As Percy Harvin and the Seahawks showed in a convincing Week 1 win over the Packers, the jet sweep is an unexpected and effective tool for gaining yardage in chunks and keeping opposing defenses off balance.
By Jeff Legwold, Mike Sando and Matt Williamson
The concept of the jet sweep is simple, and any team can run the play from almost any personnel group or formation, provided there's a wide receiver lined up on the perimeter.
By receiving the handoff at close to full speed, the wideout provides the offense with a huge advantage. At the same time, however, the ball carrier risks getting flattened by an unblocked defender in the backfield or while turning the corner.
Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin has an unusual combination of muscular build and speed, which makes him ideal to run the jet sweep. But he also has an injury history, so frequency could be key over the long haul.
The success of the jet sweep is based on misdirection into open space. In the season opener against the Packers, the Seahawks had Harvin line up on the left side of the formation in all four of his rushing attempts. In Super Bowl XLVIII against the Broncos, the Seahawks ran the play twice, with Harvin lined up on the right side both times.
"It definitely affects the defense," said Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. "Just to see the guys freeze, or they will run one way and the ball will be going the other way. Just to keep them guessing, really. We do so much motion and shifting anyway, they don't really know what's going to happen."
Harvin picks up speed as he goes in motion across the formation toward Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch. At this point, the defense recognizes for the first time that the jet sweep could be the play call.
"You can run it with wide receivers, but a lot of wide receivers are just that. They're wide receivers," said Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. "They will run long-legged, so to speak. Percy is a guy that runs more like a running back. He has quick feet. His feet are closer to the ground. He's got a good base. He can break down and change directions, and he's got good toughness to be able to run it up in there. There's a lot more that goes into it than just handing it to a wide receiver."
Harvin times his approach to the snap so he can receive the ball from Wilson in stride. Lynch moves toward the handoff as well, creating confusion as to which player will carry the ball.
In one instance in the season opener, Green Bay's linebackers played to Wilson's movement as he faked a handoff to Lynch. All three linebackers in the middle of the field looked to the inside and moved in that direction when Harvin received the ball. Harvin then was able to freely turn the corner and head upfield for a 13-yard gain. Later in the game, he gained 9, 16 and 3 yards on jet sweep attempts.
Lynch runs off tackle, whether or not he receives the ball. Harvin continues in the other direction, turning upfield after he clears the formation.
When using the jet sweep, offenses are banking on the incessant call of defensive coordinators who tell their players to get upfield and attack the quarterback. Offenses are also figuring the action will make the play-side defender hesitate or sprint to the quarterback and therefore surrender the corner. On Harvin's 13-yard run out of the jet sweep in Week 1, that player was Julius Peppers, who was looking into the backfield as Harvin crossed his path.
Harvin nears full speed as he races up the right side of the field. The play provides one of the few opportunities for a ball carrier to accept a handoff while already running at a high rate of speed.
"Nobody does it quite like us because we have the dynamic three with Russ, Marshawn and Percy," Seahawks safety Earl Thomas said. "You don't know who's getting the ball. And we have the timing down right. I noticed most of those other teams don't. With Russ, everything is right on time. But with the other teams, it looks kind of shaky."
ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter Terry Blount contributed to this report.