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Seahawks Replay Booth: Textbook zone blocking on a weak-side fullback lead run

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After fifteen weeks the Seahawks are averaging 168.8 yards per game rushing at 5.2 yards per carry. For perspective, the Eagles were the NFL's best rushing team in 2013 and they averaged 160.4 yards per game at 5.1 yards per carry. Seattle's average is a full 21 yards more per game than the second-place Jets, and their yards per carry is a full half-yard better than the second place Chiefs.

A big reason for Seattle's success in rushing is that Russell Wilson has added a new dimension to their scheme with the read-option and he also tends to pick up a lot of yards on designed bootlegs, scrambles, and escapes. Nonetheless, I don't want to cheapen what Seattle has -- and that's a dominant run-blocking front and an elite back.

This particular play in the 3rd quarter stood out to me as a great example of how getting 11 guys to all work on the same page can work like a beautiful symphony of chaos. That's really what run plays are -- somewhat controlled chaos -- but if you can get each of your guys (or even just a higher percentage than your opponent) winning in their matchups, you can pick up big yardage.

2-3-SEA 47 (7:12 3rd Quarter) M.Lynch left tackle to SF 40 for 13 yards (D.Skuta; D.Johnson).

2nd and 3 is a good place to be, and following a nice screen play on first down, Seattle has a great run-pass option here. The defense is probably thinking run, though, when Seattle lines up in 21 personnel, and that's what the Seahawks do.

This is a weak-lead play by the fullback, and it's designed to have Marshawn Lynch go off of the left tackle's ass crack (in Alex Gibbs' parlance).

It all starts with the combo block on Justin Smith. This is textbook zone blocking on the playside -- LT Alvin Bailey and LG James Carpenter combo on Smith, and once Carp appears to have control, Bailey peels off to take on a second level defender. Watch:


A good amount of the time that zone-blocking runs fail is when these combo-then-peel maneuvers don't go well. Sometimes the peel player (Bailey) leaves too early and the Justin Smiths of the play get through to stop the runner in his tracks behind the line of scrimmage. Sometimes a Bailey doesn't peel off quickly enough (maybe the Justin Smith player is being ornery and threatening to break through Carpenter), which results in that pursing linebacker sneaking through to blow up the play at or just past the line of scrimmage.

There are many things that can go wrong, obviously -- running in the NFL is very hard -- but in this case, the initial combo block on Justin Smith works as they've drawn it up, which is huge, because Justin Smith is really frickin' good. With Carp in moderate control of Smith (enough), Bailey is able to move on to the linebacker engage him. His job at this point is to either seal that LB to the inside of the field or run him out toward the sideline so Marshawn Lynch can cut in behind him. He chooses the latter, and you'll see how that works below.

Next up in the list of priorities is the fullback, whose job is to "kick out" the "force player" on the end that crashes in toward the run.

In this case, it's Aldon Smith at the outside linebacker position, and Aldon has a choice to make: going inside or out. He has outside contain responsibility on runs like this, because if he gets sealed by the fullback to the inside, Lynch can cut it out around the corner. So, Smith tries to maintain his leverage outside and Tukuafu puts a nice hit on him to do his job.

Watch Marshawn's first few steps as he settles in right behind Tuk. He's "reading" what Aldon is going to do here, and once he sees Aldon is determined to force back toward the inside, Lynch cuts there, and sneaks through.


It's worth noting that earlier in the game, Tuk tried the same block on Aldon, but Smith was able to "Ole!" him like a bullfighter, which led to some jawing between the former teammates that the TV broadcast zeroed in on.

Also, above, watch Justin Britt. He picks up the backside linebacker on the snap and sticks with him throughout the play. This is exactly what you want, because it opens up run lanes once Lynch gets to the second level.

Here's the full play, and you can see that Tuk hasn't forgotten the earlier trash talking:


Also worth pointing out that after this play, James Carpenter was jumping around a little, hollering at Bailey for the job well done. I've rarely seen Carp show emotion so you know they were pumped up about the play.

And, below, here it is in real-time: Watch how Russell Wilson's bootleg "holds" three Niner defenders on the backside. This is huge! It means that San Francisco is now at a numbers disadvantage at the point of attack -- eight defenders against nine Seahawks' blockers (only Wilson and Willson go backside).


The Seahawks picked up 13 on the play and in my opinion, set the tone for the drive. Eight plays later Lynch strolled into the endzone.


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