Davis and I had planned on doing a tag-team post on the Seahawks' opening drive against the Bears in Preseason Week 3, but John Morgan beat us to the punch here with his excellent breakdown on it. We decided that even though John's take on the drive was really excellent, more analysis is usually better than less analysis, and we'd go ahead and do our rendition anyway (plus Davis had sent me his draft early last week).
This post is meant as a sort of preview of the Seahawks' offense for the Packers game and for the regular season in general, and what better than a scripted drive from Seattle's regular season dress rehearsal game to do so?
It strikes me that this drive was a quintessential Seahawks' possession--a microcosm for what we might expect this season. It involved the cast of characters that we hope can be major players, it involved foundation plays, and encapsulated Pete Carroll's design for how this thing is supposed to work.
So, let's take a look-see, shall we? I'll narrate, and I'll quote Davis as we go along.
The opening kickoff: "The field position game"
Pete Carroll, as Hansel (so hot right now) would say, cares desperately about special teams. While there's an almost unanimous disbelief or disapproval of his decision to make Earl Thomas at least one of his primary punt returners, Carroll views "teams" as an integral part of what they're trying to do. This is why he puts his $67 million dollar man on kick returns too, by the way. Because he's one of the best ever to do it.
By the way, look at how Harvin runs straight horizontally about 20 feet at the 8-yard line and still beats everyone around the edge. Who does that?
Harvin's kickoff return gives the Seahawks the football at their 39 yard line, a big boost from the normal starting spot at the 20. Field position, field position, field position. The field position game will be important in 2014.
1st play of the Drive: "Russell Wilson, scrambling man"
1-10-SEA 39 (14:53) (Shotgun) R.Wilson scrambles right end ran ob at SEA 42 for 3 yards.
"Seattle dials the first play up using play action--they are looking for something intermediate to deep here. You can see that right tackle Justin Britt is slow to recognize an overload blitz--he is able to steer his man away from Wilson, but Wilson has to alter his platform, and move to the right to re-set. Wilson doesn't see anything downfield that he likes so he scrambles, eventually running out of bounds for three yards. This is yet another example of a promising young player in Britt showing a bit of "rookieness", but no worries as Wilson is adept at making something positive even with leakage along the line."
The thing I like about this play is that first, Wilson re-sets and still sticks in the pocket for another beat or two whereas in the past he might've just rolled out immediately to his right--this was his comfort zone in years one and two.
Wilson also keeps the football cocked in his right hand in case something underneath opens up, and it means that defenders have to wait a second to close in on him. Wilson doesn't sell the pump fake too well here but he'll do it a lot this season.
2nd play of the Game: "The zone left run with boot action on the backside"
2-7-SEA 42 (14:21) M.Lynch left tackle to SEA 45 for 3 yards (W.Young; J.Ratliff).
Seattle brings in a fullback on 2nd and 7. The goal here is to simply make the upcoming 3rd down a "3rd and manageable" situation ("stay on schedule"). The Bears show a seven-man box and then Zach Miller motions out to the slot.
Perhaps the point of the motion is to lure a defender out of the box, but the Bears do not do that, and just moves one of their safeties down late to cover the flat.
Again, still a seven-man box, and now the edge defender on the top of the screen "holds" to watch Wilson on the bootleg (this is a staple: zone run left, bootleg right).
This boot action by Wilson creates a situation with six defenders in the box against six blockers (5OL plus 1FB). Lynch rumbles left side for 3 yards. Seattle is now in their "3rd and manageable"
This is a standard I-formation fullback lead zone to the left, but as Davis points out, the threat of Wilson's bootleg makes what's a seven-man defensive box into a de facto six-man box. This will be a theme that Davis and I will point out repeatedly this year, I think.
Seahawks are now in a 3rd and 4 situation.
3rd play of the Game: "Beat the blitz"
3-4-SEA 45 (13:40) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short middle to J.Kearse to CHI 38 for 17 yards (C.Tillman).
The book on Wilson, if you read game previews and all that, is apparently still that you should blitz and pressure him as much as possible. This is maybe true for most NFL quarterbacks, but as Wilson progresses in his development and learns to make quick decisions, he'll have the chance to shred up blitz looks on 3rd downs.
"Bears 'show' a six man pressure pre-snap. Seahawks are in a 3WR, 2x2 formation in shotgun with the RB offset left. Their TE is flexed out into the left slot. The Bears are probably in some sort of "Man-Free" coverage (at least on the open side) with pre-snap depth hovering around the 1st down marker (makes sense). Playing at the sticks.
The Bears send five, with the MLB (Jon Bostic) left to probably "spy" Russell Wilson, cover the middle in zone and watch Marshawn Lynch out of the backfield for the quick dump off.
The Bears may be playing more of zone concept on the tight side of the field as Kearse's defender stops short to cover Lynch in the flat, and when Bostic breaks on the ball it looks like he also is expecting the ball will go to Lynch. But the ball does not go to Lynch, it goes to Kearse. Kearse has just enough space between the safety and the linebacker, sits down past the 1st down marker, then goes upfield for another 12 yards of YAC. It's a 17 yard gain on 3rd and 4.
Great play by Russell, the ball is out, on time and accurate beyond the marker--and he lets his WR do the rest."
4th play of the Game: "Read option with trips formation"
1-10-CHI 38 (12:59) (Shotgun) M.Lynch right tackle to CHI 32 for 6 yards (W.Young; L.Briggs).
"Things have changed now for Seattle, who are now sitting pretty with a 1st and 10 on the Bears' 38. This would be, in theory, a good time to take a shot downfield. Instead, Seattle chooses to break out their "trips right read option" look (see play breakdown), and Lynch rumbles for six."
This sets up a 2nd and 4. 2nd and 4 is a nice place to be.
5th play of the Game: "The bomb"
2-4-CHI 32 (12:23) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass incomplete short right.
"2nd and 4 is a nice place to take a shot downfield. You hit it and you get a big play, and if you throw incomplete, it's still only 3rd and 4! It appears below that Seattle is trying to go deep on this snap because all four of Russell Wilson's targets stream past the 1st down marker.
Wilson play-fakes to Marshawn Lynch while James Carpenter does some sort of "exchange" and pulls to pick up the left defensive end (Lamarr Houston). Both Carpenter and Lynch appear to be picking up the same player--so there is a struggle in pass pro, and Wilson almost takes a bad sack or possible interception.
The ball does barely make the line to gain and falls at the feet of a streaking defender. Dangerous play here and it's a tall order to ask Carpenter to block Lamarr Houston in space, and for Lynch to block a DT one on one."
The Seahawks actually do this pulling guard (or pulling center) pass protection scheme pretty often so it's not super abnormal, but it looks like Carp and Lynch get their wires crossed on who is supposed to be doing what. Perhaps Carpenter heard the wrong line call or protection? Who knows. Either way, the play blows up. The good news is that Wilson is able to throw the ball away in time.
Not to be overly optimistic about a terrible play, but one of my biggest pet peeves about Wilson is that he seems to hate throwing the ball away to live another down, instead choosing to run around in infinite reverse spins before throwing the ball away in front of the LOS and getting an intentional grounding call (ok, maybe that only happens every once in a blue moon). So, it was nice to see that he recognized this play was totally dead, so he just threw it away.
Bottom line--I like that the Seahawks dialed up what looks like a deep throw here on 2nd down.
6th play of the Game: "Percy manned up"
3-4-CHI 32 (12:17) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short right to P.Harvin to CHI 7 for 25 yards (D.McCray).
"3rd and 4. Ball is middle of the field--between the hashes. That means there is a lot of green on the right side of the field. Seahawks go trips left.
The inside handoff is still a threat here, as is the keeper for Wilson on the right side. Of the seven man box, it appears that four Bears are left of the center (defensive left) and they have to watch the backdoor cut of either Lynch or Wilson. It's a tough bind.
The play fake to Lynch freezes two of the linebackers "playside" (defensive right, as that would be the target for inside handoff with Lynch starting offset on the defense left) and the remaining linebacker must read the play before he blitzes.
Once he see that it is indeed a pass--not a QB run or handoff to Lynch--he then blitzes. Once Percy clears the linebacker level untouched, the play is done--all Russell has to do is hit Percy, who is essentially wide open.
Percy takes the shallowest route, so once he clears the linebackers, the deep safety is in a bind. In this case, the deep safety stays in the area over the top to help with Doug and Jermaine, and does not reappear until about the 8-yard line to help make the tackle.
25 yard gain.
PFF says Russell Wilson is the best QB on crossing routes (and poor on the slant), and I bet the throw he hits to Percy, crossing left to right, is a throw he hits 19 of 20 times with a clean pocket. It's a very easy throw for him, and I think a throw I would prefer if I were just me as the "average man," throwing the ball in my backyard versus the throw to Kearse.
The conversion to Kearse is more a 9 of 10 times, or 8 of 10 times type of throw I think--he has to split the two defenders. Just really good play design, and this type of play on 3rd and 4 with the play-action freezing exotic blitzes makes life easy for Russell Wilson."
I have talked about how, 1) this trips read-option play will be a big one for Seattle on third down and shortish situations because of the numbers game it presents to the defense, and 2) how play-action could become a big fourth option to go to, along with the handoff to Lynch, the bubble screen to the inside slot receiver, and the keeper by the quarterback on the read option. There are four potential looks to this packaged play.
If you watch the broadcast, Wilson signals over to Harvin pre-snap, ostensibly because he sees Harvin matched up in what looks to be a man-to-man coverage. It's my guess that Wilson changes the play right here and tells Harvin that he's not running the bubble screen but instead running this shallow crosser. Either way--it works well.
1st and Goal.
7th play of the Game: "The Marshawn Lynch cutback"
1-7-CHI 7 (11:33) (Shotgun) M.Lynch right tackle for 7 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
"3WR set, right hash. The TE is strong left with 2WR on the left. Shotgun, RB offset right.
From both the run and pass, the defense must honor that the strength of the formation is to the defensive right. The deep safety is playing Russell Wilson "straight up" on the same hash. In this play, the DT on James Carpenter holds his ground, and Carpenter would be the the target, the point of attack on the run.
So, the frontside A- and B-gap look problematic. The next read for Lynch is probably the backside A- and B-gap, which at this point looks like a two-yard gain. Lynch may be thinking 'backdoor' as his second read (reading Justin Britt) once he sees the helmet of the DE cross Britt's face. When this happens, he is thinking 'touchdown.'
The DE does shed Britt but dives at Lynch's legs to no avail. Shea McClellin follows and does more of the same. Even the safety goes for the tackle (to no avail) two yards deep in the endzone. Marshawn keeps his feet of course.
So, to recap:
1. Field position game focus
2. Russell Wilson's scrambling ability helps offensive line issues
3. The zone run with bootleg action, an offensive staple
4. Russell Wilson beats the blitz with a quick throw
5. Read-option out of trips formation: bubble screen, handoff, keeper, or play-action pass
6. The bomb (either down the sideline or up the seam)
7. Create unique match ups problems with Percy Harvin
8. Marshawn Lynch, zone cutback after teams overload one side of the field
Many of the ingredients of what I expect we'll see from the Seahawks' offense this year. One thing to note about it, though, is as Davis says...
"This is a predominantly 3WR, 1RB, 1TE drive (11 personnel), with a fullback on the field only on time on the "three yards and a cloud of dust" play (2nd play of the drive). The Seahawks just cut down to 53 players for their roster and kept only four running backs, a departure from what they did last with with five backs most of the year, including two fullbacks, an NFL rarity. This year the Seahawks carried seven receivers to start. I think 11 Personnel will be the main set for Seattle this season--and it was last year too--but probably even more so this year."