Marshawn Lynch’s ability to run the football effectively in Super Bowl XLVIII versus the Denver Broncos will be key to establishing the line of scrimmage, dictating tempo and creating second-level throwing lanes for quarterback Russell Wilson.
Using the All-22 coaches tape, let’s break down Lynch’s impact in the Seattle Seahawks’ run packages and focus on multiple schemes that cater to the veteran back as we start to look ahead to Sunday’s matchup at MetLife Stadium.
A Quick Breakdown of Lynch’s Skill Set
He's a one-cut runner who will put his foot in the ground to push the ball to the second level of the defense and finish strong after contact.
The 27-year-old has the lateral agility and footwork to create angles and will lower his pad level to showcase his lower body strength, a nightmare for defensive backs who have to break down, square the hips and wrap up in the open field.
However, the ability to square his pads and get downhill (with speed) could be the best part about his game. Think of the quick burst through the hole, the size at the point of attack plus the power to run through tackles.
In the Seahawks' playbook, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell features Lynch in the zone (split-zone) schemes, the two-back lead (counter lead), Power O/one-back power, crack toss and the inside zone off the read-option action.
These schemes and packages allow the Seahawks to attack defensive fronts based on personnel and alignment while also forcing the secondary to fill as primary support players.
In the zone schemes, Lynch can press the edge of the formation, work off an inside double-team/second-level chip or cutback to expose a defense that over-pursues to the football.
Here’s a look at Lynch’s 40-yard touchdown run in the NFC Championship Game versus the 49ers on the zone scheme.
With linebacker Patrick Willis showing in the open-side C-gap (and the cornerback in a position to provide secondary support), Lynch cuts back to the closed (strong) side of the formation versus a two-high safety look from the 49ers. That allows the Seahawks running back to make one cut, find a clear lane and get through to the second level of the defense.
It's a one-on-one matchup in the open field for Lynch versus free safety Eric Reid. The rookie takes a poor angle (doesn’t target the inside shoulder of the ball-carrier) and gives Lynch the opportunity to create space at the point of attack.
Let’s go to the divisional round versus the Saints to take one more quick look at Lynch on the zone scheme.
Lynch can press the edge, work the closed-side B-gap or cut back to the open-side A-gap. And with a defender showing in the B-gap, Lynch makes one cut, gets vertical and forces the free safety to secure an open-field tackle for a positive gain.
Two-Back (Stretch) Lead/Counter Lead
Seattle will run its lead schemes out of the two-back Slot I formation with Regular/21 personnel (2WR-1TE-2RB) on the field, a downhill scheme with the fullback leading up through the hole (or kicking out the edge force) to create a running lane for Lynch.
Let’s start with the two-back lead versus the Cardinals.
The Seahawks will kick out the primary edge-support player (strong safety), work off the double-team to block the Will ‘backer and release the center to account for the Mike ‘backer scraping to the play side.
Look at the running lane the Seahawks create for Lynch with the fullback (Michael Robinson) kicking out the strong safety and the tight end washing the Will ‘backer past the hole. That forces the free safety to break down and make an open-field tackle versus Lynch.
Now, let’s talk about the counter lead with pre-snap movement to bring the cornerback into the run front.
By moving wide receiver Doug Baldwin into the core of the formation (open-side wing alignment), Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins has to match to his coverage (Cover 1). That forces Jenkins to read his run/pass keys and fill downhill versus Robinson in the hole.
With Rams defensive end Chris Long slanting inside at the snap—and the Mike ‘backer stepping to the closed-side run action—the Seahawks can create a running lane to the open side off the counter. And with Jenkins giving up one-for-one versus Robinson (a win for the offense), Lynch can cut off the lead block and advance the ball into the secondary.
Crack Toss/Edge Runs
The crack toss is an excellent scheme, as it forces the cornerback to tackle. With reduced splits (wide receivers tight to the core of the formation), the Seahawks will block down, pull the closed-side tackle and get Lynch to the edge of the formation.
Here’s an example versus the Cardinals and cornerback Patrick Peterson out of Ace/12 personnel (2WR-2TE-1RB).
The Seahawks use short, divide motion to create a bunch, block down and pull both the closed-side tackle and tight end. That forces Peterson to use a “crack replace” technique (replace safety/linebacker as edge-support player off the crack block) and fill versus the toss.
As you can see here, Peterson widens on his downhill angle, gives up one-for-one when he cuts the tackle and creates a soft edge at the point of attack. That allows Lynch to cut off the inside crack blocks and produce an explosive gain.
Going back to the Seahawks' win over the Saints, Lynch bounced the one-back power to the edge when cornerback Keenan Lewis failed to replace off the crack block on safety Malcolm Jenkins. And the result was six points.
Read-Option (Packaged Plays)
The Seahawks will use the option scheme out of the shotgun along with a series of packaged plays that give Lynch the opportunity to produce on the inside give (inside zone scheme).
This is from the matchup versus the Saints on a packaged play (read-option/bubble screen).
The Seahawks bring Posse/11 personnel (3WR-1TE-1RB) on the field and align in a Slot Open formation (trips to the open side of the field). Wilson reads the path of the cornerback through the mesh point with Percy Harvin on the bubble screen to the open side.
With the cornerback widening on his initial path off the mesh point, Wilson gives to Lynch. The running back cuts this ball back outside of the tight end, advances to the second level and sets up a one-on-one matchup versus the free safety in the open field.
What to Watch for in Super Bowl XLVIII
NFL teams set their game plans based off the opponent’s previous four matchups. That allows them to focus on specific run/pass tendencies and personnel groupings.
And while I do expect the Broncos to do more advanced scouting given the two weeks they have to prep for the Seahawks, these core running schemes that we just broke down should be in play come Sunday.
Look for the Seahawks to show the zone schemes, the crack concepts and use the read-option to get the ball to Lynch versus a Broncos front seven that played top-tier football during the team's win over the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
The matchup of Peyton Manning versus the Seahawks secondary is going to draw plenty of hype this week leading up to the game, but don't forget about Lynch. His ability to run the ball is a key factor for Pete Carroll's team if it wants to head home with the Lombardi Trophy.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
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