By Mike Salk
Society often praises creativity. We love “outside-the-box” thinking. We love a new type of television show or a crazy plot twist. But we don’t see enough of it. How often do we see the same tired plot lines or unimaginative products? We praise and respect creative thinking, but we all too infrequently have the guts to try it ourselves.
The same is true in football.
It’s easy to say playcalling should be creative, but to follow through comes with a great risk. Fail with the tried and true and you can always blame the players. Fail with something new and your job prospects may be dim.
The risk is high with creativity, but so is the reward. Just ask Chip Kelly.
Or Darrell Bevell.
The Seahawks offensive coordinator has a tough gig, even tougher if you are looking for creativity. His offense is built around a power running game. His best player is a running back. His offensive line is effective at run blocking but leaky in pass protection. And he coaches in a league that doesn’t exactly value those traits.
But he has a few assets. His head coach is willing to give him some latitude and his quarterback is nimble, smart and calm. So, it’s on Bevell to create something to take advantage of those assets and mask some of his team’s deficiencies.
By using the zone-read option, he has done that.
I’ll leave the detailed X and O explanation to Brock, but the read option allows the quarterback to put the ball into the belly of a running back and read the defensive end. If that end is crashing down the line to make a tackle, the quarterback keeps the ball himself. If the end stays home, he gives it to the running back.
Russell Wilson ran the play well in Detroit, taking advantage of the aggressive ends of the Lions. He used it again against Jared Allen and the Vikings. But for whatever reason, it vanished for nearly three quarters of Sunday’s 28-7 win over the Jets.
Then, on the final play of the third quarter, it reappeared.
Wilson tucked the ball into Marshawn Lynch’s gut, read Bart Scott crashing towards the middle of the field, and kept the ball for an 18-yard gain. With that play in the back of Scott’s mind, Lynch took the next two carries for five- and 17-yard gains. The next play was a 31-yard touchdown throw to Sidney Rice – coming off the same shotgun, play-action that had produced the original gain.
The Seahawks were at their best after that one play. They gained 174 of the 363 yards after that. They gained 43 percent of their yards in the fourth quarter. And the Jets defense, which had sacked Wilson four times to that point, never touched him again.
That is the advantage of being creative. Bevell was able to find a way to use his best resources (Wilson’s brain and Lynch’s brawn) to overcome the formidable challenge Rex Ryan’s defense posed.
Remember, Ryan’s gang was all over the young quarterback in the first three quarters. The offensive line was ineffective in pass blocking – it seemed like Wilson was running for his life more often than not. Wilson compounded the O-line problems with some questionable decisions and lax ball security. Traditional offense looked unlikely to provide enough points to make the game comfortable.
Some will point to the flea flicker and (more likely) the wide receiver pass as examples of creativity. Sure, those plays were fun, creative and largely effective. But they are the icing on the cake. The great thing about the creative zone-read option is that it is sustainable. It is an effective way of using the opponents’ aggressiveness against them. And it fits the Seahawks’ roster perfectly.
Here’s to Darrell Bevell for having the courage to try something different. Let’s hope he finds more ways to do so after the bye.