With the Seahawks and Patriots playing in the Super Bowl, I thought it would be pertinent to take a look back at the last time the two teams met, in the 2012 season. You can bet that both the Seahawks and the Patriots have been taking a look at this film to see what happened, so I took a look at it as well. What I found was a resilient Seahawks team that despite being down 23-10 in the fourth quarter, came back to win. Specifically, the Seahawks were able to come back because of the deep pass, which I will be exploring in this column.
A lot has changed since 2012 for both teams, the Patriots in particular. In 2012, Devin McCourty was still a CB, Darrelle Revis was still a Jet, and Aaron Hernandez was still a NFL player. As such, the starting back four for the Patriots on defense consisted of McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Tavon Wilson, and Patrick Chung. Alfonzo Dennard came in during nickel situations. Up front they still had Vince Wilfork and Chandler Jones. Rob Ninkovich, while still on the roster, was designated as a starting LB rather than a DE. The other two LBs at the time were Jerod Mayo (who is injured) and Brandon Spikes (who is a Bill). Dont’a Hightower was on the team, but was inactive for this game.
On offense, the Seahawks actually look somewhat similar to how they do today. The offensive line still features Russell Okung, Matt Unger, and James Carpenter, Wilson is still the QB, and Lynch is still the RB. However, they no longer have Sydney Rice or Golden Tate as WRs. Doug Baldwin, however, is still on the team and is probably their most prominent receiver.
Schematically, however, the teams appear very similar to what I expect to see tomorrow (when the Seahawks’ offense is on the field, at least). On offense, the Seahawks ran early and often, and used play action constantly. They did not use the pistol formation or a shotgun formation quite as much as I would have expected, but ran the vast majority of their plays from under center. Still, they will put a very similar offense out there in Arizona, prefering to run the ball and attack deep off of play action. On defense, the Patriots are also very similar to what I expect to see in Super Bowl XLIX. They ran single high coverage a lot (although McCourty will be the one deep now instead of Wilson) with man coverage on the outside (Browner and Revis instead of McCourty and Arrington).
With the differences and similarities between the 2014 and 2012 squads discussed, let’s take a look at the game from 2012 and see what we can learn about the Seahawks’ deep passing game:
3-9-SEA 16 (Q1, 4:25) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass deep middle to D.Baldwin to NE 34 for 50 yards (K.Arrington).
Something that the Seahawks like to do when they take deep shots against a single high safety is run a deep crossing route underneath the deep safety hoping to draw him up, and allow a one-on-one shot deep. The Patriots have man coverage on the outside and only one safety deep on this play.
On this play, that strategy works to perfection. The crossing TE draws the safety up, Wilson takes the deep shot, and Doug Baldwin makes a good catch over Kyle Arrington. Wilson also did a good job moving out of the pocket to find an open space to throw the football deep.
2-4-NE 28 (Q1, 3:13) R.Wilson pass incomplete deep left to G.Tate.
The Patriots once again use a single high safety, and Seattle looks for a deep shot off of play action again. There’s man coverage on the outside, and Wilson looks to target Golden Tate at the bottom of the screen.
While there is some contact at the top of the route, Wilson just overthrows this ball.
1-15-NE 24 (Q1, 1:59) R.Wilson pass deep middle to D.Baldwin for 24 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Once again, the Patriots have man coverage underneath and a single high safety. This is something there was a lot of in this game and is something we’ll see in the Super Bowl, as well, so you can expect the Seahawks to try to attack the Patriots in a similar manner. The TE runs a dig route, and that draws the safety up.
Because the TE drew the safety up, Baldwin has a one-on-one in the slot. He actually slips coming off of the line. Wilson faces pressure up the middle, and does a great job of scrambling to get away from it. As Wilson is scrambling, Baldwin gets a step on his man. Wilson recognizes this, and makes a nice throw, which is turned into a TD by a very good catch by Baldwin.
1-10-SEA 42 (Q3, 8:18) R.Wilson pass incomplete deep left to G.Tate.
On this play, the Patriots defense is “2 Man Under” which means that they have two safeties in deep zones and man coverage underneath. Wilson will target Golden Tate at the bottom of the screen.
The CB on Tate makes a mistake by trying to jam him, and Tate blows by him. With a step on the DB, Wilson has an easy decision to throw it to him. The throw is just a bit off, it’s a step too long and a step too far towards the sideline, and Tate can’t reel it in.
3-20-SEA 32 (Q3, 7:32) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass incomplete deep middle to B.Obomanu (T.Wilson).
The Patriots are running 2 Man again on a 3rd and 20. Because of the distance, all four Seahawks WRs run routes at least 20 yards downfield, and three of those are go routes. Wilson will target Ben Obomanu, who is the receiver closest to the offensive line at the top of the screen.
The decision Wilson makes is in my opinion an ill-advised one. Obamanu is double covered. Then again, I’m not sure Wilson really has any option downfield. While this is easily defended by Tavon Wilson, even if it’s intercepted it’s basically a punt. Not a terrible choice, if only because of the down and distance.
1-10-SEA 20 (Q4, 13:29) S.Rice pass incomplete deep right to G.Tate.
While the Seahawks no longer have Sydney Rice to throw this ball, if you’re looking for a trick play from the Seahawks this might be the one. One of the concepts the Seahawks use on this play is the Jet Sweep, which they have a history of using. The trick draws both the safety (Chung) and the CB covering Baldwin up towards the LoS. This leaves Baldwin open for the throw from Rice. It’s almost caught, too, but Chung also interfered on the play so the Seahawks got the yardage anyway.
1-10-SEA 17 (Q4, 9:17) R.Wilson pass deep middle to G.Tate to NE 32 for 51 yards (D.McCourty) [B.Spikes].
The setup to this play is very similar to what we’ve seen before from the Patriots (and the Seahawks). A route combination with one receiver crossing deep and the other running a go route against man coverage with a single high safety for the Patriots.
And, once again, the underneath route draws the single high safety giving the Seahawks a shot at single coverage on the outside. Wilson once again makes a great throw, and Tate makes a great catch over Devin McCourty.
1-10-NE 46 (Q4, 1:27) R.Wilson pass deep middle to S.Rice for 46 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
This is the final play of the game, a deep bomb for a TD to complete the comeback for the Seahawks (sound familiar?). On the play the Pats are running a cover 2 and the deep safety is responsible for the go route that Rice runs.
The reason this play is successful is because of the route Rice runs and poor discipline from the safety. As you can see, the deep safety, Tavon Wilson, gets his hips turned to the outside. Once Rice sees that, he cuts back toward the middle and runs right by him. Wilson makes the throw and Rice makes the catch for what would be the winning TD.
On the game, Wilson only actually completed 16 passes. Those completions went for nearly 300 yards. Deep passing is really what allowed the Seahawks to come back in the game, as Wilson’s four completed deep passes went for an astonishing 171 yards and 2 TDs.
Even in just his 6th career game, you can see what makes Wilson such a good QB. He is great at avoiding sacks, and he is accurate on deep passes, often making intelligent decisions. You also see the basis for the Seahawks offense, which is establishing the run and then attacking a single high safety deep off of play action. While Seattle did a poor job of establishing the run in this game (only 85 yards on the ground) they still faced a single high safety a lot and exploited that.
Things have changed a lot for the Patriots defense since 2012. They’ve become one of the best secondaries in the league. The Seahawks’ receiving corps appears to have worsened. How the Seahawks use the deep ball in the Super Bowl could determine the matchup. Wilson threw four interceptions in the NFC Championship Game, but was undeterred, and eventually a deep pass became the winning TD. Similarly, I think the Seahawks will attack the Patriots deep early and often in this game. If they connect on a couple of those passes, it could swing the tide of the game drastically.