In the Reader’s Digest version of the Seahawks’ win over the Patriots, Seattle’s stingy defense and rookie Russell Wilson’s big-time passes surprised Tom Brady as the Seahawks’ running game struggled to gain traction. That last part is only true if you measure the running game by yards gained on the ground by actual, living humans. To fully understand how Seattle’s running game helped beat New England, one must look to the paranormal: phantom footsteps, cold breezes, and beasts that appear only to suddenly vanish. Rather than attacking the Seattle offense, Patriots’ defensive coordinator, Matt Patricia, was left chasing apparitions, grasping at phantoms, and tackling shadows.
Play after play, the Patriots stacked the short middle of the field in fear of Beast Mode and in hopes of frustrating a short quarterback who would rather run than pass. But like a house of mirrors, Seattle OC Darrel Bevell twisted our reputation for tough runs, conservative passes, and quick scrambles into a game of wide throws and deep bombs. While the Patriots would position players for expected action, they ended up sinking in quicksand, neither rushing the quarterback nor covering receivers. That gave Wilson target after target in one-on-one coverage. Given that advantage, Wilson and his receivers were able keep New England off balance while making a series of big plays. The rest is history.
Let’s look at the key plays of our scoring drives…
Scoring drive 1: 1st quarter, 9 plays, 84 yards, 5:17, Field Goal.
3-1-SEA 25(11:20) 3-R.Wilson pass short left to 22-R.Turbin for 6 yards.
The Patriots crowd the line looking to stop the run on a short yardage play as the Seahawks load three tight ends on the left side. We fake a zone right – except that Turbin goes left, fakes taking the handoff, and receives the pass for a gain of 6 and the first down. Presto-change-o.
1-10-SEA 31(10:53) 3-R.Wilson pass deep right to 18-S.Rice for 29 yards. Penalty for Illegal Contact, declined.
A typical, zone right play with two backs and one tight end – except that it’s play action and three New England defenders end up standing around in the short middle. After illegal contact by Chung, Sidney Rice gets wide open on the right side for a gain of 29 yards. It started out one-on-one (good) and ended up zero-on-one (great).
1-10-NE 40(10:29) (Shotgun) 3-R.Wilson pass deep right to 86-Z.Miller for 22 yards.
In a three receiver set, the Pats start out with eight in the box. Miller goes deep at the numbers, is covered by a linebacker (nice mismatch) and the safety is late. Wilson puts it up high for Miller, who comes down with a great catch for 22 yards. This is as close to the shallow (22 yards?) middle as we get on our scoring drive plays.
Lynch goes on to get stuffed in the backfield on 3rd and 1 (McQuistan went left on a zone right play - oops!) and we settle for three points.
Scoring drive 2: 1st quarter, 7 plays, 85 yards, 3:59, Touchdown.
2-3-SEA 22(5:05) 3-R.Wilson pass short left to 81-G.Tate for -6 yards.
With eight in the box, the Patriots bring pressure while respecting the run to the right. Wilson throws a quick screen left to Tate that would have been killer, except for a missed block by Robinson. Great setup. One flaw in execution. Loss of six.
3-9-SEA 16(4:25) (Shotgun) 3-R.Wilson pass deep middle to 89-D.Baldwin for 50 yards.
On 3rd and 9, our run threat should be no help here. Pats initially play pass with two deep safeties. However, New England still dedicates a man to Turbin and a safety comes up to monitor Wilson. Baldwin beats his man deep, one-on-one, and our line has no problem with a four man rush. 50 yards, almost all in the air.
1-10-NE 34(3:37) 3-R.Wilson pass short left to 18-S.Rice for 6 yards.
The Patriots load up the middle again, leaving the two receivers on the left, one on one. Our backs fake right. Rice crosses from the slot to the left sideline for a six yard reception.
1-15-NE 24(1:59) 3-R.Wilson pass deep middle to 89-D.Baldwin for 24 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
With three receivers and one back, the Pats play pass but respect Wilson by continuing to guard the short middle. Again, our protection holds up against a four man rush as Baldwin ends up one-on-one in the end zone with no safety help. Touchdown.
Scoring drive 3: 4th quarter, 5 plays, 83 yards, 2:00, Touchdown.
1-10-SEA 17(9:17) 3-R.Wilson pass deep middle to 81-G.Tate for 51 yards. PENALTY, Unnecessary Roughness, 15 yards.
The Patriots put six on the line and cheat three more on 1st and 10 to stop the run. Tate gets to their deepest man and wins the one-on-one battle for 51 yards. Add 15 more for unnecessary roughness to get 66 yards in one play.
4-3-NE 10(7:26) 3-R.Wilson pass short left to 17-B.Edwards for 10 yards, TOUCHDOWN. Penalty, Defensive Pass Interference, declined.
On 4th and 3 at the 10 yard line, New England leaves four defenders standing around in the middle of the field with nobody to defend but ghosts. Edwards is one-on-one on a fade route to the left side of the end zone. Touchdown. Did I mention that this was 4th and 3? This was a HUGE 4th quarter play.
Scoring drive 4: 4th quarter, 4 plays, 57 yards, 1:20, Touchdown.
1-10-SEA 43(2:38) (Shotgun) 3-R.Wilson right end 9 yards. Designed run.
With three receivers and shotgun formation, the Patriots have two deep safeties and are one-on-one on the outside. As Lynch runs left, New England leaves one defender dedicated to Wilson as the quarterback executes a planned run to his right. Wilson is able to juke the bigger man for a gain of nine. The Pats finally position a defender where we will run the play – and we still burn ‘em.
3-1-NE 48(1:59) (Shotgun) 24-M.Lynch left tackle for 2 yards.
With four receivers in shotgun formation, we run a zone left, the Pats get a jump on our left side, and they get push on Carpenter and Giacomini. Lynch knows he only needs one yard as he bashes into Giagomini for two yards and a critical first down. This time, we turned the tables - the Pats were afraid of the pass and we ran. They got a quick, first step and we still beat them for the first down.
1-10-NE 46(1:27) 3-R.Wilson pass deep middle to 18-S.Rice for 46 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Play action against a base defense. Even with a fast get-off against the left side of our line, we have no problem in pass protection. Rice surprises them by going over the top, beating their deepest man. Touchdown. An extra point gives us the lead and the win.
Throughout the game, the New England D dedicated linebackers to guard against the power of Lynch and the breakaway ability of Wilson. Time and time again, we ended up with a four man rush and with one-on-one matchups at the edges and on deep go-routes. Wilson and Bevell must have been licking their chops time and time again as we zigged when they kept expecting us to zag. For many of our biggest plays, New England dedicated defenders to covering nothing but pixies and sprites.
We should still give credit to Wilson as he threw some beautiful passes – and we should give credit to our receivers as they consistently made great, tough catches. This win doesn't happen without pulling the trigger, accurate throws, and solid grabs.
That execution was especially impressive on the last drive. With the clock running down, we no longer had a scheme advantage. They knew we needed passes to stop the clock and make yards. In the final drive, it was no longer about how we matched up. And it wasn’t about the Pat’s defense. It was all about our offense making plays.
But for the first three drives, we scored not because of strong runs in this game, but because of strong runs in the previous five contests. On this Sunday in October, we didn’t beat the Patriots with Beast Mode. We beat them with Ghost Mode.
Hey, New England… BOO!!!
Follow me at @SeaHawkRun
Follow me at @SeaHawkRun