bubble Screen, RB Screen....Draw, Sprint Draw, Play Action Off Draw...No Huddle, Muddle Huddle, Quick Break Huddle...Many ways to use Bears aggressiveness against them. Seen almost none of this— Brock Huard (@BrockESPN) September 18, 2018
For now though, the efficiency and performance of Wilson is dependent on faking the run to hit the deep bomb. Schottenheimer deserves massive amounts of praise for a deadly play-action gameplan. It thoroughly butchered the Rams. Just ask Marcus Peters.