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The massively underappreciated Brian Schottenheimer

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NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Is Brian Schottenheimer public enemy #1 of Seahawks twitter? Pretty much. The Seattle Seahawks’ offensive coordinator is much-maligned, criticized throughout the season for a run-focused approach that culminated in a playoff loss to Dallas. Supposedly it was the reason. Now he is the criminal.

And yet his offense was productive in 2018.

I too criticized Schottenheimer’s offense, which struggled in the first four games of the season. But then Schotty’s attack performed. Growing pains were shed. In the face of regression being the norm for a first year of a new OC, Seattle’s offense finished 6th in points per game with 26.8 PPG. They tied in that spot with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Los Angeles Chargers. Ahead of them was: the Indianapolis Colts; the New England Patriots; the New Orleans Saints; and then the rookie quarterback, offensive talent-loaded Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs. Not bad at all. Certainly not woeful like most Seattle fans seem to believe.

The Seahawks performed similarly well in points per drive, their 2.36 PPD placing 7th in the NFL. Improvement, rather than typical-for-maiden-OC struggles, took place, and Seattle bettered their disappointing 2017 DVOA figures too. The Seahawks improved from 12th in passing DVOA to 6th and from 23rd in rushing DVOA to 6th. This was the second-highest scoring offense in the history of the franchise. It was not the gross failure most view it as. Instead, it, Brian Schottenheimer’s offense, was a success.

Numbers also favor Schotty’s usage of personnel. Seattle employed 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end and 3 wide receivers) 70% of the time, which was 4% higher than the league average. Schottenheimer, in the main, aimed to run against advantageous box counts by emptying the box. This, combined with his usage of George Fant—essentially a sixth offensive linemen at tight end—gave Chris Carson and co some appetizing looks to devour.

Sam Gold highlighted just how effective this approach from Schotty was for Seattle:

This is where context becomes very relevant. (It always should be) Teams knew the Seahawks wanted to run the football more than is typical.

Furthermore, Seattle lacked passing weapons. David Moore’s early flashes dwindled into a mediocrity hampered by his one-route nature and lack of body contortion ability. The now-retired Doug Baldwin was visibly restricted by playing hurt. The early promise of Will Dissly, the ideal tight end for this offense, was brutally ended by a torn patellar tendon. Tyler Lockett was the only genuine, consistent option for this attack. The rest of the aerial weapons were rather blunt, bordering dangerously close to JAG-status.

As impressive a job that new offensive line coach Mike Solari did, the OL was and is still built to run-block first, pass-block second. The games against the Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears showed the struggles of getting in to obvious passing situations for the Seahawks’ o-line. It led to Schottenheimer talking about “manageable downs.” The excellent work of Bryce Rossler, who works for Sports Info Solutions, corroborated with this.

You might think that an elite quarterback like Russell Wilson should be leading an offense that ranks even higher in PPG, PPD and DVOA. Yet the aforementioned factors are oft-overlooked restrictors. Wilson himself is a unique quarterback to scheme for. He’s certainly in the top 5 at the position in the NFL and clearly a franchise passer.

But there’s no player like Wilson in the negative sense too. He makes some unusual decisions, appears flat in certain periods and struggles with some coverage looks (two-high). Giving him time with max-protect play-action, giving him clear coverage indicators and giving him lots of shot plays sees his talent dominate though—and this is exactly what Schottenheimer did with intelligent play design. Wilson’s weird quirks, which were especially apparent in that tricky watch of the first quarter of 2018, largely vanished.

Schottenheimer works under a Head Coach who openly admitted to meddling in the playcalling in the dreadful games against Denver and Chicago. Carroll wants to run the ball and his offensive coordinator must fulfil that remit.

Running has its advantages, asides from it complimenting how Seattle’s roster is built. For Carroll, the added risk of passing and deciding when to take a shot clearly seems to be part of his thinking. I urge you to read Bryce Rossler’s work.

The predictability of the run-pass balance last year went too far, something John Gilbert wrote well on. Sprinkling in a few more passes on early downs, and avoiding obvious passing situations in dodgy third and longs, should take this attack to the next level.

The moderately concerning data from 2018 was Schottenheimer’s attack ranking 19th in yards per drive, with 32.41. That appears to be the boom-or-bust nature of this offense. Indeed, Seattle had the third-highest 3 and out percentage in the league at .278. Moreover, it matches the make-up of the team—with missed execution and a lack of intermediate options—and even who Wilson seems to be as a quarterback.

An accomplished redzone efficiency helped compensate for such figures. The Seahawks ranked 8th for the highest redzone touchdown percentage and 7th for the highest redzone points percentage. The worrying factor is redzone offensive performance is volatile and typically regresses to overall offense. Though the fact overriding fact is Schotty was calling and designing superb redzone concepts all year. Bevell, by comparison, waspainful in the redzone.

While this is still likely to somewhat revert, in Schottenheimer’s second-year calling Seattle’s plays and working with Wilson, other numbers—like yards per drive—will likely increase. Certain concepts can be developed. Despite Baldwin’s absence, the Seahawks added multiple new targets and if Dissly can return they have a tight end who is an actual threat in the passing game as well as the ground-and-pound.

Where Schottenheimer really deserves criticism is the two-minute drills that starkly contrasted with the up-tempo organization of the Darrell Bevell years, often looking like discombobulated chaos as Wilson cut a frustrated figure in a mismanaged time warp. Ultimately, a first-year pass can be applied here but massive improvement must transpire this offseason.

The wildcard round debacle in Dallas sucked. However, now the dust has settled, many forget that Seattle was leading in the fourth quarter with a banged-up offensive line and a badly injured Baldwin. Rightly or wrongly, most coaches will play games tighter and safer when the game is close. It’s human nature.

Schottenheimer ended by passing eight straight times. What was most frustrating was his failure to suitably adjust (something he’d done well all year), but Schotty was let down by a lack of execution from the Seahawks’ offense and a defense that got dissected while missing assignment-sound football. Kris Richard’s knowledge of Seattle’s secondary and scheme must have helped.

The absence of successful offensive adjustment against the Cowboys was surprising. But recency bias be damned; let’s not forget the overall season that Schottenheimer’s offense enjoyed! Schotty’s play-design was excellent. In fact, it was the defense that had a more difficult transitional season. They looked increasingly bend-don’t-break and relied on a 12th-best point per drive allowed to stay respectable.

Twitter/football scheme darling Kyle Shanahan proves that there is more than one way to skin a cat in football scheme and playcalling. The 49ers Head Coach lined his offense up in 21 personnel (2 running backs, 1 tight end, 2 wide receivers), 42% of the time in 2018. The league average was 8%.

Schottenheimer’s approach came under great criticism throughout the 2018 season, with many reverting back to their preseason negative pre-conceptions of the playcaller. Yet there’s no denying that the numbers and tape shows Schotty schemed an effective, successful offense last year. In 2019, if the required development takes place, Wilson and the Seahawks should be right up there again. Remove the clouded lenses and view Schotty’s offense fairly.

Delve deeper into Schotty’s play-design with Seahawks on tape reading:

  1. https://www.fieldgulls.com/2018/10/25/18014858/seattle-seahawks-film-play-action-run-pass-option-russell-wilson-brian-schottenheimer-pete-carroll
  2. https://www.fieldgulls.com/2018/11/19/18099539/seahawks-tape-brian-schottenheimer-doug-baldwin-russell-wilson-red-zone-offense-coverage-indicator
  3. https://www.fieldgulls.com/2018/12/5/18127139/seahawks-brian-schottenheimer-russell-wilson-dissect-cover-3-mable-skate-tyler-lockett-breakdown
  4. https://www.fieldgulls.com/2019/1/3/18166094/seattle-seahawks-russell-wilson-brian-schottenheimer-cursed-switch-concept-all22-dallas-cowboys