Through eight games, seven started by Matt Hasselbeck, offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates was not outperforming Greg Knapp. In fact, the two were kind. Knapp constructed a smart, creative and very modern attack that completely ignored Seattle's personnel. It stretched the field horizontally with screen passes and vertically with long bombs. It used a zone blocking scheme without zone blocking linemen. It succeeded in flashes and failed with oppressive regularity.
It was in many ways the same damn offense Bates would attempt to run.
I liked Knapp okay. I at least like the concept of Knapp. He's a smart coach and creative but not quite creative to a fault like say Clancy Pendergast. After years of Mike Holmgren, and his threadbare, exacting and occasionally brilliant playbook, a coach that could work in a trick play, that called screen passes with regularity, that accepted shotgun as a legitimate formation, and that hadn't stopped adding plays to his playbook in 1998, seemed appealing. But what Holmgren lacked in vision, he more than made up with execution. Execution wasn't Knapp's strong point, and that's a football analyst way of saying his offense sucked.
I liked, like Bates more than just conceptually, but, conceptually, I like Bates even more than I liked Knapp. He's young. We're not quite peers but it's close. It's not that important to me that Bates is young, but youth is a universal currency. He had success at a young age and decades to improve. He seems a little off in that Chucky Gruden way. Grudes was famous for getting up before dawn to work on his playbook. He's kind of a savant of offensive play calling. He can be cringeworthy in the booth, but man's a goddamn maestro of an offensive coordinator.
But Bates wasn't succeeding. And the rotten offensive personnel he inherited wasn't enough to excuse all of his struggles. In fact, with a healthier Hasselbeck and better overall offensive talent, Bates was performing worse than Knapp. The 2010 Seahawks offense is actually performing worse according to advanced metrics than the 2009 offense.
In Matt Hasselbeck's week off recovering from a concussion, something clicked for Bates . Maybe it was enough to see that Charlie Whitehurst probably wasn't going to rescue this offense. Maybe, and good Jesus I hope not, it was a one-week shift, but the Seahawks offense looked different against the Cardinals. Hasselbeck threw from the pocket. The roll outs were mostly curbed. Three step drops and short passes replaced six and seven blocker packages as the preferred way to stifle the opposing pass rush. Deep routes broke middle in rather than along the sidelines. More deep patterns were only barely deep: 20 rather than 30 yards. The run game wasn't all stretches and inside zones, but featured pull blockers and pitches and a quick hitter to the fullback.
I don't attempt scientific rigor with my analysis. Field Gulls is a place to entertain as much as inform, and the story of the game is in fact a story to me rather than a laboratory. I have almost every play of the season notated and diagrammed in various notebooks, but I didn't review every page before writing this. So, maybe the shift was inferred as much as actual, but it seemed like a shift -- a sizable one. It seems like Bates got it in a way that Knapp never did. It seems like Bates finally -- and after half a season's worth of failure -- scrapped the playbook he wanted to run and began creating a playbook that could work.
Field Gulls is not a place for false hope. I'm a bit of a homer, overestimate Seattle's talent and chances, yes, yes, but I don't throw out my back spinning every development into a positive. That said, I have certainly interpreted turning points that never manifested. Maybe this new look offense won't hold, maybe it's a mirage or a false interpretation on my part. Maybe scheme will not overcome talent regardless. But I think, I think, the Seahawks had an offensive breakthrough against the Cardinals. I think the use of shorter routes, more targets, more traditional run plays, and more play calls built around existing personnel, may just turn this offense around. It's not going to be great, not with this collection of talent, but great is a long ways away and not-bad, maybe even good on any given Sunday, is a lot better than any coordinator has accomplished in Seattle since at least 2007.