Word of Muth: Penning In Peterson

Word of Muth: Penning In Peterson
Word of Muth: Penning In Peterson
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Ben Muth

With the Broncos off this weekend, and the Cowboys and Browns off for the next seven months, I was looking forward to covering a new team this week. The wild-card slate wasn't the most exciting in NFL history, so no game really jumped out at me, but one thing did catch my eye on Sunday, so I wanted to look at it further in this space. The thing I found most interesting was the Seattle Seahawks holding the league's leading rusher Adrian Peterson to 45 yards on 23 carries.

Typically, I focus on offensive line performance when I write this column, but this week I'm going to mainly focus on Seattle's defense. That's because I think Peterson's poor game can be attributed more to good play by Seattle's defense than poor play by Minnesota's offensive line (though there were some definite miscues on that side).

I thought there were four key factors in Seattle shutting A.D. down. The first thing I want to focus on is how disciplined Seattle was in their run fits.

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This ended up being a 2-yard gain, but I love how Seattle fits this. The Seahawks slanted their defensive ends inside a lot on Sunday, and that caused Minnesota a lot of problems (in fact, it's one of the things I'm going to touch on later). But anytime you're going to slant the front, you have to make sure the second-level guys are on the same page so there aren't any unfilled gaps. Anyone who watched the Clemson-Alabama game on Monday night knows how disastrously that turns out.

On this play, K.J. Wright (50) does a great job of recognizing the tight end coming in motion, which creates an extra gap that he has to fill. That means he has to get downhill, and try get as tight to the offensive tackle as possible while still keeping his outside arm free. Here, he reads it quickly and meets the fullback on the line of scrimmage so he can't get reached. Because the tight end is blocking a safety, the hole Wright has to fill is huge, but since he meets the fullback quickly and with the correct leverage (keeping his outside arm free), he is able to play a lot of open space. Peterson eventually cuts all the way back into the B-gap into Seattle's pursuit.

Speaking of the safety, it may look like Kam Chancellor (31) is not great here, but this is a pretty nice job for a defensive back. He isn't as aggressive as you would like, but he keeps his leverage (again, the outside arm is free) and forces Peterson back inside. He doesn't get completely washed out and holds his gap decently. There are so many defensive backs who either get washed completely out of the play or just get completely swallowed up by the blocker and give the ballcarrier a two-way go. Chancellor plays his gap and turns Peterson to help. It's actually a nice example of how good Seattle's entire secondary is in run support, and the Legion of Boom's ability to offer actual support in run support was the second key to stopping the Vikings run game.

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This was actually the first play of the game. Look at how quick and decisive Richard Sherman (25) is as the force defender on the edge. As soon as he gets a run key, he's a yard past the line of scrimmage, shoulders square to the line of scrimmage, ready to turn Peterson inside or make a play if the back tries to bounce it outside. Then he comes flat down the line of scrimmage and helps make a tackle for loss once Peterson cuts it back. Again, this might not seem like an all-world play, but you just don't see corners this aggressive in run support. He looks more like an outside linebacker than a cornerback. It's the type of fundamentally sound and aggressive play that Seattle's secondary made all day.

Sherman was awesome on that play, but the guy who really stands out is Michael Bennett (72). He's the backside 3-technique who makes the play with Sherman. What he does is just textbook run defense by a defensive lineman. He fires off, bench presses his man, walks him back to close down any space between the guard and center while maintaining his gap integrity, and finally sheds and makes a play. By walking the guard into the gap he saves Bobby Wagner's bacon -- the linebacker played too aggressively to the play-side and left the back-side A-gap empty.

Bennett's domination was actually the third key factor in the game. It didn't matter if he was lined up inside or outside, no one on the Vikings could block him. He was the best player on the field Sunday, and it was a field that included All-Pros like Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Adrian Peterson.

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Bennett misses the tackle here, but he kills the play (also note how Sherman once again fits perfectly into the only hole that is open). As Rotoworld's Josh Norris is fond of saying "disruption is production." Bennett is certainly a disruptive force on this play.

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What I love about Bennett here is his hands. When offensive tackles run outside zone, some teams teach them to carry their inside hand low and behind the rest of their body so it can catch a defensive end that is slanting inside (I've heard it called a catch or trail hand). The theory is that if the end slants inside, you can grab and hold on as he runs by for an instant hook block, and the odds of getting called for a hold when your hand is that low (it should be just above the defender's hip) are minimal (holds typically get called when your hands are outside the defender's frame, which means shoulder pads; hand on the hip will be inside the pads and rarely called).

Here, Bennett throws a nice swipe move and catches Matt Kalil's trail hand. Usually guys only throw moves on pass rushes, but Bennett recognizes outside zone immediately and throws the perfect hand move to get into the backfield.

Of course, guys who didn't play as good as Bennett also had a ton of success with the slants and games up front. Seattle's other defensive end Cliff Avril also had a huge day, and it was this designed movement from the edge that was the final key to shutting down Peterson.

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Here, the Vikings' right side just isn't on the same page. The tackle doesn't even try to come inside with Avril (56) because he thinks the guard will pick him up. The guard is dealing with a 3-technique, so he is occupied. When the tackle comes up on the linebacker, no one stays with Avril, who makes a tackle for a 7-yard loss. There were just too many of these miscommunications for Minnesota to sustain any offense.

It didn't help that Seattle always seemed to slant inside to the play side. I don't know if the Pete Carroll and the coaching staff saw something on film (tendencies based on formations or personnel) or they just got lucky, but they were dialed in on when and where to slant. It ate the Vikings up.


19 comments, Last at 15 Jan 2016, 10:36pm

#1 by Will Allen // Jan 14, 2016 - 4:30pm

Constant miscommunication, all season long, despite the same group starting all 17 games, is in good measure why the Vikings offensive line coach was fired the next morning. I don't mean to lay it all on him, not even close, but this half-assery has been a constant for three seasons straight, extending back into the Frazier era, from which Jeff Davidson was retained. There has to be some accountabilty for lower-tier management.

I don't know why so many people think that throwing on 1st down more, against a defensive front which is not being blocked, is a better path for offensive success. Are there secret plays for 2 and 16 that we aren't being informed of?

(edit) Ok, that as little snarky, especially given how frequently 8 or even 9 defenders are lining up pretty close to the ball, but when the o-linemen are giving up penetration that quickly, the idea that throwing is going to be a solution is dubious. Look what has happened in New England as their blocking has gone south, and receiver injury has narrowed the gap between what the Patriots can do with their route-running, and what the Vikings can do.

Points: 0

#2 by Thomas_beardown // Jan 14, 2016 - 4:40pm

You never know, maybe Bridgewater woke up Sunday morning as 2009 Peyton Manning (and Mike Wallace as 2009 Reggie Wayne).

Points: 0

#4 by Will Allen // Jan 14, 2016 - 4:52pm

Somehow, Kalil obtained the notion that he was in a Charlie Effin' Johnson Impersonation Contest.

Points: 0

#7 by theslothook // Jan 14, 2016 - 7:09pm

I still feel like creative playcalling, tempo, and a short centric offense can help you cover up somewhat for the paucity of talent on the o line. Essentially the patriots offensive approach, which is In fact what so many teams have transitioned to. Of the last 7 years of data, this season saw the shortage avg air yards per attempt.

In some sense, I admire the heck out of the vikings for trying to run a old style pass offense, but it feels archaic in this league precisely because pass rush seems to be winning the battle in the trenches(is that because the pass rushers are better or the o lines are worse??)

If i were the vikes, you thank norv for nursing a young core, but its time to find someone who will embrace todays nfl.

Points: 0

#10 by Will Allen // Jan 14, 2016 - 9:06pm

Creative playcalling is a function of talented players at many positions. The Vikings have a very poor offensive line. They have a receiving corps which is mediocre, at best. They have a 2nd year qb who is not blessed with well above average throwing ability. They have the 16th best offense, by DVOA, 15th by weighted DVOA. I would submit that playcalling is not their major issue, and certainly not that they run too much on 1st and 2nd down.

Again, go look at what happened to the Patriots attempts per game, over the last month, as injuries made their receiving corps at lot less dynamic, and their blocking went into steep decline. This did not happen because, all of a sudden, Bill and Josh started feeling nostalgic, and decided to get their '70s groove on. Although Darth switching out the hoodie, for bell bottoms and platform shoes, sounds pretty cool.

Points: 0

#12 by theslothook // Jan 15, 2016 - 12:05am

Contrast the vikes with the chiefs. the vikes had the 18th best pass dvoa, but the chiefs were nearly 3 times more efficient. One could argue that the chiefs have better personnel, but I don't think its by much and its certainly not three times as much.

My point about short passing wasn't that its some kind of panacea. And bringing up New England doesn't prove that point. In fact, I would submit that if NE actually ran any other offense, it would look even worse.

I think pff said that the Vikes are the third most deep drop heavy team behind the steelers and cardinals - this despite 1/8 the quality of personnel. To me - that suggests a change of scheme might have improved the efficiency of the pass offense. I'm not saying it would have made the vikes world beaters but it might have helped.

Points: 0

#13 by Will Allen // Jan 15, 2016 - 2:58am

Of course it "might have helped". All manner of things "might have helped". What playcalling second guessing almost always discounts is the possibility that the alternative might have hurt, and believe me, when you can't block, the chance of it hurting is not to be discounted. Do you really expect a team with a terrible offensive line, a 2nd year qb with average throwing ability, and average at best receiving, to have an upper tier offense, by calling different plays? They were an average offense, accomplished with exactly one distinctly above average player, at the least influential ball handling position, and several distinctly below average players. That is not a trivial achievement, from a coaching perspective.

My point about NE is that they DID run a different offense for the last month of the season. They did so because their blocking went over the falls, and their receiving became average. Personnel dictates playcalling, always.

Points: 0

#14 by theslothook // Jan 15, 2016 - 3:05am

NE has always been a short throwing offense. THis was true even in 2007 - pff charts the average depth of target. Sometimes personality doesn't change philosophies that much.

Points: 0

#11 by Sixknots // Jan 14, 2016 - 10:38pm

(is that because the pass rushers are better or the o lines are worse??)

Yes and yes. Pass rushers in the NFL make more money than o-line so the better athletes in college want to go d-line. And college offence systems make o-line blocking easier but do not transfer well to NFL play. Result; it's getting harder to find NFL o-line players coming out of college. That's why some NFL o-line coaches are taking high-athletic/low-polish college d-linemen and converting them to guard as a project. They gotta retrain o-linemen anyway, why not start with a better athlete with no bad habits?

Points: 0

#3 by Will Allen // Jan 14, 2016 - 4:50pm

Ben, on the play where Bennett misses the tackle, but blows up the play, just what the hell do you think Kalil is trying to accomplish? Is he simply living in a different space-time dimension from the opponent lined up across from him, and the Vikings need to invest in some sort of Large Hadron Collider, to get Kalil through a wormhole, so he can compete? I know Bennett's great, and Kalil is, er, not-great, but Ol' Matt just looks flummoxed, with regard to what the human, a few feet away from him, is going to attempt to do in the next 1.5 seconds.

Frustrated? Who, me?

Points: 0

#5 by Perfundle // Jan 14, 2016 - 7:01pm

Presumably he gambled that Bennett would try an outside rush, whereupon he would be in position to block him. You only have to look at the previous play to see how it works when it's successful, as Kalil easily handles Irvin.

Points: 0

#8 by Will Allen // Jan 14, 2016 - 7:15pm

It seems to have taken ol' Matthew some time to sense that he gambled wrong. Yeah, I know, the guy he's trying to block is extremely good, but fer' the luv of Forrest Gregg, I've grown tired of watching this stuff.

Points: 0

#6 by Dan // Jan 14, 2016 - 7:07pm

I'd guess that he was trying to seal the edge. In the first gif the DE goes inside and Kalil successfully seals him, although other defenders are able to get outside over the top. On the play where Bennett misses the tackle, the left guard made it out to the LB, so if Kalil was able to block Bennett and keep him inside it looks like Peterson would've been able to take it outside.

If Bennett had made an outside move, then Kalil probably would've tried to keep him wide like he did to the DE in the second gif.

Points: 0

#15 by scraps // Jan 15, 2016 - 7:32am

You should watch Pete Carroll presser on Wednesday (on Seahawks.com). He's always interesting, but this week he's fascinating. Among the things he talks about on the Vikings game was the discipline on virtually every play where they were attacking Peterson, and how good Sherman was in defending the run.

Points: 0

#17 by robbbbbb // Jan 15, 2016 - 11:12am

One of the things that makes Sherman great is that in addition to being a terrific cover corner, he's also effective in run support. All of the Seahawks defensive backs are. They're very well-coached, and they play within the scheme.

When this team stays disciplined, they blow up other teams' run games.

I worry about this for Sunday's game against the Panthers. The Panthers have the most interesting and diverse run game in the NFL. That's the kind of thing that can give a good defensive team fits. I hope their film study is picking up the cues they need and they stay disciplined on Sunday.

Plus sound tackling.

Points: 0

#18 by duh // Jan 15, 2016 - 1:01pm

I'm really looking forward to that particular match-up of the Panthers run game vs the Seahawks D. As a non-aligned fan it should be a lot of fun / fascinating to watch.

Points: 0

#19 by Pen // Jan 15, 2016 - 10:36pm

If you listen to Tom Cable, he feels that the offensive linemen coming out of college are worse. They are ill prepared for the NFL game because the college spread offense.

Points: 0

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