I said last week that the Seattle Seahawks’ run-heavy approach to offense in 2018 was discussed to death. That doesn’t mean that we’re done discussing it, though!
The Seahawks undoubtedly had one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL this season, through a combination of an improved offensive line, a healthy Chris Carson, and the removal of Eddie Lacy lumbering and stumbling his way for what felt like zero yards per carry. This was a pleasant flip from 2017 and much of 2016, which was seemingly Pete Carroll’s top goal for 2018.
...But if you thought the Seahawks did a ton of “run-run-pass” last season, or at least a lot of early down rushing, you would be correct. And the splits for 1st-3rd quarters are pretty ridiculous.
Seahawks run rate, rank, 2018:— Tom Gower (@ThomasGower) February 20, 2019
1st qtr, 1st down: 69%, 1st
1st qtr, 2nd down: 63%, 1st
2nd qtr, 1st down: 62%, 3rd
2nd qtr, 2nd down: 59%, 1st
3rd qtr, 1st down: 72%, 1st
3rd qtr, 2nd down: 44%, 7th (!?)
Seahawks ranked 1st in run rate in each qtr on 1st/2nd downs. Titans were only other team in top 5 in all 3Q, running consistently even if not to SEA's level except on 1st downs in 1Q.— Tom Gower (@ThomasGower) February 20, 2019
FiveThirtyEight also did a table last month showing that the Seahawks used “run-run-pass” more than any other team in the NFL.
Unsurprisingly, this led to the Seahawks placing themselves in “3rd and manageable.” Their third-down success rate ranked 27th in the NFL. It should be noted that they ranked 8th in getting first-downs on early downs, so the offense was at its most effective when avoiding third-down.
What is most telling is that the RRP nature of the Seahawks offense had a negative impact on the passing game, specifically Russell Wilson’s sack rate. On early downs, Wilson’s sack rate was roughly 7.5% (24 sacks incurred on 318 regular season dropbacks). Once it gets to third-down? He took 26 sacks on just 153 dropbacks, a rate of 17%.
It’s almost as if the run-heavy approach leads to obvious passing downs. And somehow David Moore led the team in third-down targets in the regular season at 25, raking in just 11 catches for 9 first-downs. I wonder why this team struggled on third-down so much. Hmm...
Don’t get me wrong, it is awesome that Seattle has a formidable rushing attack, an efficient passing game, and a top-10 offense. But there’s always room for improvement, and the goal for the Seahawks next season shouldn’t be “run less often.” It should be “run smarter.” Three of the four most successful three-play sequences for the Seahawks involved an early down pass, while the other was three consecutive runs. Brian Schottenheimer and Pete Carroll need to make adjustments to let the passing game succeed earlier, and don’t repeatedly put Russell Wilson in situations where his efficiency drops and his sacks go up.