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The 2019 Seahawks offense is among the NFL’s best on early downs

Seattle Seahawks v Cleveland Browns Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

One of my biggest criticisms of Brian Schottenheimer last year was the idea that his play-calling style was geared way too heavily towards “third and manageable” over getting first downs as early as possible.

Last year the Seattle Seahawks offense ranked 20th in getting first downs on early downs (1st and 2nd down), which tied in with their ridiculously high percentage of three-and-out possessions, and Russell Wilson getting sacked for fun on obvious third down passing situations.

This year has been a very different story and one of the biggest developments of the Schotty offense.

Per Pro-Football-Reference, the 2019 Seahawks are 6th in what I’m going to consider “early down success rate,” with 29.8% of their 1st and 2nd down plays resulting in a new set of downs. If the season randomly ended today, that’d be the highest ranking of the Russell Wilson era (although several of Darrell Bevell’s offenses finished top-ten in this stat).

Last week against the Cleveland Browns, the offense racked up a whopping 20 of its 29 1st downs on early down plays (including penalties against the defense). Not coincidentally, this was the Seahawks’ best game of the season in terms of offensive EPA (16.53). If you want to further strengthen Russell Wilson’s case for MVP, the Seahawks are the best in the NFL at getting first downs on early down pass plays. Seattle still has more early down rushes (169) than pass attempts (150), so the Seahawks’ overall ranking is actually diminished because the running game ranks 13th in 1st downs on early downs.

Seattle is still 21st in three-and-out drives, so that’s not been totally cleaned up, but it does represent significant improvement from the frustrations of the 2017 and 2018 offenses. We have never seen a Seahawks offense look this efficient early in a season under Pete Carroll, and you can credit Brian Schottenheimer and Russell Wilson for this turnaround.

Oh yeah, I suppose I should tell you that the defense continues to be terrible defending early downs. They were third-worst in the NFL last year and are sixth-worst this year. Oddly enough, they are one of the best at defending third downs (32.1%), but it’s almost an empty stat when the opposition routinely gets 1st downs without ever approaching third down. That needs to be cleaned up soon, especially when you consider the Baltimore Ravens are one of the few teams with a better early down success rate than Seattle.