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Seahawks Replay Booth: Percy Harvin's important role in the Seattle offense

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"Percy Harvin targeted on 5 of Wilson's first 9 throws. Let your mind run with that." - Jacson Bevens

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Percy Harvin played one snap in the Seahawks' first preseason game against the Broncos, but saw much more significant action in their second, playing several series over the first two quarters. He was, as Jacson astutely pointed out above, targeted on five of Russell Wilson's first nine throws, and was the intended target on their first three plays. He ended up catching a mere four passes for 31 yards, but that unassuming stat line belies his true effect on the field.

While it's likely that the Seahawks' offense will continue to run primarily through Marshawn Lynch, I don't think it's hyperbole to suggest that Percy Harvin's presence on the field changes everything. His speed threatens the edge, he tilts coverages, and the effect is that the defense has to defend more of the field, which helps everyone on offense.

The defense must widen out, and react to the outside more quickly and aggressively. In other cases they must back away from the line of scrimmage to play the deep pass more conservatively. The added burden defenses will face to cover laterally and vertically will change the feeling the defense gives Seattle.

On the other hand, the Seahawks' philosophy and identity do not change -- Seattle threw the ball 19 times and scored 41 points on Friday -- but Harvin changes the way teams defend Seattle. And, I think the Hawks did a good job of dictating this to an extent as well.

Let's look at some ways in which Harvin was used.

1-10-SEA 26 (14:55 1st Q) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short right to P.Harvin to SEA 34 for 8 yards (S.Wright).

First play of the game. Harvin is motioned from left to right and the Seahawks combine play-action (to suck the linebackers up to the line of scrimmage) with a fake route by Harvin to get the defense to react as they like.

You can see the outside cornerback drop several steps when Harvin fakes his route (even though he's being marked in man coverage). You can also see the backside middle linebacker and playside outside sucked up toward the LOS at the snap due to the play-action fake.

This gives Harvin some breathing room in the designed tunnel screen and Harvin somewhat easily picks up eight yards.

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Keep this in mind -- the combination of play-action (in the case above, it's actually run-action - watch the offensive line run block) and the screen pass will be a powerful tool for the Seahawks this season.

The next play...

2-2-SEA 34 (14:23 1st Q) (Shotgun) R.Wilson sacked at SEA 29 for -5 yards (T.Williams).

To me, this play looks like a designed sprint out with a Marshawn Lynch chip-and-release on the edge. I think that Harvin is the intended target on the quick out-route and you can see Doug Baldwin pull up to block his man five yards further downfield.

There's a screw up in protections that allows a defender to get penetration -- it looks like James Carpenter tries to set with leverage to the inside too quickly and his man just runs right by. Either way, the play is dead and Wilson takes thes sack.

Had it worked, Percy would've caught the ball at the sticks with the chance to turn it upfield (if he had the ball in time). Baldwin's block could've given Harvin the sideline (but we'll never know).

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Both of these plays are designed to beat man coverage, and guess what, so will the third!

3-7-SEA 29 (13:43 1st Q) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short right to P.Harvin to SEA 40 for 11 yards (S.Wright).

There's not a ton to say about this play, other than it's almost too easy.

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Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin clear out their defenders and Percy just easily beats his man to the outside. We saw this play run quite a bit in training camp so my guess is that it'll be a pretty common theme. Wilson has all day here as well, which helps a lot.

The Seahawks would go on to score a touchdown on this drive, with much thanks to a pass interference call on Doug Baldwin's defender in the endzone.

On to Seattle's second drive...

1-10-SD 46 (3:50 1st Q) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short right to C.Michael pushed ob at SD 38 for 8 yards (J.Addae).

It's tough to tell if this play was designed to be a dump off or if it just worked that way (I think the latter), but it goes nicely. At the snap, Harvin widens out and Wilson looks his way, but probably because of a disrupted throwing lane by the defensive end, he chooses not to throw the ball over there. No matter, since the middle linebacker bites that direction anyway.

This gives Christine Michael a lot more breathing room and he heads upfield, eventually forcing the corner to try and tackle him. I doubt many corners relish the thought of this.

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Again, we see the Harvin effect in place.

Later that drive...

3-9-SD 25 (1:29 1st Q) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short left to P.Harvin to SD 20 for 5 yards (D.Butler).

The Seahawks run another tunnel screen pass again on third down, this time motioning Harvin over the top of Doug Baldwin. Baldwin -- who is a great perimeter blocking receiver, unfortunately misses on this occasion (the defender does a really good job of swimming over his block), and the timing of the play is thrown out of whack. Harvin must elude the first defender, meaning #56, the defensive end, is able to come in and catch up with him.

With a solid seal on Baldwin's cornerback, Alvin Bailey could've taken the second corner with great timing. From there, Harvin would've had to beat the safety, #37, to the sticks. It might've been close regardless, but we can see how the play was supposed to be timed.

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The Seahawks settle for a field goal.

On to the 2nd quarter...

2-1-SD 39 (11:35 2nd Q) R.Wilson pass deep middle to Z.Miller to SD 2 for 37 yards (J.Addae).

2nd and 1 is a great place to be and the Seahawks come out in a two-back I-formation look. You'd be thinking run if you're the defense, right?

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Instead, Seattle uses play-action to occupy the 8-man front -- the linebackers and free safety on the opposite side -- and Wilson floats a pass up the seam as Zach Miller gets behind them. Making this play even better is the fact that Percy Harvin has predictably garnered the attention of the strongside safety, leaving Miller all alone in the middle. (This is what 'rolling coverages' refers to. The safety is worried about what happens over the top of that cornerback).

A combination of Zach Miller being very slow and the safety making a nice touchdown-saving diving-tackle means the Hawks get the ball on the one-yard line.

This brings us all back to the MNF matchup with the Saints when Miller caught a ball wide open on the numbers but was caught from behind by a New Orleans' defender, saving a touchdown. I'm sure Miller got shit for that, and he'll get shit for this.

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Anyway, doesn't show up in the boxscore, but Percy was a big reason this play happened.

One more...

1-10-SEA 33 (7:45 2nd) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short left to P.Harvin to SEA 40 for 7 yards (B.Ghee).

I include this play, not because of its significance to the season or as a metaphor for things to come, but because it's just really well executed and crisp.

Harvin in the slot, demanding cushion. He runs a quick five-yard out and Wilson hits him in stride.

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These are just a few examples of how Percy's presence alters defensive strategy and isn't a complete picture. Wrinkles will get added in each week and generally speaking this is as vanilla and bland the offense will be all year. It will be interesting to see the ways the team starts to incorporate Harvin into the offense not only this week, but more importantly, once the regular season starts. I'll be tracking it, and I've got a post coming up today or tomorrow on the Seahawks' use of packaged plays against the Chargers.