Last week’s Super Bowl rematch featured the Seahawks keeping Denver’s potent offense mostly at bay for the first 59 minutes. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Denver pulled off a near miraculous 80-yard drive in 59 seconds with no timeouts. How did this happen against the best defense in football? Amazingly, Denver ran the same type of route combo (The Post-Wheel) 3 times on the drive, twice for huge completions, including the Touchdown.
The Post-Wheel combo involves the outside Wide Receiver running around 10 yards and breaking 45 degrees toward the goal post. The inside, or slot Wide Receiver will break as if he is running an out route, then turn up the field looking for a big play.
On defense, Seattle is playing Cover 1 Robber. Seattle defensive backs are all matched up man-to-man, except Earl Thomas (the robber) and Cam Chancellor (playing deep middle). Another indicator of man coverage is that Denver’s running back (Montee Ball) is lined up on the bottom of the screen closest to the sideline, and Seattle’s Linebacker Bobby Wagner follows him. Richard Sherman then moves inside to line up with Wide Receiver Wes Welker.
Here is a still shot of what Peyton Manning sees pre-snap and what will unfold schematically:
Below is Denver’s first play of the drive, an incomplete pass. Seattle should have taken note, however, because Emmanuel Sanders was wide open after beating his man-to-man coverage. Here’s how it unfolds:
Seattle adjusts by switching to their patent Cover 3 Buzz, a true and full zone scheme. Here is what Cover 3 Buzz is supposed to look like (from last year’s Super Bowl):
The second time Denver runs Post-Wheel, it’s against Cover 3 Buzz. Just as the first still picture shows, Earl Thomas will still be the Robber and Cam Chancellor will still have the deep middle of the field. However, the Cornerback at the top of the screen, Byron Maxwell, is responsible for the top deep 1/3 of the field. The Post-Wheel combo puts Maxwell in a predicament because Seattle plays extremely aggressive Cover 3 by “Pattern Matching”, or having the freedom to follow certain vertical routes.
Should Maxwell continue with Demaryius Thomas’ Post route, or stay in his 1/3 of the field and Cover Emmanuel Sanders’ wheel route and pass off the post route to Cam Chancellor? If Maxwell chooses to follow Demaryius Thomas on the Post, then the linebacker must “carry” Emmanuel Sanders’ wheel route and cover him up the sideline.
Below, the blue lines represent Denver’s routes, and the red represents Seattle’s choices defensively:
If the neither happens, see the result:
In the NFL, making a mistake is not a cardinal sin. However, there is nothing that aggravates coaches more than being a “mistake repeater.” On the 26 yard touchdown, Denver runs a Post-Wheel for the THIRD time in a 1-minute span (from a different formation), with Seattle in Cover 3 Buzz again. However, inexplicably, Seattle has not learned from the earlier plays in this drive. Here is the Touchdown in standard speed, with another Post-Wheel:
On the touchdown, Seattle has 3 ways to avoid this touchdown: the Cornerback could sink and stay “on top” of the wheel route, Earl Thomas as the robber could turn his hips and follow the wheel route, or the linebacker could carry and cover the wheel route. While the linebacker reacts faster this time, it is still far too late. It appears as if he is trying to protect the sideline and keep everything in bounds to keep the clock moving. But, because they’ve seen Post-Wheel twice on this drive already, the linebacker should have been more aware. (Earl Thomas attempts to rob the post route).
Note*: None of the Post-Wheel combinations targeted Richard Sherman, who likely would have played them differently.