clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The basics of the Seahawks' offense: Play action, Russell Wilson improvisation, & outside zone



Play action is a cornerstone of what Pete Carroll wants to do on offense, and it happens to be something Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, and the Seahawks' offense are good at executing. On this particular play, play-action arrives on the first play of the game in Week 4 of the 2012 Season, at St. Louis.


The Seahawks' offense had remained conservative in Weeks 1-3, and Carroll was looking to protect Russell Wilson, for better or for worse. After the opening kickoff, the Seahawks get the ball 1st and 10 on their own 20 yard line. The Seahawks emerge and align in a single back, two tight end set. Both tight ends (Anthony McCoy and Zach Miller) are aligned on the strong side (right side in this case) and both receivers are aligned on the weakside - Golden Tate as the X, and Sidney Rice in the weakside slot.

If I am the Rams, I am thinking "run" in this situation. With both TEs near the core of the formation, the Rams go 8-in-the-box, with Craig Dahl playing back as the deep safety. CB Cortland Finnegan trots over to cover WR Rice in the weak-slot.

McCoy goes in motion toward the center, and then reverts back close to his original alignment. I am not sure if Bevell is seeking to create confusion in the minds of the linebackers flowing to the "run" or to create a more favorable matchup for Miller and McCoy here. Perhaps both. Miller ends up running vertical and McCoy takes up duties in pass protection. Perhaps one second of "distraction" from the TE motion could create an advantage for the offense. The linebackers have to shift weak, then strong, then begin to flow toward the weakside again once they see Lynch attacking the edge (only to find that all three are actually decoys.)


As the ball is snapped Lynch begins to attack the weakside in a typical outside zone run, the bread and butter of the Seahawks offense - the foundation. The front seven begins to flow toward the weakside as you have to respect Lynch in this situation.

The corners are giving a lot of cushion and are likely taught to "stay on top," in this case. If Finnegan plays with inside leverage, or presses Rice, perhaps the play would be disrupted, but Finnegan would be vulnerable to the vertical route. Finnegan is in a bit of a bind here.

After the play fake, the defense is flowing toward the sideline to corrall Lynch, but now Rice and Russell Wilson are sprinting toward the opposite sideline. Now the defense is getting stretched like bubble gum and Lynch does not have the ball.

This is a tough play for Dahl, he has to be aware of Lynch, Russell Wilson on a bootleg, Miller the TE coming at him on a vertical route, plus the two WR on the weakside. I am sure he has keys, but I would think there is a lot to process in this play. In this case he stays with the pair of WR and sinks after the snap.

Rice fakes the vertical and then begins to cross toward the inside, Finnegan is now already beat as he has no leverage, and it is a simple throw and catch for Wilson to Rice. Finnegan does a good job of open field tackling Rice before things get really ugly, and limits the play to a gain of 18.


Now, imagine in 2013 the different things Darrell Bevell can do on this particular play. He could place Percy Harvin at the X and run vertical - it would be a tough throw for Russell to throw across his body, but perhaps one he could make -and Harvin could be in a one on one situation of the deep safety is a tad late.

Now, imagine Harvin in the slot on this play, instead of an 18 yard gain, Harvin could possibly break Finnegan's tackle or accelerate past Finnegan and the remaining defenders (for 81 yards i.e. - a touchdown). This is the type of crossing pattern I believe Minnesota used for Harvin fairly frequently because he's just faster than a lot of defenders.

Lastly, instead of Zach Miller running the vertical route, perhaps Luke Willson and his 4.51 speed could threaten the seam and Zach Miller could stay back in pass protection (what McCoy does in the play above). Again, the free safety in this case would likely help in coverage on the vertical TE, leaving the slot WR one on one.


The second play that piqued my interest is the play that directly follows the previous play action pass I just detailed. There's now 14:43 left to go in the 1st Quarter, again, Week 4 at St. Louis. The Seahawks now possess the ball, 1st and 10 on their 38 yard line.

The offense comes out in a 2RB set with 2WR aligned, again, on the weakside. This time, Rice starts out near the sideline and then motions pre-snap inside of Doug Baldwin. I believe the primary read on this play is a pass to the fullback Michael Robinson.


The Seahawks attempt another play action pass. This time the play is out of the I-formation, or "Pro" set. Seahawk fans know that this fullback pass play was run many times with success for first downs and touchdowns throughout the 2012 season. Michael Robinson caught a variation of this play for a TD versus Washington, Miami and in Week 17 when Seattle hosted St. Louis at the Clink.

The Rams are ready for the play, and instead of avoiding Robinson as a linebacker would attempt to do in a weakside lead play, the linebacker #58 chops Robinson to the ground. The linebacker is expecting play action and the fullback pass. He is coached up. Robinson tumbles to the turf and now Wilson's first read has evaporated. Seeing this, Baldwin throws his hands in the air and has a window, but Wilson decides against throwing to Baldwin as a second option, I believe.

Wilson probably should throw the ball here, as a perfectly thrown ball probably goes complete for 6-7 yards. Wilson decides against the pass to Baldwin, perhaps because a slightly late or inaccurate ball in this situation could create problems as two defenders are in the vicinity.

Wilson says 'no' to option one, and then 'no' to option two. At this point, most NFL QBs are about to get sacked. Why? -Because the Rams' defensive end has blown by Right Tackle Breno Giacomini. For MOST quarterbacks the right read is to either throw the ball in the dirt once Robinson hits the turf or attempt to hit Baldwin. Failure to act quickly in this case would result in a sack and loss of yardage for 9 out of 10 QBs. Not for Russell Wilson. He calmly evades the rusher and then scrambles for a cool 8 yards, and avoids a big hit by using the sideline. Again, I think the correct read here is to hit Baldwin, but Russell creates unique options for himself and the Seahawks that aren't available to most teams.

In this case, Russell takes a play that is designed to go 7 yards via Robinson or Baldwin, and takes it for 8 yards. He gets 8 yards against a defense that attacks the designed playcall almost perfectly. Russell Wilson doing his Russell Wilson thing.


As the game progresses, the Seahawks find themselves with the ball on their 21 yard line, 1st and 10 with 11:13 left to go in the 2nd Quarter. Again, this play comes from Week 4, versus the St. Louis Rams in the Edward Jones Dome.

The Seahawks have just forced a punt off of a 3-and-out. The offense comes out in a balanced formation, Lynch is the I in a one-back set, with two TE on either side of the core of the formation. McCoy is on the left, Miller is on the right. Tate is aligned far left, Rice on the far right.

With seven Seahawks on the line of scrimmage and Lynch in the backfield, the Rams are forced to bring eight into the box. Dahl remains the deep safety. The Rams try to get cute and try a "weakside" corner blitz right before the snap. The weakside linebacker (or possibly safety) swaps out on the now-unguarded Golden Tate and Dahl shifts his alignment toward Tate when he sees the corner blitz.

It's an unlucky move for the Rams. The Rams have likely been coached by Fisher in this type of balanced formation to expect the run to the traditional strong side (offense's right side). The weakside corner blitz is one giveaway.

The other tell is that the Rams' defensive line, at least those on the Rams' right side (Seahawks' left) begin to flow immediately after the snap to the strong side. Once the ball is snapped the play is destined for success. Anthony McCoy, all 275 pounds, now gets to manhandle a 200-pound cornerback close to the point of attack. Advantage Seahawks. Lynch takes his drop step and then launches at the Alex Gibbs prescribed 45-degree angle (in outside zone) directly toward the "Tight End's buttcrack" (Gibbs speak).


The first read for Lynch is the weakside defensive end, and since the defensive end is flowing toward the strong side, LT Russell Okung has his helmet in correct position. All Lynch has to do is stay outside on his original path. If the defensive end had beaten Okung to the spot (if the DE's helmet is now on the outside of Okung) then Lynch would then read the playside defensive tackle to make his next decision. Since the playside defensive end is beaten though, I believe no second line of scrimmage read is needed, in this case. Lynch hits the designed hole. Basics.


The LG James Carpenter only has to rotate around the DE, who has taken himself out of the play, and use his svelte 350 pounds to wall the DE off from the area he just exited. Advantage Seahawks.

Now, at the point of attack, Okung begins to the move to the second level (and hits two more defenders before the play is blown dead). Lynch sidesteps McCoy, who is successfully engaged with the corner, and Lynch is now reading the defenders and Okung on the 2nd level (after Lynch seems to easily breaks the tackle of a lunging DT) and does his Marshawn Lynch thing.

Good for a gain of 9. This is how Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks OL spread butter on their bread.

Read more from Field Gulls:

Xs & Os: Breaking down schematics & strategy

The Numbers Game: Analysis of statistics & the salary cap

The Offseason: News & notes on the Seahawks' offseason

Miscellany: Commentary, criticism, pop culture & more

Field Gulls Podcasts: Hear from your writers

NFL Draft: Prospect analysis, scouting reports