I’m not going to detail the “innacurate reception” as I’m sure that’s been done to death and frankly I’m tired of seeing it, so I’m going to be analyzing another play that popped out to me. Overall, there’s nothing special going on on either side of the ball, the Seahawks are playing a vanilla formation and the Packers counter with a vanilla formation. No crazy pre-snap motions, no crazy hand-offs or reverses, no psycho package or amoeba defenses or exotic blitz packages. So what’s so surprising? AJ Hawk makes the play.
The situation: It’s still the 1st quarter with the score still tied at 0 a piece. The Seattle Seahawks have been playing a very conservative game plan by establishing a solid running game with running back Marshawn Lynch and trying to keep quarterback in 3rd and short passing situations. Unfortunately, the Packers defense is also well aware of the Seahawks game plan and has done a remarkably good job holding Lynch in place. This play occurs on 2nd and 8, after Lynch rushes for a 2-yard gain.
The formation: The Seahawks line up in a 1-3-1 set (1WR-3TE-1RB) with WR Golden Tate (I believe) out wide left (he’s outside the screen cap), Tight ends Zach Miller, Ben Obomanu and Anthony McCoy are lined up inline of the right tackle with RB Lynch aligned about 5 yards behind the center. The Packers respond with their nickel package with NT BJ Raji (90) and DE Jerel Worthy (99) being the only two down linemen, the standard 4 linebackers of OLB Clay Matthews (52), ILB AJ Hawk (50), ILB DJ Smith (51) and OLB Erik Walden (93) with the secondary being composed of CB Sam Shields (37, also outside the screen cap), CB Tramon Williams (38), CB Charles Woodson (21, playing the nickel cornerback position), SS Jeron McMillian (22) and FS Morgan Burnett (43).
Pre-snap: The Seahawks motion TE Miller (86) to inline to the left tackle, and is followed by CB Woodson.
Snap: Wilson and Lynch perform perhaps the poorest play action pass ever seen in the NFL (seriously, Lynch doesn’t even bother to come up to Wilson and immediately runs a flare route, leaving Wilson “handing off” the ball with no one within 2 yards of him). I’ve labeled the defensive assignments by color: red arrows indicate pass rush, blue arrows indicate man coverage and green arrows indicate zone coverage.
The Packers have decided to run a one high safety/man coverage concept with NT Raji, DE Worthy, OLB Matthews and OLB Walden rushing to the quarterback or playing contain. ILB Smith has man coverage on TE McCoy while ILB Hawk is responsible for the flat to his side. In the secondary, the Packers are playing high-low coverage on TE Obomanu with SS McMillian covering any underneath routes while CB Williams provides help up top (essentially playing safety). CB Woodson covers TE Miller, while CB Shields covers WR Tate one on one. Finally, FS Burnett is playing deep safety, most likely biased towards CB Shields as TE Obomanu is double covered and TE McCoy runs a flat route.
My assumption is that QB Wilson’s main option is either TE Obomanu or TE McCoy, but since TE Obomanu is double covered and TE McCoy hasn’t managed to gain any separation from ILB Smith along side with the fact that OLB Walden has managed to slip free of the tackle leads to Wilson being forced to dump off the pass to his safety valve, RB Lynch. CB Woodson hesitates, sees that Miller has stayed back to help the left tackle with OLB Matthews and notices RB Lynch slip out of the backfield on his flare route.
Now comes the surprising part, both ILB Hawk and CB Woodson are essentially both covering RB Lynch and not only does ILB Hawk manage to beat CB Woodson (Hawk had to cover more ground too) to RB Lynch, but he also manages to tackle RB Lynch all by himself. Obviously Woodson has lost step, but Hawk outweighs him by 40 pounds so this is quite surprising. Secondly Hawk has never been known for his coverage skills (he was often the odd man out in the linebacker core when it came to obvious passing situations, for example the 1st game in 2010 against the Eagles where he didn’t play a snap since the Eagles played in a spread offense the entire game) and he essentially plays the flat perfectly in this play. Finally, Hawk manages to tackle Lynch all by himself all out in the open, which is something that the Packers defense as a whole aren’t really great at. In the end the result is a 1 yard gain by Lynch as Hawk makes the sound tackle. Afterwards, both Hawk and Lynch are seen smiling, I’m pretty sure Lynch wasn’t expecting to get tackled by one guy, let alone Hawk and Hawk is smiling that he took down “beast mode” all by himself.
I think this is probably why the Packers think that AJ Hawk is such a great player (evidence: a 5-year $34 million contract) but why fans seem to hate him. In this play AJ Hawk does his job, tackles Lynch for a small gain, gets up and gets back to the huddle. He doesn’t bring attention to himself and thus fans don’t notice it. Hawk is assignment sure and a smart player, but what he isn’t is a explosive player. He’s not going to destroy offensive linemen or blitz the quarterback or anything else that would be considered glamourous. He’s simply just a really solid player, maybe not a playmaker (claymaker?) but still a valuable part of the Packers defense.
Author’s note: Again this is my second attempt at this, so any recommendations on how to present the play would be greatly appreciated.——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.