The Seattle Seahawks had stomached consecutive road losses and were now at 4-4, and while half of the season remained, taking a .500 football team to the playoffs left little room for error. Additionally, the San Francisco 49ers were 6-2 and pulling away with the division. If any culprit might explain the four losses, it was an ability to finish drives. The offense had only twice scored over twenty points, and the skill position players were disappearing in the red zone. Marshawn Lynch, Sidney Rice and Golden Tate had combined for only nine touchdowns, and the Seahawks ranked in the bottom of the league in red zone scoring attempts and in scores per game. Pete Carroll and Co had created a menacing running offense, one that took advantage of Lynch and Russell Wilson’s ability to extend plays, but the opportunities for creativity and the margin for error compressed as the field shortened. Oftentimes, in the red zone, guts and instinct alone were not enough, a team had to run a play to score.
But could the Seahawks do it?
Could The Offense Run An Offense?
In an offense dependent on running the ball and on play action, the Seahawks were not their best when playing from behind. Yet, they were in an early hole. After all-pro running back Adrian Peterson, who had returned from a season-ending knee injury in 2011 and was now tearing up NFL defenses, knocked off a 74-yard run, the Vikings were set up at their goal line and did indeed score. After only two minutes played, the Hawks were already outside of their game plan. In need of production from the passing game, a sloppy receiving unit shrunk, with wide receivers Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin dropping clean passes. The unit was right where it had left off, suffering short drives due to an inability to advance the ball. However, a timely Vikings fumble set up the offense in the red zone. It was time to run a play.
The offense was set in a two wide receiver set with Lynch (24) and fullback Micheal Robinson (26) in the backfield. It was first down, and the Seahawks had a reputation for running on first down. All three Vikings linebackers were less than five yards from the line of scrimmage, leaving only one defender, safety Jamarca Sanford (33) alone up top. When Sidney Rice (18) went in motion, the Vikings adjusted by keeping Antoine Winfield (26) stuck on Rice instead of initiating a series of coverage adjustments, a headache offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell had been inflicting on opponents all year.
Pre-snap, Russell Wilson (3) lulled linebacker Erin Henderson (50) with a snap count that broke cadence, forcing Henderson to sacrifice his forward momentum to prevent an offsides penalty. In doing so, Henderson telegraphed his intent, meaning Robinson knew exactly where to meet Henderson. Lynch took out Chad Greenway (52), but eventually lost his block. (Assisting in pass protection was Vikings cornerback Chris Cook (20), who did not have much to do on this play and took that as a reason to become a spectator). Both receivers—Golden Tate (18) and Rice—ran a crossing route. At the cross, Tate broke high and Rice leveled off at the sideline, bunching three Vikings defenders into a traffic jam. Wilson stared down Rice, convincing Sanford to go with Rice. Once Tate was single, in a foot race to the corner of the end zone, Wilson put a pass right on Tate’s outside shoulder.
The offense was able to run a play and get a touchdown, but could they do it again?
On 2nd and 1, with two time-outs in the bag, it felt like a standard Seahawks running play. However, pre-snap, Wilson noted an odd behavior from cornerback A. J. Jefferson (24). The third defensive back in from the sideline, Jefferson was eyeballing Wilson. It was so obviously a blitz even Rice pointed to him. At the snap, Wilson calmly delivered a pass to Tate. Vikings’ safety Sanford had chased down to meet Tate, but Tate side-stepped him, and then faked-out Jasper Brinkley (54), and by extension Harrison Smith (22), who leveled Jasper. With an open lane, Tate leaped over cornerback Josh Robinson (21), crossing the plane before Everson Griffen (97) put a shoulder into him.
One might expect the Vikings had learned their lesson about leaving Tate solo with two blockers, yet halfway through the third quarter, showing the same formation, Tate ran for thirteen yards. Certainly, that would be enough to cover Tate up. On the next play, the offense lined up in the same formation, save the receivers were on the high side. Another Tate completion, this time for eight yards.
A week prior, the offense devoted game time to a new package that utilized both Lynch and Wilson as a combo running attack, a zone read which pinched a defensive end into a catch-22, unable to make any decision that benefited his position. Fans had seen Wilson hand it off to Lynch, and had seen Wilson flush out for a pass, but had yet to see how Wilson would handle a keeper.
Wilson made the correct read on defensive end Jared Allen (69), as Allen never considered Wilson would keep the football. In this play, Russell Okung (76) got inside of Allen, heading into the second level to take out Greenway. Instead, he pancaked the ground, but managed to “incidentally” stick out his foot. The move may have given Wilson a slight advantage. Either way, Wilson ran away from Greenway but smartly slid before the safety could light him up.
Several drops weighted down Wilson’s afternoon, putting a dimness on his three touchdown passes. Lynch scored a touchdown. Steven Hauschka added a field goal. The grand total was 30 points, the first time the offense had scored in the 30s for 2012.
Wait for it…
A Lop Sided Defense
Since the Patriots game, offenses had been abusing the Seahawks nickel defense, often using crisp route-running and quick throws to take advantage of the secondaries occasional lack of early foot speed. Among those frequently terrorized were the nickelbacks themselves, Marcus Trufant and Jeron Johnson. There was no mercy in the NFL. If a player could not rise above the adversity and show the league he could respond, that player would be continually exploited. Time was running thin for Trufant and Johnson to prove they were not doormats. Both made great heads-up plays to contribute. Johnson came down to run a stunt around Bruce Irvin, plowing into tight end Kyle Rudolph (82). The size mismatch made it impossible for Johnson to conquer Rudolph, but he did push Rudolph so far back that, when Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder attempted to scramble, Johnson had to only lasso him for the sack.
Trufant took it a step further, earning a pivotal turnover.
The Vikings were using their wildcard player, Percy Harvin, out of the backfield on 3rd and 10. Pre-snap, strong safety Kam Chancellor (33) showed his ability to change any play. Despite the unit being in nickel, Kam played at the linebacker position, allowing Leroy Hill (56) to be an edge rusher. At the snap, Hill forced Rudolph to waste himself as a blocker in the backfield instead of assisting in creating a lane. Just as Hill had forced Rudolph to block early, Kam playing so far up forced Toby Gerhart (32) to almost chase Kam backward. Even with this chaos, Harvin’s burst and balance had allowed him to maneuver. Yet, as he went forward, he was not met by Earl Thomas, for Truant (23) moved over to cover for Kam. In doing so, Trufant put himself on a collision course with Harvin and was able to wrestle the ball from Harvin’s grasp and then recover the fumble.
This was the smart, fast, we will beat you hat-for-hat football the base was consistently producing, and it was a welcome sight for the embattled nickel unit.
As the fourth quarter drew to a close, the Vikings were in need of a boost. Whether it was a field goal or a touchdown was immaterial, but a punt was unacceptable. On 3rd and 5, the team lined up with three wideouts and one tailback. Once again Rudolph, a solid receiving threat, served as a blocker in the backfield, this time motioning from his receiving position to do so. In choosing to show max-protect, the Vikings signaled to cornerbacks Richard Sherman (35) and Brandon Browner (39) that this play was likely to be for all the marbles. At the snap, the outside rushers, Chris Clemons (91) and Johnson, took a wide angle, clearing out the middle for Greg Scruggs (98) and Irvin. Scruggs did a commendable job of just being a big body taking up space, forcing Ponder (7) into a compressed throwing motion. The throw was for Harvin, an attempt for Harvin’s speed to prevail, yet Browner’s physicality put him on a collision course with the pass, which he did catch for an interception.
Another Strong Home Performance
The Seahawks turned in a fantastic performance at Century Link, fueled by their raucous fans who filled the stadium with so much noise, the Vikings felt were stuck in a basic offense. Likewise, the Seahawks fed off it, playing with a confidence and swagger that more resembled rock stars than athletes. In defeating the Packers, Patriots, and now putting down 30, the Seahawks were showing their ceiling was high. The final score was 30-20. At 5-4, the Seahawks were on their way, but still had a lot to clean up. On the offensive side, the receivers had to complete these gimmie-grabs, and the defense had to establish its balance. Spotlights of brilliance were negated by Adrian Peterson, who accumulated 182 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The team had a forthcoming home game against the New York Jets, allowing them the comfort of Century Link, but still the challenge to batten down the hatches.