Coach Pete Carroll was asked earlier this month about the Seattle Seahawks' ability to get the ball downfield on offense.
"There's a really cool stat," he said. "Look at the percentage of explosive passes that we have, check that where that is. That's an indicator of when we decide to throw it, we're making things happen."
Russell Wilson is averaging 8.41 yards per attempt, which ranks third. And while the offense stumbled Sunday against the St. Louis Rams -- largely because of protection issues -- the Seahawks have done an outstanding job of generating big plays through the passing game.
With the help of my friend Brian Flinn, who coaches wide receivers at Villanova and is an all-around football junkie, here's a look at a few of the concepts the Seahawks have used in the past month or so to get the ball downfield.
Since Week 10, when Wilson has targeted wide receiver Doug Baldwin, he's gone 42-of-53 (79.2 percent) for 678 yards (12.79 yards per attempt) and 12 touchdowns. One of the concepts the pair has connected on multiple times is four verticals.
"There's no secret. All of us run it," Seahawks wide receivers coach Dave Canales said.
"Teams that are really committed to it would say it's pretty good vs. all [coverages]. You watch the Bengals, they run it against any coverage you get. They're committed to it. It's definitely one of our babies. It's always going to be a part of us. We invest a lot of time into it."
The concept can be run out of a three by one look (three receivers to one side, one to the other) or a two by two look. In Week 13, the Seahawks used a three by one look and recognized the Minnesota Vikings were playing Cover 0, meaning man coverage with no safeties deep.
The concept is run exactly how it sounds. Four receivers run vertical routes and challenge the deep part of the field. Against man coverage, the quarterback often chooses the best matchup. Against Cover 3, the seams should be open. And against two deep safeties, the receivers can adjust their routes downfield depending on the look.
In this instance, the Seahawks wanted to go to Baldwin. Instead of a straight vertical route, he used what's called a shake route, or stick-nod.
"He goes up like he's running a [go] route, slams his inside foot in the ground and steps outside," Flinn said. "That [defender] goes outside to defend the out. Then he runs into the post."
The subtle outside step created space for Baldwin, who then raced downfield to wide-open grass.
The Seahawks used an empty set on this play (no one in the backfield), but the tight end stayed in to block. Wilson got drilled, but hung in the pocket and delivered on-target. The ball was out when Baldwin was at the 44, and it landed in his hands at about the 29 for what ended up being a 53-yard touchdown.
"Against Cover 0, with nobody deep, you want to hit a play right down the middle of the field," Flinn said. "Because that's where you have two things: the most room, and you probably have the best matchup. That slot is being covered by a nickel or a dime or somebody that might not start."
Four verticals is a play the Seahawks use multiple times every week, and they've had a lot of success with it.
One aspect of the Seahawks' offense that has pleased Carroll is they've been able to use a lot of the same concepts out of different looks and personnel.
"This time of year, you have a lot stuff you're committed to," Carroll said. "You have your base philosophy approach in your offense and things that you run, things that guys are good at, with special consideration for the quarterback always. You want to do things that he really has at hand and you can count on him to execute really well.
"With that thought, this is nothing new in football. You try to come at it in different ways and not give the defense the opportunity to know where you're coming from and all that as best you can. You've got to stay with what you know. It's rare that you would change drastically in concept. We're just trying to put a little coating on it, a little icing on the cake, and make stuff look a little bit different, and tweak and add as we need to, to make that happen. It's not always just the formations. It's the same look and running different things out of the same looks that you can come back to the basic things that you wanted to do."
Once concept the Seahawks have gone to often is dig-wheel. They've done a fantastic job of striking from just outside the red zone. In Week 15, rookie Tyler Lockett got free for a 27-yard touchdown.
The Cleveland Browns were in quarters coverage, meaning four defenders splitting up the deep part of the field. It's zone coverage, but if the outside receiver (in this case, Jermaine Kearse) runs a vertical route, the outside corner often sticks with him.
"Kearse runs the outside release and dig," Flinn said. "What that does is brings the corner down with him, and the safety gets flat-footed playing the dig, and they just run the wheel in behind him."
With Kearse garnering attention from two deep defenders, Lockett got matched up against a linebacker down the sideline, beat him easily, and Wilson delivered for the score.
There are variations of this concept that the Seahawks have used. Instead of a dig, the inside receiver can run a post or a seam. But the idea is the same, and it's worked well for the offense.
Different combinations for different coverages
Certain plays work best against man, while others are more effective against zone. But offensive coaches will sometimes try to combine the two into one play.
In the second quarter against the Vikings, Wilson found Lockett for a 29-yard completion down the right sideline. The concept to that side of the field was switch verticals. It's the same idea as four verticals, but the outside receiver takes his route inside, and the inside receiver does the opposite. The Vikings were in man coverage with a single high safety, so Wilson went to Lockett, who beat his man down the sideline.
But instead of using the same concept on the other side of the field, the Seahawks had a hitch-dig combination that would have worked well against Cover 2.
"You combine different concepts into one pass play," Flinn explained. "So you're running go/switch to the boundary, but then you're running what we call pivot with a hitch and a dig over the top. That's good against Cover 2.
"When you do that, you can tell the quarterback, ‘We're running pivot to the field, go-switch to the boundary. So thirds or man, go to the boundary. Cover 2, go to the field.' You combine different pattern concepts into one play, and then that way you don't always have to be right."
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has created a nice mix, and Wilson has done a good job of identifying coverages before the snap. He's completed 68.1 percent of his attempts and has a passer rating of 109.1, tops in the league. The Seahawks' offense has averaged 30.57 points per game since Week 10, second-best.
If they are able to go on a run in the postseason and get back to the Super Bowl for the third consecutive year, look for these concepts and the explosive plays to be a big reason why.