The Seattle Seahawks’ unexpected run to the postseason can largely be attributed to an offense that exceeded preseason prognostications. Geno Smith had a career year on his way to winning Comeback Player of the Year, Kenneth Walker III rushed for over 1,000 yards and finished as Offensive Rookie of the Year runner-up, Tyler Lockett posted another 1,000-yard receiving season, the tight ends collectively caught over 100 passes and 10 touchdowns, and most importantly rookies Charles Cross and Abe Lucas did not look out of place as Day 1 starting tackles.
And yet, we saw the mid-to-late season struggles that nearly undid a 6-3 start. Turnovers were a season-long problem, injuries impacted multiple positions, and the schedule got pretty difficult in the back-end. There’s always room for improvement, and the Seahawks need plenty of it in order to truly break through as a Super Bowl contender this season.
3rd Down Sack Rate
I could just say 3rd down in general, but that long-time issue with Russell Wilson getting sacked at a greater than average rate on 3rd down? It continued with Geno Smith. But unlike Wilson having above-average sack numbers regardless of down, Smith’s sack numbers were drastically different.
And just as a reminder how bad things were for the line on 3rd down in 2022, the Seahawks sack rate by down:— John P Gilbert (@JohnPGilbertNFL) May 9, 2023
1st down: 4.8% (league average 5.2%)
2nd down: 4.9% (league average 5.5%)
3rd down: 15.0% (league average 10.3%)
It’s true that sacks are a quarterback stat and there are plays like the one late in the 4th quarter against the New Orleans Saints where Geno took an ill-advised sack. However, Seattle’s average distance to go on 3rd downs (H/T Stathead) in which Smith was sacked was 9.2 yards, 4th longest in the league. In other words, for whatever blame you want to ascribe to Smith, the other conclusion to make is that the offensive line was getting smoked in obvious passing situations. We assume that’ll improve with another year of experience for players like Charles Cross and Abe Lucas, but please keep in mind the distinct possibility that at least one of Olusegun Oluwatimi or Anthony Bradford could be in the starting lineup this year.
Believe it or not, the Seahawks were tied for 5th in turning early downs into either a 1st down or a touchdown, but 3rd down continues to be troublesome for the team, and 3rd and long is ripe for pass rushers to pin their ears back and tee off. It’s easy to just say “be more efficient on early downs and avoid 3rd down altogether” but that’s just being blatantly impractical. This is basic situational football and Seattle has had too many negative plays under these circumstances.
Red Zone Offense
Seattle finished 9th in points scored, but they also left a lot of points on the table. The Seahawks only scored 26 touchdowns on 55 red zone trips. Their 47.3% red zone touchdown conversion rate ranked 28th last year, better than only the Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets, and New England Patriots, all of whom had injured and/or very bad quarterbacks. Football Outsiders had Seattle’s red zone passing DVOA at 22nd and rushing at 29th.
Geno Smith was tied with Davis Mills for most red zone sacks taken (7), and his completion percentage was a pedestrian 52.9% on 70 attempts. The glaring issue? DK Metcalf targets.
The Smith to Metcalf (dis)connection was a wildly inefficient 8-of-27 (29.6%) for 62 yards and 5 touchdowns. No one else on the team (not even Tyler Lockett) had more than 8 red zone targets, which is insane. Metcalf was 3rd across the entire league in red zone targets but no one else in the top-10 had a catch rate below 45%. In fact for his career he’s 33-of-79 (41.8%) for 23 touchdowns in the red zone, but his rookie year and 2022 were both below 30% catch rates. Mike Williams of the Los Angeles Chargers is the only less efficient threat of the top-20 RZ targets since 2019. This reads a lot like over-utilizing Metcalf in areas where he’s not at his strongest. Enter Jaxon Smith-Njigba, anyone?
Kenneth Walker III had the 2nd most red zone carries (behind Jamaal Williams), and also the 2nd most red zone carries for no gain or a loss of yardage behind Williams. Whereas Williams led the NFL with 16 red zone touchdowns on 57 attempts, Walker had 7 touchdowns on 48 carries. Less than 30% of Walker’s red zone rushes resulted in a first down or a touchdown, which really goes along with his overall success rate being one of the league’s worst. While I won’t make it a section on its own, Seattle’s rushing attack was way too boom-or-bust, but I’d like to think that’s partially why they drafted Zach Charbonnet for his complementary style to Walker, not to mention the assumption of improved o-line blocking.
Yards After Catch (Obviously)
Sorry, but I’m going to keep beating this drum. I won’t repeat a bunch of stats because we had an article on this already with the aid of Sumer Sports, and Tyler Lockett echoed the thoughts of the Seahawks fanbase as far as screens and YAC.
I believe this problem can go a long way towards solving the other two issues listed here. Trying to convert 3rd and 10+ with a target beyond the sticks requires the kind of time that increases the possibility of a sack. Turning a 5-yard depth of target into 5+ yards after the catch and a conversion is something Seattle has struggled with on both sides of the ball, but today we’re only focusing on the offense. Exploiting space and getting ball-carriers out in the open field has to be a top priority—explosive plays in the passing game do not have to be restricted to intermediate-to-long throws.
Improving in YAC not only provides other avenues for achieving first downs, but depending on the distance it can also turn a kicking situation into a scenario where going for it on 4th down at least merits consideration.
It is no coincidence that three of the top offenses in 2022 (Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs, and San Francisco 49ers) excelled in yards after catch. If your attack isn’t diversified, even baseline competent defenses can eventually figure out how to stop you. We’ve banged on about this for years upon years, but surely there comes a point where the Seahawks figure this out, right?!
I’m sure there are other facets of the offense that could use some work, so if I’ve neglected to mention anything in this article, feel free to mention so in the comments section!