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How predictable was the Seahawks offense in 2018?

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday I took a look at how the offensive line of the Seattle Seahawks performed in 2018 during the first half of the season versus the second half of the season using the Pass Blocking Efficiency metric. One of the things I discussed was how predictable the Hawks offense under first year offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was, and specifically how it became somewhat possible to predict whether the team would run or throw based on nothing more than down and distance.

This, of course, was a far lower level way of looking at the work that former Field Gulls contributor Sean Clement did earlier in the spring as a fanpost, and it was the simplicity I was going for. Many readers were aghast at the chart I included in the article which showed the passing rate by down.

Now, while that chart definitely shows that patterns of playcalling existed, let me take a moment to adjust some of those numbers in the chart because those are for every offensive play over the entire season. When adjusting for situational football, the predictability becomes even more prevalent.

For starters, there are several situations in which teams are extremely unlikely to run the ball at all, such as during the two minute drill at the end of the first half. In addition, as my work in analyzing the Seattle offense in 2018 has shown, they truly adjust to unleash Russell Wilson once the game hits the ten minute mark of the fourth quarter. Thus, here are what the numbers are for those situations.

So, simply removing those two specific situations yields a nearly three to one ratio of rushing on first downs. Drilling down into field position and game situation it is possible to get that ratio even more run heavy, but I think the point becomes clear.

However, at least one commenter did not believe that a 70/30 split constituted predictability, demanding that the ratio be more run heavy.

The statement is not borne out by the numbers.

According to the chart above, even on first down they were still passing nearly a full third of the time (the lowest percentage). That to me doesn’t scream “predictability”.

If you had told me the run/pass ratio on first down was 85/15 or 90/10, I would call that predictable.

Certainly passing on a third of first downs is enough to keep defenses from completely selling out to stop the run.

So, all I need to show is 85/15 or 90/10 to hit predictability? Not a problem. Let’s move along to some situational football, specifically looking at third downs. Here is how the playcall breakdown looked for the Hawks in 2018 on third down broken into three categories of yards to go: 1-4 yards to go, 5-10 yards to go and 11 or more yards to go.

And there we have hit the 90% threshold, as Russell Wilson dropped back to pass on more than 90% of third down plays when there were five to ten yards to gain. Now, before you go ranting about how bad and how predictable that is, I have something to point out regarding the nine rushing plays on 3rd & 5-10. Specifically, four of them were scrambles by Wilson after dropping back to pass, and a fifth was a lateral to Ed Dickson while Wilson was scrambling as the pocket collapsed. So, moving those five plays out of the running column and into the passing column, and it yields the following.

That is a whopping 95.96% of the time where the Seahawks passed on 3rd & 5-10 to go. In addition, the pass percent in the bottom row has increased, as I’ve taken the liberty of removing two late fourth quarter kneels and moving a scramble by Russ from the run column to the pass column.

But don’t get too upset, because I’m still not done. Adjusting further for situational football, of the four designed running plays that the Seahawks called on third down with five to ten yards to go, three of them came with less three minutes to go in the fourth quarter as the Hawks were working to put the game away.

So, if it’s predictability one wants, let’s look at third downs a bit more situationally. Specifically, let’s look at the run versus pass breakdown on third down by yards to go for the first half of games.

And that right there is the biggest issue with the current version of the Seahawks offense. Once it is broken down into situational football, there are tendencies that are extremely, extremely strong, and it is possible for a defense to anticipate what is going to come based solely on the situation. If the Hawks are able to out execute the opponent, that is great. However, if they’re not able to out execute the opponent by a large margin, there could be substantial second year growing pains now that coaching staffs around the league will have an entire offseason to break down the tendencies of an offense that is highly predictable in specific situations.