A Breakdown of Seattle's Offensive Performance Against the Bengals

Hi everyone, last year I reviewed Seattle’s offensive struggles against Dallas in the playoffs and some seemed to like it, so I thought I’d do it again this year. The same caveat applies that I’m not bringing any special football knowledge to the table so much as just taking advantage of a clear head and a rewind button to see how our "car crash" impressions of the game hold up to closer scrutiny.

The heading for each drive also indicates the sequence of runs and passes for that drive, with commas separating first downs. Plays in brackets were called back due to penalties.

General Thoughts

The Bengals came to play, man. The word from the smart football people was that Cincinnati was a dumpster fire, set to be one of the worst teams in the league this year, a 53-man joke it would take three hours to tell, a stripey orange trash panda the newly resurgent Seahawks would curb-stomp on our way to glory. Fuck that. The Bengals were fast, aggressive, and relentless. When the end-of-season power rankings come out, mark me down for predicting that they won’t be on the bottom.

The kvetching about Schotty calling run-run-pass ("RRP") really needs to stop. Nothing about the play-calling this game supported claims that this allegedly "predictable" pattern actually exists (Schotty called RRP on 3 of 12 offensive drives), but you wouldn’t know it from the post-game comment sections. It’s become a rallying cry for frustration that we’re not sufficiently successful on offense, instead of an accurate or useful observation about what’s really happening on the field.

There seems to be a new narrative developing that Seattle predictably runs the ball on first down. This is also utterly false. Not counting the last drive where clock concerns outweighed all else, we ran the ball on 10 of our 19 first downs.

Frankly, where we’re at as a fan base seems to be that whenever Schotty calls a run play and anything goes wrong, he’s a bum and an idiot and holding back the greatness that is Russell Wilson. Guys, it’s getting kind of weird.

Now Presenting Your Scapegoats For Week 1

So who are the Real Villains in the Seahawks offense this game? I’ll start by saying that although I don’t know if anyone can fairly accuse Schotty of genius just now, I don’t have a problem with how he did things that I can reasonably express. His current bizarre status as a Seattle lightning rod is beginning to make me question how much of the blame I used to heap on Bevell was deserved.

Instead, I suggest you direct your frustration and rage over a disappointing Seahawks win (ahem) at the following sorry bastards. They’re not the only ones who made mistakes, but when you ask who had their fingerprints all over the plays that derailed our unsuccessful drives, look no further, in descending order:

Justin Britt – Whenever something went disastrously wrong with the blocking this game, it was a safe bet that Justin Britt was skulking away from the scene of the accident. It could be he wasn't right after the collision with Dissly on the very first drive, but whatever the explanation, it was Britt who was the weak link on the O-line this game. Not Ifedi.

Will Dissly – Maybe it would be easier if we treated him like he was still a rookie instead of heaping all these expectations on him, because he’s very clearly not ready for them yet. He and Britt were far and away the top two offenders.

Rashaad Penny – Hold the tomatoes for a moment. I’m not saying Penny was bad. He just wasn’t effective. There was no magic when he was on the field, apart from a single exception that in its nature (an improvised outside run) did a lot to prove the rule. If Carson and Penny were the only two RBs on our roster I probably wouldn’t even mention this, but listen, we have two other options, and at this point, I want to see Prosise and Homer get some carries, because I’m not confident Penny is our second-best RB.

Other players who weren’t villains but who I expect will be catching grief in the VMAC this week are Chris Carson, Duane Brown and Nick Vannett, each of whom was responsible for rowing one of our twelve offensive drives across the River Styx from "on schedule" to "everything is burning".

Finally, some mention should probably be made of Russell Wilson, who is absolutely a top 5 QB in this league, but who made his own mistakes this game, some of them fairly serious. I’m not interested in casting much blame on Wilson just now, because he played a good game, but I don’t think he played his best game.

Drive 1, 11:51 Q1 - RPP

An initial run achieves nothing, and Wilson’s inaugural pass was way off target. I suspect he felt the pressure and was just trying to get rid of it. This was the play where Dissly accidentally mugged Britt, which people seem to think was Dissly’s fault, and I won’t argue with that.

Metcalf caught the next one, but well short of the sticks. Tough to find a specific source of blame for this drive’s failure, although we’re already seeing the Bengals D-line forcing Wilson to hurry his throws.

Drive 2, 2:48 Q1 - RPR

Carson kicks things off with a 3 yard run that neither excites or upsets me, although I note that the play design seems kind of weird: we appear to have left a single lineman on the backside of the play to attempt to block two Bengals defenders. He obviously couldn’t do that, and one of them brought Carson down early. I suspect that this may indicate that the play-side linemen struggled to get timely movement against their defenders, leaving Carson vulnerable to the backside defender coming free.

The second play – a fake handoff to Carson followed by an attempt by Wilson to pass – fails when the Bengal Dissly is blocking comes free and makes a beeline for Wilson, who takes an ugly sack. I’ve watched it a few times now, and I can’t be perfectly confident whether Dissly lost his block, or whether Dissly deliberately released from his block to become a checkdown target. I love Dissly, but if I had to bet I’d say he lost his block.

Either way, the result was 3rd and 17, and as I mentioned when reviewing 3rd and forever plays across the league last season, conventional wisdom amongst competent teams seems to be to surrender instead of throwing a pass with a high risk of interception (as I once heard a coach tell a QB on Hard Knocks, sometimes it’s wise to just settle for not making a bad situation worse). The handoff that follows is thus best understood strategically as Wilson handing Carson a white flag, not a live football - a white flag that Carson plants 5 yards downfield.

Drive 3, 0:40 Q1 - PR, PPP

This was the drive where the boo-birds started singing the song of their people. After the Bengals muffed the punt reception, we were back on the field for the third time in the first quarter. We started with a very nicely designed screen pass that got Carson the ball with blockers in front of him. The Bengals didn’t see it coming, but Dunlap nonetheless reacted quickly and brought Carson down for a gain of 8, with Carson taking it upfield a second time soon after to move the chains.

What happens next is hard to watch, and equally hard to describe. It’s a play action pass and Wilson rolls out of the pocket to find a target downfield. At least two are open – Carson is wide open – but as Wilson goes to set himself to throw the ball, he slips. Like a scene from a National Geographic documentary, he immediately disappears beneath a pile of eager pursuers, and now it’s 2nd and 19.

2nd and 19 may be recoverable, technically speaking, but what I’ve begun to realize is that when a drive gets that badly "off-schedule", things don’t usually improve. In this case, no exception. A defensive tackle I’ve never heard of named Andrew Billings beats both Britt and Carson in a way reminiscent of the boulder from the Temple of Doom rolling downhill, chaos ensues, three more yards are lost.

3rd and 22, and we try to make it back to the sticks. Dissly and Ifedi are responsible for double-teaming a defensive end named Sam Hubbard, and something really similar to Drive 2 happens: Dissly puts only a perfunctory effort into blocking his guy before apparently leaking out as a checkdown. But this puts Ifedi in an awkward position because Hubbard is on the far side of Dissly when Dissly releases, giving Hubbard a shot at Wilson, who tap-dances out of trouble…but the tap-dance is enough time for the rest of the pocket to collapse, and Hubbard shows an incredible motor by getting back up and chasing down Wilson again. Pass to Dissly wobbles off-target, finito.

I’m getting the sense that (i) there’s a problem with Dissly’s blocking, and (ii) it’s maybe not an inability to block, but perhaps a failure to understand how long to hold his guy before releasing to become a checkdown receiver.

Drive 4, 11:12 Q2 – RR(R)P, P, RR, RP, R

We have great field position. A competently executed pitch to Penny picks up 5, and an equally competent inside run by Penny another 3. Schotty dials up another run, but Dissly false-starts. My accumulated affection for Dissly from his four games last season is eroding…but is immediately restored when Wilson throws a lightning-quick pass over the middle to Dissly for 13.

Wilson keeps the pressure on with another lightning-quick pass to Metcalf, and I’m beginning to wonder if there’s something to this "quick pass" thing that other quarterbacks do that Schotty/Wilson might want to do more of. This is followed up by a beautiful jet sweep by Carson and a great open-field block by Dissly, which reinforces my suspicion that perhaps some of his blocking struggles are questions of understanding the context/purpose of the block rather than actually executing.

The next play is a read-option, and I think Wilson made an error not keeping it. His side of the field looked really good, while the defense had stacked Carson’s side. Carson did heroic work picking up a yard. On second and goal, Wilson throws it to Metcalf, who forces a defender to hold him (and good thing, too, because Wilson's pass looked borderline). Excellent pocket protection. Carson punches it in effortlessly – and that lack of necessary effort is in part a credit to the O-line.

Drive 5, 5:12 – RRP

It’s no secret I’m not the president of the Rashaad Penny fan club. I am, in fact, a bit of a hater. With that out of the way, nothing gives me more ammunition than seeing him take an inside handoff, search for a hole, fail to locate one, and then just kind of wilt to the ground in despair.

Nothing gives me more ammunition, that is, except for the second play, where his first cut takes him directly into the back of his own blocker before he finally sees the enormous hole to his right and picks up 5, like a fly bouncing off a window next to an open door.

I also want to note that this is Seattle’s fifth drive, we’re down to the bottom of the second quarter, and this is the first time Schotty has called RRP. Can this lazy myth die already?

Protection on the pass was good, but it doesn’t look like Metcalf got to his spot on schedule (Wilson's accuracy may have also been iffy).

Drive 6, 1:49 Q2 – PP, P, PRP

The last drive of the half starts with an excellent screen pass to Carson for 7. On the second pass, Wilson goes through his progression from a clean pocket, sees nothing, and hits a wide-open Carson as a checkdown for a first down…but Carson drops it. But Carson instigates a shoving match! Personal foul on the Bengals! First down! I don’t know whether to be embarrassed or proud or relieved. I’ll settle for a little of all three.

I think that play was an interesting one - even in failure - because it demonstrated everyone doing their jobs well. The O-line blocked, Wilson was smart with his progression and didn't obsess over the long bomb, and the scheme was good (Carson was wide open for a first down).

An elegant long-range bomb to Metcalf and we’re away to the races, followed by an end zone shot, again to Metcalf, who doesn’t appear to have gotten to his spot in time (again, see Drive 5). A run too boring to write about picks up 3 yards, and then Wilson hits Carson for a mid-range pass. Carson breaks a tackle, makes two other Bengals miss and turns it into a touchdown.

Drive 7, 15:00 Q3 – P

The first drive of the 2nd half starts with a screen pass to Carson, and just like a really similar play at the start of the first half, this one does really well, going for 11…but then Carson fumbles it. Goddamnit, Carson.

Drive 8, 13:23 Q3 - RRP

Carlos Dunlap beats Duane Brown so cleanly on the left edge it’s not clear he even had to slow down. Carson has absolutely nowhere to go and is tackled for a loss of 6.

So here we are, back in the pit of misery that is being farther than 15 yards from the line of scrimmage. The next play is another run call, and while Schotty is being given a lot of grief for this, I’d like to take a moment to direct considerably more grief towards Justin Britt, who had the option to block Cincinnati’s middle linebacker and elected to find another dance partner. When I pause the game at the moment when Britt made the choice to block someone other than Nick Vigil, I have to say, we might be having an entirely different conversation about this play if Britt had zigged instead of zagged: there was a lot of green space around Vigil.

It’s now 3rd and 18, and Schotty runs a surrender play. As I mentioned in a similar situation in the first half, I’m really not upset by this. If there are any teams this season who regularly attempt to bail themselves out of 3rd and forever instead of living to fight another day, let me know who they are and how it goes for them.

Drive 9, 7:37 Q3 – PPP

On the opening pass, Vannett fails to pick up a blitzing DB and Wilson is sacked. Now it’s 2nd and 19, and I hate to be a broken record, but if you’re getting the feeling that being 15 yards from the line of scrimmage on second down is a really bad sign for the rest of the drive, well, so am I. I don’t know whether other teams are any better at digging themselves out, I honestly don’t, but we shouldn’t assume so.

Anyway, Ifedi gets beat cleanly by Hubbard (whose heroics you’ll remember from Drive 3) for another Wilson sack, and it’s now 3rd and 26. Schotty dials up a 6 yard surrender pass to Vannett and the fat lady sings on this particular offensive effort.

Drive 10, 2:01 Q3 – RRP, (R)P

Good 5-yard run up the gut by Penny, followed by a nothing run by Penny (not his fault, the Bengals read the play and had a posse ready at the line of scrimmage), and then an explosive pass to Metcalf on 3rd down. We shouldn’t let the positive result forgive Justin Britt, who gets beat and forces Wilson to make guys miss in the backfield.

At the start of the next series, Penny manages a great outside run, but Ifedi holds and it’s all for naught. I know the popular take here is that Ifedi is a bum for unnecessarily holding, but here’s an alternate take from an admitted Penny hater: the play was meant to go inside and that’s what Ifedi planned for with his block. If we’re acknowledging for a moment (as I think we probably should) that all offensive linemen hold on a regular basis, we should note the possibility that Penny unexpectedly going the other way may have revealed a "smart" hold by Ifedi that would have otherwise gone uncalled. I don’t have a strong opinion on it, but food for thought.

Wilson then hits Lockett for a heavenly end zone pass and all is, for the moment, good.

Drive 11, 7:00 4Q – PRP

And here we are, now deep in the fourth quarter. Wilson gets great protection, Lockett runs a great route, Wilson makes a great throw, and Lockett drops it. Very unfortunate.

On the second play, an inside run, the inside in question is a teeming mass of 300 pound men who are packed so tight they appear to be huddling together for warmth. Very unfortunate – I’m not sure who to blame, but starting with the blocking seems like a good idea.

The cherry on this drive is Wilson with decent protection unable to find anyone 9 yards downfield, forcing him to throw it to someone five yards downfield, with the predictable result that we don’t get to have the ball any more.

Drive 12, 3:22 4Q – RRR, RRR

This is the drive where we needed to kill the clock and mostly did. A Wilson run for 5, Carson run for 4, and finally a Carson run for a first down sent Cincinnati's win probability into the basement, and then an increasingly bizarre series of half-efforts gave the Bengals the ball back with most of the field to go and 20 seconds left. I’m fine with this drive, and mostly content that we did the main thing we needed to do: get a fresh set of downs when the Bengals desperately needed the ball back immediately. Mostly content. Mostly.