Once again, FootballOutsiders has lended itself to SB Nation, answering five questions from each blog about their team. These questions and answers should slant towards the advanced analytics that FO focuses on, specifically in regards to DVOA. To find out more about the great work at FootballOutsiders, you should definitely be keen on their annual almanac, which is available now in the FO Store.
On Monday, we talked about the running back situation in 2017. Now FO’s Bryan Knowles tells me about what to expect from the Seahawks new offensive coordinator.
Q: In his last run as an offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer had the 25th best offense in the NFL by DVOA with the St. Louis Rams, including 26th in passing and 15th in running. A year before that, the Rams were 22nd overall, 21st in the pass, 28th in the run. Jump all the way back to 2009, when the NY Jets led the NFL in rushing yards, they were actually 22nd overall, 28th in passing, 11th in rushing and the next year they were 16th overall, 19th in passing, 5th in rushing. All of which is to say, does Seattle stand a chance in producing a top-10 offense? He’s never had a season with quality passing but he’s also never had a quarterback near the level of Russell Wilson. Who wins out: Wilson’s supreme abilities or Schottenheimer’s shoddy track record in the passing game? And is Schottenheimer really the guy to turn around the running attack given that DVOA didn’t even really like his rushing teams with the Jets as much as traditional stats did?
Bryan Knowles: First thing’s first – Seattle’s running attack would have likely turned around this year even if the Seahawks hadn’t touched anything. We mentioned that Seattle had the second-worst red zone rushing offense we’ve ever recorded, with a -78.0% DVOA. Excluding Seattle, the worst 12 teams we’ve ever recorded had a -58.4% DVOA in the red zone. The next season, they bounced back, on average, to -9.2%. This is one of those stats that heavily regresses towards the mean the next season; it would be nigh-impossible for the Seahawks to be as bad in the red zone as they were in 2017. Couple some standard regression with a healthy season from Chris Carson, add a mid-round rookie or middle-tier free agent to the running back rotation, and you’d likely have an average rushing attack in 2018.
Of course, Seattle doesn’t want an average rushing attack. They want the sort of rushing attack they had when they went to the Super Bowl, hence the Schottenheimer hire and drafting Penny in the first round and so on and so forth. Alright.
Schottenheimer never had a top-ten offense in New York. He never had a top-ten offense in St. Louis. His Georgia offense finished 81st in Offensive S&P+, our college efficiency stat. While he has had success crafting rushing attacks – the 2008-10 Jets ranked in the top 11 each year, and Georgia was 14th in Rushing S&P+ -- he has never put together a good overall offense. It’s also worth noting that the last time he even had a good rushing attack was a lifetime ago in the NFL. Since 2010, the use of 11 personnel (three wideouts, one running back, one tight end) has jumped from 40 percent to 60 percent. Schottenheimer also holds the dubious distinction of being the last offensive coordinator in NFL history to run out of two-back sets more than 65 percent of the time; the league average last year was 25 percent. In St. Louis, he showed an extreme reluctance to adopt the latest trends and philosophies in offensive development, from personnel packages to the types and depths of routes run. It’s a stone knives and bearskins sort of philosophy in a modern world. It’s fair to wonder if he would have gotten a third NFL coordinator’s job if his name was Brian Smith, and not Brian Schottenheimer.
All that being said – and we could go on! – there is a path to a top-10 offense here. Wilson is the best quarterback Schottenheimer has ever gotten to coach, including a 39-year-old Brett Favre. Schottenheimer’s offense puts a high value on pre-snap reads, and Wilson is very good at that. It’s easy to imagine his skillset papering over any deficiencies in the scheme, or at least squeezing the most value out of it.
That won’t be enough for a top-ten offense. For that, they’ll need Doug Baldwin’s injury to not be one that hampers him, for Tyler Lockett to finally be fully healthy and recreate his rookie season, and for the duo of Penny and Carson to be as efficient as advertised on the ground. Most importantly, the massive, massive upgrade from Tom Cable to Mike Solari needs to pay immediate dividends, with his more straightforward blocking schemes ending up as a better fit for the skillset of these offensive linemen. That’s a lot of “ifs”, but each of them are, on their own, plausible. We doubt that everything will come together as ideally as Seattle hopes, but it’s certainly within the realm of possibility.