The Seattle Seahawks are arguably the hottest team in the NFL behind an offense that has exploded over the past few weeks. Led by Russell Wilson, the unit has posted 50 points in consecutive games and evolved into one of the more difficult offenses to defend.
With an NFC West showdown looming against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night, I thought I would pop in some All-22 Coaches Film to discover the keys to the unit's success.
Here are three factors that stood out to me:
1) Marshawn Lynch is definitely in "beast mode."
For all of the attention Wilson and others have received for sparking the Seahawks' offense, Marshawn Lynch is the key to the unit's success. The seventh-year pro sets the tone for the offense with his exceptional running skills between the tackles. Lynch is a hard-nosed, physical runner with outstanding vision, instincts and cutback skills. He excels at reading blockers at the point of attack and has a knack for finding creases in the middle of the defense. Most importantly, Lynch is a bruising finisher who blows through defenders at the end of runs.
Looking at the numbers, it is hard to dispute the fact that Lynch is playing at the top of his game. He has surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the fourth time in seven seasons and ranks second in the NFL (behind Adrian Peterson) with 1,379 rushing yards. He has posted eight 100-yard rushing games. What's most impressive about his production this season is the fact that he only has seven runs of 20-plus yards, including two runs of at least 40 yards. This indicates that Lynch is a steady and consistent grinder adept at doing the dirty work within the box that keeps the Seahawks' offense on schedule. With a young quarterback still learning the nuances of the pro game, the ability to hand the ball to a dependable workhorse has helped the Seahawks' offense evolve over the course of the season.
In the following screengrab from Seattle's Week 8 loss to the Detroit Lions, the Seahawks break the huddle aligned in an I-formation with the tight end and flanker closely aligned on the right:
At the snap, the Seahawks are running a toss crack play with Lynch following Breno Giacomini (68) and Michael Robinson (26) around the corner. WR Ben Obomanu is executing a crack block on the play-side linebacker:
With Giacomini kicking out the Lions cornerback and Robinson smothering the safety, Lynch scoots through the hole untouched on the way to a 77-yard score:
In the next screengrab from last week's blowout of the Buffalo Bills, the Seahawks are aligned in a Trey formation with Lynch set as the halfback:
When Barnett hesitates for a split-second, it leads to Wilson giving the ball to Lynch on the inside handoff:
With Barnett unable to close the gap on the play, Lynch blows through the defense for a 54-yard gain:
2) Russell Wilson's versatility adds another dimension to the offense.
The Seahawks have won five of their past six games. Wilson has led the way by posting a passer rating of 100.0 or more in five of those games, with an impressive 11 touchdowns and just one interception in that six-game span. Wilson has displayed unflappable poise and confidence in the pocket. He has been unaffected by opponents attempting to rattle him with a barrage of pressures, showing the capacity to punish aggressive defenses by quickly getting rid of the ball to available receivers before the rush gets home. In addition, Wilson has displayed exceptional skills as a passer on the move. From connecting with crossing routes on bootlegs to hitting open receivers near the sideline following impromptu scrambles, Wilson has routinely delivered the ball in the strike zone to help the Seahawks pick up critical first downs. Given the importance of staying on the field and stringing together a series of plays to wear down the opponent's defense, Wilson's sensational play from the pocket has been critical to the Seahawks' recent success.
Wilson's passing skills are just the beginning, too. He has showcased enviable athleticism, improvisational skills and running ability. In the last six games, he has rushed 42 times for 274 yards with three scores. While most of Wilson's production has been accumulated on impromptu scrambles, the Seahawks have tapped into his unique ability by frequently calling predetermined quarterback runs like the zone-read. The option plays have added another dimension to Seattle's running game due to the hesitancy created by Wilson's deceptive ball handling in the backfield. When I broke down the All-22 Coaches Film of the Seahawks' recent games, I was surprised at the number of times Wilson ran a version of the zone-read option. While Wilson is certainly a talented athlete with the speed, quickness and running skills to threaten opponents on the perimeter, the fact that he had no real experience running the option at Wisconsin or N.C. State makes the utilization of the package a bit surprising.
However, Wilson has been outstanding with the execution of the play. He not only makes sound decisions with the ball based on the reaction of the defense, but also is one of the best ball handlers in the NFL. Wilson's ability to sell the inside zone has routinely left defenders in a quandary, creating big-play opportunities for Wilson and Lynch on the play.
Williams chases Lynch down the line of scrimmage, leading Wilson to keep the ball and run around the right corner. He finishes with a 14-yard touchdown that gives the Seahawks an early lead:
3) Sidney Rice and Golden Tate are an explosive 1-2 punch.
It's not a coincidence that the Seahawks' passing game has taken off with Sidney Rice and Golden Tate growing more comfortable in the system. The duo has been very effective this season, combining to catch 89 balls for 1,290 yards and 14 touchdowns. Although those numbers pale in comparison to some of the output registered by the top pass catchers in the NFL, the fact that the tandem has combined for 19 plays of 20-plus yards, including six of at least 40 yards, suggests that opponents are having a tough time containing the duo on the perimeter.
Rice, a former Pro Bowler, was expected to be the primary playmaker in the passing game when he signed a lucrative five-year, $41 million deal in the summer of 2011. Although he showed flashes of fitting the bill during his first season in Seattle, Rice was beset with a number of injuries that limited him to only nine games in 2011. This year, Rice has been relatively healthy and displayed home-run ability as a No. 1 receiver. Part of Rice's success can be attributed to Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell taking advantage of his speed and quickness by using more vertical and horizontal route concepts. By getting on the move in crossing routes, Rice is able to run away from man-to-man coverage and turn short passes into big gains over the middle.
In the following screengrab from Bills game, Rice is aligned on the outside of a bunch formation. He will run a crossing route as part of a star route concept:
The chaos created by the tight alignment of the bunch formation and the combination of crossing routes, allows Rice to come free over the middle of the field:
Rice catches the ball and turns it up the field on the way to a 41-yard gain:
The Seahawks will also take advantage of Rice's speed and quickness by routinely targeting him on vertical routes. From the go-route to the deep post, Rice will run an assortment of deep routes designed to stretch the coverage of the defense, while also creating big-play opportunities on the perimeter. Given Rice's size, athleticism and ball skills, the Seahawks have been successful generating explosive plays by taking more shots down the field to their No. 1 target. (This play is a great example.)
Tate's emergence as a big-play weapon is certainly surprising when closely studying his game. At 5-foot-10, 202 pounds, Tate is not a physically imposing pass catcher, yet he overwhelms defenders on the perimeter with his tenacity and toughness. He is one of the best jump-ball receivers that I've seen in some time, and his ability to come down with contested balls has encouraged Wilson to throw in his direction despite defenders in close proximity. The Seahawks capitalize on Tate's skills by routinely throwing back-shoulder fades on the perimeter. While this route would appear to be a high-risk proposition for most receivers, Tate's exceptional ball skills have made it one of the Seahawks' most productive plays. (This play is a great example.)