Former NFL quarterback Hugh Millen weighs in on Marshawn Lynch’s absence and analyzes several key plays in the Seahawks’ playoff win at Minnesota.
To assess the Seahawks’ playoff game against the Vikings on Sunday, you have to assess the impact of the frigid conditions. But holding an 11-5 opponent to 183 yards and nine points, startling even if the game were played on the far side of Pluto.
Here are a few thoughts on the prevailing topics from the game:
• Marshawn Lynch scratch: When Lynch on Friday disclosed to the Seahawks that he couldn’t play, was this simply because he knew his body was incapable of handling the rigors of an NFL game, or as some assert, was he trying to stick it to the Seahawks? Whether or not he had a setback during Friday’s practice is really inconsequential. Based on his ferocity and competitiveness, and the effusive support for Lynch from his teammates, I’m going to need a lot more evidence before I attach a sinister motive to Lynch.
Should Lynch have communicated with the Seahawks better? Sure, but we’ve always known Lynch isn’t a great communicator. Why was he shooting free throws after practice Friday? Yes, he’s a world-class athlete who knows his body and what it can handle. Should he have been in Minnesota to support his teammates? Perhaps, but maybe Lynch’s idea of dedication to his teammates consists of waging war for every blade of grass when he’s handed the football. I don’t see him tapping out on his teammates. And Seattle’s chances to win against Carolina and beyond are substantially enhanced by the presence of a healthy Lynch.
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• Two-gapping against Adrian Peterson: Coach Pete Carroll has stated since his arrival that the key to Seattle’s defense is stopping the run. Mission accomplished. Adrian Peterson totaled just 45 yards on 23 carries.
Teams must determine philosophically if their defensive line will play “two gap” or “one gap”. Since 2000, there have been three great defenses: the Baltimore Ravens circa 2000, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers circa 2002, and Seahawks in this run under Carroll. The Ravens were predominantly a two-gap team with defensive linemen standing firm against each offensive counterpart with the objective to slide into either adjacent gap to react to a run while linebackers such as Ray Lewis were free to pursue to the ball. By contrast, the Buccaneers were a one-gap team, with defensive linemen like Warren Sapp penetrating into a single gap to disrupt against both run and pass. Against Peterson on Sunday, particularly with its inside defenders, Seattle relied heavily upon two-gapping techniques to fill gaps and prevent the jump cuts seen from Peterson from his deep alignment.
• Russell Wilson errant-snap recovery and pass to Tyler Lockett: Wilson admitted he was attempting an audible when the snap arrived early. With the Vikings dropping both safeties low to a Cover 0 all-out blitz, Wilson was likely checking to a pass. The alignments suggest a post route to Jermaine Kearse to Wilson’s left and the personnel suggests a deep shot to Doug Baldwin in the slot right. When the ball was snapped, the offensive line was not on the same page: the left side blocked left while the right side (including center Patrick Lewis) blocked right in what did not appear to be a pass-blocking scheme.
Minnesota’s best defensive lineman, Linval Joseph, was left unblocked in the middle of the line. As Wilson deftly fielded the loose ball, five unblocked Vikings converged upon the quarterback. In youth football we coach defenders to be aware of where the help is and also to understand leverage — circumstances when the ball can’t get outside or inside of a particular defender based on his position within the play. With inside help from four teammates, defensive back Captain Munnerlyn had an inexplicable lapse by allowing the right-handed Wilson to escape outside to the right. Offenses practice the “scramble drill,” when the script of the play is discarded and playground rules ensue. In this case Munnerlyn and Josh Robinson — who completely lost Lockett in man-to-man coverage — failed in the scramble drill and Wilson and Lockett succeeded.
• Out-route catch and run to Kyle Rudolph for 24 yards: This late completion appeared to be essentially the game-winner for the Vikings. Had the last field goal been made, criticism would have been directed at Kam Chancellor, the defender nearest Rudolph. Yes, the Seahawks were in their base Cover 3 — with four shallow defenders in zone coverage — but it was Cover 3 Buzz. This version on the defense’s left side places Chancellor inside in the “hook” zone with K.J. Wright outside in the “curl/flat” zone. When Vikings halfback Matt Asiata ran a short route to the inside (in what most teams term a “Texas” route but the Vikings term an “angle” route), Wright from his wide zone jumped inside to cover Asiata. That left tight end Rudolph, running an out route, with advantageous outside leverage on Chancellor covering from his inside zone. Chancellor erred in playing the ball instead of the man, but this was a breakdown in zone coverage which will need to be adjusted against Carolina’s savvy tight end, Greg Olsen.
• Missed game-winning FG by Blair Walsh: Much has been made of the laces Blair Walsh was forced to kick on the hold. In my experience as a holder, kickers from that short distance generally view the laces as inconsequential. The height/thickness of an NFL football’s lace is .055 inches, less than half of the thickness of many prominent college footballs and less pronounced than any of them.
• Game ball: For being unblockable, Michael Bennett.