"We got beat on that long pass early on. That hurt us bad." - DT Arik Armstead
Pete Carroll has always preached the importance of play-action and explosive plays, and those two concepts showed up big time for the Seahawks on Thursday against the 49ers. Leading 10-0 on the road in Santa Clara, the Seahawks found themselves at the Niners' 43-yard line and driving downfield. Following a 15-yard gain and a 15-yard facemask penalty, Seattle had a 1st and 10 with 2:53 remaining on the clock.
To breakdown what happened on this play, Davis Hsu and I tag-teamed the analysis a little bit, so I'll let Davis set the stage further.
From Davis: "The Setup"
The Seahawks had successfully sown the seeds of running the ball with Marshawn Lynch. Obviously, they'd done so in their history with Pete Carroll, they'd done so in their recent history against the 49ers, and most important -- they'd done so earlier in the game on the opening touchdown drive.
Lynch had carried the ball heavily on the opening drive -- nine times, including the touchdown dive over the top to put the Seahawks up 7-0 -- but on that drive, the key run was probably this 17 yard cutback around midfield.
There is something special about an explosive and tough run through your opponent's logo.
But back to Seattle's big touchdown play.
The Seahawks use their personnel well, and almost everything about it screams "run" to the defense.
A mainstay like Jimmy Graham is taken out and on the sideline. This is a tell. Other high snap players like Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse are subbed out for the speedier Ricardo Lockette and Tyler Lockett. Luke Willson is in the game to block. FB/TE/DL Will Tukuafu is in the game, initially as a fullback.
Tukuafu inserted as the up-back in the I-formation is probably the clearest "run tendency" in and of itself, and in fact, per Bob Condotta, when Tufuaku was in the game, the Seahawks ran the ball 22 of 26 snaps.
The "21" personnel (2 RBs, 1 TE, 2 WR) is heavy. Again, everything is saying "run" here to the defense, which tries to diagnose prior to the snap.
Here's how it looked pre-snap, below.
And Davis is spot on, everything about this formation (reduced split by Tyler Lockett on the short side of the field, Tukuafu motioning down to the line as a tight end), personnel (heavy), and even the down, distance, and time on the clock would tell the Niners' defense that a run was more likely to be coming. It's 1st and 10 from the 43 yard line, Seattle's been running well, they want to use the clock before the half, etc.
Back to Davis:
Before the late motion by Tukuafu, the strong side would be the Seahawks left, as Seattle is in the I-formation and the left is the open-side of the field (the ball is on the right hash). When Tukuafu empties down and becomes the inline TE on Seattle's right, even though the formation is technically "balanced," if I was a defender I would think a run is now coming to my left (Seattle's right).
You can see Ahmad Brooks (#55) adjust out off of Gilliam and now outside to contain Tukuafu.
Here's the All-22 view of the play, showing the pre-snap movement of the 49ers defense.
Wilhoite (#57) and Bowman (#53) are on high alert here for the run, and when Tukuafu moves down they both shift over toward Tukuafu. Wilhoite then motions to Bowman to shift back at the very last second.
I am totally guessing here on why --- but my two theories are (1) Wilhoite then remembers that Seattle's formation is balanced (that Luke Willson is on the other edge of the line)- so perhaps they need to be "neutral"...my other theory is (2) Wilhoite is telling Bowman "Watch out for Lynch on the cut-back."
The last little detail before the snap -- the deep safety on San Francisco's right (Seattle's left) is the rookie, Jaquiski Tartt.
He talks to Eric Reid (the safety on the 49ers' left) before the snap, and I think he says something to the effect of "I will stay in the box and watch the run (Wilson naked bootleg or Lynch cutback), you go deep into coverage if/once you read that it is indeed play-action." Again, that's just my guess at the pre-snap movement and communication by the Niners here.
Tyler Lockett is the bigger threat here deep (as opposed to Ricardo Lockette), and Tyler is on Reid's side. Additionally -- Tartt would be the key defender if Russell Wilson ran a naked out the backdoor (to the open side of the field). Having an athletic and big safety like Tartt (6-1, 221, 4.53 forty) is the ideal defender to try to contain Russell Wilson shooting out the back door. When you study Tartt on this play, he does not play the pass at all, and I think this is by design. Seattle has too many blockers (7) and two dangerous ball carriers (Lynch and Wilson), so the Niners keep eight box defenders to defend nine Seahawks.
One last thing -- the Niners' safeties are only nine yards deep on this play, so again, this represents the threat of Lynch and Wilson with seven blockers.
One of my favorite things about this play is a new little wrinkle that the Seahawks have been doing with Russell Wilson in order to give him more time to throw.
If you watch the first few seconds of this play, it looks like it will be a play-action fake with a bootleg out on the backside. That's a very, very normal and standard thing for the Seahawks to do in order to take deep shots downfield.
But, with this wrinkle -- despite a solid run-action from the offensive line, Wilson does not bootleg, he simply keeps facing the play-action side of the field and drops back an additional four or five yards to get set. I'd mentioned in previous games that I liked this strategy and it had worked well for Seattle a few times earlier this season.
The Wilson naked bootleg would normally take him right into Aaron Lynch's area (the outside linebacker on the backside), and Lynch is smartly staying home and waiting for Wilson in case he bootlegs out. We've seen this happen a lot lately -- and what all too frequently comes of the naked boot-to-throw is that Wilson has to evade that outside linebacker or defensive end before throwing the ball, and the result of that is that he often just ends up scrambling around.
Now, it's great that Wilson's threat of a bootleg is holding that outside linebacker on the backside. That's the point, and helps in the run game when they actually do hand off.
But, in the few cases where they want to take a big shot downfield, this "fake bootleg" gives Seattle a little extra boost for allowing a play to develop. With this wrinkle, the Seahawks peel the center, Drew Nowak, out to the backside in order to pass block on Lynch, who is expecting a bootleg and thus has not charged upfield or down the line. This gives Nowak time to make his block, and he executes it well. All together, this gives Wilson tons of time to throw.
He drops back, deep, sets up, and throws. As Brock Huard talked about in his Chalk Talk about this play, Wilson throws it from the 53 yard line and when it comes loose, Tyler Lockett is still on the 20 yard line. That's pretty sweet -- Wilson't throw carries Lockett 20+ yards into the endzone.
Now, let's break down what each and every player involved did.
Here are the two angles again:
And, here's Davis:
Seahawks Details- Player by Player
In no particular order:
Ricardo Lockette: Lockette runs a nice route here, and I believe he is the second option if perhaps Tyler Lockett gets hung up. He aligns at the numbers and runs a deep in-route, and when he stops the route and heads back out toward the sideline, he has created enough room for a safe catch to the wide side of the field.
Luke Willson: Luke shows good awareness to move laterally back after the initial run action to wall off the NT if he tried to make any attempt at any sort of play.
Russell Okung: He is responsible for the DE on the 49ers' right. Okung steps to the right and uses his left arm to keep him at bay, and Britt joins in on the party as the play develops
Justin Britt: His job is to smash down onto the NT, but the NT retreats and tries to loop around the backdoor -- once Britt sees him retreat, he joins Okung and mashes down the DE.
Drew Nowak: Nowak does a great job here -- he has a difficult job as he is asked to spin out from the run action and swap outside onto the backside OLB (Aaron Lynch). This is a tough assignment -- as he essentially is now on an island and has to protect Russell Wilson's blind side. He does a great job here on Aaron Lynch (who had a hell of a game).
JR Sweezy: Sweezy is left one on one against the Niners' left side DE. With Nowak vacating his spot to swap out on the backside OLB, Sweezy probably makes a mistake allowing the defender to penetrate back over to his left -- but he recovers and is able to drive the defender down as he is lunging toward Russell Wilson. It's a good play overall by the DE, but Sweezy does just enough to get the job done here. Barely. Credit to Sweezy for keeping his feet moving and driving the defender to the ground.
Gilliam, Lynch and Tukuafu: These three almost get to take the play off as all they have to deal with is one defender -- Ahmad Brooks. Once Brooks knows it is play action, he knows he is out of the play. Lynch and Tukuafu get to take this play off, but it was their smash-mouth play earlier in the game that makes this play work.
Russell Wilson: Wilson takes an 11-10 yard drop on this play, which is crazy when you realize that is 30-33 feet! He throws the ball about 53 yards from the end zone, and the ball lands about 2 yards into the end zone. I figure Wilson is about 7-8 yards from the right sideline and Tyler Lockett is about 13 yards inside the left sideline.
Using A^2 + B^2 = C^2, I figure the ball is thrown about 64 yards when you realize he throws it across the field about 33 yards and 55 yards from the line of scrimmage. The ball is perhaps a bit underthrown, but it is not poorly thrown!
There is a little more space to be had here, but considering the task of throwing a ball 64 yards, it's a good throw. You don't want to overthrow Lockett here and push him out of bounds or out the back of the end zone.
Tyler Lockett: I like the split here -- Lockett is on the numbers -- which is good to sell the run, and threaten both the go-ball on the right side, and allow him to get closer to his final destination.
He wants the inside release on this and he gets it. Brock is pressed up and is in relatively good position during the whole route considering the predicament he is in. The key to the route is that Lockett goes diagonal and then converts the route back vertical (for about 10 yards from the SF 35 to the SF 25).
Because he takes the route vertical, Brock has to honor the seam and a possible route back to the corner (Seattle's Right). Once Lockett bends the route to the left corner, he creates the separation he needs, and once Wilson sees him bend the route, he lets it fly. The ball could be a bit more outside and a bit deeper -- as Brock does recover -- but is still one step late.