Units have poor games. It even happens to "elite" teams. Sunday night, Hawkblogger (@Hawkblogger) posted a series of tweets after the game reminding us of Super Bowl winning teams that huffed, puffed and wheezed to the regular season finish line. Short version: there are quite a few of them. Our beloved Hawks just didn’t play well enough on offense and special teams to win. No "flaws" got exposed that we didn’t already know about.
Two thoughts on the loss.
1. Bevell is more "process guy" than "scab picker"
That comes with a downside that's easy to see. It also comes with an upside that is easy to ignore or take for granted. I’m a Bevell guy, unabashedly. He’s not a "genius" innovator. He’s just a really good fit for this staff and this roster. It’s easy to take that for granted. This has been a top 5-7 offense in DVOA pretty consistently for going on two seasons now. I think Bevell is quite good and that Seahawks fans can err just a weeee bit on the side of taking his contributions for granted. Now as far as I know, Seattle fans are not lined outside his home with torches and pitchforks. So I don't want to sell the notion that Bevell is especially reviled. He's not.
In fact, my point is that despite being a Bevell fan yesterday illustrates the downside of a "process guy" like him. When the game plan isn’t working the line separating commitment to the game plan from obstinate refusal to change it in-game can be maddening. I’ll quote Bill Connolly of Football Outsiders (College) from a piece at RockMNation.com (SB Nation-Missouri Tigers) at length.
Most coaches fit into one of two groups. There are the "process" guys, the guys who try to plan everything… the ones who try to account for every contingency… Then there are the scab-pickers. They still plan and scout and prepare, obviously, but they're more prone to making major [my emphasis] adjustments on the fly, picking at an opponent’s scab when they find one.
A good example of the latter is Steve Spurrier. If he finds a weakness to exploit, he will do so ruthlessly; at the same time, he has been known to yank quarterbacks around and/or get too impatient at times. Meanwhile, you know the primary examples of the former: Nick Saban, Gary Pinkel, etc. They're more likely to have a concrete plan to bring to the table, and they're more likely to show patience in sticking with that plan until it begins to break through.
Obviously, at the NFL level successful coaches must be both "process guy" and "scab picker" but most fall into one category more than the other. Bevell is far more the former than the latter. He didn't come into yesterday’s game planning to throw much to Lynch or the tight ends except in short yardage. The few quick-developing pass plays we saw that showed a bit of promise were merely to set up deeper throws. Many were close to hitting, very close. Bevell stayed the course. If we'd hit one or two more throws we win, maybe even comfortably given the defense.
On the other hand, it's fair to say that Bevell's game plan was limited and predicated on low percentage throws. A few more in-game adjustments to privilege safer throws (e.g., throwing to the TEs, screens, rub routes to free up receivers) may also have won the game. Having said that, it's not fair to compare Bevell to a hypothetical alternative coach and then find him wanting. Coach "Anybody Else" never has his own a unique array of plusses and minuses that might also lose games. He has only plusses.
2. The running game is becoming a major problem.
Seattle has faced some stout run defenses in the past several weeks. One does not expect to go off against the best run defenses in the NFL. However, I’m seeing our offensive line get consistently manhandled or stonewalled. That’s not just in short yardage. That's on first and ten. That’s not good. One does not expect to see that, from one of the league's most prolific run offenses, even against the best run defenses.
On balance, pass protection has been decent, but to the naked eye run blocking has regressed. Defenders are living in the backfield. Lynch is having to break two and three tackles for two yard gains. The "jumbo" personnel has been awful in goal-to-go situations. Some of the problem in the run game is execution. When I re-watched the Giants game I saw a number of backside cut blocks missed, eliminating cutbacks lanes for Lynch. I have also seen Unger getting "pwned" by his guy—a lot. He’s not the only one, but he’s an All-Pro.
On the other hand, I am also seeing penetration right at the snap where the ball is barely snapped before defenders are in the backfield. In 2012 after the Jets lived in the backfield during the first half, I recall Carroll saying to Jen Mueller that the Jets tackles were so slow off the snap they could run in behind the zone action. When I watched the Giants game I saw something similar. The Giants weren’t slow by any means, but their tackles stayed tight to the lineman’s back shoulder to avoid backside cuts and to jumble things up on the playside.
The other problem I’m seeing, and this may need its own post, is Lynch. God love the Beast, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it looks like he has lost some quickness. I am seeing lanes open and close before he can get through them. He’s getting hit flush by LBs in the hole. Those used to be glancing blows from pursuit that was half-a-step too late. Marshawn Lynch is still the toughest of hombres, but Father Time is even tougher. There was once a brief moment when I thought the great Marshall Faulk might outskill and outrun Father Time. When he couldn't only then did I know for certain that it wasn't possible.
When Father Time starts to win this is what it looks like. Lynch no longer looks like a back that can consistently get the ball heading for the A/B gap, cut and still beat pursuit off tackle. He never did that with pure speed. He did it by forcing the defense to bite inside first. They still bite, but now they are recovering in time to meet him at the edge. Frankly, you can see Bevell making subtle concessions to this reality. Note the rising prevalence of the toss sweep and working him into the passing game. If there is a silver lining it is that Lynch in the passing game probably should be a bigger part of Seattle’s staple offense anyway.