What have we learned? The Seahawks are still good, as it turns out. Percy Harvin, when healthy, is one of the most fun players to watch. ("Lord have mercy," Russell Wilson said afterward, "we've got Percy.") And the read option is alive and well.
Early in the second quarter, the Seahawks scored their first touchdown in what would be a blowout, and it was a beautiful, beautiful play. The standard read option leaves the spur-of-the-moment decision to the quarterback, who after reading the defense can either hand the ball off to his tailback or run it himself. Well, usually those are the two options.
Wilson perfectly faked the handoff to Marshawn Lynch, took a few steps to his left—with Lynch crucially coming back to "block" to sell the scramble—and LB Clay Matthews and CB Sam Shields collapsed toward him. In doing so Shields gave up on WR Ricardo Lockette, who now had all the space in the world.
If that play looked familiar, well, it's because you saw it eight months ago. At last season's Iron Bowl, Nick Marshall hooked up with Sammie Coates on a near-identical play that fooled the hell out of Alabama and allowed Auburn to tie things up with 32 seconds left.
Seahawks OC Darrell Bevell called the play, but it was Pete Carroll who introduced it into the playbook. And Carroll wasn't shy about sharing his inspiration.
"We'll go anywhere to find a play," the Seattle coach said afterward. "And that one—uh, Muschamp at Florida, no … Auburn. They ran it. Give Gus Malzahn credit. That's a great play. I kept telling them [the offensive staff and players] this summer, 'It'll work, it'll work.' But it didn't work all summer."
It's not easy to pull off—so many things have to go right, so many blocks have to be made, and two separate fakes have to be sold. But the Seahawks just might be the ideal team to make it work with some regularity.
CBS's Pete Prisco, who's been banging this drum for a long time, was quick to once again declare the read option a "gimmick" after Lockette's touchdown. That is an overreaction. If you want to know whether something can be a legitimate part of a successful playbook, don't look at the one time it worked to perfection—look at how many times the defending Super Bowl champs break it out in their first game of the season.
Percy Harvin was the read-option man last night, and quietly so. The versatile receiver—who took four handoffs—lined up in a number of read-option and play-action calls, and even if none of them translated to big plays for him, they created mismatches elsewhere. Even keeping alive the possibility in defenses' minds is valuable—it must be dispiriting to face a team with one of the most bruising backs in the sport and have to keep in mind that both the quarterback and the top receiver could take off running at any moment. It's a significant reason the Seahawks paid a steep price to acquire and extend Harvin before last season.
The read-option fake—which the Seahawks busted out in proto-form more than a few times last year—is a natural progression of the basic read option, a specific play that itself sprang from the possibilities of spread offense. The clearest sign that the read option is not just a fluke from college that will only work until NFL defenses adjust to it? It's being used as a building block. It's being integrated into other looks and packages. It's evolving.
The read option isn't a gimmick. It also isn't some magical, game-changing philosophy. It's simply a weapon in the right hands, and the Seahawks happen to have three pairs of the right hands.