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A brief look at Anthony Lynn

NFL: Preseason-Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Chargers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks probably will hire a new OC before I finish this series but I wanted to give an informal look at a few good plays from Seattle’s potential hires. Nothing too in-depth—it’s the offseason and I’ve Spanish to teach myself and a very smart but nervous wife back in school full time for the first time in decades.

Football has a inglorious tradition of coaches and nominal journalists who mystify and double-talk themselves into credibility. One thing I really like about Pete Carroll is that he’s clearly a smart man, at least by my reading one of the smartest head coaches in the NFL, and his intelligence has given him a certain wherewithal to resist phony genius and trend hopping. Carroll has always believed in the preeminence of talent and execution, that simplicity allows for the best talent to have the best opportunity to master the system, and that simplicity allows for the highest level of execution.

This recently popular quote by Bruce Lee comes to mind: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

My guess is that’s what Carroll is seeking in his new offensive coordinator too. A coach with a relatively slight playbook who does not seek to win through guessing and guile but soundness of play design and excellence in execution.

Today we’ll look at Anthony Lynn. Lynn is a bit of a mystery to me. He has very little experience as a top coordinator, very little we can say he certainly did, and he has that good for him / potentially bad for his employer quality of looking the part.

Even his nearly one season as offensive coordinator in Buffalo is marked by strangeness and complicating circumstances. After Week 2 of the 2016 season, Greg Roman was fired, leading to Lynn’s promotion. He took Rex Ryan’s job before Week 17. Here’s Lynn in the team photo.

He’s somewhere in there I’m sure.

Lynn’s Bills were a powerhouse rushing team, high volume and efficient. Presumably his playbook that season was at least heavily indebted to Roman. Which complicates our evaluation, but I’m of the opinion that original ideas are often overvalued. New ideas which work are quickly copied and assimilated into other playbooks. Having access to an innovative play caller’s playbook can’t be bad either—it certainly worked for Doug Pederson. But, that all said, I must acknowledge that these cleverly designed plays may not have been designed by Lynn.

The NFL’s excellent YouTube presence means we have extensive highlights of the game.

Now let’s look at one play. I know. That’s not exhaustive. I’ll more fully analyze the play design and play calling of whoever gets hired.

Here Tyrod Taylor converts the first by throwing on the run to Marquise Goodwin. This is a three man route.

Goodwin and Walt Powell on the right ‘x‘ their routes to shed/confuse/cause errors in man coverage. Seattle is in man coverage, btw, and they anticipate the maneuver by stacking Jeremy Lane over Richard Sherman. Neatly drawn lines are cute but that’s not what NFL routes look like.

Robert Woods runs an in-slanting route before squaring into an in. Goodwin curls out. And Powell is so slow through his route we’ll just have to wonder what it was gonna be. I’m not sure that lethargic out-breaking curl is anything but Powell watching Taylor and moving toward the receiver Taylor is targeting.

Buffalo blocks with seven and moves the pocket to the right. Seattle did not seem to bootleg or move the pocket much at all this season, and Russell Wilson often looked desperately lost in a sea of big men friends some and far too many foes. Moving the pocket makes advantageous Taylor’s mobility. He’s not grounded to a small space in the middle of the field. I sometimes wonder if Wilson’s like a rhythm shooter who’s better running and shooting on the fast break than spotting up.

Whatever the case, shifting the pocket takes the teeth out of an all out blitz by some seriously good pass rushers: Frank Clark, Cliff Avril, Jarran Reed, Bobby Wagner, KJ Wright and Cassius Marsh combined to finish the season with 79 quarterback hits and 34.5 sacks. Pressure comes and it’s ferocious but Taylor’s pocket is airy compared to the iron maiden Wilson found regularly closing around him in the Wild Card round.

The routes are scramble friendly. No one runs a go to infinity lost to the play. They’re not terribly dependent on timing. The route continues after the break whether it’s an in or back. It’s a big question to answer but just as a fan spitballing on a blog, what if Wilson were less successful throwing on the run because the offense was less conducive to improvisation?

Ultimately what I like most about this play call is that Buffalo converts the first because of modestly better execution. Seattle is surprised not at all. Jeremy Lane is shook by the small quicker Goodwin. Strong safety Kelcie McCray takes too long reading Tyrod and tight end Charles Clay and doesn’t drop deep enough in underneath coverage. Goodwin has a window of openness to run through and Taylor finds him relatively promptly converting a valuable third down.

I won’t break the next play down, but I show it because of Lynn/Roman’s regular use of additional blockers. Seattle seemed to do that so well last season. If Wilson wants to pass more, pass first and build the offense around passing, extra blockers may be a bad idea. He would be better served by an offensive line capable of surviving even if Seattle almost always sends out five receivers.

That was the beauty of Mike Holmgren’s playbook. Walter Jones’ near immaculate performance despite facing the toughest blocking challenge possible—one-on-one against the opponent’s top pass rusher all season—is why he’s a legend. Blocking with five, even in passing downs, even facing a blitz, takes great blocking but also makes for much easier reads. It’s a tradeoff. And while I don’t hate Seattle’s pass blocking, it did not earn more responsibility either.

Seattle needs to pick a path, because against good pass rush, the blocking was insufficient. Against good coverage, Seattle’s three viable receivers struggled to get open. The Rams accomplished both. Toward the end of the season the 2020 Seahawks looked like a mason with only enough stones to build a church or a house, attempted to build both but only built two stacks of rubble.