The Seattle Seahawks have seldom been a good 3rd down offense under Pete Carroll, and that has remained true in the early stages of the 2023 NFL season.
Seattle is 31st in 3rd down conversions both on offense and defense, but we’re only focusing on the offense’s dismal 28.9% rate in this article. The Seahawks offense ranks 3rd in EPA/play on early downs (1st and 2nd), 2nd in success rate, 3rd in dropback success rate, and 6th in rushing success rate.
Once it gets to 3rd down? They’re pretty much at the bottom of nearly ever advanced metric.
What’s the malfunction?
Well, unfortunately, the Seahawks passing game still is not performing up to par when placed in obvious passing downs.
If we define “obvious passing down” as 3rd and 6+ yards, the Seahawks sit at just 5/28 (17.9%) on all plays. Geno Smith is just 6/18 for 52 yards, 1 interception, a scramble for 3 yards, and 4 sacks taken. Drew Lock is 1/1 for 51 yards thanks to that great play to Noah Fant in the New York Giants game, so if he never throws another pass in Seattle he can call himself the most efficient 3rd down QB in Seahawks history.
Seattle’s only other 3rd and 6+ plays were “run the clock out” carries by Zach Charbonnet and Kenneth Walker, so in effect their 3rd and long pass rate when they’re actually trying to score is 100 percent.
If you limited the Seahawks’ window to 3rd and 1-5 yards, they’re still a below-average unit whether throwing or running the ball, but they’re not rooted to the bottom. Geno is 8/13 for 85 yards and a certain winning touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett in overtime, and he’s yet to take a sack within these paramters.
So Seattle’s 3rd down offense is bad no matter what distance, but if it’s even moderately long and they have to pass the ball they’re giving themselves almost no chance.
Believe it or not, Jaxon Smith-Njigba leads the Seahawks in 3rd down targets with 9, and he’s only caught 3 of them for 26 yards. Not all of them have been the give-up quick screens to nowhere, either. But lemme tell you, other than one completion on 3rd and 1 in the Detroit Lions game, JSN is certifiably not open on the non-screen pass throws. Geno hasn’t helped matters with some of these decisions and throws.
Every Jaxon Smith-Njigba 3rd down target through Weeks 1-4. pic.twitter.com/JADmQ0iP2k— Mookie Alexander (@mookiealexander) October 9, 2023
When the Seahawks are thriving on early downs, they avoid the 3rd down problem altogether. Of their 10 touchdown drives, 8 of them saw only a maximum of one 3rd down faced, and half of them never even got to a 3rd down. Otherwise, when they put themselves in trouble through penalties or a lack of early down success, the mission has been generally unrecoverable. They’re not even disproportionately ending up in 3rd and long more than other teams, but they are faring worse in those situations than everyone else.
No, NFL offenses are not built to just simply never get to 3rd down because the sport functionally doesn’t work like that. I suspect the offensive line injuries are a major part of the Seahawks’ lack of three-down offensive rhythm, and it’s certainly why the Seahawks are even bothering with these comically inefficient screen passes, but that may not necessarily be all of what ails this group.
Seattle’s been pretty fortunate to have consecutive weeks facing bad offenses and just generally bad teams, such that they can have inefficient 3rd down offense and still win by double digits. But the daunting part of their schedule is less than a month away, so these issues better correct to at least a league-average level soon, or else there could be trouble ahead. If we see improvement on this front, however? Then that should help unlock the full potential of this offense, which is currently a top-10 unit by DVOA and points per drive.