There’s excitement and intrigue surrounding the Seattle Seahawks’ new offensive coaching staff. After all, the arrivals of Brian Schottenheimer and Mike Solari bring much-needed new technique, ideas and designs.
But what if I told you there is a play that the Seahawks must keep from the Darrell Bevell-Tom Cable era? I’m sure a few of you would call me mad. Others would groan. And perhaps some of you would be more receptive?
To those muttering that I’m “making less sense than the rumors Seattle tried to trade a 2019 second for Jacoby Brissett”; let me convince you. To the people reading this thinking “this guy is a moron”; please put away the Recovery WaterTM and hear me out.
Jimmy Graham departing in free agency saw the Seahawks lose 10 touchdowns. All his scores came from inside the red-zone, and it’s an understatement to call the tight end a massive departure.
Graham was the only man keeping Seattle’s red-zone offense to a semblance of functionality, with the run game being utterly pitiful. Football Outsiders measured the red-zone rushing attack as the worst since the 2007 Rams and the second worst since FO’s records began in 1987.
Taking away the contributions of Tyler Lockett and Russell Wilson, Seahawks running backs had just 17 yards from 34 redzone carries. Narrowing that down to inside the 10 it gets even worse. On 20 rushes, they had -3 yards!!!
Despite the incredibly small sample size of the pre-season, Seattle has still managed to add concern; It still feels like the run game might struggle in such scenarios, given Chris Carson’s back-to-back red-zone fumbles on the 1-yard-line against the Chargers.
In 2017. Bevell finally made consistent efforts to isolate Graham one-on-one down near the goal-line. After abandoning such an approach following Wilson’s early struggles connecting with Graham on over-the-shoulder fades, the coordinator thankfully schemed to get Graham and Russ easily winnable matchups.
One way Bevell achieved this was via an empty set, pre-snap motion to a quads formation.
Allow me to set the scene. The Seahawks are looking to put their Week 12 game out of the San Francisco 49ers’ reach. They lead 14-6 at the start of the fourth quarter. Faced with a 2nd and 1 on the 1-yard-line, with a run unsurprisingly stuffed, the offense shows the effect of this passing design.
They line up in a shotgun empty set via 11 personnel. J.D. McKissic is split out wide to the trips side, Graham to the twins.
Pre-snap, Tyler Lockett motions from the weakside slot to the strongside. This movement is followed by the defensive back over him—safety Eric Reid. As explained in the last Seahawks on tape, this is a clear coverage indicator for Wilson.
Now knowing the defense is in man, Wilson’s first read becomes the totally isolated Graham. Graham wins the inside from cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon by pressing outside in his release.
Knowing pre-snap where to throw the ball, Wilson quickly fires to the right and connects with the tight end for the slant touchdown.
The second nearest 49er is defensive end Solomon Thomas. At the second level, it is spying linebacker Brock Coyle who is nowhere near after shifting to the strongside B-gap. No San Francisco defender has a chance here.
To the quads side, Seattle had Lockett run a simple route into the flat, with the other three receivers setting pick routes to create separation for the motion man’s route.
There are numerous ways to layer off this motion play. We’ll keep it relatively simple for now. If the motion from Lockett was not followed, the Seahawks would have had a +1 advantage to the quads side, with four receivers versus three defenders.
(This is especially advantageous to the perimeter, where no linebacker can make an extraordinary play pursuing outside.)
Lockett’s route into the flat would have been wide open thanks to the picks. A similar concept would be running a bubble screen with Lockett, which is made very possible by this look.
Seattle no longer has Jimmy Graham?!
At this point, it is fair to question: but Seattle no longer has Jimmy Graham?
That’s a painful truth, particularly given they only figured out how to make the most of his skillset in the last year of his deal.
However, re-introducing this play would be no shotgun wedding. Instead this is still the perfect marriage for the Seahawks, based on the natural harmony this year’s roster would have with the play—rather than being a bad fit.
Seattle has numerous big-bodied receivers who have shown an ability to box defensive backs out—like Nick Vannett this pre-season. The key to Brandon Marshall making his living has been his ability to stack defensive backs, something Jaron Brown shines too. In short: the Seahawks still have talent that can thrive in 1v1, close-quarters circumstances.
Lockett supposedly has his rookie speed back, but if Seattle wanted a different player in the motion role Rashaad Penny fits nicely—given his burst, physicality and ability to transition from runner to receiver swiftly.
The Seahawks can also line up in this empty set with their 12 (one running back, two tight ends) or 22 personnel (two running backs, two tight ends). Both Will Dissly and Tre Madden would make excellent lead blockers for the screen. As previously stated, Nick Vannett can be the isolated target.
There have been encouraging signs from training camp, where more scheme is revealed than the putrid pre-season. Schottenheimer has continued Seattle’s 2017 trend of manufacturing 1v1 matchups.
Check out this Amara Darboh touchdown:
Darboh touchdown catch from Russ pic.twitter.com/fssO6lAlRA— hawkschronicle (@HawksChronicle) July 31, 2018
Here’s what I tweeted at the time: “Seattle continuing to get isolation via motion for bigger targets, even with JG gone. Crucial at the GL.”
The motion—in what looks like an empty backfield—sees Darboh left 1v1. He boxes the cornerback out and catches the back-shoulder fade.
The NFL’s quest for omniscience when it comes to scheme means that constant evolution is an absolute necessity for teams. There is a wrinkle the Seahawks can add to this look to make it even more effective.
Essentially, it would make the play fruitful no matter what the defensive call. It would be a true ‘pick your poison’ situation.
However, this addition requires a leap of faith for the Seahawks. The NFL is terrified of directly running the most valuable position. QB runs conjure up images of RGIII’s horror injury—despite that being non-contact.
Even the Panthers, who rely on Cam Newton’s superhuman toughness, have a relatively bland quarterback run scheme.
I’m here to tell the Seahawks they can run Wilson safely and creatively from the same motion-to-quads look. This Run-Pass Option borrows from one of the top college football innovators, Nebraska head coach Scott Frost.
If teams reacted to the empty-set motion by having a linebacker shift out, while leaving a safety over the isolated receiver for double coverage, then Wilson could run up the middle. Such a run is easy to block, given that it would be rushing into a five or four-man box, with five blockers—including a lead block courtesy of the skip-puller.
The RPO read would be a double one:
1. Motion read
- Motion followed? Yes - throw to the isolated receiver.
- Motion followed? No - move on to read 2.
2. Linebacker leverage read
- If the linebacker is outside the box, run behind the pulling tackle.
- If the linebacker is inside the box, throw to the motion man.
Wilson would be running behind the Seahawks’ best offensive linemen in Duane Brown. Brown would take out the second level defender and allow his quarterback to enter the end-zone untouched. It’s getting more players to the point of attack. It’s money.
Skip-pulling Brown does rely on Wilson being able to outrun the defensive end, but that shouldn’t be an issue. The play could also be run without the pulling tackle.
This added layer would maximize the defensive stress, putting them in a strong bind.
Am I a Madman?
So: am I mad? Or did I successfully explain why Seattle should keep this call in the playbook as a -10 play? (Get involved in the comments section below)
Running the play with Wilson means the Seahawks have a near-guaranteed triumph. Diagnosing the defense is made simple by the spread formation and pre-snap motion. All Wilson has to do is process quickly and then pick the correct option.
This is a way to pick up the touchdown rather than settling for the field goal. If Seattle’s running struggles continue inside the 20, they must be creative to achieve favorable matchups.
That training camp play was promising because it showed the Seahawks are installing similar concepts. But having a triple-tiered threat featuring the same isolation concept would be even more deadly.
Brian Schottenheimer, take note.