Edge runs, the bubble screen or concepts that test the speed (and discipline) of the Seattle Seahawks’ defensive front seven are a reflection of poor offensive game-planning.
However, when you have a back who can get downhill, expose pursuit angles and force second-level defenders to miss tackles at the point of attack, there are opportunities to produce against Pete Carroll’s defense.
That’s what I see with LeGarrette Blount given his combination of size, power and lateral quickness: a skill set that allows Blount to find daylight and push the ball up the field in the New England Patriots’ pro-style running attack.
Today, let’s focus on the Patriots’ core run schemes that can counter the speed of the Seahawks and also discuss how Blount’s production in Super Bowl XLIX can generate play-action opportunities for quarterback Tom Brady.
One- and Two-Back Zone (Stretch) Schemes
The zone concepts should be at the top of the Patriots’ call sheet Sunday night, as both the inside zone and stretch scheme force the Seahawks to play with controlled angles at the second level while closing down cutback lanes. Plus, the zone blocking can make linebackers and safeties adjust their entry points (or run fits) into the front as the gaps move.
This creates options for Blount versus an aggressive defense that runs to the ball and can overpursue at times.
The Green Bay Packers had some success in the NFC Championship Game with Eddie Lacy and James Starks in the zone schemes, and we can go back to the Dallas Cowboys’ win over the Seahawks during the regular season to focus on DeMarco Murray’s vision and quick acceleration through the hole.
Here’s a look at Murray’s game-winner from that regular-season matchup in Seattle on the two-back stretch out of Tank/22 personnel (1WR-2TE-2RB):
With the Cowboys offensive line stepping to the playside—and the fullback on the lead block—Murray displays the patience to read the pursuit from the linebackers. This allows Murray to find a vertical cutback lane to push the ball up the field.
The Patriots will run the zone/stretch out of Regular/21 (2WR-1TE-2RB) and Ace/12 (2WR-2TE-1RB) personnel to give Blount the option of pressing the ball to the frontside or looking for a cutback lane.
This is an example from the AFC Championship Game versus the Indianapolis Colts with Blount reading the second-level flow before cutting back to the open side of the formation:
I expect more discipline from Seahawks defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett on Sunday (cutback, boot and reverse on the edge), but I can’t ignore the vision and footwork from Blount on this play against the Colts.
We all understand that the Colts front seven doesn’t have the same level of talent as the Seahawks, but don’t be surprised if Blount finds some room to run Sunday in the zone schemes. This is where the Patriots running back can play off the speed from the linebackers and strong safety Kam Chancellor, show patience with the ball and pick his cutback lanes to produce numbers.
Downhill, Power Runs
I like the one-back power, lead draw and Iso scheme (fullback on ‘backer) in this Super Bowl matchup for the Patriots because there is really nowhere to hide.
Downhill football that eliminates the speed of the Seahawks defense when you run the ball right at them. Put a hat on a hat and win at the line of scrimmage.
The Patriots will show the one-back power and Iso from both Regular/21 and Ace/12, but they will also bring a sixth offensive lineman onto the field (called Ace/12 “plus”) to replace the second tight end in the game.
In the one-back power (similar to a two-back Power O scheme), the Patriots will kick out on the edge and pull the backside guard up through the hole to fit on the playside ‘backer.
Take a look at this example versus the Colts' 3-4 front with an extra offensive lineman on the field for the Patriots:
As you can see, the Patriots will kick out the edge ‘backer, block down on the defensive end and chip to the closed-side inside linebacker. This allows the backside guard to pull to the open-side linebacker who is filling downhill to the hole.
In the Iso (or Lead Draw), the Patriots can attack downhill quickly with fullback James Develin leading on the linebacker. Check out this example versus the Colts with Blount following the lead block:
Nothing complicated here with Develin leading up through the hole as Blount squares his pads to the line of scrimmage before dropping his pad level on contact to pick up an easy eight to nine yards on a basic Iso play.
There is no reason to run the toss or expect to see production on an edge scheme versus the speed and athleticism of linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright or Chancellor when the safety drops down as the eighth defender in the box. Instead, get the ball downhill and win the matchup in the hole.
Play Action (Counter Protection)
The Patriots will show the standard Cover 3 beaters and inside pick (or rub) routes versus the Seahawks on Sunday night, but don’t forget about their ability to use counter protection (pull the guard) to open up middle of the field throwing windows for Brady.
The Seahawks do an excellent job underneath in Cover 3 by getting depth from the linebackers and Chancellor (hook and curl-flat drops). This allows the Seahawks to sink under the three-level concept and cushion the inside seam routes with the protection of free safety Earl Thomas in the post.
However, by utilizing the counter protection, the Patriots can force the second-level linebackers to the line of scrimmage. That’s when we will see tight end Rob Gronkowski working up the field on the seam route.
Everyone talks about play action, but until the offense pulls the guard, teams aren’t really setting the bait to create throwing windows.
This is an example of the seam route to Gronkowski from the matchup with the Denver Broncos earlier this season:
Look at the linebackers here. Eyes in the backfield with the open-side guard on the pull. This is what the Patriots want to show versus the Seahawks as the linebackers play with poor eye discipline while Gronkowski releases on the quick seam route.
That’s an easy read for Brady to show the ball to the running back, set the feet and deliver a throw in front of the safety for a positive gain.
The Patriots will also throw the backside slant off counter protection to remove the weak-side linebacker. Check out this example in the matchup versus the Chicago Bears:
Here, both the "Will" and "Mike" ‘backers read run with the open-side guard on the pull versus a two-back alignment. That clears the throwing lane for Brady to target Brandon LaFell on the slant versus a cornerback playing from an outside leverage position.
The Seahawks know what routes to expect as they see the same combinations every game to target both Cover 3 and Cover 1. Plus, they play with discipline and technique versus the run. This is a very well-coached defense.
And nothing will come easy for the Patriots on Sunday night.
However, if New England can run the football downhill with Blount and create play-action situations, it will have an opportunity to counter the speed and aggressive style of the defending champs on the Super Bowl stage.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.