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Seahawks 3rd down notebook: Seahawks 3rd down struggles and executing on Percy Plays

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Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

DK NOTE: As we're wont to do, Davis Hsu and I collaborated on this post, breaking down some plays from the Seahawks' loss to the Cowboys. That's at the bottom, but first, here's Davis with his weekly talk on Seattle's performance on third downs.

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I have to admit, I really thought the Seahawks would have big day on 3rd downs against the Cowboys. I thought they would run the ball, stay in 3rd and manageable situations, and possibly have a 6-of-12 day (50% conversion) at home, in their friendly confines. They ended up going 5-of-13 (38%) on 3rd down, but even that was a pretty good showing considering the down and distances they faced versus the Cowboys.

Here are the 3rd Down distances versus the Cowboys (not chronological):

3rd-and-13
3rd-and-12
3rd-and-11
3rd-and-10
3rd-and-10
3rd-and-9
3rd-and-9
3rd-and-8
3rd-and-7
3rd-and-7
3rd-and-6
3rd-and-6
3rd-and-4

This is just a brutal set of sticks to face, with an average distance to go of 8.61 yards, and more importantly, a median down and distance of 9 yards!

Here's how they broke out: green are conversions, red are failed attempts on third downs.

1

I went back and looked at the Seahawks' previous four games to examine their median down and distance on 3rd down.  It was as follows:

Median vs. Washington: 3rd-and-5
Median vs. Denver: 3rd-and-5 
Median vs. San Diego: 3rd-and-6.5
Median vs. Green Bay: 3rd-and-3

The Seahawks actually did better than I would have predicted when examining their previous four games on 3rd down, considering the distances.  If you have read my previous posts on this subject, the Seahawks have been solid on 3rd and short and 3rd and medium, and quite poor on 3rd and long (3rd and 7 or longer).  The Seahawks had been 2 of 19 on 3rd and long in their previous four games (11%). Against the Cowboys, they went 3 of 10 on 3rd and long (30%).

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I thought the bigger story of this game was not a poor showing on 3rd down, but rather an ineffectiveness on 1st and 2nd down. Some of it can be attributed to not running Marshawn Lynch enough on 1st and 2nd down. The Seahawks faced seven 1st downs in the first half, and they handed the ball to Lynch only one time in those situations. The other six 1st down plays were all passes, and really none of them worked. The double whammy was that the traditional handoffs to Lynch were replaced by Percy Plays in the flats, and those were snuffed out by good Cowboys defense and very, very poor execution by the Seahawks' offense.

1st Downs in 1st Half vs Cowboy (7 Plays)

(1) Lynch run for 5 Yards (HOLLA)
(2)    Lynch screen pass for +1
(3)    Percy pass for -1
(4)    Sacked
(5)    Incomplete to Luke Willson
(6)    Percy pass for -4
(7)    Complete to Kearse for +5 (Pop pass, was probably a designed read option run).

2nd Downs in the 1st Half vs Cowboys (6 Plays) was similarly dismal:

(1)    Percy run -1
(2)    Sack
(3)    Percy run for 0
(4)    RW scramble for 3
(5)    Turbin run for 7 (on last play of half - not a real play)
(6) Lynch run for 3 Yards (YAY)

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Below, Danny and take a look and examine the six or seven failed Percy Harvin plays, all of which were on 1st or 2nd down...

1st Quarter, 2nd and 5, SEA 25 (14:23)

Davis:

The Seahawks follow a 5-yard gain from Lynch with an outside zone read left to Percy Harvin. The play is designed to have a sort of simplified "pin and pull" action, or exchange action with TE Luke Willson and LG James Carpenter.

One option I see is that Luke Willson needs to either ignore #92 and exchange him with Carpenter, while Willson moves on to block #52. The other option I see is Willson needs to pin #92 with a block and then be the "hinge," while Carpenter pulls around him and on to #52, with Harvin ideally following behind. The "Pin & Hinge" would likely be a very difficult block to execute, I would imagine. The "exchange" could work as well, in theory.

Regardless, Willson executes his block on the edge, and allows Carpenter to get outside to wall off the filling linebacker (#52), the run could have gone a long way (like...75 yards long). Watch C Stephen Schilling as he reaches past the inside linebacker #55, and Justin Britt reaches the safety. Percy potentially has one guy to beat to get to the edge.

Instead, Willson blows by #92, then redirects too late while Carpenter sees #92 in his path and blocks him as well.  It's a train derailment at this point, and the log jam allows #52 run outside, contain the edge, and force the run for a loss of one yard.

Danny:

Luke Willson's assignment here is a difficult one. With the end, #92, aligned so wide prior to the snap, it makes Willson's job of "pinning" him inside nearly impossible. In a classic "pin and pull," we'd see both Willson and Okung "pin" the outside guys while pulling Carpenter around the edge to take on the filling linebacker #52.

If Willson had been able to get the pin, Carp would've had one guy in his way, and Percy quite possibly had the angle to either cut it upfield or get to the edge. When you watch Schilling and Britt reach the second level to get blocks going, it's entirely conceivable Percy would've been down the sideline and into the endzone a la that play vs. San Diego (minus stepping out of bounds).

Of course, woulda coulda shoulda, and this missed block on the outside (a very hard block to make) causes the whole play to break down. This isn't terribly concerning, but just frustrating, because pretty much everyone else was in position to make this thing pop. Oh well.

1st Quarter, 1st & 10, Dallas 14 (11:34)

Davis:

On the opening drive, the Seahawks find themselves in the red zone after the long sideline catch by Jermaine Kearse. The Seahawks need 7 points here, but settle for 3.

They come out in a 4WR single back set, shotgun, Lynch offset right. Doug Baldwin is the lone WR split out right. Seattle is on the right hash and have trips WR left (Harvin, Kearse and I believe Lockette).

This play is aggravating because it should be a touchdown, based on the pre-snap look. It's a numbers game, and Seattle has the advantage.

The Cowboys have two defenders outside to guard three receivers, with a deep safety eyeing the core of the formation and the flat. The ball is thrown behind Harvin, which throws off the rhythm, but if Kearse makes his block it should not matter -- it should be a touchdown, or at least close to it.

I should say it "could" be a touchdown. Notice how the cornerback is cheating on the bubble and hesitates while Lockette blows by him into the end zone. The corner is really in no-man's land here and this is way too much area for the deep safety to cover. Kearse needs to make his block, Wilson can make a better throw, and Percy has a chance to juke the other defenders in space. I like his odds.

Lastly, the Seahawks could also pump fake the bubble and send Lockette on a "go" and that would be a pitch and catch TD if the corner continues to cheat.

Danny:

Not much to add to what Davis said, but again, this is a simple matter of one guy missing a block and the whole play disintegrating. The way the Cowboys line up to defend this is exactly what the Seahawks are hoping for, but they just have to execute. I also like the option of throwing it to Lockette when the cornerback cheats. It's a little difficult though because Wilson has to throw that sling-pass almost immediately after receiving the snap. This would have to be a pre-snap judgement.

1st Quarter, 2nd and 11, DAL 15 (10:54)

Davis:

On the very next play, Seahawks now face 2nd and 11, still in the red zone. The Seahawks run a jet sweep to Harvin to the right. Seattle is now on the left hash in a 3WR set, which gives Harvin a lot of space to angle into the end zone. On the snap. the OL blocks tight zone left, as part of the play features a sort of "ghost" play action to Lynch left, Lynch dots the I presnap. Luke Willson simply runs past his man and it leads to no gain.

Last little note, I like how the Seahawks send Doug on a little crosser, likely with built in options for his route- that could wreak havoc on a sort of double play action pass.

Danny:

Like the blown block by Willson on the first play, Luke has the key block for the Harvin jet sweep.

It appears that Willson is looking to arc block the safety scraping over the top, but completely ignores the strongside 'backer that simply steps into Harvin's sweep lane. I don't know if Willson was confused by the Cowboys' unusual alignment, which had the strongside linebacker up on the LOS and the strong safety playing in the box as a de facto linebacker, or what, but the blocking Seattle has set up for this obviously does not work. I think if Luke seals that first defender, Percy's speed gives him a shot at getting around the edge from a filling Barry Church. It's not a sure bet, obviously.

Overall, it looks like Willson failed to make an adjustment to the Cowboys' defensive look, and went to block the wrong guy (I think). This is where an experienced guy like Zach Miller blocking on the edge may have come in handy. I actually think Willson did well blocking the rest of the game, and he was key on the Russell Wilson keeper touchdown, but on at least two wide running plays for Percy Harvin, he missed key blocks.

Either way, in this case, man, the Seahawks should've just handed it to Lynch. Look at the juicy edge over there, with only the safety coming down in run support past the line of scrimmage. If Lynch can get past the DE on Okung, it's a big play.

2nd Quarter, 1st and 10, SEA 20 Yard Line (0:16)

Davis:

Right before halftime, the Seahawks are in 11 personnel (3WR, 1TE, 1RB) with Baldwin split out left, and Kearse and Harvin split right. If you watch this play, the DB on Kearse is cheating pre-snap to widen toward Harvin (he knows what is coming), making Kearse's block much more difficult. Even so, Kearse steps forward before redirecting, when at this point he should probably make a bee-line straight to the defender at the snap. Harvin is tackled for a 4 yard loss.

Danny:

Not much to add here. It was a dumb playcall in this situation anyway.

3rd Quarter, 2nd and 7, SEA 49 Yard Line (7:58)

Davis:

Harvin is lined up as the RB, offset left. The play design would call for tight-zone right and most of the OL steps right. For some reason, Sweezy steps left and #88 gets instant penetration. Okung also gets a little swim move put on him as well. Percy is tackled for no gain.

Danny:

Again, I just think this was a blown play. Someone up front went the wrong way. Execution, execution, execution. Darrell Bevell gets a lot of guff this week for his playcalling (as he should, as Davis notes above he had plenty of chances to feed the beast), but for the plays he does call, the Seahawks sure as shit weren't executing them very well. That doesn't help matters.

3rd Quarter, 1st and 10, DAL 14 (6:57)

Davis:

This is the only successful play run to Percy Harvin all game. Dallas muffs the punt and Seattle recovers in the Dallas red zone. Seattle scores on 2nd down, on the next play, but before the read-option TD, they comes out on 1st down in 11 personnel.

The Seahawks motion Luke Willson pre-snap into a tight double "stacked" look. Dallas is in some sort of man coverage with a deep safety. Harvin has easy leverage inside and Wilson fires instantly on what looks like his first read (Wilson holds his eyes but I do think he wants to go to Harvin pre-snap). I have heard some gripe that Wilson bypasses a longer play to Lynch on the left flat, but I don't think Wilson needs to progress through to that if he sees Harvin open early. Gain of five.

Danny:

This is the type of play I'd like to see the Seahawks run a little more often if they can manage to get man coverage. Percy Harvin may not be a brilliant technician as a route runner, but this is where he can really make some hay for the Seahawks outside of the behind the LOS stuff.

He's always going to get a cushion in man coverage. He's faster than just about anyone on the field. He's deadly when running these shallow crossing routes. Get him the ball.

Execution, execution, execution. Seattle left a LOT of yards out on the field. Clean up a few fundamentals and make a few savvy adjustments in-game, and the Seahawks offense could really blow some people away. Obviously, that's why they play the game, but these are all definitely fixable issues, not talent deficiencies, certainly when it comes to Marshawn Lynch, Percy Harvin, and Russell Wilson.