Preseason scheme is dull, plain and mundane. It’s designed to get players familiar with the core principles, to get rookies familiar with NFL speed and to evaluate those on the roster bubble.
That said, there are a few schematic elements that can be noted from this frustrating version of football. This is especially true with a new playcaller, and the Seattle Seahawks have two.
Today we shall study the hints Brian Schottenheimer’s calls provided. The “High-Tech Offense” comments from the team were met with snarky responses, but his attack flashed intelligence and room for more creativity.
Just remind yourself; don’t over-analyze or put too much emphasis on the plays themselves. Rather, view them on a more macro, philosophical level. Here are my observations:
I’ve talked about not analyzing pre-season scheme in too much detail. Now I’m going to directly contradict myself, by getting nerdy excited about the first play’s receiver splits.
The actual call was a simple play-action bootleg, with a three-level flood. Wilson, aided by his under center starting position, scrambled for a six-yard gain. But the receiver alignment revealed tantalizing possibilities that we can expect to see at various points in the regular season.
Here’s the pre-snap formation:
The first thing which stood out to me is Tyler Lockett’s position: he is essentially a wingback. This enables Seattle to rub and switch release him with the slot receiver—in this instance the also-swift Jaron Brown. Switch releases and rubs are effective zone and man beaters.
If the Seahawks hand off to the tailback Lockett can act as split action, halting the linebackers and backside pursuit for a moment. (They will line up Will Dissly in this position too and allow him to murder a defensive end across the formation.)
The formation also allows the Seahawks to employ Lockett’s running abilities. With the burner supposedly up to full speed after his 2016 leg break affected his 2017 preparation and velocity, it is fantastic that Schottenheimer will be giving the third-year talent some carries.
As mentioned, the style of handoff adds massive stress to the defense’s backside, as it is in the opposite direction to the run action the back shows. Keeping a defense honest to their assignments is a crucial task that slowly deteriorated under Darrell Bevell. Defenses started keying on certain plays and Seattle was unable to punish them with counters or set-ups.
On the flood Seattle ran, Lockett ran across the formation as a fake end around. He then settled in the flats as a dynamic checkdown option, enabling the Seahawks to get a weak flood when combined with Brown’s crosser.
Lockett could also run a wheel route from the end-around action, which would be mighty effective if Seattle managed to get him lined up on a linebacker or had him versus man coverage. The linebacker would be in a hopeless mismatch. If the coverage was man, the defender would have to run across and up the field with Lockett’s gas.
Nick Vannett is technically lined up as the X receiver, and his tight split—in addition to creating room for his 15-yard out—can get the defense lining up narrower. This creates more space to the sideline for an end-around to Lockett, particularly if the Seahawks were to run it to the field side.
The best playcallers build up around one simple concept. In this case, Schottenheimer is laying around the inside gap run that will be a staple of Seattle’s offense.
Now to studying the plays that Seattle executed. On the next snap, the Seahawks stuck with the same 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end and 3 receivers), but this time came out in a Shotgun formation. Pre-snap they motion running back Chris Carson out wide. This acts as a simple coverage indicator for Wilson—if it’s man a linebacker or safety will run with Carson, if it’s zone a cornerback will be aligned over him.
Knowing the coverage is zone, Wilson decides to work the left of the formation versus the Colts’ Nickel cover 3 robber. In the slot, Tyler Lockett’s seam route runs off the closest underneath defender in slot cornerback Nate Hairston. Therefore, outside receiver Jaron Brown’s curl comes open versus Quincy Wilson’s deep third zone.
On the simple read, Wilson hits Brown for the easy 9-yard completion. Brown, with a vicious stiff arm to end, picks up the first down in the 2nd and 4 situation. The play raises the question: is Russ going to be coached to take the basic chain mover more, rather than holding for the bigger play?
It feels like a Seahawks sin to criticize Wilson. After all, he’s carried the team in testing circumstances recently. But you must acknowledge his playmaking ability and style makes life tougher for those trying to stop the oncoming pass-rush.
Trying to keep Wilson within a structure is a fine balance between rhythm and neuter that vanished in the chaos of last season. This is vital for Seattle to fully succeed on offense. Play designs like the one above inspires hope.
Post Hitch-Slot Fade
The theme of Schottenheimer manufacturing straightforward reads for Wilson continued for the Seahawks two plays later. The coordinator went to a switch-release via play-action—following a shotgun inside power.
The 21 personnel (2 running backs, 1 tight end and 2 receivers) I-Formation Twins Left sees the Colts respond with their base personnel. This has important ramifications, as it means the Colts must again clearly declare man or zone coverage. They come out with linebacker Najee Goode lined up over slot receiver Baron. There is no way they are going to leave Goode in a one-on-one coverage assignment with Brown.
Aware that the coverage is zone, Wilson fakes the inside full-back iso run. For the second time, he has an easy two-receiver read. Brown from the slot runs outside on a fade and Lockett, from the outside, runs an inside route. Lockett—registering that the coverage is zone—nestles his post route down into a hitch.
Lockett is well behind the second-level defenders, who have been sucked up massively by the play-fake. He is also sat in front of the deep zones. Wilson, with an eternity of time given that Dissly is included in the six-man protection, hits Lockett in the honey hole.
On another second down—this time needing 6 yards—Seattle picks up the first again, via a 14-yard strike.
If it had been man, the switch and outside fade would have created natural separation for Brown. If the coverage downfield had been blanket, Wilson had Tre Madden in the flats as a nasty chip and release plus tailback Chris Carson as an ultra-shallow checkdown hitch.
A different, similarly undemanding concept was run down in the red-zone—an area where Seattle and Wilson have had massive issues in multiple seasons. Wilson here has a triangle read structure through a play-action spot concept.
It is from a very similar 21 personnel I-Formation Twins Left formation to the one used to run the Post Hitch-Slot Fade. Lockett runs across the formation pre-snap and is unfollowed. Yep, you guessed it! This tells the quarterback he’s facing zone.
Lockett therefore nestles down between the zones on a spot route. If the coverage had been man, he would have pivoted back to the sideline—as Vannett revealed in his in-game interview by calling the play a “pivot-pattern”.
(It’s thrilling to see the Seahawks using Lockett on smart option routes. When healthy, Doug Baldwin can expect similar utilization)
The offensive line is a tight wall of naked protection to the left, highlighting the improved technique that Mike Solari has these guys playing with. The footwork and positioning are far tighter, with less reach blocking.
(They sold bootlegs fantastically well too, mauling guys but crucially staying at the line of scrimmage)
Rashaad Penny’s pass protection on the unblocked edge is poor in its technique, but it’s now that Wilson’s playmaking ability shines.
(Penny still finishes the play nasty, reflecting the expected attitude from blocking)
Upon seeing Lockett covered underneath by a linebacker, Wilson extends the play with his legs. He escapes the play-side pressure and then fires to Vannett, who has worked his way back to Wilson from his original corner route to beat the deep zone. The awareness, box-out skillset and tough hands he displays could be huge for Seattle’s red-zone conversion percentage.
Schottenheimer’s intelligent pre-snap motion was the most intriguing offensive playcalling takeaway from the first pre-season matchup. It featured once more as a man-zone indicator with 12:28 left in the second quarter.
Facing a 3rd and 2, Seattle comes out in 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end, 3 wide receivers) via a trips left shotgun formation. They motion inner-most receiver Keenan Reynolds to the boundary side of the formation, creating a doubles look.
This before-the-hike movement is followed by slot corner Hairston. It’s now clear to Austin Davis that the defense is in a press-man coverage, extremely likely to be cover 1 given the very deep single-high safety.
The Seahawks have a pick to the right, with the running back in the flats being wide open due to the traffic the linebacker must run through heavy traffic to get there. The tight end runs a seam route, likely to beat a very disguised zone coverage if required.
Seattle’s read order astutely looks to work the roomier left side of the formation. Damore’ea Stringfellow in the slot has space, as he is lined up off the line of scrimmage. This allows him to run behind Marcus Johnson’s well-laid pick route.
The rub-route combination leaves Stringfellow in tonnes of separation; Davis connects on the quick effortless toss for a 15-yard gain and a new set of downs.
(This quick-hitter would be a sound blitz beater too)
In his first press conference in Seattle, Schottenheimer revealed that he had asked Wilson for his favorite plays.
“We’ve really started to figure out what [Wilson] really loves, that’s been good as I’ve come in and learned a bunch of stuff and then brought some stuff. It’s been terrific.”
At the time that was encouraging, as it showed Schottenheimer was willing to adapt his philosophy to Pete Carroll but also to his quarterback, rather than being an inflexible, stubborn, egomaniac of a schemer.
The rub/pick play surely is one enjoyed by Russ, given how he executed it last year.
It’s only the Preseason, so what does this mean?
Most of these concepts are ones that we’ve seen Wilson run before. After all, there’s only so much you can run in the NFL. However, here they are run with added simplification and motion. Schottenheimer’s key philosophy is that the play is never more complicated than it must be. That is something Bevell got tangled in towards the end.
Sure: it’s the preseason and it’s going to be basic. However, these plays still reveal the essence and underlying thought behind the offense. Schottenheimer is going to run the ball, hit three-level play-action combinations and create uncomplicated reads in the passing game. If nothing is there, Wilson can take off and keep the chains moving. Think of Wilson’s rookie year. They are trying to get back to that efficient, explosive, simple attack. In conjunction with some high-tech of course! It might just work…