When teams line up to stop the Seahawks' version of zone blocking, suffice it to say, it's a chore for them. Seattle is big and athletic along the offensive line, and that's before even getting to Beast Mode. I have seen teams try any number of things to slow down Seattle's running game, all with limited success.
One approach that has at times stifled Seattle's zone blocking--especially on the wide zone runs--is when defensive linemen try to beat the offensive linemen to the outside rather than engage them where the ball is snapped. From 2013, recall the Giants game and the 49ers' first half run defense in the NFC title game. San Francisco went so far as to pull their defensive linemen just a bit further back off the line of scrimmage to provide a better angle for them to sprint to the edges.
One counter to that, and I absolutely LOVE it when Bevell and Cable go to it, is old fashioned man blocking. Seattle used man blocking in the NFC title game on Lynch's 3rd quarter TD run. That wasn't a zone play. Seattle brought in Bailey as the extra TE. Everyone blocked straight ahead, doubling at the point of attack and it caught the 49ers flat-footed.
We saw a return to man blocking on at least two runs in Philly. Let's just acknowledge right now that their front seven was quite impressive against Marshawn Lynch overall. Fletcher Cox at times bested James Carpenter in a phone booth, and that is no mean feat. Additionally their Bear fronts and personnel made it hard for Seattle to get the edge.
But, two fairly innocuous runs caught my eye during the game. They both involved man rather than zone blocking, and they both involved the backup RBs instead of Lynch.
The first run involved Robert Turbin:
On this play notice FB Will Tukuafu lead the LG James Carpenter up through the hole for Turbin. Nothing special. Just a standard off-tackle run with a pulling guard, right out of Jim Harbaugh's playbook. I imagine Alex Gibbs on a golf course somewhere suddenly standing ramrod straight, and saying, while staring ahead distantly,"Something terrible has just happened."
The other run involved Christine Michael:
This play is even less fancy than the previous, a basic off-tackle run found in virtually every high school playbook. Britt and Sweezy fire off the ball and take on the defenders in front of them.
I have no illusions that Tom Cable has abandoned the ZBS zealotry on which he has staked his career. I'm sure these were constraint plays (which is weird to say about an off-tackle run).
However, I also wonder if there is just a wee bit more to this. Perhaps Seattle has crossed a threshold with how Turbin and Michael fit this running game. I thought it telling that Michael closed out the game for Seattle. That was big for him, an understated but important sign of trust from Carroll and Bevell. As I
tearfully lament think about potentially transitioning the offense away from Lynch in 2015, one of his (still) least well-understood talents is the ability to "just read it." (Go back and re-read that post from Mike Chan, one of the best ever on Field Gulls.)
Maybe these two plays were the slightest of nods by the coaching staff that this running game may need to become just a little more multiple to maximize Michael and Turbin. Running a few man plays that give them a defined lane may constrain the defense while also molding the running game--at the margins--around their hit-the-hole explosiveness rather than Lynch's vision, decision-making, and power.