Seahawks beat Panthers: Notes on the offense; 3rd down effectiveness

Grant Halverson - Getty Images

Anyone else find it creepy that Josh Norman^ is staring right into your soul whilst trying to tackle Sidney Rice?

First and foremost I'd like to say that I thought this was a good win for the Seahawks. Not pretty, no. I am not expecting many 'pretty' wins from the Seahawks this season, particularly not in their east coast games on the road. Apart from the final numbers on the scoreboard though - which, I acknowledge (and Carolina bloggers also acknowledge), shouldn't have been so close - Seattle dominated in pretty much every category of the game. They came out on top at the end, - escaped with a win, really - despite a myriad of wasted opportunities and stupid penalties that still typify this young, undisciplined team.

I understand that the score is ultimately the most important statistic in a game, but over this week I am hoping to take a look at the three different phases of the game - offense, defense, and special teams - separate from each other, because, ultimately, unit play is something we can look at going forward to hope to analyze how well this team will perform against upcoming opponents, as it's pretty impossible to gauge how well they'll work in unison to win a football game.

To me, the storyline of the win in Carolina was that Seattle played well in several different phases of the game, but still grasped to put them all together into a congruent, streamlined system that works together over the course of a game.

This is what great teams are able to accomplish -- San Francisco, Houston, Atlanta, even the Bears are doing this right now. The Seahawks are not doing this. The defense will make a huge stop, and the offense will go three-and-out, putting undue strain on a unit that needs more rest. The offense will bring things back with a big play, and the defense will give up a big drive or fail on consecutive 3rd and longs to get off the field. The momentum will shift in Seattle's favor, and then special teams will falter. I do think that this team has great potential in all three areas (though offense is still obviously the biggest question mark), but getting balance from each phase is essential. No three phases will align perfectly consistently for any team, but the whole 'shooting yourself in the foot' theme is becoming a pattern for Seattle early in the season.

Marshawn Lynch, despite what seemed like a sub-par game from the rushing attack, finished with 85 yards on 21 carries for a 4.0 ypc average. This total excludes a 20-yard gain by Lynch in the 2nd quarter that was called back by a simply non-existent Russell Okung hold and an 11-yard gain in the 3rd quarter that was called back by a similarly awful holding call on Ben Obomanu. The difference between a blowout win and what transpired in reality (a close win that could have easily been a loss), for me, came down to a bunch of 'what-if' situations for the Seahawks.

Mostly, Seattle brought these plays upon themselves - Breno Giacomini's hold on the 56-yard shot play to Golden Tate, Leon Washington's fumble on a big kick return, Earl Thomas' dropped interception that led to a Carolina field goal, Marshawn Lynch bobbling a pass straight up into the air and up for grabs that led to a turnover, & Russell Wilson's poor pass that led to a pick-six are the key plays that come to mind - but the referees had a part in this too - those two big plays in particular were egregious officiating errors and hugely impactful for Seattle's offensive momentum (both drives ended in punts shortly thereafter).

You could argue 'what-ifs' all day long, I suppose, but those two plays in particular stymied what I thought was a fairly efficient and balanced offensive attack by Seattle, with a total of 16 points notwithstanding. You correctly let those two plays happen, and Lynch's line goes to 116 yards on 23 carries, or a 5.04 yard per rush average. Taken as a whole for Seattle's rushing attack in this hypothetical exercise, and Seattle's final line is somewhere in the ballpark of 150 yards on 35 carries, (also ignoring the intentional safety taken by Jon Ryan, in which he was charged with -18 yards rushing). This rushing attack, for the most part, was still "on schedule," as Pete Carroll might say.

Importantly, Seattle improved on third downs - converting 7 of 14 after going 14 of 50 (28%) previous this season. This is improvement. It's not going to happen overnight.

Prior to the game though, as Jason La Canfora reported, "The Seahawks are not averse to benching Wilson in favor of free agent Matt Flynn soon, if they believe he would give them the best chance to win, and coach Pete Carroll is monitoring that situation closely. When the Seahawks opted to name Wilson, a third-round pick, the starter, they did so intending to give him a decent enough sample size to show what he could do."

Importantly, as La Canfora reported, "Team officials are enthused at his ability to make plays on the move, and keep his team in every game, but if Wilson can not be more effective on third-down or establish more of a pocket presence, the move to Flynn could be imminent."

I'd say Wilson made steps to protect his job, though I'm sure that situation remains relatively fluid. After the game, Pete Carroll was typically effusive in his praise but I actually think he was being genuine when he said, in reference to his third down play, assumedly, "[Wilson] fixed something that we challenged him to fix. I thought he was big-time."

Here is a look at the Seahawks' third down situations in this game.

1st Quarter:

1) 3-7-CAR 24 (12:46 1st Quarter) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short middle to D.Baldwin to CAR 11 for 13 yards (L.Kuechly).
2) 3-9-CAR 10 (10:52 1st Quarter) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short right to Z.Miller to CAR 4 for 6 yards (J.Thomas).
3) 3-4-CAR 40 (5:51 1st Quarter) (Shotgun) R.Wilson scrambles right end pushed ob at CAR 39 for 1 yard (G.Hardy).

The 1st quarter was a mixed bag. After Wilson picked up a big first down out of the shotgun on the team's first 3rd down situation, by passing to Doug Baldwin over the middle for 11, the drive stalled in the red zone when Zach Miller could only get six yards from the nine-yard line after a Wilson dump-off. The Seahawks' redzone efficiency is still a big question mark - this much anyone can realize, but it's worth noting this was another "run, run, then pass in third and long" situation for Wilson. Two Lynch runs on first- and second-down produced one yard. I understand that we should expect more from Russell Wilson but this type of predictability is tough for any passer.

The next drive ended with Wilson on a designed bootleg, running out of bounds after finding no receiver downfield. It's hard to assign blame here on anyone without seeing the coaches tape (tough to do it even then) but needless to say, this wasn't the designed outcome.

2nd Quarter:

4) 3-5-SEA 47 (13:04 2nd Quarter) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short left to S.Rice to CAR 41 for 12 yards (J.Norman).
5) 3-5-CAR 36 (11:05 2nd Quarter) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short right to S.Rice to CAR 25 for 11 yards (J.Thomas).
6) 3-6-CAR 21 (9:22) (2nd Quarter) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short right to R.Turbin to CAR 18 for 3 yards (J.Thomas).
7) 3-1-SEA 47 (5:32 2nd Quarter) M.Robinson left guard to SEA 48 for 1 yard (T.Davis; J.Norman).
8) 3-6-CAR 48 (3:28 2nd Quarter) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short left to D.Baldwin to CAR 43 for 5 yards (S.Martin).

Wilson was strong on third downs in the 2nd quarter. He produced consecutive first down passes to Sidney Rice on two 3rd and 5 plays to move the ball into Carolina territory, setting up first down at the Panthers' 25 yard line. You can only guess what happens next as the field constricts and Seattle moves into the red zone. Run, run, pass on 3rd down out of shotgun.

Wilson connects with Robert Turbin on a check down but Turbin can't pick up the first down. These third down shotgun plays following two runs are what Warren Moon was talking about last week. I'm fine with making the argument that a starting quarterback in the NFL should be able to convert these plays - because, that's true, but again, to me, another issue I have is about Seattle's predictability negatively affecting the efficiency of the offense.

Later in the quarter, Michael Robinson picks up a 1st down on 3rd and short, then later that drive, Wilson passes to Doug Baldwin as what really looks like his first read or possibly his hot read on the blitz (ie, not a check down), who catches the ball a yard short but is tackled very quickly by the Panthers with a nice defensive play. Baldwin picks up 5 yards when he needed 6. See below as Wilson releases to what I'd call the correct receiver. Again, hell of a play by Carolina to stuff this.

Screen_shot_2012-10-08_at_11

3rd Quarter:

9) 3-4-SEA 34 (11:16 3rd Quarter) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short left to G.Tate to SEA 40 for 6 yards (S.Martin).
10) 3-10-SEA 24 (3:34 3rd Quarter) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short left to R.Turbin to SEA 29 for 5 yards (L.Kuechly).
11) 3-8-CAR 13 (:35 3rd Quarter) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short middle to G.Tate for 13 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

The third quarter's 3rd down scoring goes to Wilson. First, a nice first down completion to Golden Tate on a nice sit-down route early in the quarter (#9 above). Wilson throws from the pocket decisively, in the face of pressure up the middle.

Screen_shot_2012-10-08_at_11

The following play to that above is a dagger into the heart of the defense to Zach Miller for 30 yards, but the drive is wasted as Wilson throws a pick off the hands of Marshawn Lynch on the subsequent snap. I'd say both players share blame for this - the pass was behind Lynch so it was a tough catch, but the way he bobbled it straight up into the air doesn't help matters.

The 3rd down play, #10 above, a 3rd and long situation, was precipitated by the above-mentioned phantom holding call by Ben Obomanu that took a Marshawn Lynch 11-yard gain on 2nd down and put the Seahawks back into a 2nd and 10 situation. Wilson looked for Doug Baldwin on the right wing but threw high, and then in 3rd and long, dumped off to Turbin. The 2nd down miss by Wilson was key, but so too was the momentum killer of that terrible holding call.

One of the game's two biggest third down conversions came on the Seahawks' next drive, near the end of the 3rd quarter. In 3rd and 8 - following a two-yard run by Lynch on 1st down and an incompletion to Golden Tate on 2nd down, Russell Wilson targeted Golden Tate on a slant route over the middle and Tate did the rest.

Hell of a job by the Seahawks' offensive line here to create a throwing lane for Wilson and Tate does his internal-gyroscope thing and bounces off a couple of tackles for the score. Strong, decisive throw by Wilson on a route that we haven't seen the Seahawks have much success with thus far.

Screen_shot_2012-10-08_at_11 Uspw_6642288

4th Quarter:

12) 3-13-CAR 26 (10:41 4th Quarter) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass incomplete deep right to S.Rice.
13) 3-7-SEA 4 (2:58 4th Quarter) M.Lynch up the middle to SEA 15 for 11 yards (H.Nakamura).

14) 3-10-SEA 15 (1:53) R.Wilson right end to SEA 18 for 3 yards (C.Munnerlyn).

The Seahawks' first drive of the fourth quarter had an auspicious start, with Marshawn Lynch busting off runs of 8 yards and 11 yards, then followed up by another seam route dagger to Zach Miller for 23 yards. The drive stalled again once Seattle worked their way into Carolina's redzone area, and consecutive runs from the Panthers' 23 yard line on first- and second-down produced -3 yards. Wilson was then forced into a 3rd and 13 situation, which is anything but ideal. Again, 'run, run, pass on third and long' in or near the redzone. Wilson throws incomplete to Sidney Rice.

The Panthers then proceeded to eat up seven minutes of the clock before being unceremoniously stuffed at the one-yard line by the Seahawks' defense. Two plays later, after regaining possession of the football, Marshawn Lynch busted up the gut for 11 yards on the other biggest 3rd down conversion of the game. Yadda yadda yadda, Wilson runs a naked bootleg that fails to pick up a first down but succeeds in protecting the football, and an intentional safety and strip sack by Bruce Irvin later, and the Seahawks had the win.

The Seahawks went 7 for 14 on 3rd down. Three were designed runs - two of which went for 1st downs - one by Lynch and one by Michael Robinson (the third being Wilson's designed bootleg near the end of the game). Another one was a designed rollout that Wilson ran out of bounds - though really I'd chalk that up to a missed throw.

So, Wilson really went 5 for 11 on 3rd down "pass plays," five of which were greater than 8 yards.

Of those six non-conversions, one was an incompletion - on a 3rd and 13 in a 'run-run-pass on 3rd and long' in the redzone. Five were completions that came up short of a first down, and one was Wilson pulling the ball down and not throwing.

Wilson's five completions on 3rd down, though, were impressive. Big plays of 11 yards, 12 yards, 11 yards, 6 yards, and 13 yards for a TD. I'd personally put several of those throws into the Greg Cosell category of 'big time NFL throws'. Pete Carroll certainly thought so as well. Now, Wilson showed improvement, but that doesn't mean he's 'arrived' or anything like it. I'll take improvement though, for sure, and assuming no change at QB is forthcoming, hope that continues next week against New England's defense.

For that to happen, Wilson must do what he did on Sunday - target his most talented weapons - Sidney Rice, who had 5 catches on 6 targets for 67 yards; Zach Miller, 3 catches on 3 targets for 59 yards (last two games - 6 catches on 6 targets for 91 yards); Doug Baldwin, 3 catches 37 yards on 4 targets; Golden Tate, 3 catches for 31 yards on 4 targets, 1 touchdown.

Wilson must keep his YPA up - in this game he was 19 of 25 for 221 yards, or 8.84 yards per attempt. It might sound like a broken record, but Wilson needs to continue to learn to trust his protection more -- Carroll said this morning that he moved out of the pocket three or four times when he didn't need to. This needs to improve.

Overall - I came away from watching the game in a good mood. Obviously, a lot of that had to do with the Seahawks' defense. Well, most of it, actually.

Little bits and pieces of it did come from the offensive play though, and it was great to see Seattle's receivers making some plays for Wilson. Sidney Rice made a couple tough, contested catches, Zach Miller is alive and well within the construct of the passing game, and Golden Tate is establishing himself as a legitimate starter at X and also becoming a go-to guy for Russell Wilson. Darrell Bevell made concerted efforts to get the ball into Tate's hands -- he called two swing pass plays to Golden (one that actually went backward and counted as a run) and an erased 56-yard bomb that showed his ability to stretch a defense vertically. He purposefully targeted Sidney Rice early and often - the game's first play was again a big downfield strike to the Seahawks' big-name free agent signee of last season. He sent the other big-name signee, Zach Miller, down the seam, leaving Anthony McCoy in to block. This makes me happy.

This is a low-volume passing game; to me, it's important that those three players feature every week, and it's important that they target those players methodically and deliberately.

Targets that Doug Baldwin sees and can convert are a huge bonus - and I think he'll get more involved as this offense grows, and past that, anything to Anthony McCoy, Ben Obomanu, Evan Moore, and/or Braylon Edwards is like icing on the cake.

Anyway -- this game was about the defense -- which Kenny has gotten to before me, and I'll likely get to later this week, but I thought there were some positives to take away from the game on the offensive side of the ball despite a sub-par scoring effort.

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