Marshawn Lynch vs. Eight in the Box in the Super Bowl

Super Bowl XLIX contained an ending for the ages, and Marshawn Lynch is a big part of the controversy surrounding the Seahawks’ final offensive playcall. Specifically, many people feel that Lynch should have been handed the ball to try to punch it in for the go ahead score. One of the common counterpoints to that is that the Seahawks were facing eight men in the box. So, I figured I’d take a look at how Lynch had faired against eight men for the rest of the game. Let’s hop right into the action.

2-3-SEA 21 (Q1, :59) M.Lynch left end to SEA 25 for 4 yards (J.Collins).

This play is a standard zone blocking concept. While from this angle it only looks like there are seven defenders in the box, another defender, #55 Akeem Ayers, is just off the screen to the left. Anyway, the blocking concept is simple. The offensive line flows to the left, and Marshawn follow that flow, cutting upfield where a hole opens up in the defense, or potentially cutting it back.

As you can see above, if Marshawn had tried to cut it back to the right, he wouldn’t have been very successful, as there are three defenders standing up against two blockers on the ground. So, he decides to push towards what should be a gap between LT Russell Okung and LG James Carpenter.

Unfortunately, as you can see in this image, Carpenter loses his battle with LB Dont’a Hightower. What’s impressive to me about this run is that Lynch has absolutely no space to run between his two blockers, but he still manages to squeeze his way through and gain four yards on the play.

2-5-NE 6 (Q2, 3:02) M.Lynch left tackle to NE 3 for 3 yards (Cha.Jones).

This is another zone run to the left for the Seahawks. Note how all of the players move in unison with their first step at the snap.

Frankly no one on the Seahawks’ OL does a good job blocking. Luke Willson and the FB make their blocks, but that’s about it. The two cut blocks on the back side whiff, and Okung and Unger miss the LBs they try to block, but James Carpenter’s failure killed the play. Chandler Jones beats him back, even knocking off Carpenter’s helmet in the process, which is a clear sign Carpenter is being physically dominated. This forces Lynch to run further to the outside than he probably would have liked. Also, since Jones has Carpenter on his back heels, he’s able to disengage easily and bring Lynch down before he reaches the goal line. It should be noted that even with mostly bad blocking, Lynch still gained a positive chunk of three yards on the play, which is good this close to the goal line.

3-2-NE 3 (Q2, 2:22) (Shotgun) M.Lynch right tackle for 3 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

While there are only 7 players in the box on this play, it’s pertinent because of the potential similarities it has to the game ending play. The Seahawks are outnumbered on in the box by two players (5 blockers vs. 7 defenders instead of 6 vs. 8). It’s also very close to the goal line. It’s a read option

play, and Patrick Chung is the read defender.

Normally, the read option is successful because it takes a player out of the play entirely by making him always wrong. Here, though, the Seahawks actually succeed in taking TWO players out of the game. Patrick Chung predictably contains Wilson, but you can also notice Chandler Jones pause due to the threat of the QB pulling the ball. Theoretically, this now gives Seattle 5 blockers on 5 defenders, but it doesn’t quite pan out that way. Both guards fail in their duties. You can see James Carpenter falling in the frame above, and JR Sweezy never gets off his combo block to climb to the second level and block Jamie Collins, which is his assignment. This leads to the following situation:

It’s hard to see RT Justin Britt with Ninkovich and Collins in the way, but he’s there. Jamie Collins ran into the two, which actually bailed Sweezy out of his failure. Still it’s 3 on two, and Lynch is 4 yards from the goal line. As you can see in the gfy above, Ninkovich actually gets off his block and hits Lynch, but Lynch is strong enough to bounce of the two hits and fall forward into the endzone.

1-10-SEA 20 (Q3, 15:00) M.Lynch up the middle to SEA 23 for 3 yards (P.Chung).

Hey, look, another zone run! The only thing different on this one is that the TE blocks back across to seal off the backside (and, as you can see from the gfy, he doesn’t do a very good job of it). This isn’t a particularly remarkable play but since the Pats had 8 in the box I’m including it.

One thing that might be of interest is that James Carpenter gets beat (again) and Jamie Collins is almost able to make a diving stop of Lynch in the backfield. he was too late, however, but Patrick Chung is sitting there in the hole to clean up. Still, the play gained three yards. That was definitely a constant for the Seahawks running game during the Super Bowl. Lynch was rarely held to no gain.

2-1-NE 41 (Q3, 7:26) M.Lynch right end to NE 38 for 3 yards (J.Collins).

Another zone run, this features a pair of combo blocks. The C and the RT are supposed to help their respective guards block the man in front of them and then move on to the LBs. However, as we see below:

Both have failed to get to the second level in time. Dont’a Hightower (who’s hidden by Britt) has forced Lynch back inside, which gives Collins an easy play to make.

1-4-NE 4 (Q3, 5:39) M.Lynch left tackle to NE 3 for 1 yard (J.Collins; S.Siliga).

This is a pretty similar setup to pretty much every other play we’ve seen so far.

There are two reasons this play only gains one yard and neither are Lynch’s fault. Based on what I’ve seen of this game so far, I would be absolutely livid if I were Tom Cable. Seriously, there hasn’t been a single cut block that I’ve seen executed well and this play has two more failed cut blocks. First, Sweezy fails to cut Siliga. Then, Max Unger not only attempts to block the wrong guy (he really should have been targeting Jamie Collins) but he completely whiffs when he tries to cut Hightower. This play failed because of blocking that was downright bad.

1-10-SEA 45 (Q3, 2:37) M.Lynch up the middle to SEA 47 for 2 yards (M.Butler).

The setup to this play is almost identical to play 4.

The Seahawks actually get really good horizontal movement from the offensive line on this play. There’s just one problem. Chandler Jones absolutely embarrasses Okung with a swim move. Lynch wants to cut the ball back to the other side, and there appears to be a sizable chunk of yardage there for him as the players (besides Jones) are blocked. However, Jones hits him before he can cut back, and Lynch is pushed towards the right. Butler gets the cleanup tackle, but Jones made the real play.

1-5-NE 5 (Q4, 1:06) M.Lynch left tackle to NE 1 for 4 yards (D.Hightower).

This is the down before the game ending interception. It’s a zone run to the left again.

There are three things to really pay attention to on this play. First, watch how Marshawn sets up his FB’s block. It’s subtle, but his first steps are fairly wide outside, which draws Chung to the outside of the hole. This allows the FB to widen out, and Lynch cut upfield slightly, to the inside of the hole. It gives Lynch a significantly wider hole to run through than if Chung had occupied the middle of it, which is important. Second, notice that Sweezy was too slow getting to Siliga, who got a hand on Lynch. Really, I think they should have had Unger chip Siliga before releasing towards Collins, but Unger is clearly avoiding touching Siliga. Third and finally, note how Okung appears to be in good position to block Hightower. However, he fails to do so effectively, and Hightower is able to (seeming easily) shed the block and make the stop at the 1 yard line. If Okung seals this block, Marshawn would have scored a TD on this play and everyone would be talking about the Patriots were able to drive down the field with under a minute left rather than debating the playcalling on 2nd and 1.

When evaluating decisions, it’s very important to look at possible alternatives. The decision to throw a slant on 2nd and 1 by the Seahawks is going to go down in history as one of the most questionable playcalls in NFL history. The main alternative proposed has been running the ball with Marshawn Lynch. As can be seen, all of Marshawn’s runs against 8 men in the box during Super Bowl XLIX gained at least a yard, although none gained more than four. Judging based on the evidence in the game, Lynch probably would have scored.

Hours can be spent debating back and forth on whether or not the playcall was correct, but ultimately it’s pointless. Instead, I think it’s more important to take a step back from the argument and just appreciate the play of the most powerful RB I’ve ever seen. Instead of focus on what could have been, I would rather focus on what Marshawn Lynch did as a runner in the game, showcasing his tenacity in the face of adversity against eight men in the box and with poor blocking.

Matt Fries

Matt fell in love with football as a young kid, but his passion for the strategy on the game flourished as a hobby during his time in college. Now graduated, Matt loves scouting individual players as well as breaking down strategies teams use to create winning plays. For all of Matt's articles: <strong><a href="">Click Here</a>.</strong>