As frustrating as the Seahawks-Rams game was--and really, wasn't it just cosmic payback for last year's win in St. Louis?--I really just have to laugh and enjoy these match-ups between Pete Carroll and Jeff Fisher. So much USC braggin' rights stuff going on with that.
I honestly don't think Fisher runs the fake fair catch or the Johnny Hekker toss against anyone but Pete Carroll. I'm far less certain than many seem to be that Fisher had zero faith that his defense could get a stop. I speculate that Fisher saw a punt coverage look he liked and he gambled on a play that should work against that coverage. Against a different look, perhaps he punts.
Special teams jackassery aside, I saw enough good, foundational Seahawks plays to be hopeful that this thing will get turned around, and this team can maintain a level of play deserving of a playoff spot. If this team is playing its best football in December there is no team it cannot beat in any venue. I believe, however, that the offense will have to lead in 2014. The defense can play better, but its ceiling is probably only "very good" rather than elite.
I'm going to focus on the offense this week, but I'll start with a point about the defense and save the rest for later. It is obvious that Seattle is having trouble generating interior QB pressure (as measured by sacks and hurries). However, it is worth noting that this inability to generate interior is a league wide problem.
To my untrained eye it appears that officials simply are not throwing holding flags on interior offensive linemen on dropback passes. I'm not making excuses here, just providing context. In numbers compiled from NFL.com, attempts/sack are way up, almost 2 full additional attempts per sack on average over 2012 and 2013. (Doesn't sound like much? What might Russell Wilson have done with two additional interior pressure-free dropbacks in first half drives that stalled in the red zone?)
Additionally, if we look at hurries, it becomes clear that they are not coming from 1Ts and 3Ts. According to SportsCharts.com, of the top 100 players with at least one hurry, only 15 are listed as a DT or NT. The remaining 85 are DEs and LBs. The point here is that Seattle didn't simply lose Clint McDonald's production to Tampa. His production never really arrived in Tampa, and that scenario has been repeated all across the league.
Fixing the Offense: Clues from the Game
So, perhaps the biggest takeaway from Rams game, with the caveat that St. Louis has an awful pass defense, is that the prospects of an elite unit in Seattle are probably tied to the offense--not the defense--in 2014.
FO's drive stats capture it well.
(I like FO's drive stats because they're both simple and clear, even if not opponent adjusted).
For all of our wailing and gnashing of teeth about the Percy-centricity of the offense, it was pretty good overall with substantial room to improve. The Seahawks convert the 3rd best starting field position into the 8th most points per drive, at 2.38. (Green Bay is 1st at just 2.70 points/drive.)
Seattle is also scoring on 43.9% of its drives, per SportingCharts.com, good for 5th in the NFL. Add to that, averaging a turnover on a league-best 3.1% of drives. That is some solid production. I'm not saying whether or not Harvin should not have been dealt. I'm saying that this offense had the goods with him. It appears to have the goods without him too. It just has to put everything together.
Still. It has been obvious in the viewing that running the offense through Harvin made Seattle into something like a pitcher with one too many pitches. You simply cannot throw them all equally well.
First Clue: Turbin Might Just Work as a Fullback or in Split Back Sets
I like Robert Turbin more than many, I suppose. I think his real value is as a receiver out of the backfield, but he seems to have lost trust after some high profile gaffes. However, fullback could be the perfect niche for Turbin's solid speed and acceleration, but limited elusiveness.
In the passing game, Turbin has a nice feel for clearing the scrum, finding the open area, and creating a passing angle. Lynch is the better pass blocker. Lynch also has very good hands, but he frequently fails to clear the scrum and present himself before Wilson has turned three whirling pirouettes. So apart from the occasional spectacular catch and run, it's kind of a waste to use him as an outlet receiver.
This offense likes to throw to the fullback, and we are likely to see a return to two backs. We have seen both Robinson and Derrick Coleman catch this very pass out of the backfield for huge 1st down conversions and touchdowns.
This is precisely the kind of a no big deal pitch and catch that keeps the team on schedule. This play works in run heavy personnel, is likely to be an uncontested throw, and can help tame a front four pass rush. I am also curious to see if Seattle keeps split backs in the repertoire.
I believe that one reason we saw so many bubble screens is that the staff understands that this offensive line could be Greatest Show on Turf good at screens. But the screen game should center around the backs, not the wideouts. Split back sets might indicate that the staff might be thinking the same way.
Second Clue: The Offense Works Best When The Ball Doen't Stick in Wilson's Hand
Becoming master of his (footwork and timing) domain--ON A CONSISTENT BASIS--is the next phase of Russell Wilson's evolution. On a three or five step drop the QB should hit his back foot on the last step and the ball should come out. This throw to Paul Richardson against tight man-to-man coverage perfectly illustrates this kind of mastery. It's less about technical detail as it is about trust. That kind of pitch and catch may not appear to be spectacular, but it is spectacular within the confines of the play.
We saw him make this same throw to Kearse last year at home versus New Orleans on third down to move the Seahawks away from their own goalline.
Here's what I like about what I've seen from Paul Richardson so far. He's hardly dominating his snaps, but when he is in things don't appear to be too much for him. If you watched his highlight tape from Colorado he has plenty of wow plays. However, if you watch game tape you realize that he also had a lot of everyday catches of this type, that are spectacular within the confines of the play. I am excited about this kid.