The All-22: The Percy Harvin Effect
JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- It's unusual for a player to take 39 snaps total in the regular and postseason and still have a potentially monumental impact in a Super Bowl, but Seattle Seahawks receiver Percy Harvin is no ordinary player. The first-round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2009, Harvin was traded to the Seahawks for a trio of picks, including a first-rounder, before the 2013 season. Due to a nagging hip injury, Harvin was unable to provide much value -- he played a bit against the Vikings in a 41-20 win on Nov. 17, catching one pass for 17 yards and returning one kick for 58. And in the Seahawks' 23-15 divisional round win over the New Orleans Saints, he added three catches for 21 yards, one end-around run for nine yards and a concussion that kept him out of Seattle's NFC championship win over the San Francisco 49ers. Head coach Pete Carroll has said that Harvin will finally be full-go when the Seahawks meet the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The stats would seem to indicate that Harvin has been a marginal player in this offense, but when he's out there, he affects defenses whether he's the target or not. The Harvin Effect, as we could call it, is a clear and present danger for the Broncos because of the many things Harvin can do on the field -- and how the very threat of him forces defenses to do things they would rather not.
“We don’t really have a lot of film on him," Broncos cornerback Quentin Jammer said Wednesday. "We do know that he can line up in multiple positions. He can hurt teams from all of those positions so I think we’ll start to prepare for him on kickoff and punt returns, because that’s usually the first place he makes his mark. So we’ve got to make sure we get him stopped on kickoff, but as a receiver, he’s just an explosive guy. They put him in the slot to try to get him away from press coverage, and I think we definitely have to try to get our hands on him and keep Russell [Wilson] in the pocket to keep him from scrambling around and making explosive plays down the field.”
"You have to know your history on Percy Harvin," cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie added. "You have to go back and watch the film at Minnesota, see how they used him there and see that he can do some things."
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On Wednesday, I asked Carroll about the Harvin Effect, and what it could mean for Seattle's offense.
“Well, he’s a terrific football player, with the dynamics of the tremendous speed that he has, the intensity that he brings when the ball’s in his hands -- how he carries it, he runs like a running back -- he’s unusually aggressive and he’s such a versatile athlete, that you have a lot of opportunities to do different things with him," Carroll said. "So, it causes a defense to have to be on guard for him running with the football, him catching and running, and also the tremendous speed he has to get downfield deep. He’s rare in that aspect that he has all of those dimensions going for him. We knew it from recruiting him, we knew it from playing against him, we knew it from watching him and then we were thrilled to have the chance to put him on our team. We haven’t had the opportunity to demonstrate how that’s going to all work out and fit with our club yet, to any extent, but this will be an opportunity, in this game, to get him involved.
"We said the whole time, there was never a thought to build a football team around one guy; we’ve never said that and never thought that way. We just want to add him to the mix and see how that contributes to the rest of the guys, and I think he should be able to contribute in a good way.”
As Jammer remarked, there isn't a lot of tape on Harvin in a Seahawks uniform, but perhaps the best comparable player to have in mind is Reggie Bush, and the difference Bush made to the 2009 Super Bowl champion Saints. Sean Payton would line Bush up all over the formation, and drive defenses nuts with motion and different action packages. When Bush was seen as a threat to move from the backfield to the slot, defenses would adjust by taking one of their linebackers off the field and replacing him with a slot corner -- which, of course, helped New Orleans' running backs find open lanes against less powerful players close to the line of scrimmage. In addition, the jet sweep package Payton installed forced linebackers to move out of their responsibilities -- Bush would weave from one side of the field to the other, the front seven would react, and Drew Brees had more clear views and more open palettes with which to work.
Putting Harvin in the slot, and adding his world-class speed to the equation, forces defenses to spread out pre-snap, which is not generally a great idea when facing running back Marshawn Lynch.
One example of this happened with 9:15 left in the first half of the Saints game. Seattle had 3rd-and-9 at its own 29-yard line, and New Orleans countered with a dime defense. This is a fairly common staple in the schemes of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, but the thing that really sticks out is how much more expansive the Seahawks and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell are when Harvin's on the field. Close formations turn into far more receivers outside the numbers, trips and bunch concepts, and the kind of schematic versatility that puts defenses on their heels. This play went for just six yards because Harvin (yellow box, below) fell down, but when you look at the defensive positioning and reaction, it was clear that the Saints were expecting the Seahawks to go wide open.
“I’m excited to have him back," Bevell said Thursday. "I’ve said it over and over -- you’ve seen the impact he’s had on the games when he’s been in there. There haven’t been a lot of plays, but the plays that he has, he definitely has an impact on the game, and we expect it to be that way in this game as well.”
When I spoke to the man himself about this Effect, Harvin spoke first about the effect that Denver's secondary -- specifically veteran cornerback Champ Bailey -- might have on him.
"Well, they're led by Champ, and that's a guy I've respected for so long. I loved going against him when I played in Minnesota. He came to me a couple times after games, just to give me little tips on things I did to make him react a certain way. Just going against him is going to be the ultimate challenge. He's very savvy."
Bailey won't be giving Harvin any tips before Sunday's contest, but he'll be ready for whatever Harvin has to offer.
"He came back for the playoff game against New Orleans and they used him a lot," Bailey recalled Thursday. "I can only imagine with two weeks of preparation, they're going to use him. I wouldn't doubt that because he's a special player."