Vikings

SECOND LOOK: How the Seahawks Used an Unbalanced Line to Gash the Vikings' Run Defense

Photo Credit: Joe Nicholson (USA Today Sports)

Having offensive line depth is a luxury many NFL teams don’t have. But if you’ve got it, why not use it?

On Monday, the Seattle Seahawks’ essentially played with six linemen, incorporating tackle George Fant throughout the night in their 37-30 win.

Fant, the undrafted 27-year-old, has found a niche with the Seahawks as a sixth lineman over the past two seasons as Seattle has become one of the most diligent rushing teams in football. In their victory against the Vikings, the Seahawks used Fant on 42 snaps, the most they’ve utilized Fant in a part-time role over the past two seasons. They rushed for a season-high 218 yards.

“I think the offensive line did a tremendous job,” said quarterback Russell Wilson. “They were so physical all night. We were were able to run the ball extremely well. They kept playing two high shell, just super deep. They didn’t want any shots thrown on them, so we said, ‘Okay, and we’ll just run it and do what we do really well.”

Seattle has used Fant in each game this season, but not to the extent they did Monday. The Seahawks ran it 31 times with Fant in the game, using him on both sides of the formation in a variety of ways: with his hand in the dirt, crouched off the line of scrimmage, sometimes going in motion. On those 31 plays they carried it for 138 yards, an average of 4.5 yards per carry. Two of their shortest runs, though, were 1-yard touchdowns.

The Seahawks used Fant (No. 74) on 23 of their 33 first-down plays in the game and 16 of their 21 first-down runs to keep them ahead of schedule, starting with the first play of the game, a nine-yard burst by Chris Carson (below). This formation — three wide receivers on the outside with a sixth lineman inside — presented a challenge for the Vikings throughout the night, something they showed 14 times when Fant was on the field. It coaxed Minnesota into playing nickel against the team with the third-most rushing attempts in football. Playing base, however, would leave them susceptible to Wilson’s deadly deep ball. The pass defense was mostly solid throughout the game, but the run defense couldn’t hold up. Minnesota put starting base linebacker Ben Gedeon in the injured reserve list on Monday and played backup Eric Wilson 34 snaps.

Fant was the highest-graded Seahawks player in the game, per Pro Football Focus, and his 86.9 grade given by the analytics site was the third-highest amongst NFL tackles in Week 13. Considering he was often lined up on the edge, Fant was tasked with getting out front of several runs to reach blockers at the second level, as he did on Rashaad Penny’s 2nd and 5 conversion (below).

“George was a big part of the running game, a big part of it,” said Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll. “There were 40-something runs in there, so he got some activity tonight.”

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said he was surprised with how persistent the Seahawks were running the ball and that Minnesota expected more passing from Wilson, though Wilson’s 31 passing attempts were right in line with his season average of 32 per game. The Vikings’ inability to stop the run, however, was confounding just two games after they committed to stopping Dallas’s Ezekiel Elliott and held him to 47 rushing yards.

Fant gave Seattle a wrinkle the Vikings haven’t often seen.

“It was another big body in there,” Zimmer said. “Then the back (Chris Carson) is a hard running back. They bounced the ball to the perimeter a little bit more tonight than they have in the past.”

Trailing by seven on their first possession of the second half, Seattle ran the ball six out of nine plays on a game-tying touchdown drive, and Fant was an instrumental blocker on the two plays leading up to Penny’s one-yard touchdown run, the team’s ninth touchdown while using a sixth lineman. Watch how he locks up Danielle Hunter on the edge to allow Carson to jet through for 25 yards. The Vikings’ gap integrity was suspect on this play, as it was on many occasions throughout the night.

On the ensuing play, Fant seals off Minnesota’s other excellent defensive end Everson Griffen to get Penny down to the 1-yard line. Throughout the night, Fant neutralized the talented Minnesota edge rushers from making plays against the run.

It took the Vikings until the fourth quarter to shift primarily to base defense with the Seahawks, who were playing from ahead. But the Seahawks were still able to churn out first downs, like this 2nd and 2 with Penny, who again got a hole opened up by Fant. Seattle converted nine of 11 short-yardage runs into first downs.

“For us to have the ball run on us like that was kind of a misnomer,” Zimmer said. “It hasn’t been like that in quite a while. We’ve got to do a better job really all the way around: perimeter run force, being in the right place, being in the right gaps, being more disciplined. We probably panicked a little bit the other night.”

Panicked?

“Sometimes when things aren’t going exactly how you would expect them to go, they start doing things on their own,” Zimmer clarified Wednesday. “‘Okay, I’m going to go make this play. Even though the block tells me to do this, I’m going to go do this.’ That’s kind of what we did, and it happens from time to time. We just got to get back and get settled in and get back to work.”

Heading into the bye week, fans were most concerned with the team’s secondary play since the run defense appeared strong. Now there may be another area to worry about heading into the final quarter of the season.