The Seahawks went down to Arizona in Week 7 to play on a Thursday Night, and despite what we thought would be a very tough game, dominated on their way to a 34-22 win. Since that game though, the Cardinals have gone 6-1, have cleaned up things on offense, and their defense now ranks 2nd in DVOA - behind only Seattle. The Cards give up 20.8 points per game (8th), have 41 sacks (7th), and lead the league in opposing rush yardage at 83.2 per game - surprisingly better than even the Panthers, Jets, Lions, Bengals, and 49ers.
So. This week's highly-important game, a game in which Seattle can lock up the NFC West and the #1 seed in the NFC, will not be a gimme.
It's tough to know what Seattle may try to do offensively against such a great defense, but I thought it'd be worth revisiting a post I wrote back in October about what the Hawks did in Week 7. Obviously, over the course of a season, gameplans change pretty consistently (especially against division foes), but it's interesting to take a look at some of the things Seattle installed specifically to battle Arizona's personnel.
Anyway, without further ado, here's what I wrote following Week 7's win. Go grab a coffee or something, it's long.
The Seahawks went down to Arizona Thursday, on a short week, to face off against the Cardinals - Football Outsiders' 7th ranked defense per DVOA. This was to be a great test for the Seahawk offense in particular, because the Cards have a very good defensive line, a solid pass rush, a great cornerback in Patrick Peterson, and they're strong against both the run (7th DVOA) and the pass (8th DVOA).
I wouldn't say the Hawks lit things up against the Cardinals, offensively, but considering it was on the road and Seattle was still down both tackles on the offensive line, I came away happy with a lot of things. They started out quickly. They ran the ball. Russell Wilson played in rhythm and delivered several big-time throws. Really, that's what you hope for going into a game.
Josh has covered the defensive side of the ball beautifully each week, so I thought I'd pick out some offensive plays that stood out to me. Ok, I'll start now.
2-10-SEA 28 (3:46 1st Q) M.Lynch left tackle to SEA 35 for 7 yards (R.Johnson).
I've been fascinated over the past few weeks with Seattle's new style of running, which includes slice blocks, wham/trap blocks, pulling linemen, and misdirection. That said, it was pretty refreshing to see them run, with success, the good old fashioned wide zone.
The wide zone isn't flashy or overly interesting, in fact it's pretty ugly and boring - just a blob of moving bodies drifting one way with the goal that eventually Marshawn Lynch will end up downfield 4 or more yards - but it's effective when done correctly.
The main idea behind the Zone Blocking Scheme - or the wide zone specifically - is to get the defense flowing laterally, perhaps overplaying toward the sideline, and thus create lanes or gaps for the running back to cut upfield through. In basic terms, the guys on the left step laterally first before pushing downfield or toward the sideline, and the guys on the right cut block so the backside defenders are laying on the ground rather than pursuing the ball carrier.
Below, this is a classic example.
In this case, Lynch is meant to work off of James Carpenter. With a lead blocker at fullback in this scheme, LT Paul McQuistan's first movement is to the 2nd level, thus giving the rights to that oncoming OLB to Derrick Coleman. Coleman does his job.
We give James Carpenter a lot of guff for his pass blocking (which has been very inconsistent, and that's being charitable), but overall I've been really happy watching him run block. He's a big, wide, strong human being, and when he executes well, he can be a real pain in the ass to defenders.
Here, he engages Calais Campbell, along with Max Unger, and walks the star Cardinals DE downfield about four or five yards while maintaining leverage and balance. It doesn't really look like much, but that's the ZBS. What can Campbell do here against a guy like Carp when he's on balance and locked in, really?
I've noticed too, over the last few weeks, that Lynch has started to trust Carpenter a little bit more in the run game, particularly in the ZBS stuff they run. He's a big ole' wall of a man, for which Lynch can work off of to pick up the ugly yards.
Now, I'm not sure if Carpenter is going to remain a starter once Paul McQuistan returns to his real position at guard - Cable seems to really like McQuistan - but he does need to really work on his awareness. Right now, the book on James Carpenter is that he is slow to see and react to stunts and he's susceptible to the club move, because he gets his balance going forward almost as though he's run blocking. If we could see Carp sit back in his stance a little better when he's pass blocking, he's got a chance to be a more complete guard. If not? Well, he'll remain a below-average pass protector and a decent-to-good run blocker with flashes of brilliance.
On to the next play.
1-10-SEA 39 (2:24 1st Q) (Shotgun) R.Turbin right tackle to SEA 46 for 7 yards (C.Campbell).
This is a good example of the pulling game that Tom Cable has incorporated into the offense. Here, he gets Carpenter on the move to the right, lead blocking or Robert Turbin, who gets the handoff in a 'read-option' look.
The line downblocks to the left and TE Luke Willson moves to the 2nd level to engage a linebacker. RT Michael Bowie does an excellent job getting his meat hooks on the defensive end and washing him out of the running lane, then Carpenter just bowls over the outside linebacker #58 at the point of attack. Carp also takes DE #91, who was out in the slot, out of the play as well. This was a good start of the game for Big James.
For Turbin's part, he does a good job hitting the crease with power and speed, and picks up seven yards with ease.
3-3-SEA 46 (1:36 1st Q) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short left to G.Tate ran ob at ARZ 40 for 14 yards (R.Johnson).
The play below is a great example of scheming to get your playmakers in space. Patrick Peterson followed Golden Tate around all day, so in this case, Darrell Bevell motions Tate to the strong side of the field to overload it, then ran a 'rub route' with Sidney Rice to get Tate some separation early on. Bevell knows that Tate will have man coverage so this is a brilliant play-call to get the first down.
Peterson has to go over the top of that pick/rub by Sidney, and Golden does what Golden does after he gets the ball in his hands. He breaks a tackle and picks up 14.
This is the kind of stuff you can expect with Percy Harvin too. I literally cannot wait to see what they can do with Tate and Percy on the field at the same time. Teams better get their corners excited about tackling.
1-10-ARZ 40 (1:05 1st Q) R.Wilson pass short right to G.Tate to ARZ 34 for 6 yards (P.Peterson).
This play was interesting to me because it's a nice example of the concept of 'run action'. Run action is similar to play-action, except the distinct difference is that the whole OL actually does go into their run-blocking movements. This sucks linebackers up into the box, which gives receivers more room to maneuver outside and also, importantly, gives Russell Wilson better throwing lanes on the flanks.
You're much less likely to get a random opposing DE/OLB dropping into a short zone coverage when your offensive line goes into run-mode.
In this case, Russell hits Golden Tate on a little out route. The play kind of looks like a lame duck as Golden is dropped almost immediately after catching it, but this is six yards on first down. 2nd and 4 is a good place to be.
2-13-ARZ 15 (13:31 2nd Q) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short middle to Z.Miller for 15 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Ok, I loved this play. Let's back up a minute to set the stage for what might've made this particular play-call successful.
First trip down memory lane: Y'all remember this play against San Francisco in Week 16 2012?
It's a zone-flood concept, often used in the Redzone. Essentially, the idea is to make the defense think you're going to throw to the receiver or receivers on one side, suck the defense toward that receiver, then dump it off underneath in that now-vacated zone. In this case above, Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate get all the attention and Marshawn Lynch just sneaks in underneath with a quick outside-in angle route.
Here's the thing, though. The Cardinals use this concept in their offense too. Their defense practices against it.
As for Thursday's case, the Seahawks find themselves in 2nd and 13. Likely, the Cardinals are thinking Seattle will try a run (a draw, perhaps), or a quick swing pass or dump off over the middle to attempt to get some YAC and get into a manageable 3rd down situation. Darrell Bevell knows this, and as Brock Huard pointed out in his Chalk Talk from this week, he's expecting a zone coverage from the defense. Keep things in front, get to the ball carrier or pass catcher and bring him down. It's tough to throw to the endzone from 15 yards out in this case because defenses are backpedaling, looking in, and don't really have to worry about getting beat over the top. Over-the-top is out of bounds.
So. Here's what happens.
The Hawks overload to the right with Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, and Golden Tate. They keep Zach Miller in-line left and Marshawn Lynch in shotgun left. The three routes to the right easily garner the attention of the deep safety to that side, and that leaves Miller against a safety to the left, plus there are a couple of underneath defenders to worry about.
Lynch's angle-route acts as a perfect decoy to suck the linebacker up. Instead of drifting back with Miller and possibly disrupting a throwing lane to the endzone for Wilson, he bites on what he thinks will be a short throw to get Lynch in space so he can do some damage and get into a more manageable third down situation.
The effect here is that Wilson knows almost immediately that Miller is his best option, then he throws a pass that is absolutely on the money. No joke, you couldn't put the ball in a better location here. Miller does a great job of getting Yeramiah Bell to widen at the snap toward the sideline, giving Miller a better angle on the inside.
1-10-SEA 48 (11:56 2nd Q) M.Lynch up the middle to ARZ 43 for 9 yards (Y.Bell).
I distinctly remember this play live.
that cut by Lynch, lawd— Danny sKellyton (@FieldGulls) October 18, 2013
Even in the broadcast angle, you could tell that Lynch set up this run brilliantly by knifing back inside after 'just reading it.'
The play design, I think, is meant to take Lynch off Bowie's right shoulder, pretty much exactly as we saw above with the Robert Turbin run.
This play as contrasted by the Turbin play above is a cool case study of running the same thing but in different personnel and from a different formation. Above? 11 personnel, one back and one tight end, with Wilson in shotgun and handing off in a read-option look. Here? Wilson under center in a 12 personnel grouping - one back and two tight ends - with Wilson reverse-pivoting and handing off to Lynch in what looks like a counter.
In this case, instead of pulling by James Carpenter, you see TE Luke Willson slice across the formation and do the honors - in effect, he plays that role of a 'pulling guard'. Zach Miller blocks downfield as Willson did prior, and all together, it looks like the same concept and same target crease for Lynch.
DT Darnell Dockett recognizes it's a counter, though. As Bowie washes him down the line, Dockett turns his head and executes a spin move back across the grain to pick up where he thinks Lynch is going. Lynch sees this - he's taught to watch the opposing players' helmets, and in a split second, makes his cut upfield through the new crease created by Dockett's spin move.
This is a perfect example, in my opinion, of what you might hear scouts and analysts call 'vision' in a running back. Lynch picks up 9 on a first down.
3-1-SEA 40 (1:59 2nd Q) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short middle to Z.Miller to SEA 47 for 7 yards (R.Johnson).
I picked out this play because it's a perfect example of the reason you see Seattle go empty backfield on third and short. It's always annoying to people (myself included at times) when Darrell Bevell takes Marshawn Lynch out of the backfield where he could run or protect Russell Wilson and puts him on the wing, where he's mostly useless as a receiver.
It's about two things: taking an extra man out of the box, and making reads easier for Russell Wilson.
Seattle is in 12 personnel with two tight ends and one back. By motioning both Lynch and Kellen Davis out to the wings, the Cardinals have to respond, defensively. In this case, as Seattle motions Davis out to the wing, Patrick Peterson widens out to mark up with him, and the box linebacker on that side is forced to widen out and take Jermaine Kearse in man coverage.
There's an OLB on the line just inside of Zach Miller, who is in the tight slot, so the read for Russell Wilson becomes pretty easy. If that OLB rushes, Miller is going to be defended by the deep safety and will be wide open underneath (this is what happens) or if that OLB drops into coverage on Miller, Kearse is going to be the go-to guy, matched up on a linebacker in coverage.
Wilson makes the easy read and hits Miller for a big first down.
1-10-SEA 20 (11:48 3rd Q) R.Wilson pass short left to G.Tate to SEA 45 for 25 yards (P.Peterson).
I saw my colleague Aaron Sims tweet this before the game and I remember it specifically because I had been thinking the exact same thing:
Peterson is going to eliminate Tate from this game. Gonna need some plays by Rice and Baldwin.— Aaron Sims (@adotsims) October 18, 2013
It wasn't that I doubted Tate, honestly, because on some level I knew/know that he was/is really good at getting off the line and into his routes, but it was more that I respected Patrick Peterson's game so much that I though he'd blanket Tate all day. I thought Peterson was going to make life difficult for Tate and that Wilson would just look elsewhere to distribute the ball.
What Tate did in this game, though, impressed the hell out of me. There was no better example than this play below. It took timing between Wilson and his receiver, necessitated a great release from Tate, and then Golden was able to do what he does best - pick up YACitty YAC.
Watch, and keep in mind that Peterson is honestly maybe one of the best athletes in the world.
2-6-ARZ 22 (9:07 3rd Q) M.Lynch up the middle to ARZ 5 for 17 yards (P.Peterson; J.Powers).
This is the same counter play, essentially, that I broke down above (Lynch's great vision/cut). Here, the play goes more to 'plan' and Lynch does his thing off of Bowie's right shoulder. I like how Lynch sets Yeramiah Bell (#37) up to the outside (he's really, really good at this) with a subtle little juke, then moves back inside to pick up the tough yards.
He ends up picking up an additional seven or eight yards at the end just with pure power and determination.
2-5-ARZ 5 (8:19 3rd Q) M.Lynch up the middle for 5 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
The Replay Assistant challenged the runner broke the plane ruling, and the play was REVERSED.
I don't really have set this up much. Same concept as above. The defensive line of the Cardinals gets great push on the offensive right side, so Lynch goes right up the gut. Darnell Dockett washes down the line, sees Lynch, and gets his head knocked off when he tries to make the tackle.
For what it's worth, I thought Lynch was in the endzone on this play - I thought he broke the plane as his elbow touched down, but whatever. Still awesome.
3-1-ARZ 1 (7:56 3rd Q) R.Wilson pass short right to K.Davis for 1 yard, TOUCHDOWN.
Ok, so Lynch's TD is reversed. Disregarding the possible flipoff to the sideline, the play that Bevell calls actually is and has proven to be a killer in the redzone for the Hawks. You may remember this (with obligatory plug to my old article):
Seahawks Replay Booth: The profound effect of play-action - Field Gulls
Playoffs, Divisional Round:
Anthony McCoy = Kellen Davis. Zach Miller = Zach Miller.
Same play, different options, same result. Six points.
1-10-SEA 35 (12:33 4th Q) R.Wilson pass deep left to G.Tate to ARZ 33 for 32 yards.
Wilson's touchdown bomb to Sidney Rice and his falling-down first down miracle to Zach Miller were all well and good and all that, but this was one of my favorite throws that the wunderkind made in this one.
This is a common Seattle route concept from a 'run' type of look. Against an 8-man front meant to stop the run, Tate and Kearse run up the seam and force the deep middle safety to make a choice. Tate's route will be the 'deep out' that we've seen him make so often, and Kearse runs a shorter outroute underneath him. The safety gets all turned around while minding Kearse, so Tate is left one-on-one with Peterson.
Wilson's throw and footwork in the pocket are what really impress me though.
This is some Drew Brees ish right here.
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