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How predictable were the Seahawks when throwing on third down?

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NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There has been an overload of articles, tweets and comments by fans of Seattle Seahawks about how predictable the offense was during the 2018 season. Most of these have been directed at play selection, whether that is the run-run-pass stereotype that has been assigned to the team, or to the simple predictability of the actual running plays the team called on the field. Tuesday Mookie covered a piece of this when he looked at just how run heavy the Hawks were this past year, however, now it’s time to start looking into how predictable the offense was when throwing the ball.

The best place to start on this offseason long look seems to be to look at a high level who the team was throwing the ball to. Specifically, the starting point today is going to be to look at third down play calling and target distribution. Without wasting too much time on formalities, here’s the first set of data which looks at the number of third down targets for each Seahawks receiving threat by quarter of the season (the Wild Card game is included in the numbers for the final quarter of the season).

2018 Seahawks third down target distribution by player

Player Weeks 1-4 Weeks 5-9 Weeks 10-13 Weeks 14-18
Player Weeks 1-4 Weeks 5-9 Weeks 10-13 Weeks 14-18
Tyler Lockett 9 7 5 5
Doug Baldwin 2 3 4 8
Ed Dickson 0 3 1 5
Mike Davis 1 5 2 5
David Moore 1 7 8 9
Nick Vannett 4 3 4 3
Jaron Brown 2 1 2 1
Brandon Marshall 11 0 0 0
Will Dissly 2 0 0 0
Tyrone Swoopes 0 1 0 0
Chris Carson 1 0 0 0
J.D. McKissic 0 0 0 2

For those who prefer that in a visual chart format, here it is in all its messiness.

That’s a whole lot of data, and players changed over the course of the season, as Brandon Marshall was released and David Moore took over his snaps, while Will Dissly was injured and replaced by a combination of Nick Vannett and Ed Dickson. So, combining players into groups to make things a little less messy, let’s take a look at what happens when players like Moore and Marshall have their targets combined.

2018 Seahawks third down targets (grouped)

Player Weeks 1-4 Weeks 5-9 Weeks 10-13 Weeks 14-18
Player Weeks 1-4 Weeks 5-9 Weeks 10-13 Weeks 14-18
Tyler Lockett 9 7 5 5
Doug Baldwin 2 3 4 8
Dissly, Vannett, Dickson & Swoopes 6 7 5 8
Davis & Carson 2 5 2 5
Marshall & Moore 12 7 8 9
Jaron Brown 2 1 2 1
J.D. McKissic 0 0 0 2
33 30 26 38

And for those who prefer the visual.

While that’s certainly cleaner, it’s still a bit messy and doesn’t take into account the higher number of pass attempts in the first couple of games of the season relative to the rest of the season. Thus, moving to percentage of targets can eliminate the distortion caused by the fact that Wilson threw more during the first quarter of the season compared to the rest of the year.

2018 Seahawks third down targets share (grouped)

Player Weeks 1-4 Weeks 5-9 Weeks 10-13 Weeks 14-18
Player Weeks 1-4 Weeks 5-9 Weeks 10-13 Weeks 14-18
Tyler Lockett 27.27% 23.33% 19.23% 13.16%
Doug Baldwin 6.06% 10.00% 15.38% 21.05%
Dissly, Vannett & Dickson 18.18% 23.33% 19.23% 21.05%
Mike Davis 6.06% 16.67% 7.69% 13.16%
Marshall & Moore 36.36% 23.33% 30.77% 23.68%
Jaron Brown 6.06% 3.33% 7.69% 2.63%
J.D. McKissic 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 5.26%

And then, of course, for those readers who would prefer the visual.

So, that shows a couple of things. First of all, it’s obvious that as Doug Baldwin’s knee improved over the course of the season the number of targets he got increased. In addition, it’s readily visible that the tight ends as a whole were targeted a very stable amount within a fairly tight range between 18.18% and 23.33%.

However, what jumps out as most important to me are two things, and the first is how readily visible it is that teams appear to have worked to take away Tyler Lockett on third down, as his target share dropped each quarter, to the point where over the final five games of the season he was targeted less than half as much as he was over the first quarter of the season. Secondly, it’s extremely frustrating that Marshall and Moore combined for the highest share of targets from Russell Wilson in every single quarter of the season.

Nothing against Moore and Marshall, as they each have certain skills they bring to the table, but in my opinion Lockett and Baldwin are far better options to get the ball to, especially when it’s an important situation like third down. However, that’s not what the Seahawks offense did in 2018 when faced with third downs. So, then the question becomes why did the offense do that? Was it the playcall? Was it pre-snap reads? That’s what we’ll work to answer over the course of the offseason.