I got a comment from pqlqi this week that read: "someone needs to do a film breakdown on whatever the hell has changed in the run game/offensive line in the last three weeks. How did we go from a 4.4 yard per carry (ypc) team to a 7.2 ypc team in the last three games? 32 rushes for 170 vs the Bears, 42 for 284 agains the Cardinals, and 32 for 270 against the Bills = 106 rushes for 724 yards in three games, which is insane, especially when we consider that it was against a top-5 run defense, a top-10 run defense, and a league average run defense.
Pickles postulated that "It seems to coincide with James Carpenter being placed on IR, Paul McQuistan being permanently placed back at LG, and J.R. Sweezy coming back into the rotation. Okung looks like he's playing lights out - does he trust McQuistan next to him more than the platoon that has been there before? Most specifically, are we getting those big inside runs from Marshawn where he's not touched for 12 yards with a specific line - do they come when Sweezy or Moffitt is in - or both?"
This was a great comment/question, to which my first response would have been to concurrently raise my hand and blurt out "THE READ OPTION!" awkwardly while looking around for affirmation. Of course, with pretty much everything in the NFL, there are likely several factors at play. I do think that Paul McQuistan has played significantly better at LG than he was at RG, and in general, I think Moffitt's better on the right side. Russell Okung is quietly having a Pro Bowl season, both in pass pro and in his run blocking, and Max Unger continues to play nearly mistake free ball, from what I've observed (though I admit i should watch things more closely to feel stronger about that assertion).
I'd say that when Carpenter was healthy, he was looking just like we'd have hoped - a road-grading beast in the run game and a mostly immovable object in pass pro, but once he re-tweaked his knee and suffered his concussion, he was simply not very good. I think replacing him on the line with healthy players has helped immensely, and even the oft-maligned Breno Giacomini has been playing his balls off over the past couple of games.
Also a factor in the Seahawks' offensive explosion has been the improvement of Russell Wilson in the passing game. Simply put, it's a lot harder to defend a two-pronged attack that can hurt you from the air and on the ground. Finally, I think that we've seen some seriously excellent downfield blocking from Seattle's wide receiver corps. You pop the tape back in, and when Marshawn Lynch has been able to 'get the corner' on runs and make his way upfield scott-free, a lot of the time you'll see great blocks by Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, and Golden Tate.
Back to my initial reaction though - the one that figured the read-option package of plays has completely opened up the Seahawks run game, made it more multiple and diverse, and created preparation issues for opposing teams as defensive coordinators are forced to cope with a broader set of plays to defend.
The Bears left it open late for the Seahawks, and once Russell Wilson had spotted that vulnerability, he exploited it. The below-listed plays were out of 'read-option' looks:
Seattle vs. Chicago, Final drive & Overtime:
4th Quarter go-ahead drive:
2-3-SEA 21 (2:45) (Shotgun) M.Lynch left end to SEA 32 for 11 yards.
2-10-SEA 32 (2:11) (Shotgun) R.Wilson scrambles right end pushed ob at SEA 45 for 13 yards (B.Urlacher).
1-10-SEA 45 (2:01) (Shotgun) R.Wilson scrambles left end ran ob at CHI 49 for 6 yards (J.Peppers).
1-10-SEA 20 (15:00) (Shotgun) R.Wilson right end to SEA 31 for 11 yards (C.Steltz).
1-10-SEA 31 (14:20) (Shotgun) M.Lynch left guard to SEA 45 for 14 yards (M.Wright).
1-10-SEA 45 (13:44) (Shotgun) M.Lynch right guard to SEA 45 for no gain (H.Melton).
3-2-CHI 47 (12:11) (Shotgun) R.Wilson left end to CHI 42 for 5 yards (B.Urlacher).
2-7-CHI 39 (10:57) (Shotgun) M.Lynch right guard to CHI 37 for 2 yards (J.Peppers; C.Steltz).
2-9-CHI 24 (9:00) (Shotgun) M.Lynch right end to CHI 25 for -1 yards (H.Melton).
Total: 9 runs, 61 yards, 0 TD.
The final two passes, a first down to Doug Baldwin, and the touchdown to Sidney Rice, came out of zone-read play-action looks as Wilson got outside the pocket. This seemed to be an 'ah-ha' moment for the coaching staff, and perhaps allowed them to consider further integrating it into the offense, as opposed to keeping it in there as sort of a 'gadget-type' play to be used a few times a game.
The next week:
Seattle vs. Arizona, prior to Matt Flynn taking over at QB:
2-8-ARZ 12 (11:19) (Shotgun) R.Wilson left end to ARZ 6 for 6 yards (S.Acho).
1-10-ARZ 20 (2:34) (Shotgun) M.Lynch right tackle to ARZ 5 for 15 yards (Q.Groves, J.Sanders).
1-10-ARZ 20 (2:13) (Shotgun) M.Lynch left end for 20 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
2-10-ARZ 43 (11:20) (Shotgun) R.Turbin left end to ARZ 38 for 5 yards (D.Washington; K.Rhodes).
1-10-SEA 34 (8:40) R.Turbin up the middle to SEA 38 for 4 yards (S.Acho).
2-6-SEA 38 (8:03) (Shotgun) R.Turbin right guard to SEA 41 for 3 yards (D.Dockett; D.Washington).
2-7-SEA 24 (1:50) (Shotgun) R.Turbin left tackle to SEA 30 for 6 yards (P.Lenon).
3-1-SEA 30 (1:18) (Shotgun) R.Turbin left guard to SEA 30 for no gain (Q.Groves).
2-5-ARZ 34 (11:56) (Shotgun) R.Turbin right tackle to ARZ 33 for 1 yard (P.Lenon).
Total: 9 runs, 60 yards, 1 TD
Seattle used the read-option effectively as one part of their offensive playbook. This is how it should be really - not the 'staple' or 'identity' of your offense, but something you can use on ~10% or 20% of your run plays. This is what happened in this game.
Seattle vs. Buffalo, prior to Matt Flynn taking over. This time, I've included all run plays, to give you an idea of how often the Seahawks intersperse the read-option into their rushing attack. Seattle used read-option on 13 of their 32 runs, or 40% of the time. This was a big jump, but really Buffalo may have dictated this as they refused to show they could stop it.
Read option plays in bold, with possessions separated.
Seattle Seahawks at 15:00 (1st play from scrimmage 14:55) 1st Q,
2-17-SEA 17 (14:28) (Shotgun) M.Lynch up the middle to SEA 27 for 10 yards (G.Wilson, J.Byrd).
1-10-SEA 44 (13:30) M.Lynch up the middle to SEA 46 for 2 yards (N.Bradham, A.Carrington).
2-8-SEA 46 (12:52) R.Wilson scrambles right end pushed ob at SEA 47 for 1 yard (M.Dareus).
1-10-BUF 25 (11:14) M.Lynch left tackle to BUF 22 for 3 yards (S.Merriman).
1-10-BUF 14 (10:05) (Shotgun) R.Wilson right guard for 14 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Seattle Seahawks at 8:29 1st Q
1-10-BUF 44 (7:42) (Shotgun) R.Wilson left tackle pushed ob at BUF 25 for 19 yards (G.Wilson).
2-12-BUF 27 (6:34) (Shotgun) R.Turbin up the middle to BUF 25 for 2 yards (G.Wilson; Sp.Johnson).
3-10-BUF 25 (5:54) (Shotgun) R.Wilson scrambles left tackle for 25 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Seattle Seahawks at 0:34, (1st play from scrimmage 0:26) 1st Q
1-10-SEA 34 (:26) M.Lynch up the middle to SEA 40 for 6 yards (R.Brooks, J.Byrd).
2-4-SEA 40 (15:00) (Shotgun) M.Lynch left end to SEA 46 for 6 yards (K.Sheppard, D.Searcy).
1-10-BUF 10 (13:32) M.Lynch right guard to BUF 9 for 1 yard (M.Williams, N.Bradham).
Seattle Seahawks at 11:14 2nd Q
2-10-SEA 42 (11:05) (Shotgun) M.Lynch up the middle to BUF 4 for 54 yards (G.Wilson).
Seattle Seahawks at 8:37 2nd Q
1-10-SEA 38 (8:37) (Shotgun) M.Lynch right guard to SEA 49 for 11 yards (J.Byrd).
1-10-SEA 49 (8:01) R.Wilson right tackle to SEA 49 for no gain (B.Scott).
1-10-BUF 10 (6:40) M.Lynch right tackle to BUF 11 for -1 yards (K.Moore; Sp.Johnson).
1-20-BUF 20 (6:17) (Shotgun) M.Lynch up the middle to BUF 13 for 7 yards (K.Moore, G.Wilson).
2-13-BUF 13 (5:38) (Shotgun) R.Wilson right tackle for 13 yards, TOUCHDOWN
Seattle Seahawks at 1:10, (1st play from scrimmage 1:04) 2nd Q
3-10-SEA 22 (:52) (Shotgun) L.Washington right guard to SEA 22 for no gain (J.Byrd).
Seattle Seahawks at 12:58 3rd Q
1-10-BUF 20 (12:58) R.Wilson scrambles right tackle pushed ob at BUF 13 for 7 yards (K.Sheppard).
2-3-BUF 13 (12:25) M.Lynch left tackle for 13 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Seattle Seahawks at 3:34 3rd Q into 4th Q
1-10-SEA 7 (3:34) R.Turbin up the middle to SEA 12 for 5 yards (N.Barnett).
2-5-SEA 12 (2:58) R.Turbin right guard to SEA 13 for 1 yard (M.Dareus, N.Barnett).
3-1-SEA 36 (:51) R.Turbin right guard to SEA 38 for 2 yards (M.Williams, N.Barnett).
1-10-SEA 38 (:10) (Shotgun) R.Wilson scrambles right tackle pushed ob at BUF 49 for 13 yards (B.Scott).
1-20-SEA 41 (14:51) (Shotgun) L.Washington up the middle to SEA 46 for 5 yards (N.Barnett).
2-15-SEA 46 (14:12) (Shotgun) R.Wilson right guard to SEA 46 for no gain (K.Moore).
4-4-BUF 43 (12:49) (Punt formation) M.Robinson left guard to BUF 14 for 29 yards (R.Brooks). Snap to C.Maragos, inside handoff to M.Robinson.
1-10-BUF 14 (12:03) R.Turbin right tackle to BUF 13 for 1 yard (G.Wilson, M.Williams).
2-6-BUF 6 (10:04) R.Turbin left guard to BUF 5 for 1 yard (G.Wilson).
Seattle Seahawks at 4:37 4th Q
1-10-SEA 37 (4:37) M.Flynn in at QB. R.Turbin up the middle to SEA 49 for 12 yards (A.Williams, K.Sheppard).
1-10-SEA 49 (3:51) R.Turbin up the middle to 50 for 1 yard (Ky.Williams).
2-9-50 (3:06) R.Turbin left guard to BUF 45 for 5 yards (K.Sheppard).
3-4-BUF 45 (2:24) R.Turbin up the middle to BUF 44 for 1 yard (K.Sheppard, N.Bradham).
Total: 13 runs, 142 yards, 2 TDs
Against Arizona, with the read option, Seattle averaged 6.7 ypc; 9 rushes for 60 yards and a touchdown. With 'traditional' rush looks, they picked up 224 yards on 33 carries, for, funnily enough, 6.7 ypc and 3 TD. Seattle just flat out dominated in the run game, both in traditional and 'college' looks.
Against Buffalo, however, Seattle averaged 10.9 yards per carry while using the zone-read option, 13 carries for 142 yards and 2 touchdowns. On traditional looks, Seattle averaged 6.7 yards per carry (this seems to be a popular number lately); 19 carries for 128 yards and 2 TD.
Taken as a whole - since Seattle properly 'unbridled' the read-option look on that 4th quarter go-ahead drive against Chicago (because that seems to be the point when they were like "holy shit this really works"), Seattle has rushed 31 times for 263 yards and 3 touchdowns, with 8.4 yards per carry. This hasn't taken into account the amount of times they've used play-action off of read option looks to make big plays in the passing game, which is another cool factor that goes along with this package.
Again, I want to stress, that the read-option is likely to remain just a portion of the offensive playbook, with zone-stretch plays with Marshawn Lynch, and play-action passing with Russell Wilson the 'core identity'. Personally, I just really appreciate that the playbook is being opened up and Wilson is being entrusted to grasp a wider range of looks, groupings, styles, and packages.
Whether this is a direct result of the read-option package's growth or just a corollary of how dominant the offense has been of late, Tim Booth pointed out that "in first 11 games, Marshawn Lynch had 19 runs of 10+ yards. In last 3 games -- 14." You know this is a big deal to Pete Carroll.
I didn't have time to really answer Pickles' question by delving into tape study, but hopefully this adds a little insight to the overall dialogue on it.
Photo credits (in order): Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports, Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports, Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
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