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The Seahawks' short & intermediate passing game returns to the fold

Otto Greule Jr

Against Arizona in Week 16, Seattle's game-plan was largely built on two things: trying to establish the run, and attacking one-on-one match-ups with the Cardinals' defensive secondary deep downfield. While that tack has been a bread and butter of the Seahawks' offense throughout the year, it failed for the most part in that game, and left many wondering if Darrell Bevell should have called more 'constraint plays' to keep Arizona's defense honest - swing passes, bubble screens, end arounds, running back screens, and the like.

(Aside: Greg Roman must have been watching that game, because go watch the first Niner offensive series of the Week 17 San Francisco-Arizona Game; it's like five straight swing passes and end arounds).

The play-calling argument is a double-edged sword though, of course - Seattle deliberately schemes to get themselves one-on-one match-ups on the outside and Russell Wilson has shown no fear in attacking those match-ups. Seattle got those in that game, and tried to exploit them. I obviously love to see the aggressiveness and chutzpah to keep going deep with the thought that this next play will capture lightning in a bottle and ignite what was a very stagnant offense.

However, with every ball that was broken up or slipped through a receivers' hands, the valid question of whether Bevell and Wilson should have dug a little deeper into the play-sheet to find a few higher-percentage "man-killer" plays or "YAC plays," was raised. I think we could argue about the merits many approaches to play-calling (and naturally it's way easier in hindsight) but the way that Bevell responded and called the game this past week against St. Louis, seems to tell me that he wasn't going to let that question be raised again.

A few examples:

3-5-SEA 25 (13:45 1st Quarter) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass incomplete short left to D.Baldwin.

Seattle's first series. The Rams crowd the line of scrimmage with six and send five on a blitz. Wilson, from the shotgun, throws quickly from a balanced platform. The play-call works perfectly against a man coverage scheme by St. Louis, as Golden Tate's route 'picks/rubs' Doug Baldwin's defender in the slot.

Because the Rams are playing single-high coverage, Baldwin's defender has to go over Tate (rather than under, which would mean he'd find himself trailing too much with no help over the top), and Doug is wide open.

Wilson just sails the throw. This was not a good omen for the rest of the game, but thankfully Wilson's accuracy was on point for the rest of the day. It's hard to tell how Wilson missed so high, but that happens sometimes.

1-10-SEA 18 (1:24 1st Quarter) G.Tate left end to SEA 20 for 2 yards (J.Dunbar).

When you have a receiver like Tate that believes he's a running back, I've always thought it behooves you to run these types of plays even if they don't net you many yards, because it gets the defense cheating outside.

St. Louis has a very fast defense, but even when they swarm with five defenders against two lead-blockers, Tate picks up 6. Note the importance of cut-blocks on the line of scrimmage on this play. Russell Okung misses his cut, as does Max Unger, and those two defenders prove important to bottling up the slippery receiver. Not saying that if Unger/Okung had nailed their cuts that Tate would have been home free, but in this case, it certainly would have opened up some lanes for Tate to cut back to inside.

Well-defended by the Rams.

2-9-SEA 27 (12:00 2nd Quarter) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short right to G.Tate to SEA 37 for 10 yards (J.Laurinaitis)

This is not a constraint play - but what sticks out about it is the spacing and depth of targets for Wilson. Against Arizona, there are times where you freeze the tape and there are literally no Seahawk receiving options anywhere in the middle of the field. Here, when Wilson is forced to move from the pocket, he has several options at different spots and depths, and finds Tate for a first down.

Note specifically the route combinations - Tate runs a drag route across the field, settling into a soft zone in the defense. On the right side, Bryan Walters runs vertical, Doug Baldwin runs a deep out, and Zach Miller runs a shallow out.

It works to kill the zone.

2-14-SEA 35 (2:05 2nd Quarter) R.Wilson pass short right to G.Tate to SEA 47 for 12 yards (T.Johnson, A.Ogletree).

This is just simple. Tate's defender has been playing off coverage, bailing just before the snap. When timed right, this kind of play can be a bread and butter call for 10 yards or so. Watch Tate hit his landmark and then turn, and note that the ball is already out and on its way. Tate, of course, grabs a few extra yards for good measure.

3-2-SEA 47 (1:59 2nd Quarter) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short right to G.Tate to SL 43 for 10 yards (T.Johnson).

While it's sometimes annoying to us as fans, the empty set looks with Marshawn Lynch motioning to the wing on third downs actually do serve a purpose. In this case, with Lynch aligned outside against a cornerback, it's pretty apparent to Wilson that the Rams are in a matchup zone of some sort. If they had been playing man, they'd put a linebacker on the wing out on Lynch and have a corner lined up across from Golden Tate.

Russell Wilson, seeing that Tate is matched up against LB Alec Ogletree, knows the Tate option is a good one. There may even be some option route business at play here - because you see Russell and Golden look at each other in some sort of what looks to be acknowledgement just prior to the snap.

Ball is snapped, it comes out as Wilson hits his first back foot. In a short area, Tate is extremely difficult to defend - there are literally very few receivers with Tate's quick footwork - and Tate again proves to be a beast to bring down. He picks up 7 from the spot that he catches that ball.

Again - the 'spread' looks on 3rd down are often there so Wilson can quickly identify matchups and weak spots. It facilitates getting the ball out quickly. When Wilson doesn't get the ball out quickly, the play breaks down in short order with limited protection, but that's the tradeoff.

3-4-SL 37 (:38 2nd Quarter) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short middle to G.Tate to SL 23 for 14 yards (E.Sims; A.Ogletree).

Using motion almost always has a function. Coordinators don't just have guys running to and fro for fun. In this case below, the Hawks start out in a bunch look to the right and Bryan Walters motions left prior to the snap. Janoris Jenkins follows Walters across the formation which is always a pretty good giveaway that you're looking at a man-scheme of some sort.

With Tate and Baldwin stacked to the right, I believe that Wilson's key is the corner in press coverage. With Trumaine Johnson playing with a big cushion (due to the stack formation), Wilson's read is to throw quickly to the opposite receiver that the cornerback takes. In this case, the corner in press sticks with Baldwin outside, and Tate has a huge cushion for the slant.

Wilson reads it, the ball is out quickly, and Tate does his thang.

2-11-SEA 43 (7:03 3rd Quarter) R.Wilson pass short right to G.Tate to SL 46 for 11 yards (B.McGee).

This play is almost identical to the one above, right down to Seattle's formation and personnel grouping.

Easy 11 yards.

2-6-SL 42 (5:49 3rd Quarter) R.Wilson pass short right to G.Tate to SL 23 for 19 yards (M.Brockers).

This play is more about Wilson improvisation that anything Tate does, though I like that Golden comes back to the ball to make a tough grab for his quarterback.


1-10-SL 47 (9:23 4th Quarter) R.Wilson pass deep left to G.Tate for 47 yards, TOUCHDOWN

Okaaaaay. So the bubbles and quick passes are working. Hell, we even had an end around dialed up but it got called dead due to a false start. NOW, now is a good time to go back to our bread and butter.

The Redline.

In the week prior to this game, I noted in my analysis of the All-22 coaches tape:

I can't remember the last time that Golden Tate has been made a focal point in the offense... it's weird.

Sweet! Not anymore. 3rd downs are so important. These types of man-killer combos and quick-developing routes will be of great importance during the Playoffs, I'd guess. Keep an eye out of that.