Dealing With the Wheel

Friday January 30th, 2015

Heading into last year’s Super Bowl, we highlighted a staple slot wheel route play that Seattle likes to run for Doug Baldwin out of a three-receiver set. Sure enough, late in the first quarter of Super Bowl 48, Baldwin burned Champ Bailey for 37 yards on that exact play.

This slot wheel route is easy to predict and hard to defend. The Seahawks run it when they face a single-high safety look. (The play generally doesn’t work against a two-high safety look, like Cover-2, Quarters or 2-man, because the wheel route leads the slot receiver directly into the extra safety.)

The Patriots, with their strong cast of man-to-man corners, play almost all single-high safety coverage. And because mediocre receivers (like Seattle’s) need the play design to help get them open against quality corners, we’re certain to see this wheel route concept on Sunday.

The majority of Seattle’s slot wheel routes target Baldwin, so the key defender against the play will be Darrelle Revis, who is almost certain to shadow Seattle’s No. 1 receiver.

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The wheel “is probably one of the toughest routes to cover,” Revis said at Thursday morning’s press conference. “You just try to stay upfield, try to stay on top of the receiver. Even if you stay on top, the quarterbacks are so great that they’ll back-shoulder it. It’s really a tough route to cover.”

Russell Wilson, who is much better throwing on an arch than on a rope, is not one of the preeminent back-shoulder passers in the game, but against Revis a quarterback can’t be choosy. A play-caller can, though. The Seahawks employed a variety of wheel routes this season, particularly against man coverage, and many times featured Marshawn Lynch.

• More Super Bowl 49 Deep Dive: How a little-known assistant coach helped make the Seahawks' secondary into the league's best unit

“You see running backs in the game today flaring out on linebackers and doing wheel routes, that’s probably one of the biggest red zone plays you try to cover,” said Revis.

Lynch struck twice on wheel routes against Green Bay in the NFC title game. One drew a pass interference, the other gained 26 yards, setting up a late fourth-quarter touchdown.

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Seattle’s tight ends, plus wideout Jermaine Kearse, have also been factors on wheel routes this season (Kearse had a 53-yarder against Dallas). If the plan turns into avoiding Revis altogether, you’ll see these guys targeted. One of the deciding factors in this game will be which team wins on wheel routes.


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