Greg Olsen caught two quick out-breaking routes each for ten yards against the Arizona Cardinals.
Not identical but close, these are snappy little timing routes, good for second and long situations, and with Olsen out this particular tool in Seattle’s offense may be gone too. Will Dissly is a surprisingly good athlete, big, gliding and powerful, but I don’t think of him as sudden. I wouldn’t want to see Jacob Hollister working in-line too very often. Probably, despite Olsen’s minimal contributions this year, the Seahawks will have to adjust to his loss schematically.
That might be a good thing, because with respect to Olsen who’s had a great career and is a consummate pro, when the tide of the Seahawks passing game lifted, Olsen found more damage in his hull than even Flex Tape could fix. Dissly contributed more in six games last season than all Seahawks tight ends have this season. Fewer yards, but more touchdowns and more value. Dissly was extremely efficient in 2019. Hollister performed at a break even rate last year and has so far this year too. Olsen dragged. He lost significant value—no other receiver in Seattle’s offense was less efficient as a receiver, not Carlos Hyde, not Footloose Freddie Swain.
Olsen wasn’t earning targets either. He had 23 in 417 snaps. That’s a rate more typical of a blocking tight end. A team doesn’t sign Jim Kleinsasser for his receiving, and though competent, competent is a nice gentle southern-style passive aggressive way to put it, the Seahawks did not sign Greg Olsen for his blocking. Continuing in that style, losing Olsen may not be so much a loss, bless his heart, as an opportunity.
Dissly has 17 targets in 313 snaps. Last season he had 27 in 249 snaps. For those who don’t like math, Hi Pumpkin, that means this year Olsen and Dissly were each targeted about once every 18 snaps, or maybe three times a game. In 2019, Dissly was targeted about once every 9 snaps, meaning Dissly’s targets were evenly distributed between Olsen and Dissly. Dissly’s efficiency is down this season but still best among Seattle’s tight ends, and he’s turning himself into a heckuva in-line blocker. You’d expect a converted defensive tackle to hold his own, but little by little, Dissly’s becoming downright good.
My initial reaction to the Seahawks signing Olsen was very, very negative. No player in recent memory seemed to have more of his one foot out of the door than Olsen. It’s one thing for a 30-something football great to have aspirations of being a commentator, it’s quite another when they’ve already done it and likely have standing seven-figure offers on the table. Dissly’s fragility, to use an appropriate but kind of loaded word, made signing a tight end smart, but Seattle probably couldn’t have crapped out worse than signing Olsen. He never had upside. He didn’t provide depth. He cost twice as much as Jason Witten and seven-times as much as Tyler Eifert. Even Eric Ebron was cheaper per season.
What he provided, if you’re feeling very generous to PC and JS after that awesome win, is time. Dissly was recovering from a major injury. He’s been asked to do less, and hopefully hopefully hopefully, he can finish out the season and prove that for some anyway a rash of injuries is nothing more than bad luck.
This post is full of weird symmetry, or entirely commonplace symmetry that I find weird, and in that vein, Dissly’s lone reception against Arizona was for 10 yards too. The means by which Dissly got those ten yards couldn’t have been much more different.
He runs a meandering in-cutting route which settles into a forest of zones. It’s fair to say he doesn’t really get open on his own—he doesn’t have that suddenness to separate. Russell Wilson scrambles him open. Dissly stays alive, navigates away from the Cardinals foundering zones, and picks up little but a body’s length of yards after catch. It’s not a route, or shall I say the execution of a route, that the Seahawks can rely on in second and long. It’s phenomenal, to blur that word’s two meanings, in that it did happen and that it really can’t ever happen again. In terms of regularity and repeatability, what Dissly did and what Olsen did sit on opposite ends of the spectrum.
You’d think passing more frequently on first down would lead to more second and long plays, but Seattle has held steady.
Percentage of passes thrown in second and 7+ yards to go
The big difference between this and last season has been how effective Seattle has been in second and middle-long, or second and 7-9.
2019: 7.9 ANY/A
2020: 10.7 ANY/A
Olsen received for 10 yards on second and 16 and second and 10. Dissly received for 10 yards on second and six. I don’t know if that pattern holds throughout the season, but tight end is a typical target in such situations. The hope is, whatever Dissly does, he does it better than Olsen, and whatever Dissly does, it’s similar enough to replace Olsen but more efficiently. That would be the A+ outcome.