What Did We Learn from Percy Harvin's Return to Seahawks Lineup?

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What Did We Learn from Percy Harvin's Return to Seahawks Lineup?
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Even though quarterback Russell Wilson and the rest of the Seattle Seahawks offense had to wait 10 weeks longer than they had originally expected for wide receiver Percy Harvin’s 2013 debut, the All-Pro wideout didn’t disappoint.

Sure, he may have only recorded one catch for 17 yards and secured one kickoff return for 58 yards, yet Harvin’s impact this past Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings shouldn’t be confined by a box score. For example, Harvin’s acrobatic catch on third down kept a second-quarter drive alive. And then four plays later, on the same drive, running back Marshawn Lynch rolled into the end zone.

In addition to his top-notch reception, Harvin’s 58-yard kickoff return before halftime set up a 19-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to third-year receiver Doug Baldwin. Both plays just go to show that statistics sometimes restrict us from seeing the narrative behind a play.

NFL Game Rewind

Nonetheless, Harvin’s introduction as a member of the Seahawks was so heavily followed that pundits from around the league couldn’t wait to see the playmaking speedster hit the field. This, in turn, meant all of his offensive snaps would be heavily examined at the conclusion of his first game.

According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Harvin made an appearance 37 percent of the time when the Seahawks offense was on the field. By no means will this be the norm as the season progresses, yet it was a healthy portion based on the fact head coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell wanted to get his feet wet before the team’s Week 12 bye.

With the help of NFL Game Rewind, let’s take a look at some of the schemes and play designs the Seahawks used when Harvin checked into the game.

NFL Game Rewind

On Harvin’s very first play of the season, he was relegated to the slot wide receiver position on the right side of the formation. Instead of throwing out of the “10 personnel” set, the Seahawks decided to run the ball and use the 184-pound receiver as a decoy.

By using Harvin as a decoy, it forced the Vikings defense to use a 4-2-5 look and keep two safeties deep. Bevell’s play call worked to perfection as Lynch garnered eight yards on an outside run.

However, the play not only worked due to Minnesota’s formation on defense, it worked thanks in large part to Harvin’s blocking ability downfield on cornerback Josh Robinson.

NFL Game Rewind

Did the Seahawks acquire Harvin because of his capacity as a run-blocker? Obviously not, but every little bit helps considering Seattle is paying the 25-year-old receiver $14.5 million guaranteed over the life of his six-year contract.

NFL Game Rewind

On this second play, the Seahawks offense utilized Harvin in the slot on the right side of the formation just like they did on the first play, but they did it out of a “20 personnel” grouping. With two running backs in the backfield and three receivers split out wide, Seattle forced Minnesota into a no-win situation on second down.

NFL Game Rewind

As the play started to evolve, it became evident that Wilson would have two different throwing windows. The First was to Harvin over the middle of the field on a slant route, and the second was to Baldwin down the right sideline on a 9 route. Both routes were primed to gain big chunks of yards, so there wasn’t a right or wrong decision.

NFL Game Rewind

In the end, Wilson opted for the deep throw to Baldwin down the field. The throw and catch amassed 44 yards and eventually led to a four-yard touchdown run from Lynch.

NFL Game Rewind

Harvin’s first target of the game came early on in the second quarter. The Seahawks offense again used No. 11 in the slot in a “10 personnel” arrangement. He was called to run a 9 route against Robinson and safety Jamarca Sanford.

NFL Game Rewind

While the play ended up being nullified by offsetting penalties, Harvin’s quickness and speed was on full display when he blew by both defenders. Undoubtedly, he was the fastest player on the field when he was in the game.

NFL Game Rewind

The final play we will be touching on puts Harvin’s 17-yard reception under the microscope. Pre-snap the Seahawks offense showed an “11 personnel” alignment. One running back was in the backfield, one tight end was on the left side of the formation and three wideouts were split out wide to the right.

Harvin was all the way to the inside in the slot. His route was a shallow crosser that was designed to give Wilson a hot read underneath if the Vikings brought the blitz. Lo and behold, Minnesota brought the blitz and Seattle capitalized on the opposition’s aggressive nature.

NFL Game Rewind

When the clock struck zero at the end of regulation, we learned quite a bit about Harvin and Bevell’s offense. The Seahawks made it clear all throughout the first half that their quote, unquote 2013 first-round pick will be given the freedom to run every route on the route tree, block on run plays and create mismatch problems in the slot.

No, Harvin didn’t spend the entire game in the slot, but the majority of his plays came from the slot. Whether he continues to work in the slot or operate on the outside remains to be seen. One week worth of snaps shouldn’t be viewed as a solid indicator.

Players who are being eased along on a snap count are confined to one position more often than not. It allows the game plan to be simplified, which can prove to be crucial for someone who is simply trying to get their feet wet and contribute any way possible.

Another thing we learned about Harvin is that he single-handedly keeps defenders out of the box. This notion has to clearly make Lynch happy. The fewer the players he has to run through on his way to the end zone the better.

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Play-action passes deep down the field should also become more effective because of Harvin. His skill set will allow him to completely separate from safeties and corners 20 yards or more downfield. With his rate of motion and route-running ability, defenders will only be able to cover him for the shortest amount of time possible.

Overall, there was plenty of good to go around in terms of the things Harvin was able to do when he was on the field.

Yes, there was a little bit of rust to knock off, yet that was to be expected given the circumstances. It will be interesting to see how the Seahawks will use Harvin to exploit the New Orleans Saints defense on Monday Night Football after their bye week.

My guess is he will line up in the slot, on the outside and in the backfield. A team can never be too creative when they are trying to get their most explosive player the ball in the open field.

Hats off to the Seahawks' front office for pulling the trigger and trading for Harvin this past offseason. 

It's indisputable that Harvin will be the guy who puts this team over the top down the stretch. 

 

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