When the Seattle Seahawks needed a big play in the fourth quarter of their victory over the Carolina Panthers last Sunday, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell dialed up two consecutive deep passes. The first just missed. The second provided the touchdown that put the Seahawks in the lead for good.
The plays were actually very similar in their design. Both provided a pre-snap look that suggested they might be running plays and paired that look with play-action. Both plays also got the WR isolated on the CB one-on-one, and in both cases, the wide receiver won that battle.
Wilson to Williams, the Near Miss
The Seahawks start out in the pistol, with fullback Derrick Coleman offset to the strong side of the formation and three WRs. All three of the WRs attack vertically, and both backs release to provide outlets underneath.
Pre-snap, the Panthers appear playing Cover 2 Man. This means that everyone is in man coverage, except for the safeties, and they are both back deep. This changes after the Seahawks come to the line in what looks like a potential zone-read look. Strong safety Quintin Mikell comes up into the box, leaving Williams one-on-one on the outside.
Williams does a good job on this play. He fights through the press and gets an inside release, then works back outside as he runs down the field. This gets the CB out of position and presents a nice target for Wilson.
By this point, you can see that Williams already has the CB beat, and there's no way the SS can get back in time. Wilson locks in on Williams when he sees this and lets the ball fly.
Had Williams not been open, this play likely would have gone for a decent gain anyway. Doug Baldwin (circled) attacked the center of the defense and was able to occupy both the slot CB and a LB. With the the other LB stepping up to cover Robert Turbin, Coleman is left wide-open in the flat.
This play only works if the blocking can hold up. With five players out running routes, it is important that the offensive line provides an adequate pocket for Wilson. Wilson needs the space to be able to step into this throw, since the ball has to fly over 40 yards in the air before it reaches Williams.
Ultimately, Wilson throws the ball about six inches too far. Williams lays out for it, but can't hang on to the pass.
Wilson to Kearse, Touchdown
The Seahawks went deep again the very next play, and this time, with better results. Seattle brought in a completely different personnel package, replacing Coleman with TE Zach Miller and replacing WRs Sidney Rice and Stephen Williams with Golden Tate and Jermaine Kearse.
This time, the Seahawks line up in the shotgun. Carolina counters with a Cover 1 look that allows them to bring Mikell completely into the box to help stop the run.
Wilson fakes the handoff and rolls to his right. Most of the Carolina front seven bite on the play fake, leaving Wilson with time to wait for Kearse to get deep. The FS's first few steps were to his right (Wilson's left) pulling him out of position and unable to help cover Kearse.
Wilson never even looks at another receiver. He knows he doesn't have to. Kearse is open, and the FS has too much ground to cover, so there's no reason to bother trying to look him off. Wilson makes the correct read again. This time, he makes the perfect throw.
Kearse wasn't the only option on this play for Wilson either. Doug Baldwin's post pattern has him wide-open in the center of the field. Had Kearse not been open down the sideline, the Seahawks would have still likely had a big gain on the play.
As with the previous play, one of the keys was the blocking. The offensive line did its job and provided a nice pocket for Wilson to work in.
Wilson lets the ball fly, Kearse high-points the ball well, and it's an easy touchdown for the Seahawks.