Film study gets talked about a lot in the NFL. Quarterbacks are expected to be film junkies, and players like Richard Sherman have called attention to its importance for other positions as well. One position where you still don't see much talk regarding film study is defensive line. Its importance shouldn't be understated, though, even for defensive tackles and defensive ends.
While Richard Sherman is studying route combinations and receivers' tendencies, defensive linemen are reviewing pass/run tendencies out of different formations and the blocking assignments of frequently called run plays. While preparing for San Francisco, Michael Bennett and the Seattle coaching staff was able to identify a strong tendency when the Niners would use a specific formation. Bennett would use this information to devastating effect.
What they identified was surprisingly simple. Whenever San Francisco would run out of a strong-I formation, they would run the Power-O. This is a very basic run play that most Madden players will be familiar with. In fact, when you do a google for strong side power-O one of the first articles that comes up is Matt Bowen's NFL 101: Introducing the Power-Running Game. Here's Matt's description of the play, and the diagram he includes along with it (out of a regular I formation):
The Power O is a classic, strong-side concept that every offense in the NFL must be able to execute versus both seven- and eight-man fronts based on the down-and-distance situation.
Also called the "Power Bob-O" (Back on Backer), the offense blocks down on the edge, leads the fullback to kick out the primary support and pulls the backside guard up through the hole to the strong (or closed) side of the formation.
Against Seattle, the Niners lined up in a Strong-I formation four times. Of those four times, they ran out of it three times. Each of those three times, they ran Power-O. Let's take a look at how well tipping your hand to Michael Bennett works out for the Niners.
2nd & 1, 14:15 left in the 1st quarter
We see the Niners are lined up in a Strong-I formation: Colin Kaepernick is under center with Bruce Miller offset to same side as the two tight ends, the strong side, and Frank Gore is lined up directly behind Kaep. This is an unbalanced line, with offensive linemen lined up as the two tight ends and Vernon Davis functioning as the right tackle, so San Francisco isn't exactly trying to be sneaky here.
Bennett knows what's coming and that allows him to get a fantastic jump at the snap. Had Bennett guessed wrong on this play, he'd have left the right side of the line vulnerable to any runs in that direction. He'd also be opening himself to up to getting blasted by Miller or a pulling guard coming across the formation.
He's not wrong, though, and he's able to slip past the block from the center and get into the backfield.
Vernon Davis tries to knock Bennett off course, but it's hopeless. Bennett is nearly able to take the hand off himself, but settles for a tackle for a loss of four yards.
2nd & 9, 2:29 left in the 1st quarter
On the previous play San Francisco used, according to Bowen in the article above, "tank plus" personnel in a strong-I formation. On this play, the Niners change up the personnel package, using a standard 21 (two back, one tight end) package. Despite that change, the formation is essentially the same.
Again, Bennett reads the formation and shoots into the space vacated by the pulling guard to his left. Neither Joe Staley nor Joe Looney make much of an attempt to slow Bennett, who is able to chase down Gore for a loss of two without being touched.
I'm not an offensive coordinator, I'm not a Darrell Bevell par exemple, but it seems to me Michael Bennett is a dude you should probably try to block.
4th &1, 13:27 left in the 2nd quarter
This is the third play where San Francisco lines up in some variation of a Strong-I formation, and it's the third different personnel package they've used. On this play they're using a true 22 package, with two tight ends instead of an unbalanced line like the first play.
Bennett reads the play and, just like the previous two plays, shoots his gap in order to slip the block from the center.
This is where things go slightly astray. I'm not sure if Looney gets just enough of a block on Bennett or if Bennett simply over pursues, but he ends up a just a hair to deep in the backfield.
It'd be great if Bennett didn't wind up playing the part of Ned Stark in this tale of film study, but we all know what happens on this play. Bennett gets maybe the closest to tackling Gore, who picks up the first on his way to the end zone.
In just a more than one quarter, San Francisco lined up in a Strong-I with various personnel packages four times. After scoring the touchdown, they wouldn't line up in a Strong-I the rest of the game. It's hard for me to believe that they didn't have any other plays out of that formation, but it seems like Seattle would be ripe for some misdirection off that look if they had any constraint plays available.
Regardless of whether Bennett scared the Niners away from an entire formation, the effect of his ability to know the play call before the snap is evident. Bennett made each of the plays above, even the touchdown, look like Pete Carroll picked the right defense in Tecmo Bowl. All of that is likely due to close study of the Niners offense and their tendencies.