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Communication is part of the problem

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

What is communication? We saw what it looks like on defense when Kelcie McCray and Richard Sherman suffered a miscommunication on a formation switch against Julio Jones, but what about the offense?

Think of a coordinator as an organizer of suggestions. Play designs are a basic idea and most of the time, the concepts are adapted in game to attack defenses. This means you depend on speed, discipline and knowledge just like the defense does.

A quick example.

Marshawn Lynch catches a football in the red zone for a touchdown versus the 49ers. You remember it? Maybe this GIF will help. That wasn’t the play that was called at the time, it was something that Russell Wilson and Marshawn communicated when they got the all-out blitz look from San Fransisco.

Fast-forward to Sunday’s Saints game and it’s clear that Wilson and his receivers may not be seeing the same things all the time. One time when they did was when Paul Richardson had a fantastic catch on a smoke route against New Orleans. This is often adjusted to at the line of scrimmage and requires both the receiver and quarterback to see the same thing. In this situation the corner is playing off coverage, probably around ten yards or so. The corner in this case wants to play deep for possible play action and also put himself in better position to challenge a run should it occur.

A smoke route by design is a run call changed to a pass at the line by Wilson. In Richardson’s case he saw it and made a huge play. Later in the game when the same situation cropped up for Jermaine Kearse, he didn’t see it and Russell was forced to scramble because the line was still run blocking. It seems like a small thing, but stuff like that kills drives just like penalties do.

To use another example to explain communication or execution or whatever term you like, I’ll use Pete’s favorite example of a great coach; Bill Walsh modernized the pro passing game with the “West Coast” offense. What you probably don’t know is that it was one of the most complex passing systems in existence where a lot more than “running a route” was expected from the receivers.

I’m paraphrasing from memory here so I beg your pardon. Brent Jones was the tight end for the Niners from 1987-1995. In an interview he described the difficulty of picking up the system because on a given play call he could run three or four possible routes. It required him to read the defense and adjust quickly so that he and Joe Montana or Steve Young were on the same page. This is why Mike Holmgren, when he coached the same system, almost never started rookies at wide receiver or tight end if he had the option.

Going back to my earlier reference of the 2007 Seahawks offense when talking about the need to make some changes, Bobby Engram and Matt Hasselbeck became even more prolific with their expanded opportunities that season.

Engram in his career up to that point had done the bulk of his work on third downs, taking the role of tight end (though he played in the slot) in the system. Bobby would do the little things right and then see the same things Matt saw and be right where he needed to be to move the sticks. Bobby and Matt communicated effortlessly on the field. Matt could always trust that he and Bobby were seeing the same things on the field and that added up to a franchise record 94 catches for Engram and a career-year for Hasselbeck in every category.

The play at the end of Sunday’s game should have been a touchdown to Baldwin on a slant. Maybe it’s the play call, or maybe it’s because none of those guys were on the same page in New Orleans. Maybe they haven’t been on the same page all year.