The trade of Russell Wilson and decision to start Geno Smith at quarterback left Seattle Seahawks fans and a lot of outside observers worked on the assumption that Pete Carroll was prepared to go back to a run-first offense after years of debating the playcalling with Wilson at QB.
Well... this is the Seahawks, and they love to zag when you expect them to zig.
This is merely one game, but the Seahawks had one of the highest pass rates over expected in the NFL in Monday’s win over the Denver Broncos.
If you’re not up to speed on PROE, here’s the skinny from the Establish The Run model:
PROE stands for Pass Rate Over Expectation. The site nflfastR hosts a repository for play-by-play data going back to 1999, and for each offensive play since 2006, they provide an “xpass”. Xpass is the probability of a called pass play (dropback) on that particular play, and scrambles are counted as a called pass play. This probability is determined by a variety of factors taking into account game context – down, distance, time remaining, yardline, score differential, etc.
A team’s PROE is their actual called pass rate minus their expected pass rate, determined using the xpass of each play. In some ways, this is a better measure of team intent than situation neutral or early down pass rates because we are able to increase the sample size by not excluding plays and account for the granular context of each play.
Ben Baldwin’s early down (1st and 2nd only) PROE model also shows that the Seahawks were not in a mood for just reverting back to the 2018 offense as many had feared.
Excluding kneeldowns and including plays that ended in a penalty, the Seahawks called 13 passes to 10 rushes on 1st down. On 2nd downs (again, including plays that ended in a penalty) there were 13 called passes and only 4 designed rush attempts — Smith had a 14-yard scramble on a dropback. You are looking at a 65% early down dropback rate in a game they never trailed in. Even in the 2nd half, their early down dropback rate was still 64% (9 dropbacks, 5 runs).
Is this pass-heavy way the new standard for the Seahawks on a weekly basis? Probably not. But it shows that the concerns of Carroll wanting to go run-heavy post-Wilson might have been overblown. One of the untold storylines of Week 1 was how willing Seattle was to throw the ball with Geno, and for all we know that might have even caught the Broncos off guard in the opening half.
We’ll see if the pass-first approach continues against a more formidable (on paper) defense in the San Francisco 49ers this Sunday.