The two big plays that kept the Broncos in the game in that last fourth quarter drive were actually the same play. Some call it "scissors," some call it "switch verticals," but a rose by any other name is still Demaryius Thomas pulling Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell away from the outside receiver on a deep post.
Watching the coaches film its hilarious that the Broncos kept winning that same deep scissors route at the end of the game.— Stephen White (@sgw94) September 23, 2014
Here's the first play, a 42-yard catch by Emmanuel Sanders. Watch how he and Thomas barely start their cuts 15 yards into the route and Thomas is able to demand triple coverage in the deep zone, freeing Sanders (GIF via Grantland).
Before you ask, "Why didn't the Broncos just do this the whole game?", there are several critical components that make this work.
- This is a 7-step drop for Peyton Manning, meaning the protection has to hold up for a good long while before Manning can hit Sanders. Against Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, the Broncos know better than anybody that's dangerous. But down 8 points in the game's final minute, what did they have to lose?
- Scissors is proving to be a Cover 3-beater, and since the 'Hawks love Cover 3 and were lined up that way at the time, the play call was perfect.
- The Broncos intentionally target Maxwell's side here, because it is such a difficult play for the cornerback, as Grantland notes -
A great cornerback might be able to read what was happening and cover Demaryius Thomas while sitting on Sanders's route and remaining close enough to make a play on any throw to the outside - but there's a lot of "and's" in that sentence for a reason: It's tough as hell. Maxwell just doesn't have the ability and the awareness to do all that at the same level as a Richard Sherman, and the Broncos counted on that in targeting him on this drive.
With the clock ticking and no timeouts, Adam Gase/Peyton Manning drew from the well again, this time cuing up Jacob Tamme for the inside position. Tamme is able to beat K.J. Wright deep, who was too wide and too shallow, as The Seattle Times Hugh Mullen notes, and Thomas again pulls Maxwell.
While Demaryius Thomas isn't making highlight-reel touchdowns in 2014 yet, his efforts had just as much to do with the Broncos' tie as Jacob Tamme's catch or Peyton Manning's throw.