It’ll start up front, like always. Marshawn Lynch will take the hand-off . . . Terrance Knighton will penetrate . . . someone will be shaken or tackled.
The Seahawks have a versatile ground attack. Over the last two years, they’ve implemented a variety of concepts to expand their arsenal and utilize all of Lynch’s talent. They feature power, the traditional form of two backs as well as single back, and zone running, which has seemingly stretched into every team’s playbook. This matchup will be of interest in this game because it’ll put to test not only Lynch’s quickness (and decision making), but Knighton’s too.
Knighton is built like a bear at 6’3″, 335 pounds, and is light on his feet. He has the ability to sink his shoulder and drive blockers back into the play, or quickly swim past them. Against the Patriots in the championship round two weekends ago, he did both multiple times, destroying the foundation of the New England Patriots’ offense. Their power running style suddenly became powerless when Knighton pushed blockers into the backfield, and their zone running game never seemed to stretch and cut like it was supposed to. Rather, it was split down the middle by Knighton’s penetration.
His most impressive play came with less than nine minutes in the first quarter. On 2nd-and-4 in a scoreless game, the Patriots offense came out with only one receiver lined up outside the left numbers. At the right hash of the 26-yard line, quarterback Tom Brady awaited the snap. All around and behind him, two tight ends lined up at the formation’s ends, and two backs directly on the right hash. This was the Patriot Way, lining up in a power football formation and running relentlessly down the opponent’s throat.
Across the line was the man everyone calls “Pot Roast.” Knighton, who goes by that nickname after choosing the dish on a plane ride, was outside the center’s left shoulder and across Brady’s, staring at the ball from a three-point stance. All around him were seven other teammates forming an eight man box.
When Brady reversed out (opposite side of handoff) and gave running back LeGarrette Blount the ball on a counter play, Blount took three steps before being knocked down for a one-yard gain by Knighton, who had followed Brady despite the Patriots’ linemen blocking to the opposite side. He leaned to his left, abruptly raised his arm over the center and pivoted at the right hash, where he also knocked the pulling back-side right tackle off his path and reached for Blount’s feet, which he missed, but he still caused a tackle because of Blount tripping over him.
Containing Knighton will be the test for the Seahawks, who will face stiff competition in the trenches and will have to find a way to at least get Lynch cleanly to the line of scrimmage. If they can’t, they’ll lose their foundation just like the Patriots did and have to rely on a rather disappointing passing game as of late. Even if the offense does struggle running the ball, the last two weeks show that they won’t go away from Lynch easily.
Since the playoffs have begun, Lynch has feasted on the opposition. Facing the New Orleans Saints in the Divisional Round, he shredded the defense for 140 yards on 28 carries, averaging five yards per touch. And faced with even stiffer competition in the Championship Round against the San Francisco 49ers, he totaled 109 yards on 22 carries, again averaging five per, including a 40-yard touchdown.
Four-and-a-half minutes into the third quarter, the Seahawks needed a yard on third down from the 49ers’ 40-yard line to keep the drive alive. The offense came out with three eligible “tight ends,” two to the far left and one to the right. Not all of them were tight ends and none of them would be catching a pass in this situation; this one was staying on the ground with Lynch, who was seven-and-a-half yards behind Wilson. The deep alignment allowed him to have more time to scan the front at the snap as he awaited the carry.
Defensively, the 49ers played an eight man box with three linemen, four linebackers and a defensive back rounding out the left side. Their two star linebackers, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, were protected by the nose tackle and right end.
Wilson turned to his right at the snap and handed the ball off to Lynch to his left, who stretched outside the near hash, short hopped, and widened his base, sticking his right leg out as he looked to his left, where an alley the width of the Seahawks’ logo had formed past the mosh pit of defenders on the hash. Once his left leg hit the ground behind the stockpile of linemen, Lynch turned his shoulders and accelerated left, running past the linemen and following a lead block, who he bumped into and bounced off of before exploding off his right foot again while crossing midfield to the right sideline, where he ran from four 49ers before tumbling into the end zone.
It’s not beyond Lynch to make a play like that in the Super Bowl. It’s not. One would only have to watch any of his other games to quickly quell that thought. But what if he doesn’t have the time to jab his foot and weave his body? What if Knighton quickly avoids the bundle of blockers and pushes into the backfield, preventing Lynch from running powerfully?
The battle will end up front, like always. Marshawn Lynch will take the hand-off . . . Terrance Knighton will penetrate . . . one will win the Super Bowl.