Seattle Seahawks Offensive Formation Breakdown: The Double Stacks

Darrell Bevell was forced to get creative to jump start the Seattle Seahawks offense last year due to injuries and an inexperienced offensive line. One offensive formation he resorted to was the double stacks formation. Matthew Brown breaks down how Bevell incorporated this concept into the offense and how the team executed it against the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Seattle’s much-criticized offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has a more difficult job than some might think. In planning the Seahawks offense, he has to account for an elite quarterback with a unique skillset, the lowest paid offensive line in the league, and a head coach who stresses the importance of few turnovers. At the end of last season, Bevell’s job was made more difficult still as he was left without the iconic (and iconoclastic) Marshawn Lynch and emerging talent Thomas Rawls, who broke his ankle in Baltimore.

The resultant running back group was one of the worst looking in the league. Although Christine Michael is a supremely talented athlete and a former second-round pick, he was cut by the Seahawks at the start of last season after failing to properly protect the football and grasp the Seahawks’ offense. As insurance, Bryce Brown and DuJuan Harris were picked up off of the street.

Bevell did a number of things to make the Seahawks offense easier for the new additions. For starters, he installed more spread principles into their attack. While this enhanced Wilson’s ability to carve up defenses, it also made things easier for the inexperienced running backs and a struggling offensive line which, at one point, had Wilson on pace to be the most-sacked quarterback in NFL history.

One interesting formation that the Seahawks lined up in just 13 times last season was the double stacks. Its biggest success in the running game came in Week 17 at the Cardinals, where the previously discarded Michael had a 45 yard carry out of double stacks on his way to rushing for 102 yards on 17 carries. Meanwhile, the Seahawks dominated the time of possession 36:37 to 23:23.

The Cardinals line up with a 4-2 hybrid front, in an under G alignment. The defensive backs are in cover 0. Alex Okafor (#57) is a wide 7, Ed Stinson (#91) is a 3 tech, Rodney Gunter (#95) a 2i and Kareem Martin (#96) is a wide 7. Deone Bucannon (#20) is in a 10 (think 1 technique but off the line) and Kevin Minter (#51) is in a 30 (think 3 tech but off the line).

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Seattle runs an inside zone read, with the Cardinals dropping free safety Rashad Johnson (#26) into the box pre-snap as a quarterback spy — designed to stop the read-option keeper. Wilson sees this and, as a result, hands the ball off to Michael. The Seahawks block this superbly, as a big gap opens up between the left end and defensive tackle, and linebacker/safety hybrid Bucannon is blocked out of the play – and from filling the gap – by center Patrick Lewis (#65).

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If Wilson had kept the ball, he could have run the football. However, he also had passing options built into this play. The receivers, who lined up off of the line of scrimmage, were options as perimeter screens, which the Seahawks like to throw a fair bit. The situation, 2nd and 19, would not have made a screen that surprising. The receivers on the line of scrimmage went deep, delaying the defensive backs from defending the run.

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This would not have been the first time that the Seahawks passed from a read-option keeper; Seattle used it to score a touchdown in the 2014 season opener and later, in Week 7 at Carolina, Wilson missed a sure touchdown to tight end Cooper Helfet out of this formation.

Another reason for the Cardinals to be cautious of a pass play from this formation is the fact that they conceded a passing touchdown from double stacks in Week 10. The video below shows cornerback Justin Bethel being fooled by Doug Baldwin’s excellent route running, thinking the route is a slant. Instead, Wilson throws deep to Baldwin for a 32-yard touchdown. In the second part of the video, Wilson impresses by using his eyes to hint he is throwing the screen rather than the deep pass, as opposed to bird dogging his receiver.The Cardinals lined up exactly the same as Week 17.

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Note that, while this play initially appears to be a run / pass option play, something  that Ted Nguyen has done some great video on, it does not seem to be a “true” version. Rather, it simply looks very similar to running plays run out of this formation; the only difference between the passing touchdown in Week 10 and the 45-yard rush in Week 17 is that, when passing, the running back just blocks the defensive end, rather than running play-action.

This similarity and disguise undoubtedly causes confusion and hesitancy amongst a defensive corps, making a quarterback or running back’s job just a little bit easier. In addition, the formation means that the quarterback knows the coverage is likely to be man or cover 3, while the running back is certain to face – at the very most – a seven-man box. It takes no expert to understand that a six- or seven-man box is generally easier to run at than an eight- or nine-man.

Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a simple change to the routes of the two receivers on the line of scrimmage completely flummoxed the defensive backs. Instead of running streaks, the route that Seattle had shown out of this formation when they ran the inside zone read previously in this game, they ran slants. Jermaine Kearse ran his slant well, finding a hole in the Steelers’ cover 3 which featured some man principles. Notice how nervous the Steelers are of Wilson keeping the football, with strong safety Will Allen (#20) and cornerback Antwon Blake (#41) looking in on Wilson as free safety Mike Mitchell (#23) comes down pre-snap.

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The Seahawks only attempted four passes out of double stacks [Editor’s note: Charting by Matthew Brown], completing two – both of which went for touchdowns. It could be argued that Seattle should have lined up in the formation more often, with it resulting in negative yardage on just two of the 13 times attempted. Yet maybe this formation should not be more used more frequently. Maybe it should remain as a simple wrinkle in the Seahawks offense that not only keeps defenses honest, but makes it easier to execute by not being overcomplicated. It will be interesting to see how often the Seahawks line up in double stacks in 2016, and whether the formation is still effective now that teams have more game film of it.

Follow Matthew on Twitter @mattyfbrown. Check out Matt’s piece on Kenneth Dixon and what the Ravens should expect from him this season.

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Play diagrams powered by XO Wizard.

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