A season ago, Percy Harvin was a legitimate NFL MVP candidate in the eyes of many media members eligible to vote.
After his trade to Seattle, I watched tape of all 85 plays in which Harvin was targeted by pass in 2012 and also each of his 22 rush attempts. I anticipated being wowed by his acceleration and elusiveness but I was not prepared for how physical Harvin finished his many lateral receptions. His ferocious competitiveness jumped off the screen, and we saw glimpses of that Sunday.
Here are a few thoughts on plays from his Seahawks debut against the Vikings:
• Doug Baldwin 44-yard go route, first quarter: Running an angle cross from the right slot, Harvin so decisively won his release against press coverage that free safety Jamarca Sanford vacated his deep middle responsibility to help cover Harvin. Russell Wilson favored the go route to Baldwin but, because the pass was completed near the sideline, it’s unlikely Sanford could have helped against Baldwin, even if Sanford had not been influenced by Harvin. Harvin’s impact would have to wait.
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• Angle cross on third-and-10, second quarter: The Seahawks went “trips right” from the left hash, with three receivers set right and Zach Miller and Marshawn Lynch set left. From this formation, Seattle has had a heavy tendency to pass block, with Miller and run combination routes on the other half of the field occupying trips. The Vikings blitzed seven with an overload to Miller and Lynch’s side and played man-to-man coverage behind it.
The defenders, who normally would have those two in coverage, blitzed when they recognized maximum protection and were not in a position to retreat under Harvin’s route. With Harvin aligned inside and off the line of scrimmage, he did well to originally release toward Andrew Sendejo, the weak safety aligned in press coverage. Harvin stumbled briefly — which might have prevented him from vertically “stemming” Sendejo (a stem move on crossing routes involves running relatively vertically before leveling off while gaining width opposite the side of original alignment. The defender has to mirror the momentary vertical stem and separation is then created by the receiver’s leveling move). Ultimately Sendejo was in excellent position but Wilson, under duress, lobbed the perfect pass to the reaching Harvin, who made a catch worthy of SportsCenter.
• Fifty-eight yard kickoff return, late second quarter: Descriptions of this play accurately describe the huge hole afforded Harvin. Harvin, however, played his part to create that hole.
Catching the ball 4 yards deep in the end zone, he initially ran straight forward to about 2 yards under the bottom of the field numbers – which is about 10 yards from that near sideline. This induced the Vikings’ coverage unit to honor a potential sideline return just as Harvin accelerated toward the middle of the field, creating favorable blocking leverage for the return team. At warp speed, Harvin rounded the tight corner to burst through the hash marks.
Hugh Millen, former Washington and NFL quarterback, provides written analysis after Seahawks games and weekly video previews of opponents.