Hugh’s view: How the Seahawks picked off Eli Manning five times
Hugh Millen analyzes Eli Manning’s five interceptions — a career high for the Giants quarterback.
Special to The Seattle Times
Seattle hung a career-high interception total on a likely Hall-of-Famer who is one of the premier playoff quarterbacks of the past two generations. Some thoughts on all five picks:
Fade to Victor Cruz:
I regard Eli Manning, at his best, as one of the best back-shoulder fade throwers I’ve ever seen, particularly when connecting with Plaxico Burress. On this play, Seattle played its unique brand of the three-deep zone: four shallow-zone defenders with press man-to-man coverage outside against Cruz, who was aligned wide left.
Had the Seahawks played true man-to-man, Byron Maxwell would have been susceptible to the fade route’s complement: the slant route. But with zone help inside, Maxwell was able to turn quickly and cut off the vertical fade route. It also appeared that Manning expected Cruz to sell the fade further up the field. Entering the game, Cruz was getting 69 percent of passes thrown to him when he lines up in the slot — an alignment from which he would almost never be asked to execute the back-shoulder fade.
Lastly, Maxwell’s physical domination at the point of contest mirrored what would be expected of the larger Brandon Browner.
Fade to Hakeem Nicks:
Having failed on the back-shoulder fade, Manning later attempted the up-shoulder fade against Richard Sherman — wherein the objective is to throw beyond, rather than behind, the cornerback.
You know that “crazy” gesture Sherman does, rotating his finger around his ear? This truly applies to Manning. Has he not watched tape? In the identical defense described above, Sherman did what he always does against this route: From his inside positioning, he wheeled to place his outside shoulder in front of the receiver’s inside shoulder while running hip-to-hip. Sherman then widened Nicks to place himself in perfect position to rise high for the pick — textbook technique.
Hail Mary, end of half:
On these plays, ESPN commentator Chris Berman implores, “Knock it down!” I imagine Sherman giving Berman the “crazy” gesture.
Shallow cross to Nicks:
Before the trade deadline, the Giants were reportedly shopping Nicks. This play would be an example of why. Seattle played man-to-man coverage underneath with two safeties deep.
In such coverage, the underneath defenders are able to cover short routes tightly because of deep help by the safeties. After releasing inside, Nicks should have recognized man coverage, pushed one extra yard vertical before leveling to create separation and sprinting away from the defender. Instead, Nicks executed no vertical stem, then slowed down as if encountering zone defense before fading up. There, he allowed Maxwell to out-compete him for the ball.
End zone fade to Nicks:
This was a cover-1 defense with a blitz: man-to-man coverage with one free safety. This time, Nicks had a better release — Sherman didn’t quite get the dominant position with his outside shoulder that he did on his first interception. But Sherman’s catch-up acceleration, strength and timed jump won the play. I’d love to credit Sherman for deftly assisting on Earl Thomas’ interception, but Sherman attempted the volleyball equivalent of a spike, not a set.
Former Huskies and NFL quarterback Hugh Millen is providing analysis after each Seahawks game this season.