Breaking down the Seahawks’ use of the zone read on their final two possessions

In leading the Seahawks to a comeback win in Chicago, Russell Wilson was a quarterback making good use of his options. And that’s not just because Wilson used his full array of targets, completing passes to Anthony McCoy, Marshawn Lynch, Doug Baldwin, Zach Miller, Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, and Michael Robinson on Seattle’s final two touchdown drives.

Wilson also took full advantage another option, particularly the zone-read option that has become a big part of Seattle’s offense in recent weeks. This isn’t a brand new wrinkle in the Seahawks’ offense—it’s been written about plenty in this paper and many other places—but Wilson and the Seattle offense used the zone read with exceptional effectiveness on those final two scoring drives.

On the go-ahead drive late in the fourth quarter, Seattle showed a zone-read look on three plays, the first of which was an 11-yard Lynch run that opened up in part because Bears defensive end Julius Peppers froze at the point of the handoff, unsure if Wilson was going to keep the ball or give it to Lynch.

Two plays later on 2nd and 10, Wilson faked a handoff to Turbin, the kept the ball looking to pass, but ended up scrambling for 13 yards and a first down just before the two-minute warning. On the next play, Wilson faked a handoff, kept the ball and gained six yards after stiff-arming Charles Tillman to the turf, and after Peppers again had to freeze before making a decision.

With the clock no longer an issue in overtime—and as a result the running game being more in play—the Seahawks leaned on the zone-read option even more, showing a zone-read look on eight of 12 plays.

On the first play of what would end up being the game-winning drive, Wilson gained 11 yards after faking a handoff. The end on the play who could have contained Wilson, Israel Idonije, collapsed into the middle to stop a Lynch run, and linebacker Lance Briggs leaned to his right ever so slightly before reacting—too late—to Wilson leaking out the back with the ball.

That helped set up the next play, a Lynch run up the middle that gained 14 yards. On that play, Idonije, likely remembering the previous play, stayed wide to keep Wilson honest, and was no in position to make a play on Lynch. The Seahawks went zone-read for a third straight play, but that time the Bears stuffed Lynch for no gain.

Wilson picked up a critical 3rd and 2 by keeping for five yards on a zone read a couple of plays later, then two plays after that, the Bears were able to stop a Lynch run again on a play where it looked like Wilson might have been trying to keep the ball, but Lynch took it anyway.

The Bears stuffed Lynch again on a second down run from the Bears 24, but the Seahawks stuck with a zone-read look on the final two plays, both passes. On the third-down completion to Doug Baldwin that gained 12 yards, Wilson faked a handoff before rolling to his left. The slight hesitation of defenders, unsure if Wilson had kept or handed off, helped him find room to roll out until Baldwin came open.

On the game-winning touchdown, Wilson again faked a handoff before rolling left, this time finding Sidney Rice coming across the middle. Rice was able to get away from Charles Tillman, at least in part, because he began the play as if he was going to block Tillman on a running play before breaking to his left with a step on the cornerback.

In all, the Seahawks showed zone-read eight times on that final drive with Lynch taking the ball four times, Wilson keeping it twice and two crucial throws. The Seahawks won’t ever become a team that relies primarily on the zone read, but they’ve clearly found an effective weapon they can go to from time to time.

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