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Seahawks on tape: Redzone king Brian Schottenheimer’s fake smash

NFL: SEP 22 Saints at Seahawks

Brian Schottenheimer draws up some smart play-designs. Nowhere is this more apparent than the place it matters most, inside the 20 and the redzone. In 2019, through 3 games, the Seattle Seahawks have converted 7 of 8 RZ opportunities for touchdowns.

Last season, Schotty’s attack finished 7th in redzone scoring percentage (touchdowns only). Year 2 of his offense, which managed to defy the typical maiden year trend of regression, is seeing him evolve his concepts and enjoy an even more successful relationship with Russell Wilson. It’s clear the man with the headset and the man under center understand each other.

It would therefore be a shame for the New Orleans Saints game, probably the most poorly executed defeat of the Wilson-era, to be an all-negative result. One positive was Schotty’s play-design. It made for an intriguing battle between a Saints defense that was employing various methods (staggered hooks, slot carry) to lessen Tyler Lockett’s influence on the game.

Lockett’s redzone touchdown exhibited all the great things about Schottenheimer’s second year in the Pacific Northwest. It also demonstrated how comfortable Wilson is becoming in this attack. The two are making magic together.

A core concept to the 2019 Seahawks is the smash concept, that being a two-route receiver combination where the #1 target runs a shallow hitch or smoke route, and the #2 receiver runs a corner route into the space hopefully created behind. The play generates a high-low conflict for a defense.

Schotty has incorporated it into a lot of his passing patterns. In Week 1, the Cincinnati Bengals were so keen on stopping smash that they ran a risky Tampa-2 invert coverage that left the Middle of the Field Open. Schottenheimer then got them on a corner-post double move from Lockett.

The Saints got suckered by a fake smash design too. Pre-snap, Seattle’s 11 personnel trips formation aligned tight end Will Dissly as the isolated receiver - a “nub” look to the short side of the field.

Wilson observed. He saw a cornerback over Dissly rather than a linebacker or safety, hinting that the coverage was of a zone variety. (Schotty is a king at pre-snap coverage ID mechanisms)

As the quarterback peaked towards the safeties, he saw two of them aligned high and the Middle of the Field Open. This was likely to be a red zone version of cover 2, one of the best tight confine pass defenses that the Seahawks regularly employ themselves. (Red 2)

Wilson adjusted. He made a signal at the line of scrimmage after fake-hiking, then peaked towards Tyler Lockett aligned at #3 receiver.

Seattle initially showed smash from their three wide receivers. #1 receiver David Moore ran a smoke route that saw an aggressive matching, likely “man everywhere he goes” from Saints cornerback Eli Apple.

#2 receiver Jaron Brown stemmed straight down the field, right at the trips high safety Marcus Williams. New Orleans was intent on have their players be aggressive in zone matching players. The defenders were dropping to landmarks and visioning the quarterback. However, once their zone was threatened the Saints would play man on the danger.

Williams as the high safety gained leverage that looked like he expected a corner route from Brown, the latter element of the smash combo, but then Brown skipped and broke inwards on a post.

The safety, Williams, had to go with Brown. After all, Lockett from the #3 spot had run a harmless hitch designed to clear out space for the post to the open middle of the field, right?

Wrong. Lockett did indeed run a hitch initially, which was covered by middle linebacker A.J. Klein tasked with somewhat closing the open middle of the field with a “Middle Run Thru” assignment that meant he chiefly looked towards Lockett. Lockett’s hitch also demanded the attention of the strong curl player, nickel corner P.J. Williams, who was left waiting for any out-breaking route like a pivot or stick-type.

But Lockett wasn’t done. Wilson pump-faked to his hitch and rolled right. Williams as the curl player thought shallow. Lockett, with the rest of the Saints breaking from their zones and matching the pattern, was left matched-up one-on-one with Klein, the middle linebacker.

Lockett ran a corner, as though he were involved in the smash concept. In addition to being a total mismatch for Klein, he also had complete space to run into and the leverage advantage.

This was an absolutely perfect design and execution from the Seattle Seahawks. It’s an illustration of what a successful NFL passing attack looks like, coordinator and quarterback working in harmony. This wasn’t a coverage bust from the Saints, it was a schematic win from the Seahawks.