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Seahawks Replay Booth: Jimmy Graham and the power of the bootleg

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The Seahawks have held their cards pretty tightly to their chest this preseason -- Jimmy Graham has only been used sparingly and Marshawn Lynch almost not at all -- and so the true identity for this year's offense has yet to really be revealed. That said, I think it's pretty clear that one concept will be a pretty key part of what they do.

I don't know what the Seahawks call it, but it's a "levels" concept based off of play-action, and the goal is to flood a zone, so you're seeing two defenders try to match up with three Seahawks, and it's something that we've seen them do with varied personnel throughout the years. Whether it was Zach Miller, Kellen Davis, Luke Willson, Tony Moeaki or whoever at tight end, Seattle has utilized these concepts out of different formations and personnel groupings with excellent results.

And guess what, we saw it in the preseason with Jimmy Graham!

1-10-DEN 21 (10:21 1st Q) R.Wilson pass short left to J.Graham to DEN 9 for 12 yards (V.Miller).

Preseason Week 1, this is Jimmy Graham's first catch as a Seahawk. As you can see with the diagram/photo, Jermaine Kearse will run a deep-out (on the top) and this is to draw the cornerback on his side deep down the sideline. This will clear him out of the underneath zone.

After that, both Jimmy Graham (lined up on the left in-line) and Luke Willson (on the right in-line) will run somewhat parallel drag routes at different levels of the defense (hence: "levels" concept).


The key to this play, though, is working the play action. Play action is hugely important to Seattle's offense and guess what? It's highly effective, because teams know how much Seattle runs and they know how well they run with Marshawn Lynch.

Pete Carroll explained how this mis-direction will be vital to their gameplan again this year.

"We're trying to make it so difficult for our opponents to figure out where the ball is going," said Carroll before the preseason kicked off, "and what they have to deal with; where they have to focus.

"And, here comes Jimmy [Graham], Doug [Baldwin], and Jermaine [Kearse] outside."

In otherwords, we've got Marshawn and Russell with the threat of the run, and Jimmy, Doug, and Jermaine outside with the threat of the pass.

Carroll continued, "I'm hoping that it continues to be complicated for our opponents, and we can keep making yards. If we can continue to run the ball close to the best of the NFL and be explosive in the throwing game like we have, we're hard to deal with, and that's really good for us as long as we keep that football."

Example one -- look at what play-action does to the defense:


By executing that play-action fake to Marshawn Lynch on first and ten, there's one guy outside the hashes to the left, and he's deep with Jermaine down the sideline. Everyone else is playing catchup.

Real time:

Jimmy runs a simple looping out route (and Von Miller is no match for it in trail coverage), Luke Willson runs a drag (and is picked up by the safety TJ Ward, who first reads run), and then Russell bootlegs to his left. He gets rid of it quickly to the first option -- the underneath "out" by Graham.

Of course, if you watch this play, you'll see that Luke's mid-level route is Wilson's second option. Jimmy Graham caught a pass running this route in the game against Kansas City.

1-10-KC 49 (6:11) R.Wilson pass short right to J.Graham pushed ob at KC 37 for 12 yards (R.Parker).

Same formation as the play above, same personnel, but in this case, the direction of the play is flipped. Willson will run the looping out route, and Graham will run the deeper drag.


Again, the play-action fake is effective on 1st and 10. See how the defense has flowed to their right with the offensive line?


This time, with Wilson rolling to his right after the playaction fake, he throws a quick strike to the second-option in this play -- the deep drag.

As you can see, Luke gets caught up in his route with Justin Houston, and isn't really open. Graham easily outraces the safety in coverage here, Hussain Abdullah (their starter).

As I've said, this is a core concept in the Seahawks offense, and it's something I expect the Seahawks will continue to use.

Importantly, though, the Seahawks will run this concept out of different formations and personnel groupings, which makes it very easy to disguise. They may replace the backside tight end with a slot receiver and have him run the same route, except from the slot. In other words, the Seahawks' offensive concepts remain the same, while the formations they're being run from, and the players that are running them, change game to game and quarter to quarter. This makes it extremely difficult for opposing defenses, who are taught to look for: Players and formations.

Here are a few examples of the Seahawks running similar concepts but from different formations and personnel groupings: These breakdowns are from last year, but let's look at how Seattle used them during the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

First, 2013. Seahawks vs. Saints, Monday Night Football. You may remember this play.

3-1-SEA 36 (4:02 1st Quarter) R.Wilson pass deep right to Z.Miller to NO 4 for 60 yards (D.Hawthorne) [J.Galette].

You're a defensive back. The first thing you do when an opposing offense breaks their huddle is to determine the personnel grouping. Here, the Seahawks are in a "13" grouping, or three tight ends, one running back, and one receiver. Luke Willson was the motion man on this play, with Zach Miller and Kellen Davis down in a balanced set on each side of the tackles. Jermaine Kearse is the wideout, and he's in tight to the formation.

So, as a defensive back, this reads "RUN" all the way. Lo and behold, the Saints have nine in the box.

It's not a run, though. This is how it's drawn up, and Russell Wilson will execute a reverse-pivot play action fake to Robert Turbin before bootlegging out to his right (along with Turbin, whose route will take him to the right as well.)


Meanwhile, the running back, Robert Turbin and the top-side tight end, Kellen Davis, run the "levels" concept, parallel to each other at different levels of the defense. Zach Miller is the linch-pin here though, and he runs a much flatter third-level route that no one picks up.

Watch, and take note of the Saints' defenders first biting on the play-action (they go with the offensive line), then biting on the bootleg (along with the shorter routes). No one picks up Miller as he sneaks out into the third level.


It helps that this is a cover-0 look and the deep safety runs with Luke Willson as he leaks out the backside. This means there's literally no one back deep as a safety.

Russell Wilson does his thang and lobs an accurate pass downfield as he gets hit, and the ball softly floats down and hits his tight end in perfect stride. "Unfortunately for Seattle," as Jacson Bevens wrote so adroitly back on December 3rd, 2013, "Miller runs like he left the parking brake on" and is dragged down from behind at the three yard line.

This concept showed up again vs. the Cardinals last year, and Luke Willson turned off his parking break and hit the NOS boosters instead as he outran a defensive back to paydirt.

2-10-SEA 20 (7:16 2nd Quarter) R.Wilson pass deep right to L.Willson for 80 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Compare and contrast the route concepts (hint: they're the same). However, this time they run it out of their "11" personnel grouping, with three receivers, a tight end, and a running back, and Russell Wilson is in shotgun instead of lining up under center.

In the play below, Marshawn Lynch runs the H-back's (Luke Willson's) route, a leak out on the backside. Slot receiver Doug Baldwin runs (with Russell Wilson) what's called a "swap boot" over the top of top of the formation. This takes the place of Robert Turbin's route in the play above. Jermaine Kearse runs the route that in-line tight end Kellen Davis ran above.

Again, different players and different formations, but the same route concepts. The outside route remains unchanged, as does Luke Willson's route.


Bottom line: Even with a deep cover-2 shell prior to the snap, the Cardinals bite on the play-action and bootleg, meaning Tyrann Matheiu (bottom) and Rashad Johnson (top) both let Willson get over the top of them. Watch when the gif below first freezes -- every single defender has his eyes in the backfield. This is the power that Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch bring.


That's when something really pretty remarkable happens: 6'5, 255 pound Luke Willson outruns the 5'11, 204 pound safety, Johnson.


Watch for the Seahawks to continue to use this concept this year, but from different formations and personnel groups. The sky is really the limit in terms of what they can do with Luke Willson and Jimmy Graham on the field together with Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch.