Former NFL quarterback Hugh Millen breaks down the key plays made by the Seahawks’ strong safety during Monday night’s victory over the Detroit Lions at CenturyLink Field.

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As Monday night illustrated, there’s a difference between a violation and a penalty.

Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright’s illegal bat of the ball out of the end zone after a fumble near the goal line by Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, which was ruled a touchback, did not materially affect the play’s outcome enough to warrant a game-altering penalty.

If it had been the final play of the Super Bowl, and another opponent hadn’t been within 15 yards and the ball was within an inch of skirting out-of-bounds, would a bat identical to Wright’s justify altering the Super Bowl winner? If the answer to that question is “no,” then it’s an argument of degrees. A few thoughts:

Kam Chancellor’s late-game heroics: On the fateful play Detroit aligned in shotgun split backs with Johnson the single-side “X” receiver to Matt Stafford’s left. Two receivers to Stafford’s right would be third and fourth in the quarterback progression. Seattle countered with its base Cover 3 zone defense but with a man-to-man structure to the weak side of the formation. Cornerback Cary Williams would follow Johnson while strong safety Chancellor would have the halfback to that side, Theo Riddick. Though Chancellor deservedly is being lauded for his heady, and perhaps season-saving, forced fumble, he initially blanketed Riddick on a “wheel” route, which was Stafford’s first read in his progression. Riddick was not particularly difficult to defend — he didn’t sell the flat-route component of the wheel route — but Chancellor did have to avoid a would-be pick from Johnson. Chancellor’s recognition and coverage forced Stafford to his second read: Johnson on a short in-and-out “whip” route. Chancellor then fell off his coverage assignment to complete the memorable play. By the way, this play was on third-and-one at the 11-yard line after a 3-yard gain on second down. Who made the second-down tackle? Chancellor.


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Those plays bookended an omnipresent day for Chancellor. Following the season-opening loss to the Rams (without Chancellor), in this space I referenced Seattle’s struggles covering “flood,” a zone-beating concept featuring a deep clear-out route, an intermediate out-breaking “sail” route at 12-14 yards, and a shallow flat route — the three of which in combination “flood” the wide zones near the sidelines. Against St. Louis the big plays Seattle surrendered against flood seemingly drove the Seahawks out of their favored Cover 3, but then the Seahawks were shredded in their man coverages. During Detroit’s first drive, the Lions on third down ran flood. Chancellor widened and deepened in perfect position to deter Stafford from throwing the sail route. When Stafford checked down in the short flat, Chancellor, in perfect recognition of the scheme, accelerated to drop Riddick for a 1-yard gain and force a punt.

Russell Wilson scramble conversion to Jermaine Kearse: On third-and-two from their 28-yard line with 1:34 remaining, the Seahawks created confusion by motioning tight end Jimmy Graham from a “Bunch Trips Right” formation to a 2 X 2 receiver double set. Now on the left side, Graham would, with Kearse and Thomas Rawls, create a three-man “spacing” concept that is a lateral-stretch zone-beater. To Wilson’s right the Seahawks ran “Stick-Arrow”, a good man-to-man beater with Tyler Lockett running a flat (arrow) route and Doug Baldwin running a “stick” route — a 4- to 6-yard quick out from a slot alignment. Detroit entered the game with the NFL’s lowest opponent passer rating in blitz situations, and yet here were the Lions, rushing six and failing to communicate their coverage assignments as both Graham and Kearse were inexplicably turned loose. However, with no free safety Wilson knew Detroit was in man coverage so his read eliminated the spacing concept and he turned to his right, where Baldwin was winning on his stick route. The ensuing theatrics would have been averted had Seattle slid its line protection to the right, where three Lions were rushing. But there also was an initial threat of three rushers to Wilson’s left, so ultimately there was enough pressure from Seattle’s right to induce Wilson to scamper. That he found an open Kearse is a credit to Kearse’s guile, Wilson’s guts and a feeble Lions secondary.