I don’t think it’s too much of a secret that the Seattle Seahawks passing attack, while potent, relies a lot on explosive deep passes than generating explosives through short passes with yards after catch. They were no better than 23rd in yards after catch per reception in three seasons under Brian Schottenheimer, and struggled again in 2022 under Shane Waldron.
This article from Sumer Sports may be two months old but it’s probably new to you, and we’re in the dregs of the offseason and this is very much relevant content heading into the new season. This paragraph by author Tej Seth highlights a trend we’re seeing among NFL offenses.
Over the past couple of seasons, the way NFL passing offenses have generated their production has changed to match the schematic shift of defenses. Using expected points added (EPA) – a statistic that determines what the expected points of an offensive drive will be based on yard line, down, distance, and time remaining – we can see how the average EPA through the air and after the catch has changed per season. Yards after catch (YAC) EPA per dropback has continually risen while teams have coupled that with Air EPA declining (something that Robby Greerre has researched as well). This makes schematic sense as the rise of the Vic Fangio two-high safety structure predicated on taking away deep passes has continually risen through the league with disciples such as Brandon Staley spreading the defense across teams. Because of this, the ability to generate yards after the catch has become more important and may only become more valuable in football.
The Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers, and Detroit Lions were the top three teams in EPA per pass attempt, and perhaps not coincidentally all of them had the highest yards after catch per dropback. As usual, the Seahawks were in the bottom-half.
In Sumer Sports’ data models, offensive coordinator Shane Waldron ranked second-to-last among offensive coordinators in YAC EPA added, while Geno Smith was second-to-last among quarterbacks in the same category. At a wide receiver level, DK Metcalf was one of the leading receivers in average depth of target and dead last in YAC EPA added. We know Metcalf is capable of YAC touchdowns such as the one below, but Seattle certainly hasn’t used him that way.
DK TURNS ON THE BURNERS @dkm14— NFL (@NFL) November 1, 2020
: #SFvsSEA on FOX
: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app: https://t.co/ow2iBsMpyD pic.twitter.com/VplzIRGEa2
That’s not to say Waldron is a bad OC, or Geno is a bad QB, or DK is a bad receiver, but the Seahawks offense definitely does not function well when relying on YAC plays, and this includes the Russell Wilson years. I don’t need to tell you about the ongoing screen pass misadventures.
Personnel also matters. According to Pro Football Reference, Seahawks receivers were tied for second-fewest broken tackles with only 11. Deebo Samuel broke more than that by himself just in the regular season.
This is purely conjecture on my part absent a much larger data sample, but this may very well be a Pete Carroll philosophy conflicting with modern NFL football. He may see greater value getting 25 yards at the point of the catch instead of getting 25 yards with 15-20 coming after the catch. Russell Wilson and Geno Smith are prolific deep ball passers and Tyler Lockett, Doug Baldwin, and DK Metcalf have all been valuable downfield targets, so the offense is schemed accordingly.
On the other hand, YAC is an area the Seahawks have been getting shredded on both sides of the ball, which may call into question Seattle’s viewpoint towards YAC and explosive plays in general. What’s more repeatable over the course of a game: a 40+ yard pass over the top of the defense or a touchdown that looks like this?
DEEBO SAMUEL 74-YARD TOUCHDOWN. @49ers on @19problemz #SuperWildCard— NFL (@NFL) January 15, 2023
: #SEAvsSF on FOX
: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/96NMtTe9OX pic.twitter.com/XezJsSHF4B
This goes back to this paragraph from Tej:
As an offense, if you were told you would get 10 yards per completion with Option #1 being a completion that goes 9 air yards and 1 yard after the catch and Option #2 being a completion that goes 4 air yards and 6 yards after the catch, Option #2 should be the preferred choice. This is because, all other things equal, a 4 air yard pass has a 71% chance of being completed compared to a 9 air yard pass having a 60% chance and yards after the catch are dependent on that the pass being completed. Football isn’t always this black-and-white, but through the quarterback, play caller, and offensive weapons, we can see why these teams are generating yards after the catch and the efficient offense it’s leading to.
Frankly, I believe this also plays a role in why the Completion Percentage Over Expected (CPOE) for both Wilson and Smith under the Seahawks offense has historically been pretty damn high. Seattle gets a significant chunk of their passing yards through low-probability, high-reward completions and while it has worked to tremendous effect over the years, easiest completions turning into big gains continue to be a struggle for the Seahawks.
Hopefully the addition of Jaxon Smith-Njigba can open up the field a little more—the middle of the field, to be more specific—to create some diversity in the Seattle passing game that has been lacking regardless of who’s the QB and offensive coordinator. If they want to be an elite passing offense, they need more simple stuff and new ways to generate explosives besides just playing the classics until better defenses inevitably shut it down.