With Seattle missing its three best offensive linemen, its defense had to excel against a Colts offense that entered the game as the NFL’s best at producing drives of 10 plays or more but ranked just 22nd in the league at producing plays of 20 yards or more. Seattle’s cornerbacks allowed two such big plays for critical touchdowns:
T.Y. Hilton’s 73-yard corner route:
Seattle employed a delay blitz by K.J. Wright for a five-man rush with a three-deep, three-under zone-blitz. From play-action, Indianapolis ran Hilton, the widest receiver (or what defenses refer to as No. 1), on a deep corner route. The second-widest receiver, tight end Coby Fleener, ran a 12-yard out route. The No. 3 receiver was fullback Robert Hughes, who ran a flat route. Thus, the Colts had three receivers running out-breaking routes at deep, intermediate and short depths.
This route concept is called “flood” and is more commonly run with the No. 1 receiver running a “go” route instead of a deep corner route. That may explain Richard Sherman’s confusion. By aligning in a narrow split (close to the ball), Hilton apparently convinced Sherman that help would come from Earl Thomas — who was in deep-middle zone responsibility. A wider split and a go route by Hilton would likely have resulted in Sherman running deep with Hilton. As it was, Sherman played in between the deeper Hilton and the intermediate Fleener in a no man’s land.
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Sherman’s assessment of the play also may have improved if Bruce Irvin, playing in his new outside linebacker role, “buzzed” to the flat deeper and under Fleener instead of defending closer to the shallower, less-dangerous Hughes.
Hilton 29-yard go route:
At first glance, this appears to be a simple “go” route by a fast guy beating a cornerback in off coverage — Brandon Browner, who usually plays better in press coverage.
On second glance, however, Browner clearly hesitates about 14 yards from the line of scrimmage, allowing Hilton to separate on his vertical course to the end zone.
Why did Browner hesitate? The Colts ran what West Coast offense disciples call “all go special.” “All go” is when an offense runs four vertical routes from a balanced, two-receivers-by-two formation. It is frequently used to complete seam routes against single-safety defenses, including the three-deep, four-under zone Seattle ran on the play.
Browner’s hesitation was due to the seam route run by Reggie Wayne in the slot to Browner’s side. Most quarterbacks are primarily concerned with the actions of the middle safety on the play and are thus susceptible to a cornerback falling off the outside go route and into the seam route. As Browner eyed the would-be seam route his hesitation was slight, but Andrew Luck was able to take advantage.
Former Huskies and NFL quarterback Hugh Millen is providing analysis after each Seahawks game this season.