Posted January 01, 2013

Break It Down, Wild-Card Weekend preview: Seattle’s secondary vs. RGIII

Break It Down, NFL Playoffs, Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins
Richard Sherman is integral to the Seahawks' plan for stopping RGIII. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

Richard Sherman is integral to the Seahawks’ plan for stopping RGIII. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

Very few teams have figured out the secret to defending Washington’s offense, even with Robert Griffin III running at less than full speed late in the season. Seattle may have as good a chance as anyone this weekend, when the Seahawks visit the Redskins on Wild-Card Weekend.

Mike Shanahan’s attack is a unique blend of run and pass — his zone-blocking scheme on the ground has been replicated but never duplicated. Week 17 served as a reminder of how lethal the Redskins can be on the ground, as Alfred Morris shredded Dallas.

But Seattle has twice faced an offense that runs a variation of Washington’s offense … and has gone 2-0 in those games.

The Seahawks held Cam Newton and the Panthers to 190 total yards and 12 points in a Week 5 victory, then they stuffed Colin Kaepernick and San Francisco, 42-13 in Week 16 (Seattle lost to the 49ers, 13-6, before the Kaepernick-for-Alex Smith switch at QB).

What is Seattle’s trick? Well, in addition to being able to see the pistol, zone-read look from its own offense each day in practice, the Seahawks have a unique blend of defensive talent that makes them a tough matchup for any offense — likely including Washington’s.

Does that mean the Redskins are doomed this weekend? Definitely not. But they might have their hands full getting their playmakers into space.

Let’s look at why in this week’s first playoff Break It Down:

TROTTER: SEAHAWKS D LACKING MARQUEE NAMES, BUT NOT SUPERSTAR PLAY

We’ll start with what the Redskins do well, though fully diagnosing Robert Griffin III’s skill set in a couple hundred words is an impossible task. A little easier challenge is explaining Morris’ impact.

In just one NFL season, Morris has become a premier running back and, as the Cowboys witnessed last Sunday night, he is lethal when able to find a cutback lane. Here, from Washington’s win over Baltimore, you can get an idea of just how capable Morris is at finding those backside openings — and at what RGIII’s presence does to defenses.

On the play pictured below, Griffin ran the zone-read with Morris out of a pistol formation, then let his running back take the ball.

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Baltimore’s linebackers sat in pretty good shape as Griffin and Morris came together in the backfield, but two split-second moves doomed the Ravens.

First off, they all cheated toward Griffin, a natural reaction post-snap. But they compounded that hesitation by then crashing toward Morris after the handoff. In the photo above, Albert McClellan (red arrow) has started diving toward Morris’ inside route, which then allows him to be sealed off by a downfield blocker.

Not only does Morris have a huge cutback lane as a result of Baltimore’s over-aggressiveness but, had Griffin pulled the ball for a play-action pass, he would have had an open man across the middle and a second releasing in the flat.

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Griffin took advantage of those aerial options during Washington’s Thanksgiving Day rout of Dallas, capitalizing on open short routes over the middle …

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… then also victimizing Dallas deep when the Washington receivers were able to get behind their initial coverage.

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So, what makes Seattle better equipped to stop this attack than, say, Baltimore or Dallas?

Believe it or not, the Seahawks’ chances start outside with their cornerbacks. Pete Carroll’s defense has some big bodies in the middle, adept at stopping the run (namely, Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane). A lot of what Carroll does defensively, though, is based off having a pair of big, aggressive corners in Brandon Browner (back this week from suspension) and Richard Sherman.

Browner did not play in Seattle’s last game against San Francisco, but we’re still able to get an idea of what the Seahawks will try to do against the Redskins’ offense.

On this next play we’ll look at, Kaepernick runs a very solid play-action fake to Frank Gore out of the pistol, then rolls right. Two of Seattle’s linebackers crash extremely hard toward Gore, which should have left Kaepernick with his choice of run-pass options.

But …

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That’s Sherman circled above, locked in one-on-one coverage with Michael Crabtree. The Seahawks did not even bluff safety help toward Crabtree;  Sherman is on an island.

This is how Seattle plays, quite frequently — both Sherman and Browner are entrusted to play tight bump-and-run man defense on top receiving targets. Their ability to handle those roles frees up Seattle’s linebackers and safeties to play more aggressively closer to the line.

Because of that, on the play pictured above, the linebackers don’t backtrack after flying toward Gore and instead stay with Gore and Delanie Walker as they release in receiving patterns.

Byron Maxwell and Earl Thomas, meanwhile, playing deep in safety positions, close down on Garrett Celek’s crossing pattern. And Kam Chancellor stays home to guard against Kaepernick’s rollout.

Despite five defenders basically running out of position because of the play-action, the Seahawks are able to cover all their bases simply by allowing Sherman to close off an entire sideline.

That coverage allows the Seahawks to charge hard toward the running back, even on play-action fakes. They did so against Kaepernick and San Francisco even with Jeremy Lane playing in place of Browner in Week 16.

Here, Sherman (No. 25) is playing over the slot, then drops back deep to help in coverage. Seattle takes out Gore with a linebacker off the play-fake, but drops the rest of its linebacking corps in a zone with Lane one-on-one against Moss wide left.

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The resulting openings off that play-fake are small — if Kaepernick executed his pass perfectly, he may have found some gaps, but in general, Seattle is in solid position.

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Washington is going to have a chance to make plays Sunday — the Panthers missed several opportunities at big gainers during their loss to the Seahawks, and a crisper offense might have had more success.

In general, though, this is what the Redskins will see this weekend. The Seahawks will repeatedly use Sherman and Browner to shut down opposite sides of the field, then rely on their linebackers and safeties to eliminate both Morris and the Redskins’ crossing/post routes.

Can Griffin find those small windows? If he can’t, Washington will have a hard time moving the football.

21 comments
BaNos
BaNos

One reason the Hawks have struggled on the road is 10AM Pacific Time starts...  Not an issue this game.  @AZ: 2 TD passes dropped in final plays..  @StL:  give up a TD on fake FG when the receiver faked leaving the field and was left uncovered..  @SF:  lose 13-6 (then 42-13 @home)..  @ Det gave up game winning TD at end of game.. one of Stafford's few pinpoint throwing games of the yr..  @MIA:  Carroll's poorest game plan of the yr.. gave the game to the Fins by being ultra conservative.. admitted so post game..   So 3-5 on the road could (should) have very easily been 5-3, or even 6-2.. those early loses made a young team and rookie QB learn and grow..  This is a completely different team that the one playing those early road games...  The Hawks road woes are being blown way out of proportion.   The Skins are only 5-3 @ home..  that's a pretty poor record isn't it?  They must have trouble playing at home...  or is that just heuristics?

 

As for the writer..  He is just stating the fact that the Hawks have an excellent defense that is schooled in the read option and built specifically to stop it.  The best CB tandem in the NFL allows the Hawks to better play the run, including the read option, where the Hawks have a much quicker and more physical D than the Boys, were Ware & Spencer & the LBs looked horrendous and pitifully slow...  even against a gimpy RG3...  who still will not be 100% this Sunday.

 

The Skins are going to get the Hawks at their best on Sunday afternoon..   including the #4 defense in the league, which gave up the fewest points in the League..

 

skinsfan1010
skinsfan1010

Behavioral economics draws from psychology to help expose our biases in analysis and decision making.One of the things these scientists have discovered is that we frequently use heuristics (or rules-of-thumb) to try ot simplify very complex phenomena and often that simplification results in poor analyses. Here the author uses representiveness to simplify his analysis when he says that the Seahawks should do well against the Skins because they beat Carolina and San Fran and their QBs are similar to Griffin. That could not be farther from the truth. All three QBs are mobile, but Griffin has far more diverse pro-bowl quality weapons at his disposal than either Newton or Kapernick.Griffin is the best in the NFL at ball handling, accuracy, and reading defenses. The Redskins zone blocking scheme has rarely been matched in success anywhere not coach by a Shanahan. The author's analysis is kind of silly.

fmfrijoles
fmfrijoles

Seahawks 8-0 at home....3-5 on the road.....and those wins were against the lame Bills, Bears, and Panthers.

 

Everyone is talking about how they put up 100+ pts in 3 weeks against the Bills, Cardinals, and a 49ers team without some major pieces playing and already knowing that they didn't need to win the game to get their division & the #2 seed.

 

Alot of people are crowning the Seahawks as the team to beat........which is just how the Redskins want it.

MannyAviles
MannyAviles

If this game (and the IF is very important here) was a home game for Seattle then the outcome would be know to all of us, but there is a difference between been home and not been, and do far this season the 'Haks have not shown that they got what it takes to win that game way from home against a quality team.  May the best Rookie QB waits.... Larger and harder tests awaits in San Francisco, Atlanta or Green Bay.  Guess what that seems a lot harder knowing that they are all road games for the 'Hawks.  Very difficult the road to the SB for Seattle but not impossible either.  Next year I see a Super bowl berth for this Seahawks and believe me chances are the road to the SB next year in the NFC go through the west.  Not a Fan of the 'Hawks (Liked you guys better when you were on the AFC), but some one who is not blind either.  I think it will be the 9ers and the 'Hawks for years to come fighting for the NFC west crown with the Rams closing that gap really fast.

redskinsfan
redskinsfan

excellent analysis -- as usual.  these teams are mirror images of each other terms of their philosophy.  a strong running game sets up play action passes, mobile quarterbacks that have to be accounted for if you over commit.  could you show us an analysis of how the redskins will deal with marshawn lynch and robert wilson?

mc501
mc501

The Skins are good and have been consistent.

 

Here is why Seattle spells Trouble (with-a-capital-T) for RGIII.  Admittedly, the Skins' performances have been steady, impressive, and strong.  More impressively, the Seahawks have been getting more and more inspired.  More determined.  Better each game.  The Seahawks (right now) are firing on ALL-Pistons. The Seahawks are PEAKING at a perfect moment in the season.  RG3 (1 Leg + 1 Leg + 1 Arm) is more like RG2.5 right now.  The WORST time to go lame.  Bonus, Washington's defense... not as good as Seattle's.

RichardVert
RichardVert

Yep. I think the Skins will make a handful of explosive plays but the Seahawks will basically hold them in check. The big question is can Washington stop the Seahawks offense. I'm not familiar with most of their defense but I've studied the roster some. I do not see anything they have ,that the Hawks have struggled with this year. Mainly ,over-powering pass-rushers. If the Seahawks can keep McCoy, Sweezy, and Breno from screwing up too much they should do fine. But I need to scream at McCoy. Whatever it is your coaches are telling you to do ,that you're not doing, start doing it !  

mc501
mc501

Great breakdown.  I've love the layman's X's and O's illustrations.  I wish I had played football even in HS so I understood the traditional X's and O's better.

 

At a bare minimum, I think Griffin will be FORCED to do MORE himself.  He'll have to be an excellent passer AND read-option QB to have success against Seattle.  Griffin's legs will be tested.

 

Given the surging Seahawks play, I think it's coming together for them at the best time.  I view the Seahawks as the TOP contender for the SB this year.  It's rarely about the 'best' team - it's about who is playing the best 'right now' - and that's the Seahawks.

hawkfan999
hawkfan999

Nice analysis. Seattle defense is solid in all phases, especially against the run (see NFL season stats). Seattle should take this one. Go Hawks...

beason81
beason81

 @skinsfan1010 "Griffin is the best in the NFL at ball handling"

 

Really? He has 12 fumbles this year, ranking third of all qbs behind Philip Rivers and Mark Sanchez. Yeah, really is the best ball handler...right... The hawks D lives and breathes off of turnovers...better hope he can hold onto the ball!

TheScot
TheScot

Obviously the 49ers didn't have the #2 seed locked up because they just got it when GB lost and they won last weekend.  If they lost against AZ, Seattle would have had the #2 seed.  Nice checking on your facts there bud.

mickeyphil
mickeyphil

 @fmfrijoles SF didn't have any idea that they would win the NFCW or get a #2 seed when they played Seattle.  Seattle had more people missing than SF in that game and started 5 Rookies.

DougalLlewellynMacNugget
DougalLlewellynMacNugget

 @MannyAviles

 I agree with TheScot, I appreciate your oppinion without being overly biased. I will add that I think the Home/Away argument has been overblown by most. At the beginning of the season the Seahawks as a young team were playing very close games. Margin of defeat in each game was something like, 4 points, 6 points, 7 points, 4 points, and 3 points. Close games always favor the home team. As the offense has developed and scoring output has increased, this has shifted and Seattle won its final 2 away games. So the statistics basically show that Seattle has developed the ability to score more points and win on the road. At the beggining of the season, a road playoff game would have been a loss, now I wouldn't count on it. When judging a teams ability, it is deceiving to look at overall statistics. You have to look at every win and loss in context.

TheScot
TheScot

Very honest opinion Manny.  I appreciate comments not over the top and lacking any factual basis.

Legionofboom
Legionofboom

 @redskinsfan

 HIS NAME IS RUSSELL WILSON!!!!! LEARN IT QUICKLY BECAUSE HE WILL BE THE NEXT ROOKIE OF THE YEAR!!!!!

TheScot
TheScot

That is a legit question. 

DougalLlewellynMacNugget
DougalLlewellynMacNugget

 @mc501

 Thats the crazy thing about this game, both teams are scary. On paper Seattle is the more complete team, all the pieces are there, yet at the same time Washington has some insane talent and can easily exploit Seattle mistakes.