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The day the Seahawks offense died

New York Giants v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

On the second play of the game the Seattle Seahawks ran a play fake. It was ineffective.

The underneath coverage is marginally drawn in but in no way disadvantaged. The two deep safeties hardly move. The Seahawks have through a habit of negligence and abuse killed the primary strength of their offense. They’ve ensnared themselves in a trap of their own making.

This occurred on second and five. The Seahawks pass the ball on middle-range second downs, 3-7 yards to the first, 10% more frequently than the average NFL team. On nearly two thirds of plays beginning on this down and in this range of distances, Seattle passes. If you think this is part of a wider trend and that Seattle is simply doing what other smart offenses are doing, you’re wrong.

Frequency of pass plays on 2nd and 3-7 compared to NFL average for the top 10 offenses by DVOA

KC: +7%

GB: -5%

TEN: -5%

SEA: +10%

NO: -8%

TB: +6%

LAR: -1%

BUF: -7%

MIN: -3%

CAR: +6%

Seattle has become more pass-heavy than a team with a(n) (in)famously pass-heavy head coach who has had years to build an offense around that philosophy.

While the means to get there had changed, the result of this bad play-calling was painfully familiar. Russell Wilson was forced to improvise. This is skin-of-your-teeth football. This can’t be sustained. This will lead to turnovers. This will lead to injury.

Six yards, Tyler Lockett barely in-bounds, and Wilson absorbs a pop by Jabaal Sheard—for what? To appease the mob? To conform? To make Russell Wilson the MVP through positive visualization?

A year ago, the Seahawks ran so much the twittering class rebuked them. Now, with almost the same personnel, they’re passing so frequently that the offense is foundering. Even by metrics which clearly favor passing to running the ball, the offense has declined in efficiency. Starting with Week 5 when the Vikings took the totally unexpected step of adjusting to Seattle’s new pass-first approach, Wilson has been the 25th ranked quarterback in expected points added per play. Not only is he not the MVP, he’s not Taysom Hill or Matthew Stafford or Cam Newton.

This metric, which is simple and assumes almost nothing, loves Wilson. Among quarterbacks who started for most of the decade, Wilson ranks fifth in EPA/Play behind Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger. If you believe in Wilson, believe he has excelled despite playing on some shaky offenses, and that much too much is made of raw passing numbers, this metric supports those opinions. Four quarterbacks certain to make the Hall of Fame and Wilson, that’s your top five quarterbacks of the decade.

How did we become so gullible, so needful, so insecure and so weak-willed that we gladly accept the ideas of every penny-ante charlatan with a spreadsheet? Why did we invite the Bobs into our lives? Is that what you want? Strangers citing pseudo-scientific studies telling you what to do, what to think, how to work, how to live and who you are?

It’s time. It’s overdue. Writing for a sports blog limits how specific I can be, but the corrosive effect of demagogues wielding social media to spread unsound ideas and bully, marginalize and even punish those who do not conform to those unsound ideas, is destroying our society. Straight up. This is a sports blog and as such I will concentrate my effort on utterly debunking Let Russ Cook, but I hope, I really do hope, something about this is generally applicable.

Sports is a sandbox for the wider culture. Unlike the angry proscriptions made by most of social media, those which enter sports are tested. Hopefully the utter failure of Let Russ Cook can become an object lesson. Stop trying to intolerantly fix the world from your device. You’re wrong. You don’t know what you’re talking about. And you’re only making yourself and others miserable with your outrage.

Play action depends on running the ball. The Seahawks abandoned the run. Opposing defenses adjusted. Now, not only will recapturing an effective run game be difficult, but opposing teams likely will be slow to adjust regardless. The Seahawks are in a fix. Through sloppy abuse of an effective tactic they’ve taught opposing teams how to neutralize the offense. They’ve gone from a good liar who picks his spots and weaves truth with fiction to create a confusing whole to a compulsive liar. Every play fake is suspect. Seattle may have to be self-destructively run-heavy to simply pull the coverage back toward the line of scrimmage, stop the opposing defensive coordinator from stacking the line with pass rushers, and stop those pass rushers from pinning their ears back every damn play.

It’s not clear how Seattle will force opponents to respect the run again. Chris Carson isn’t well, and Carlos Hyde, DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer are ineffective decoys. Look at these snap to run ratios:

Carson: 1 run every 3 snaps

Hyde: 1 run ever 3.2 snaps

Dallas: 1 run every 4.6 snaps

Homer: 1 run every 5.5 snaps

Derrick Henry: 1 run every 1.9 snaps

Don’t like the comparison to the best rusher in football? How about the Rams’ committee backfield?

Cam Akers: 1 run every 2 snaps

Darrell Henderson: 1 run every 2.5 snaps

Malcolm Brown: 1 run every 4.25 snaps

For all the talk about Carson’s hands, he has 33 targets all season. On most snaps, two thirds, the very talented rusher is either decoy, blocker or receiver. He’s wasted. Hyde, who’s only effective as a rusher and barely, doesn’t even rise to that ratio. This is Let Russ Cook in action.

Seattle is living in an unreality of competition neglect. It had an idea and attempting to make that idea real it’s encountered opposition and entropy. Could Seattle have passed more frequently last season without losing effectiveness? Maybe. Should Seattle have used the offseason to determine how it could pass more while retaining the core of its offense? Arguably. But instead it simply did an about face. It’s almost like an identity- or mid-life crisis. They’re a pass-first team now. Countervailing efforts by opponents be damned or just ignored.

After converting the first by wing and prayer, the Seahawks ran the ball. New York was not prepared ...

and the run went for 11 yards.

What is sometimes referred to as a “rhythm” was created. On the next play Seattle goes empty but Carson’s still in. He could motion into the backfield. Thus New York stays in their nickel personnel even though Seattle is five wide. Wilson has an easy read and he’s able to target Lockett in a cover-2 buster with anticipation. He’s not beat up. He’s calm. New York, wrong-footed, rush three.

Easy receptions everywhere, an unharried Wilson has time to pick the most valuable target.

Some timing, some anticipation, because Wilson is not Peyton Manning, and Wilson’s long, shuffling windup allows the safety to pop Lockett. But it works! It works!

New York once again dares Seattle to run.

This is not well blocked. Jamarco Jones is put on the turf. Will Dissly is pancaked atop Jones. I believe Mark Schlereth described Dissly’s style of blocking here as the dying cockroach. But New York is so badly outnumbered that a Gettysburg of fallen Seahawks is enough to create a rushing lane off right tackle.

Nor is this an impressive run by Carson. He doesn’t cut back that well. He runs up the back of DK Metcalf. But it’s all easy—super easy.

This is good football. We may as well enjoy it because we won’t see it again.

The Seahawks have the fourth highest success rate on red zone runs but pass it in the red zone the fourth most frequently. This feels like another ugly consequence of Let Russ Cook. Touchdowns earn MVP votes. Interceptions lose ball games. Wilson is tied with Daniel Jones and Ryan Fitzpatrick for the most interceptions in the red zone. Within the 10, he stands alone master of this dubious achievement.

On this drive Seattle doesn’t only go pass, pass, pass. They play all three downs out of shotgun and run empty backfield on two.

The Seahawks, Wilson, stubbornly insist on passing for a touchdown. The results are as bad as they are predictable.

A free blitzer forces an incomplete pass.

Followed by two throws into coverage.

The first is a world-class bad read. The second rightfully should have been intercepted.

Wilson has ages. It’s not the worst read but it’s very nearly the worst possible pass. Jabrill Peppers has inside position on Jacob Hollister but Wilson lobs it up and creates a jump ball opportunity. It’s not even lofted high enough or wide enough to give Hollister a chance toward the sideline. The Seahawks settle for a field goal.

We’ve got three more quarters to watch and it’s ugly. This is the offense Twitter built. I have three more posts to write. Won’t you join me as we see what the internet’s biggest cesspool looks like in real life?