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Autopsying the Seahawks offense: Part 1

Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Can it all be so simple?

Pete Carroll said “We have to run the ball better. Not even run the ball better, run it more,” and “Frankly, I’d like to not play against two-deep looks all season long.” As a fan, I’m happy to hear it. But in this role I have to be more objective, and truth is Seattle did run the ball and against a single-high safety.

T’was the O’s first play of the game.

The pitch! It had worked, it could work, and it would not work.

Yep, we’re doing it. We’re going to look at every play the Seahawks ran on offense, or every meaningful play, and figure out what the heck went wrong. What went wrong on the first play of the game for Seattle’s offense? They pitched the ball toward a box safety, is basically the answer.

The same over look which neutralized the intimidation factor of Seattle’s deep threats was back. Despite DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett aligning opposite the direction of the pitch, only two Rams account for their presence. Lockett is matched against free safety John Johnson III. That’s a matchup to be punished. It’s up to the Seahawks to determine this internally, but predictability (perhaps indicated by the formation) is seemingly a factor in this play’s lack of success.

Also, Carson’s simply too slow. Not that he can help it, but a faster back could have run away from Troy Hill. We also might criticize who David Moore chooses to block. He seems to pass up Hill in pursuit of Troy Reeder. But here’s the thing, at the critical moment, Carson had one good hole and a defender sitting in it. Seattle is outmanned.

He opts for the less practical hole toward the sideline. Jacob Hollister has inside position on #31 Darious Wililams. Which means bouncing out risks a hold—it’s not ideal. Track Carson’s movement and you’ll see that he has to adjust to reach the bad hole toward the sideline. It’s not killer but it’s worse.

This play tells us an unhappy story: Seattle executed well enough, their talent was likely up for the play, and the Rams simply anticipated the play call well enough to outnumber the Seahawks. One defender was always going to be free.

Moore has to pick a player to block. Hill is closer but Reeder is presumably the better run defender. They’re not far apart, and given his own velocity, Reeder is the easier target. One defender was always going to be free. I do not fault Moore.

It’s too early in the process to determine anything but if Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley thought Brian Schottenheimer had begun running token run plays, this could be one result. Despite comprising 44% of Seattle’s play calls on Saturday, this was predictable. First down, first play, establish the run—simple.

Wouldn’t you know it but second and eight, the Seahawks in shotgun, LA moved back into a two deep safety look. When coaches talk about committing to running the ball, this is when that commitment shows. Second and eight isn’t the honeymoon down to run the ball. It’s the three kids and medical bills piling up down to run the ball. That is, it tests a team’s commitment.

Seattle failed by passing.

The Rams were ready and Wilson faced this briar patch of coverage.

I’m not one to excuse a quarterback for missing open men, but this is hopeless. DK’s bracketed and tripled. Tyler’s still running his route as I write this. It had three cuts! Will Dissly’s route is so featureless it’s probably more like a floating block for Moore. Carson’s route is on pace with Tyler’s.

So we get Moore, the player Seattle faked to, running a route devoid of practical value. When Wilson chooses to target him, he’s eight yards behind the line of scrimmage. Factor in the double-clutched dinky nature of the pass and extremely deliberate nature of this reception and the play dies on the vine.

Third and seven. Seattle has forced itself to pass. The failure of the preceding plays has dictated strategy. We’re effed in the A a ribald thinker might think. But third and seven is not sure failure.

I won’t do too much macro analysis yet, but consider these data won’t you?

Third and 7-9 for the NFL in 2020

Plays: 1,231

First downs or TDs: 482

Success: 39%

I don’t have access to another measure. For our purposes we will define success as having achieved a first down or touchdown. That excludes from its definition improving field position for a field goal or fourth down conversion attempt. It’s simple but it should be close enough.

About 10% of those plays are runs, and runs were about equally as likely to convert the first or score the touchdown as pass plays. Think about that when we get a little deeper into the idea of committing to the run. Even passing downs can be underestimated opportunities to run the ball. And this particular play, third and seven, is logically the most easy to convert of that set of downs.

Now onto the sad business of what actually happened. And I’ll give you a sneak preview. Wilson wasn’t eating a shark sandwich but a phonetically similar but gustatorily dissimilar meal.

Only three routes have any meaningful chance of converting the first and two are only open bar hours. Jacob Hollister and Carlos Hyde run routes which must achieve eight and 13 yards after catch respectively to convert the first. Eight and 13! That’s more than double the typical yards after catch for Hollister or Hyde. Let us not be dishonest about the capabilities of either player either. Hollister YACs like Droz at the behest of Vince McMahon. Not well. Hyde had 108 yards after catch this season, and much of that YAC bore a striking resemblance to this bunny.

Hyde is not an elusive receiver in the open field. Those are free yards.

Wilson throws too soon. He doesn’t even give this play a chance. It’s not a blitz. The pass rush isn’t firing through the gaps. But one can’t fully ignore that Damien Lewis is blocking Aaron Donald. In my capacity as a Seahawks writer, I approach Donald’s irreproachable perfection skeptically. But in my capacity as a sapient being, I know that ain’t good.

Lewis does pretty well, considering.

Morgan Fox is double teamed. Which means through the ghost of a blitz Staley dictated a favorable matchup for his best pass rusher. It also means, as okay as Lewis does, there’s little chance Wilson will have time to target his deep receivers. Donald breaks free while the ball’s in flight.

Lest I forget, Hollister whiffs reaching for an imperfectly placed hospital ball. That was by no stretch the worst possible outcome. It was not far from the best possible outcome.

Punt.

So: predictable, junk, junk and you wouldn’t fault the execution very much on a single play call. One drive, three plays, lost utterly to bad play calling. Maybe this is an unusual sequence. I am guessing it’s not. Check in tomorrow for the next thrilling installment of “Schotty in the Rue Morgue.”