In stark contrast to his predecessor Darrell Bevell, Brian Schottenheimer is an elite red zone coordinator. The Seattle Seahawks now rank 6th in red zone touchdown percentage. It could be even better if not for Russell Wilson sailing Doug Baldwin’s skinny post route.
For the third successive game, the 29-year-old quarterback flat-out missed throws. That’s uncharacteristic from the seventh-year NFL veteran. So is not even trying to hit wide open receivers off what have been staple play-action concepts. Finally, while Tom Cable’s offensive lines have undoubtedly been pernicious on Wilson’s confidence in protection, seeing the playmaker drop his eyes to the rush and get skittish in sound protection is troubling.
Last Thursday, Schottenheimer once again coped well with a shaky quarterbacking performance. Sure, there was the usual run-heavy approach that Pete Carroll so craves. To the chagrin of many, the offensive style essentially reduces Wilson to a glorified game-manager role, one that requires him to showcase his usually elite placement and touch.
However, this reduces the pressure on his game. It also allows a young, patchwork defense to recuperate. Most importantly, the run emphasis plays to the strengths of the run-blocking offensive line that struggles in straight pass protection.
One of the grossest false narratives surrounding Schottenheimer is that he’s a “run, run, pass” coordinator. Seattle’s first red zone passing touchdown also proved this to be a fallacy of epic proportions. After a false start pushed the Seahawks backwards, Schottenheimer tried to run the ball against a lighter box by coming out in a spread double stacks formation. Then he called two consecutive passes.
Schottenheimer has shown himself to be capable of scheming reliable zone and man beaters—be them short, intermediate or long. He made things straightforward for Wilson within the cramped conditions of inside the 20.
Brian Schottenheimer's red zone offense stays elite!— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) November 16, 2018
Schottenheimer put running back Chris Carson out wide; Packers safety Tramon Williams aligned over him. The advantage of splitting a running back out wide is it acts as a clear pass coverage indicator. If a linebacker or safety lines up over the running back, then the quarterback knows the defense is man. If a cornerback lines up over the running back, then the passer can think zone.
Wilson, therefore, knew pre-snap the coverage was man. Chris Carson motioned into the backfield to form part of a spot concept, but Wilson looked to the roomier field side concept. It was there that Schottenheimer designed a switch concept that had David Moore running inwards and Doug Baldwin running outwards on a corner route.
Baldwin’s walk-it-out, skip-step release re-set the line of scrimmage and granted him free movement despite the press alignment. The corner in man coverage with him, Bashaud Breeland, was forced to try to undercut the route which was well away from any potential middle of field player. Yet Wilson narrowly missed his open receiver when trying to lead it away from the defender.
Against man coverage, there’s often demand from fans for more rub and pick routes. But, against a one-on-one, receivers must win their match-up at some point. For Schottenheimer it would have been easy to overthink the next third down and change things up.
But instead he called a similar concept. Seattle aligned in empty again, with Mike Davis out wide. Green Bay elected to cover the running back with linebacker Antonio Morrison, which once more told Wilson pre-snap he faced man coverage. Schottenheimer going back to the best route runner on the Seahawks was smart. Baldwin will win match-ups.
The route concept here was more y-corner than switch, with Davis running a shallower slant. Such technicalities and jargon are irrelevant in this case. The key is Baldwin being given another corner route to run, this time against Josh Jackson.
The Packers put out a wild pass-rush package on the passing down. There were just two defensive linemen on the field, and they sent six rushers—including three linebackers and one safety. Seattle had only five in protection, making Wilson responsible for getting the ball out quick against the cover 0 pressure.
Baldwin’s burst off the line of scrimmage ate up the cushion rapidly. Jackson couldn’t get more depth in case he was being boxed out on a hitch; in this situation, a corner must defend the sticks. Baldwin sinks his hips and beats Jackson’s angle to the corner. This time Wilson’s toss is immaculate, and the Seahawks score a massive touchdown considering their nightmarish start.
(Empty sets have been criticized recently, but their guaranteed coverage identification makes them valuable. The ball just needs to be out quick)
Schottenheimer Deserves Plaudits
Nothing demonstrates such easing of Wilson’s job better than the clear coverage indicator the split-out-wide running back provided. That, combined with the best one-on-one winner on a corner route, makes for great play-calling.
The Packers’ decision to run so much man coverage against Wilson was a foolish one, given his ability against it and his recent difficulties against zone. Still, Schottenheimer simplifying things for Wilson plus adjusting for the areas of strain, just like he did against the Chargers and Rams, resulted in the quarterback getting on schedule.
Wilson started playing with the comfort of clean bed sheets. Schottenheimer and his quarterback took advantage of -1 box counts, hitting 1v1s in the passing game. The result was a fabulous fourth quarter from Wilson where he stood tall in the pocket, displayed gorgeous accuracy and looked more like the top 5 quarterback we know he can be.
Schottenheimer’s red zone offensive scheming running and passing is refreshing, foreign territory for Seahawks fans given the years of Bevellian toil. Overall, Schottenheimer is calling plays with his team’s strengths in mind and helping his passer get over difficulties—some of which are the result of bad environmental factors.
It’s not fashionable to praise what many Seahawks fans appear to have decided is the scapegoat for any offensive struggles, but Schottenheimer deserves plaudits and more for what is an intelligently evolving attack.