The 2014 NFL Season finally got underway on Thursday night, with the defending champion Seattle Seahawks looking primed to make a run at back-to-back championships after a convincing 36-16 win over the visiting Green Bay Packers.
The Seahawks were clearly looking to get Percy Harvin going right from the get-go. Not only did Russell Wilson target him on a few quick screens and swing passes early, but the Seahawks also used him on a “Jet Sweep” on the first drive. On this play, Harvin motioned from the slot and took the ball from Wilson right after the snap. This was designed to give Harvin the chance to make a big play, yet it was also an effort to stretch the Packers’ defense horizontally so as to open up running lanes inside. Harvin is a dynamic playmaker, and his presence completely changes how teams must prepare for Seattle’s offense.
Here’s the thing about the Seahawks’ running game: it’s extremely versatile. Percy Harvin forces defenders to be wary of outside runs. Marshawn Lynch is a physical, between-the-tackles runner who has very quick feet and doesn’t go down upon first contact. Russell Wilson is a wild card. He can pull the ball on read options, run a bootleg for a nice gain, or scramble when a passing play breaks down. The Seahawks made Green Bay defend the entire width of the field on Thursday, and the result was a 207-yard rushing night.
The worrisome aspect of Thursday’s game for the Packers is that their front-3 played terribly against the run, picking up right where they left off a year ago. The loss of B.J. Raji certainly hurts, but even with Raji, the Packers struggled to hold the point against the run in 2013. Against Seattle, they were blown back off the ball regularly, making it difficult for linebackers to attack the line of scrimmage when they did recognize run.
Seattle didn’t ask Russell Wilson to do a whole lot in the passing game on Thursday. As always, they used lots of spread concepts or quick throws where there aren’t many complex route combinations. More so, they used tons of play action and rollout passes. This put Wilson on the move, where he is very accurate, and it also got defenders out of place. The Seahawks managed to manufacture two touchdown passes off of play-action, where defenders were left completely out of position.
Clay and Julius:
Because of the misdirection in Seattle’s offense, Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers weren’t able to rush Russell Wilson on a regular basis. They were forced to play the run or move laterally due to run action. However, the Packers should be able to have lots of success getting to quarterbacks in more traditional passing games this season. The Packers predominantly used Matthews on the right side of the defense versus the left tackle on Thursday night. This left Peppers on the other side versus the right tackle. Sometimes they switched sides. Either way, one of these very good pass rushers is going to get one-on-one matchups versus a right tackle all season long. Several times on Thursday, they were even aligned right to each other on the same side of the formation. This served to create more one-on-one matchups for at least one of them. This was one of the few promising aspects of the Packers defense that we saw on Thursday night.
The moral of the story with Seattle’s offense is that defenses playing against them can’t trust what they see. There is so much deception and misdirection, and this forces hesitation on the part of the defense, which ultimately makes them reactive. Linebackers are hesitant to attack the line of scrimmage against the run because Wilson might keep the ball. This allows blockers to get up on them beyond the line of scrimmage and creates huge running lanes. When defenders do overplay the run, Wilson can keep the ball and either find receivers downfield or run. Pass rushers can’t pin their ears back and just rush the same spot in the backfield to get to the quarterback because they’re constantly forced to hesitate or move laterally to play the run-action. The Seahawks may be known for their defense, but they’re an absolute handful on offense.