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Seahawks RB Chris Carson and the dynamism of simplicity on offense

Seattle Seahawks v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

As July quickly draws to a close, the Seattle Seahawks have now completed the first two training camp practices. After the opening practice on Wednesday starting running back Chris Carson met with the media and offered some insight from his perspective on the new system being installed by Shane Waldron.

The offense being simpler than in seasons past could appear to be in direct conflict to what DK Metcalf had to say about the new system this summer.

Obviously, the difference between Carson and Metcalf is the position they play, and taking into account what an offense built around a wide zone based ground game coupled with a West Coast offense passing game, it makes perfect sense.

Specifically, a rushing attack that is heavily based in wide zone is dangerous due to the post-snap dynamism of the scheme. To get right to the point, in a wide zone system exactly no one on the field knows exactly where the running back is going to at the time of the snap. In fact, no one knows exactly where the running back will go until that running back makes his reads and then proceeds through the proscribed hole.

That’s a whole lot of mumbo jumbo that doesn’t mean a whole lot, so here is what it means when illustrated out. The following is a very basic diagram of offenses and defenses lined up pre-snap. Obviously, most teams opt for a second tight end or a third wide receiver rather than a fullback, but the choice of offensive personnel is not material to this explanation. What is material is the understanding of what is asked of a running back in a wide zone scheme.

Getting right to the point, once the ball is snapped and the quarterback hands off to the running back on a wide zone call, the running back typically has two reads to make. The first of these reads is the defensive end who is highlighted in red to determine whether he is playing inside or outside the defensive end. Basically, if the end is inside, the back proceeds to run off tackle. However, if the end is playing outside the tackle the back reads the defensive tackle who is highlighted in blue in the diagram.

The read on the defensive tackle is similar. If he is playing inside the guard, the back runs in between the guard and tackle. If the defensive tackle is outside the guard, the back cuts back across the formation where there should be a hole off center or off backside guard. Those reads and that decision making process is the foundation of what a running back is asked to do in wide zone.

Obviously, if it were simple to do that any running back could succeed in the system, but the difficulty is making the necessary reads and proceeding accordingly while the defense is in pursuit. The difficulty for a defense in stopping such an attack stems from the fact that, as noted above, until the play is underway no one knows where it is supposed to go. It is, of course, certainly true that linebackers know what their defensive linemen are supposed to do and how they are supposed to defend against such a run on any given playcall, however, a wily veteran at tackle like Duane Brown or a monster young guard like Damien Lewis could easily outsmart or overpower what a defensive lineman wants to do. That throws the play into chaos, leading to a defense that isn’t playing sound, and the job of the running back is to exploit the weakness that appears.

At the foundational level, that’s basically the difference between gap and zone schemes. Gap schemes look to overpower at a specific point of attack, and that results in defenses being able to identify plays based and where they are designed to go prior to the snap. In contract, zone blocking allows cracks to develop in the defense at the start of the play, and then it’s the job of the running back to stick dynamite in those cracks. That’s not to say that zone schemes are perfect or that gap is inferior. They each present different benefits and drawbacks, but it’s enough to understand that a wide zone heavy offense will be looked at as far more simplistic from the standpoint of a running back.

In contrast, the option routes of a West Coast offense will be far more complex than the more static routes of the Air Coryell system the Hawks have used the past three seasons. Field Gulls looked at this over the summer after Tyler Lockett mentioned having more freedom in running routes in Waldron’s system.

So, for those who were looking for more detail and a more in depth breakdown of what option routes could mean for the Seahawks in 2021, here is a breakdown by Ted Nguyen of The Athletic on one of the option concepts the Rams have used.

What makes such an offensive attack based in such a series of options routes so dangerous is not just the route concepts used or the individual routes, but the dynamism of the play. Just as discussed in relation to wide zone above, at the time of the snap no one knows exactly where the receiver will go because the route adjusts in real time after the snap depending on what the defensive players do. Basically, a single route concept using two receivers could have more than a dozen different variations, making it more difficult for the defense. In short, it’s simple, but intricate because it’s dynamic.

And the dynamic simplicity is what makes both so difficult to defend.