by Ben Muth
Since every team I’ve focused on this year either had a first-round bye (San Francisco and New England) or is officially on the clock (Kansas City), this week seemed like a nice opportunity to simply draw up some very popular NFL concepts that I haven’t had a chance to talk about this year. Both plays happened in the most interesting game of the weekend: the Seattle-Washington game from Sunday night.
The first play I want to talk about is the toss bunch crunch Washington ran in the first quarter. It’s probably the most common pitch play you’ll see in the NFL today. In addition to being widely used, it is impeccably named. The name of the play tells you so much. Toss, because it’s a halfback toss. Bunch, because you run it out of a bunch formation. And crunch, because crunch and bunch rhyme. Like everyone else, football coaches are suckers for rhyming.
The general idea is to crack with the two men on the outside of the bunch trio, then kick out and lead with the inside man of the bunch and the tackle. On this play, tight end Logan Paulsen is the point man of the bunch and he probably has the hardest job, blocking down on Red Bryant and sealing him inside.
One last thing worth noting is where Leroy Hill is lined up. He’s the outside linebacker with the red arrow, just outside the hash.
This is from the first quarter, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Seattle’s run defense is horrendous here. The three-technique for Seattle is reached by Chris Chester almost immediately. Chester hooks the guy before Robert Griffin can catch the snap and pitch the ball. That’s an unfathomably bad job by Seattle’s play-side defensive tackle.
Also notice that the defensive end on the side (Bryant) sees Paulsen cracking back on him and is able to avoid getting ear-holed. Bryant is a very good player, and typically doesn't get sealed inside by tight ends.
But if you look at the picture above, that’s exactly what is happening to Bryant. Paulsen is an okay blocker, but he ain’t Rob Gronkowski on the edge either. I have to say, it was really surprising seeing him handle Bryant like that.
The other key part of this play is how wide Hill fills to avoid getting hooked. He started just outside of the hash, and ended just outside of the numbers before he engaged fullback Williams. There’s no excuse for this.
As the force player, he can’t get hooked, but he also can’t just run straight to the sideline to avoid getting hooked either. Every yard that Hill widens to avoid being reached by Williams is an extra yard of space between Hill and Bryant for Polumbus and Morris to rumble through. If Hill had played more downhill and engaged Williams somewhere between the numbers and the hash, Paulsen's seal of Bryant wouldn't have been as devastating to Seattle’s defense.
Look at that picture above. That’s what we call clinic tape. When the play looks exactly like the coaches draw it up, they save it to take it on the coach clinic circuit. That way, they can show their colleagues how awesome their scheme and players are.
Richard Sherman is Seattle’s last hope to hold this play to single-digit yardage, and there’s a 320-pound man between him and the ball carrier. Sherman actually attacks the play with perfect leverage. He comes at the blocker fairly aggressively and looks to be keeping his outside arm free. This should force Morris back inside where Earl Thomas is unblocked and Bobby Wagner is being shielded by a wideout. If Sherman forces Morris inside, it would be a success.
Unfortunately, rather than take on the much bigger Polumbus straight up in an attempt to maintain leverage, Sherman tries to dive at the Skins tackle and create a pile. He succeeds in cutting down Polumbus, but fails to force Morris inside.
Sherman was in a no-win situation here. If he stays up, odds are that Polumbus will destroy him and knock him wide enough so that Morris can still run outside of Wagner. I mean, Polumbus does outweigh Sherman by 100 pounds. But by going low in a hole that big (once again, the reason the hole was so big was Hill and Bryant, not Sherman), he guaranteed that Morris could get outside.
Eventually, Thomas chased down Morris and dragged him down at the 3 after a gain of 18 yards.
The other concept I want to talk about is the inside slice concept. It’s a basic inside zone scheme with what’s called a "slice block" on the backside. The slice block is just when someone who pulls across the formation, behind the line of scrimmage, kicks out to the end man on the line for the defense. In this case, tight end Zach Miller is the puller.
The Seahawks are running it out of shotgun, which is a bit unusual, but the blocking is the exact same as if Russell Wilson was under center. Technically, the play can go front side (the offense’s left side in this case). But it almost always gets cut back behind the center, usually right off the backside double team, whether it’s the guard and tackle or the guard and center doing the double teaming.
The first thing that jumps out is the double team between Max Unger and J.R. Sweezy (which I’m pretty sure is J.R. Smith’s nickname) on Barry Cofield. Cofield appears to be two-gapping, which means he has to fire into Unger, bench press him off, and play both A-gaps. Since Unger is zone blocking to Seattle’s left, Cofield has to move in that direction to avoid being reached. As Cofield is fighting that way, Sweezy gives him a good, two-handed shove and knocks him even further to Unger’s left, then the right guard climbs up to middle linebacker Lorenzo Alexander.
The other thing to notice on the picture above is right tackle Breno Giacomini turning back into Ryan Kerrigan (91) once he sees that Perry Riley (56) is blitzing outside. With Riley blitzing, he becomes the end man on the line, which means Miller will account for him. That means Giacomini must take the slanting Kerrigan.
Once Giacomini feels Kerrigan slanting inside, the right tackle actually takes his own outside hand and clubs Kerrigan with it, essentially collecting the defensive end further down inside with him.
Now comes the highlight portion of the blocking courtesy of Miller: he absolutely decleats Riley on the slice block. It was a great block, but it was made as much by Wilson as it was by Miller. Just kidding, it was at least 80 percent Miller, but I wanted to sound like a color commentator for a sentence. Wilson’s ball fake was a bigger part of this play than his lead "blocking" was later on in the play, and here’s why.
Defensive ends have gotten pretty good at playing slice blocks, so you rarely see the types of blow-up shots that Miller put on Riley. But since Seattle had run so much zone read in this game (and over the past month), Riley never really saw Miller coming. The third-year linebacker had to keep his eyes on Wilson to make sure the quarterback actually handed the ball off. As a result, not only did Riley not see Miller, but he didn’t close down any of the space that Giacomini vacated (as players are taught to do). That meant Miller had a seven-yard head start on meeting him.
The play is blocked perfectly, but Marshawn Lynch runs it as well as the line and Miller blocked it. Look how close he is to Giacomini here as he finally starts to cut back. That’s called "pressing the hole," and what it does is suck Alexander (97) up towards the line of scrimmage and right into Sweezy. So, once Lynch does cut all the way to the backside, there is no one left unblocked. It’s a great example of a running back seeting up his blocks.
I mean, look at the hole. It’s more like a crater. Cortez Kennedy might have scored with a hole that size. Also, notice that Miller is still on his feet. He literally ran right through Riley. I think that about sums it up.