The talent of the Seahawks defense is well-documented. Their 2013 defense was one of the best in the past ten years. As you will see below, their coverage schemes are simple, and they rarely disguise their intentions, but they execute so well. This article will specifically feature ways that the Packers can attack the Seahawks in the passing game. In terms of the offensive gameplan as a whole, the Packers will have to lean on Eddie Lacy and James Starks in the running game in order to have success.
There are three main coverages that the Seahawks like to run: “Cover 3,” “Cover 3 Buzz,” and “Cover 1 Robber”. These aren’t exotic coverages, but they run them better than anyone in the league. Aaron Rodgers and the offense will definitely have their work cut out for them. However, through the use of 1) personnel packages/formations and 2) specific route concepts, there are ways that the Packers can attack the Seahawks defense in the passing game. There are four main route concepts/combinations that the Packers should use against Seattle’s defense: “Sail,” “All Go Special,” “Curls/Seams,” and “Drive."
One thing should be pointed out, though. If the Packers offensive linemen do not play the game of their lives, none of the strategy below will really matter. Pass protection will be the key for the Packers against ferocious rushers like Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril.
Cover 3 out of the 4-3
The Seahawks usually like to play a basic Cover 3 out of their 4-3 base defense. Cover 3 consists of three deep defenders (both outside cornerbacks and a deep middle safety) and four underneath defenders (two “curl to flat” defenders and two “hook zone” defenders). Let’s take a look at some pictures of their Cover 3 out of their 4-3 base and how the Packers could attack this.
When Seattle plays Cover 3 out of their 4-3, Kam Chancellor usually comes down in the box as the eighth defender to play “curl to flat”. To put it simply, the “curl to flat” defender’s job is to drop back in the curl zone until he sees a threat in the flat area. Here is their Cover 3 versus a basic I formation (Chancellor had “curl to flat” at the bottom of the screen):
In this next picture, the Seahawks played Cover 3 out of their 4-3 with Earl Thomas coming down as the “curl to flat” defender (he had “curl to flat” at the top of the screen). Since this was a 2x2 formation, Thomas came down instead of Chancellor—remember this observation, Packers fans:
How the Packers could attack this: Although McCarthy likes to use “11 personnel” (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) a lot, there are also times when he uses “20 personnel” (2 RB, 0 TE, 3 WR) and “12 personnel” (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR). According to Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders, Seattle led the NFL by using a base 4-3 defense 53-54% of the time in 2013. If McCarthy uses 20 or 12 personnel on early downs, Seattle will probably counter with their base 4-3.
What are some route concepts that McCarthy could use out of these personnel packages versus Seattle’s base 4-3 Cover 3? Out of “20 personnel” (with John Kuhn and James Starks or Eddie Lacy in the backfield), he should use the “Sail” concept. The Sail concept is a popular Cover 3 beater, because it floods the deep outside 1/3 of the field and puts the CB in a bind. No matter what the CB does (stay with the vertical route or jump the Corner route), he really can’t be right, because the vertical route and Corner route flood his outside 1/3.
After a lot of film study, there were two great examples of the Sail concept against Seattle’s defense. First, the Saints offense ran this concept against Seattle in Week 13 of last season. In this concept, the outside WR runs a vertical route, the TE or slot WR runs a Corner route, and the RB runs a route to the flat. The Saints did that here. The outside WR (red circle) ran a vertical route, the TE (yellow circle) ran a Corner route, and the RB (green circle) ran a route to the flat:
The RB’s route occupied the curl to flat defender, while the Corner route and vertical route flooded the outside CB’s zone. Although the pass was incomplete, Jimmy Graham (yellow circle) was wide open on the Corner route, because the CB, Byron Maxwell (black arrow), stayed with the outside WR:
Here is the Colts’ Sail concept against Seattle’s Cover 3 out of their base 4-3. The outside WR (red circle) ran a vertical route, the TE (yellow circle) ran a Corner route, and the fullback (green circle) ran a route to the flat:
The route to the flat occupied the curl to flat defender, and Richard Sherman (black arrow) bit on the Corner route by the TE in his 1/3. Since Sherman bit on the Corner route, it left the outside WR open deep for the touchdown:
Next, if McCarthy uses “12 personnel,” Seattle will likely counter with their 4-3 as well. Here is something McCarthy could do with this: Move both WRs, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, inside to the slot and move both TEs to the outside, creating a 2x2 formation or 3x1 formation. He has done this before. Most notably, he did it in Super Bowl 45 on Greg Jennings’ first TD reception, and it forced Pittsburgh to stay in their base defense. Andrew Quarless and Donald Lee were lined up on the outside with Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson lined up in the slot:
In 2014, it would probably be Andrew Quarless and Richard Rodgers outside with Nelson and Cobb inside. If it’s a 2x2 formation, it would force the rangiest safety in football, Earl Thomas, to come down as the curl to flat defender – recall the picture above where Thomas is forced to come down versus 2x2 formations in their Cover 3. This personnel package/formation would take Thomas out of the middle of the field (where he’s at his best), and put a less athletic Kam Chancellor back in the deep middle at safety. Chancellor is really good, but the Packers would rather have him back there than Thomas. The Packers can also run this out of a 3x1 formation, but a 2x2 formation forces Thomas to come down. Having both WRs in the slot is beneficial from a speed standpoint, and it also reduces Richard Sherman’s impact since the primary receivers would be in the slot.
Out of this personnel package, McCarthy can run “All Go Special” and “Curls/Seams”. “All Go Special,” commonly called “Four Verticals,” is the most popular route concept versus Cover 3, because it is difficult to defend four vertical routes when you only have three deep defenders. Here is Packers offensive coordinator, Tom Clements, explaining All Go Special (particularly pay attention up until the 1:35 mark):
In addition to All Go Special, the Packers can run a route combination that is just as effective as All Go Special, but it is not as popular. This route combination features Curl routes by the outside TEs and Seam routes by the WRs in the slot. This route concept puts the deep middle 1/3 safety in an immediate bind, because the outside 1/3 CBs are occupied by the Curl routes, and it is tough for them to react quickly enough to help out on the Seam routes. Also, this concept can be particularly effective inside the 20-yard line:
Cover 3 Buzz and Cover 1 Robber out of the Nickel
Next, we will look at Seattle’s Cover 3 Buzz and Cover 1 Robber out of their Nickel defense. Cover 3 Buzz is essentially the same as normal Cover 3 – it’s simply a variation of Cover 3 where the safety “buzzes” down underneath to be the hook zone defender instead of being the “curl to flat” defender.
There is one thing to point out. When Seattle plays their Nickel defense, their starting outside linebacker, K.J. Wright (#50), usually tells you what coverage they are playing based on his pre-snap alignment. If he is removed from the box and lined up over a WR or TE, they are going to play Cover 3 Buzz or Cover 1 Robber. Aaron Rodgers will need to locate him. Again, Seattle does not disguise their coverages very well, because they have the talent to do that.
Here are two pictures of Seattle’s Cover 3 Buzz out of their Nickel (the OLB has "curl to flat" as illustrated by the red arrow, and SS Kam Chancellor has a hook zone as illustrated by the green arrow):
Here are two pictures of Seattle’s Cover 1 Robber out of their Nickel. In this coverage, both outside CBs, the Nickel CB, and both LBs play man underneath while one safety comes down to the middle of the field as the “robber” and the other safety plays back in the deep middle (Earl Thomas is the “robber” versus 3x1 formations, and Kam Chancellor is the “robber” versus 2x2 formations):
How the Packers could attack Cover 3 Buzz and Cover 1 Robber: When an offense comes on the field with “11 personnel” (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) versus Seattle, the Seahawks really like to play Cover 1 Robber. It is very difficult to throw against Seattle’s Cover 1 Robber because of three reasons: 1) their outside CBs are so good, 2) K.J. Wright is one of the best cover LBs in the NFL (great at covering TEs), and 3) the middle of the field is extremely restricted. So, even though McCarthy likes to use “11 personnel,” it would be better if he used more “10 personnel” (1 RB, 0 TE, 4 WR) against Seattle. Why? Because K.J. Wright cannot cover a WR in the slot like he could a TE. That is the key. If McCarthy uses “10 personnel,” Seattle will have to play Cover 3 Buzz, or else K.J. Wright will be at a huge disadvantage. The Packers would probably have better opportunities to complete passes against Cover 3 Buzz than Cover 1 Robber. McCarthy and Clements should see this on tape.
The Packers should run “All Go Special” and the Curls/Seams combination (refer back to the diagram above) out of “10 personnel”. This would likely force Seattle to play Cover 3 Buzz, and these two route concepts would put a lot of stress on that coverage. When you watch Tom Clements explain “All Go Special,” out of a 3x1 formation, you see how it would put Earl Thomas in a bind in the deep middle of the field. Since the #3 WR would be crossing Thomas’ face on a Post route, the #2 WR should be open in the seam area. Again, when you watch this, particularly pay attention up until the 1:35 mark:
Even though Clements explained this using “11 personnel,” it can still be run out of “10 personnel”.
However, let’s say McCarthy goes with “11 personnel” a lot like he usually does. What can he do if Seattle plays Cover 1 Robber when he chooses to use “11 personnel” (a blatant tendency of Seattle’s)? There are not many specific route concepts that can “beat” Cover 1 Robber. The main formula is to win the one-on-ones outside.
There is one route concept, however, that may work against Cover 1 Robber—the “Drive” concept. This is an old West Coast Offense concept that is still used some today. This concept, if run out of a 3x1 formation, can take Earl Thomas out of the play and use K.J. Wright’s (the man covering the TE) leverage against him. Here is what the “Drive” concept looks like (this is from Mike Holmgren’s 1997 playbook):
Since the Nickel (slot) CB would be trailing the “Drive” route by the slot WR, the “robber,” Earl Thomas, would have to help the Nickel CB with the Drive route. This would take Thomas out of the play immediately. This would clear out the middle of the field and allow the TE (maybe Richard Rodgers) to run the intermediate “In” route away from K.J. Wright. Since Wright would be playing man with outside leverage, it would allow the TE to run away from Wright to the inside. This should be a decent gain for the TE. It should be easier to create separation at the top of the route versus Wright since he is in outside leverage.
Everything above is based off Seattle’s defensive tendencies, which repeatedly show up on tape. Do they occasionally blitz, play basic Cover 1, and play Cover 2 on long-yardage situations like other defenses? Sure, but their main tendencies are featured above. Will McCarthy and Clements implement all of these specific route concepts/personnel groupings in to the gameplan? Maybe not all of them, but they should if they want to be successful in the passing game.
Thanks for reading, Packers fans. Follow me on Twitter at @RobertOlson92 for daily analysis on the Packers.
- Like Like
- 13 points