Sunday's blowout win for the Seattle Seahawks over the Atlanta Falcons was an opportunity to see Seattle's offense operate at a level of efficiency that has been rare this season. Lost among all the other things that worked well offensively for Seattle was the development of their deep passing game.
Now the Seahawks need to make sure that they can duplicate that success in the deep passing game in the coming weeks. To figure out why things worked so well this week, and thus what must be replicated the future, here is a breakdown of the three biggest plays generated by Seattle's passing attack.
The Sideline Pass To Baldwin
The Seahawks line up with four wide receivers. The Falcons show blitz, with all 11 players up near the line of scrimmage, leaving a huge void in the secondary.
Seattle's receivers to the left run what is commonly called a scissors combination. The outside receiver attacks the center of the field with a post pattern, while Doug Baldwin, the inside receiver on that side, crossed underneath the other receiver before attacking deep down the sideline.
While the Falcons did drop one of their safeties back into the center of the field, that player had no chance at getting outside to prevent the pass from being completed to Baldwin. Quarterback Russell Wilson drops in a nicely placed pass, and it resulted in a big play for the Seahawks.
Wilson has a nice pocket to work with on this play. There is a linebacker closing after the ball is thrown, but this is after Baldwin has already had time to run 20 yards downfield.
The Sideline Pass To Tate
The Seahawks line up in the I-formation with three wide receivers. The Falcons counter by bringing their strong safety down into the box to help stop the run. They also placed their free safety offset to the left side of Seattle's formation, which is the side with two receivers.
This leaves Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate in a one-on-one situation on the right. Tate uses a nifty little move to get past the cornerback. With the free safety coming from the far side of the field, there is no way he can get there in time to stop Tate from coming down with the ball and a huge gain for the Seahawks.
The protection on this play is solid. Wilson has the time and space needed to deliver an accurate ball to Tate.
The Trick Play to Kearse
No play demonstrates what made Seattle's deep passing game effective against Atlanta quite like the trick-play touchdown pass to wide receiver Jermaine Kearse. The Seahawks lined up in the I-formation with two tight ends.
The only WR in the formation was Kearse, who is the team's best blocker at the position. The formation telegraphed run, so when Wilson handed the ball off the running back Marsahwn Lynch, every Atlanta player moved to try and help stop the run.
Kearse's initial move wasn't to attack downfield. He came inside and set up like he was going to block one of the linebackers. This helped sell that this was a run play and caused the cornerback to leave him and move into a position to try and help stop the run play.
Then everything changed. Kearse suddenly attacks down the middle of the field, just as Lynch was throwing the ball back to Wilson.
This late move left Kearse one-on-one against the safety, who was the only player close enough to try and cover him. The corner from the left side of the formation tried to recover and help but was never in a position to help on the play.
All Wilson had to do was place the ball where Kearse could go up and get it. The safety in coverage didn't have good position, and the cornerback trailing the play never got close enough to be able to provide any help.
As with the other plays, Wilson has time to let the receiver get downfield before passing the ball. He also has the room to step into his throw, which allows him to deliver an accurate pass downfield.
Putting It All Together
There are some key themes through each of these plays: adequate protection for Russell Wilson and single coverage on the downfield receiver with no safety help.
Obviously, exploring a deep passing attack is pointless if Wilson doesn't have the protection that is required. These plays take time to develop, and Wilson needs to be able to step into his throws in order to have the necessary accuracy that these types of plays require. Hopefully, getting left tackle Russell Okung back from his foot injury will mean that Wilson will have this time more regularly in the coming weeks.
The Seattle Seahawks lack a dominant downfield threat. To make their deep passing game work, they have to find ways to isolate their receivers in man coverage. These plays only work if the safety cannot get over and help in time to prevent the catch.
Against the Falcons, the Seahawks were able to use their running game to keep the safeties out of the way. Atlanta often kept one safety in the box to try and slow down Lynch, and that opened up big holes in the secondary.
That hasn't worked in certain games this season. When teams can slow down the Seahawks' rushing attack with just their front seven, the Seattle deep passing attack disappears as well.
This is where wide receiver Percy Harvin enters the equation. Not only can Harvin create separation deep down the field better than Seattle's other receivers, he also demands the attention of safeties. The Seahawks will be able to use Harvin to pull the safeties out of position, ensuring that the other receivers are able to get the single coverage that is required.
As long as the offensive line can provide the necessary protection needed for these types of plays, Seattle's deep passing attack should be ready to regularly contribute during these last six games and into the playoffs.