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CBS Sports names pass catchers as Seahawks’ fatal flaw for 2019 season

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Will Brinson of CBS Sports compiled an article listing a “fatal flaw” for every NFL team as we approach a brand new season. Some examples include the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line, the quarterback position for the Tennessee Titans, and “Father Time” for the New England Patriots.

This is a Seattle Seahawks site first and foremost, so we’re focused in on what he has as Seattle’s “fatal flaw.” I would’ve thought the question marks concerning Seattle’s pass rush would lead to that group taking the unwanted honors, but Brinson went to the offensive side of the ball and listed the team’s “pass catchers.”

The Seahawks fixed the offensive line last offseason and look like they have a defense that should continue to be excellent, with no real drop off from the Legion of Boom’s later years somehow. They paid Russell Wilson. But who is he throwing to? Doug Baldwin was released so he could retire as a free agent and keep some cash from Seattle. Their top receiver is Tyler Lockett, an incredibly efficient deep threat who might be poised for a monster season. But after that it’s a little thin: David Moore and Jaron Brown are the veterans at the top, while D.K. Metcalf is the rookie second-round pick who might end up being a steal if he can outwork Pete Carroll in the weight room. Nick Vannett is a tight end sleeper, but there’s just no one who is going to completely overpower a defense, unless Metcalf is a total home run out of the box. It’s possible Seattle just wants to run and then go bombs away on play-action shots down the field, but if they need to get in a shootout, and they will, it’s going to be a little bit tougher to thrive in the pass game.

We’re getting really loose with the term “veteran” when it’s applied to David Moore, whom for my money is basically the professional equivalent of a redshirt sophomore. But that aside, you can understand some of the reasoning here. D.K. Metcalf and (the not named in this article) Gary Jennings Jr are rookies, John Ursua is a rookie battling for a roster spot, and we’ll see how Moore and Brown fit on the depth chart when preseason is said and done. That’s not a lot of experience apart from Tyler Lockett, who had an historically efficient 2018 based on DVOA and other metrics. It should be expected that the passing game will have growing pains now that Wilson’s most reliable target, Doug Baldwin, is sadly no longer a Seahawk.

Speaking of Lockett, for as superb as he was last year, there’s an interesting new metric where he actually did not chart very well.

Football Outsiders recently published an article unveiling a new statistic called Targets Above Expectation (TAE). Here’s the definition, per Bryce Rossler, Sports Info Solutions:

Examining the game situation, pre-snap alignment, route, and coverage paints a better picture of how a receiver performed relative to the league average. For example, a slot receiver who is running an out route on first-and-10 against Cover-3 is expected to be targeted X percent of the time. That figure is then compared to whether or not the receiver is actually targeted, and all these comparisons are tallied and expressed on a per-100 route basis.

Screens and jet sweep passes are eliminated from the sample because they have a target rate that is virtually 100 percent for one pass-catcher, making it problematic to assess anyone else running a route on the play.

Out of 119 eligible receivers, Lockett was 99th. This seems completely counter to everything great about Tyler’s 2018, but the poor TAE sounds like it reflects more on Russell Wilson’s decision-making or the design of the Seahawks passing offense.

The bottom five players in TAE -- Chris Conley (-7.6), Chris Hogan (-7.7), Chris Moore (-8.8), Bennie Fowler (-9.8), and T.J. Jones (-11.2) -- are not a particularly interesting bunch, but what is interesting is that Tyler Lockett fared poorly in this metric, ranking 99th out of 119 eligible players.

Lockett had the best season by any wide receiver in Football Outsiders’ DVOA history (min. 50 targets). Furthermore, he had 14 catches and six touchdowns on passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield, each of which tied for second in the NFL. His 82 percent catch rate and perfect passer rating of 158.3 on those throws were both NFL bests.

There are a couple reasons for this, with the first being that more than 10 percent of Lockett’s targets came on broken plays, which we do not factor into the formula because they speak more to scramble drill performance than to route performance. The second is that Lockett ran 44 flat routes -- which is arguably not an inefficient way to use him -- and was targeted just once on such routes. Lastly, he was arguably under-targeted downfield, as he posted a TAE of -1.4 on such routes. These factors combined to give a lower-volume, high-efficiency player a very low TAE.

With Lockett now set to be Seattle’s #1 option moving forward, it’ll be interesting to see how differently (if at all) Brian Schottenheimer utilizes him. There’s already been discussion among analysts about whether we might see Lockett assume many of the slot receiver snaps that previously belonged to Baldwin.