Tale of the Tape: Why Percy Harvin Is a Matchup Nightmare

Matt Bowen @MattBowen41NFL National Lead WriterSeptember 10, 2014

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin creates stress for opposing defenses because of his matchup ability within the game plan.

Look at Harvin’s lateral movement on the release, the acceleration up the field in the run game (inside zone, jet sweep) and the playmaking ability after the catch that allows offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to utilize the receiver’s skill set.

Today, let’s break down the Seahawks' Week 1 tape and focus on how Bevell is generating opportunities for Harvin based on personnel, alignment and scheme in both the run and pass game.


Creating Opportunities in the Run Game 

Jet Sweep

The jet sweep (wide receiver sweep off short, pre-snap motion into the core of the formation) allows Harvin to quickly test the edge of the defense on the underneath handoff with zone blocking up front and misdirection in the backfield.

Check out the jet sweep from the Week 1 game versus the Green Bay Packers with Posse/11 personnel on the field (3WR-1TE-1RB) in a Slot Open formation (trips to open/weak side of the field).

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

The Seahawks are showing the read-option look (zone blocking, tight end on the backside arc release versus the strong safety) with the unblocked outside linebacker as the “read” player.

This forces the second-level defenders to step to the inside zone action (Marshawn Lynch) with Harvin taking the underneath handoff to get to the edge of the formation.

To the closed (strong) side, the outside linebacker (Julius Peppers) hesitates through the mesh point and the strong safety widens while losing contain versus the tight end on the arc release.

This allows Harvin to get outside and forces the cornerback (alley fill) to now redirect and use the sideline as his help.

Take a look at how the scheme played out this past Thursday with a focus on Peppers through the mesh point and the strong safety losing contain to the closed side of the formation.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Zone/Stretch (Read-Option)

Here, the Seahawks have Kings/01 personnel on the field (4WR-1TE) in an empty formation before shifting Harvin into the backfield to run the read-option. 

Take a look at the scheme with the Packers adjusting to the pre-snap movement and the personnel in the game.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

With Russell Wilson reading the open-side edge defender (widens at the snap), he hands off to Harvin on the inside give (zone/stretch).

Up front, the zone blocking (offensive line takes a “zone step” to block an area) gives a player like Harvin the ability to press the edge of the formation or look for cutback lanes.

And that’s where he can display his acceleration up the field.


Finding Positive Matchups in the Passing Game 

Boot Action

Harvin didn’t produce big numbers versus the Packers in the passing game (seven receptions, 59 yards), but I’m more focused on how the Seahawks generated matchups based on the game situation and defensive tendencies.

Whether that was identifying Harvin as the “hot” read against pressure (matched up versus a strong safety), or creating “space” by clearing out the cornerback/occupying the free safety, the Seahawks found ways for quarterback Russell Wilson to target the wide receiver.

Let’s check out the boot with Harvin matched up versus the nickel corner out of the slot alignment.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

With the Packers playing Cover 1, the Seahawks clear out the cornerback on the deep 9/post as Wilson gets to the edge of the formation off the boot action.

This creates space (and a one-on-one matchup) for Harvin to stem inside off the release (forces the defensive back to overcommit and lose leverage) before breaking back to the flat route.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Deep Over Route (Play Action)

With Harvin, any inside breaking route versus Cover 1 (shallow drive, deep dig, over, etc.) puts the defense in a tough spot because of the initial leverage in the secondary (outside shade).

This allows Harvin to win on the release, create separation within the stem and work away from the defender’s leverage while the Seahawks occupy the top of the secondary.

Here’s an example on the deep over route (play action) with Ace/12 personnel on the field (2WR-2TE-1RB).

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

To the open side of the formation, the No. 1 receiver stems down the field vertically on the deep 9/post to remove the cornerback and occupy the free safety.

That gives Harvin the opportunity to run the deep over route from a stack alignment (free release off the ball) while the defensive back in coverage has to push through the inside traffic and trail from an outside leverage position.

This is only a two-man route from the Seahawks, but with seven-man protection off the split-zone play action, Wilson has time for Harvin to come back across the field to the now vacated open side.

Packaged Plays

I’ve talked about packaged plays throughout the offseason, and this is where I expect Bevell to expand from a game-plan perspective with Harvin.

In a packaged play, the quarterback has multiple run/pass options based on the defensive front (numbers in the box) and the coverage look in the secondary.

Here’s an example from Week 1, with Harvin running the bubble screen to the open side of the formation.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Wilson has three options: hand off to Lynch (inside zone), pull the ball (quarterback keep) or target Harvin (bubble screen) with the No. 1 receiver blocking the slot corner.

In this situation, Wilson hands off to Lynch on the inside zone for a productive gain.

But with Harvin’s skill set, Bevell can utilize the receiver on the bubble, inside seam, backside slant or the fade/hitch option that we saw this past Thursday night when Wilson found Ricardo Lockette open down the field for a touchdown off the read-option.


The Next Step in the Progression for Harvin

The creativity Bevell showed in Week 1 with Harvin will progress throughout the season based on opponent tendencies and specific matchups that Seattle targets in its game prep.

I expect more from Harvin in the passing game when he is aligned inside the numbers (seam, 7, shallow drive, option, flat, etc.).

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04:  Wide receiver Percy Harvin #11 of the Seattle Seahawks rushes against the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

That’s where he can expose man coverage in the short-to-intermediate passing game while also finding open field to work with versus zone looks.

Plus, when Harvin shifts/motions into the backfield, this offense can expand its call sheet because of the talent (and versatility) they have at the quarterback position with Wilson.

And we get to see what’s next for Harvin when the Seahawks travel to San Diego for a Week 2 matchup with the Chargers on Sunday.


Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. 


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.