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Seahawks on tape: The difficulties of stopping ‘Crack Pitch’ runs

Green Bay Packers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

There’s a fast-developing NFL trend that the Seahawks have suffered from: the crack pitch from the shotgun. Quicker developing than a toss play, the pitch is run similarly to a speed option but without the quarterback ever keeping.

Seattle really struggled against the Chargers’ run game and their toss, making Green Bay’s crack pitch last Thursday a smart decision. It was particularly tricky because they did it from the shotgun to the weakside. With a tight end to the left and the running back to the right, The Seahawks aligned off the strength of the front. This was also opposite the side of the running back alignment, because that’s where the ball is most likely to be run from the gun.

The Packers made things even tougher for Seattle by following another in-vogue schematic feature of the NFL: tight receiver splits and a bunch formation. Sean McVay’s offense is the champion of this. In the Rams attack it gives receivers a genuine two-way go—with space inside and outside. The alignment also guarantees that the receiver will face outside, off leverage from the defensive back, which frees up space for the terrifying crossers of McVay to run free inside. Finally, McVay benefits from tight splits in the run game as he breaks force defenders and narrows a defense.

For Green Bay, the 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end and 3 wide receivers) trips bunch formed a significant part of their gameplan and really benefited their crack pitch. Aligning the receivers like this to the boundary created a smaller, easier area for the receivers to make their crack-back blocks to secure the edge. It also gave the running back more room to get outside.

The trips bunch in this area created three extra gaps to the right of the right tackle: essentially a d gap, an e gap and a f gap. With Shaquill Griffin joined by Tre Flowers and Justin Coleman, plus Bradley McDougald aligning in press over the tight end on the other side of the field, it was clear to Aaron Rodgers that the coverage was man.

This saw Rodgers audible at the line of scrimmage. Sure enough, the corners were all forced to align off and outside their receivers. As the ball was snapped, the crack-back blocks of Marquez Valdez-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown took Coleman and Griffin inside.

The force defender, the man tasked with turning outside runs back inside, was Barkevious Mingo. Mingo found himself down at the line of scrimmage facing the double team of Valdez-Scantling and St. Brown.

They attacked Mingo’s blindside. In zone coverage with a safety as the secondary force player, Mingo could have assumed a “crack replace” call. This is where the force responsibility is replaced by a box safety who reacts to the issues a crack-back block on the edge represents.

Instead, the man coverage saw the secondary force player, nickel corner Coleman, get run out of the play inside. Worse, contain defender Griffin was out-leveraged by his coverage inside. As the outside corner, he was forced to overcompensate due to the inside tight split.

The Packers managed to stop the run-through of middle linebacker Bobby Wagner by having their left guard Lane Taylor fold block. They were able to do this as Seattle’s bear/double-eagle/46 front let them take backside 4i Jarran Reed with backside tackle David Bakhtiari.

Meanwhile, on the frontside, Green Bay was able to run two fold blocks behind the pair of crack-back blocks, with inside receiver Davante Adams and right tackle Bryan Bulaga pealing out to the perimeter. Bulaga managed to slow Mingo, who did a good job getting off the double team crackback, Adams managed to kick out his one-on-one Flowers.

The interior defensive linemen always get caught in the middle trash on plays like this. Unsurprisingly, deep safety Tedric Thompson was the only free player. His run fit tasked him with filling the alley. But Thompson took a very shallow angle that isn’t aggressive enough given the situation. It was a near-impossible task anyway. Aaron Jones surged into the endzone untouched.

You may wonder what would have happened if Seattle had played zone coverage rather than man here. Though the defensive backs wouldn’t have been disadvantaged to the point of out-leverage by their coverage assignment, the Seahawks would likely have had one less player on the playside edge.

As underwhelming for Green Bay fans as Mike Leach’s Air Raid in the snow, Mike McCarthy didn’t call this concept again. This was despite most of the Seahawks’ coverage being man defense. Heading into the crucial match-up with the Carolina Panthers, Seattle’s play on the perimeter of runs must be far better. Force and contain play have been huge weaknesses of the defense. That’s strange given how Pete Carroll stresses stopping the run, plus how well his teams usually execute that task.