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Seahawks 3rd down notebook: The most encouraging stat from the Seahawks' loss to the Rams

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From Marshall: "Let's get professional: Midway through the season, it's time to assess and adjust. To be GMC Professional Grade, you must be calculated in your approach. What adjustments are needed to make sure you are fighting for a playoff spot?"

Danny note: Davis and I have been closely tracking the Seahawks' conversion rate on third downs the past year and a half or so, because we both believe it's a key area for improvement on offense. In 2013, Seattle converted 37% of their 3rd downs, which was good for 17th in the NFL (the Chargers were first at 49%, the Broncos second at 47%). Essentially, Davis identified this area because it was really one of the only spots where Seattle was below average. The Hawks ran the ball well. They threw it deep well, had great yards per attempt. Obviously, on defense, as we saw, the Hawks were were pretty good to legendary in every area.

While we've not done the study on it, we both believe that converting on 3rd down has a strong correlation to scoring, and with the Seahawks defense taking some steps back this season in their turnover rate and points allowed, it may come down to the fact that the offense has to carry the load a little heavier this season. As the defense trends away from the historic and ends up somewhere around, hopefully, just "good" to "really good," the offense may be forced to win a few more "shootouts" and higher-scoring matchups. So, third downs, this year, is a huge key.

So, to answer Faulk's question, we believe that if Seattle can continue to adjust to game situations, stay on schedule, and improve on third downs and extend drives at a higher rate, it will have ripple effects for the overall effectiveness of all three phases.

Here's Davis' take on the subject:

A LONG WAYS

The Seahawks had their best day on 3rd down this year against the Rams, going 6 of 12 (50%).  This effort is notable because the Seahawks faced a median 3rd down distance of 9.5 yards (even worse than the median 3rd down distance of 9 yards against the Cowboys). Both the Rams and Cowboys games represent the worst down and distance medians for the season. 3rd down and 9 is not "staying on schedule" as you'll hear Russell say frequently, but in this game, Wilson made some big throws on third and long to move the chains. 

Seattle went 2-of-7 on 3rd down in the first half, mostly because they faced a 3rd & 13, 3rd & 14, 3rd & 15, and 3rd & 17, all before halftime. This helps explain the 6 points the Seahawks scored in the first half. Wilson and the Seahawks offense did not convert any of those very long opportunities in the first half, but they did convert 4-of-5 3rd down opportunities after halftime, including hitting Doug Baldwin for 19 yards on a 3rd and 17.

Of these five "3rd down & very long" situations (11 yards or longer), three of them were the direct result of penalties. As Danny likes to say, "penalties are drive killers."

Here is a visual graph that shows Seattle's nine drives vs. St. Louis. Green boxes represent converted third downs, and the red boxes show where they failed to convert and extend drives. The distances for each third down are shown as well.

1

Examples: 

-- 3rd and 8 on DRIVE 2 became 3rd and 13 due to a penalty for 12 men in the huddle. Carroll intimated that both rookie receivers, Kevin Norwood and Paul Richardson, tried to go in, when only one of them was designated.

-- 3rd and 17 on DRIVE 5 took place in part because the Seahawks incurred a delay of game on the STL 7 on 1st and Goal. These procedural penalties are killer.

-- 3rd and 17 on DRIVE 7 happened in part because of a previous hold on J.R. Sweezy, which set the Seahawks way behind their schedule to get to a third and manageable.

-- The other two 3rd & very longs were because of sacks on 1st or 2nd down.

Still, Wilson had an incredible game. Facing an average 3rd down distance of 9.91 yards (and median of 9.5 yards) he ripped off a 6-of-12 3rd down performance (none but one of the situations allowed Seattle to hand to Marshawn Lynch).  When you factor in his 7 rushes, Wilson clipped off 419 yards of offense in 43 touches, good for 9.74 yards per play.  If this wasn't Wilson's best performance as a Seahawk, I would imagine it sits in his Top-5.

Additionally, not only was Seattle good on 3rd down, but they were explosive versus the Rams, totaling 9 plays of 19 yards or longer.

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Breakdowns

1Q (3rd AND 10, SEATTLE 40) (11:14)

Seattle kicks off their first 3rd down of the game, and face a long down distance of 10 yards. Jeff Fisher shows a Cover-2 shell and has seven players at the line of scrimmage. Pre-snap, there is a big void in the middle of the field. The Seahawks have Lynch offset left, shotgun, with 4WR in a doubles formation. Seattle does not jump pre-snap (Yay!).

The Rams blitz five and drop two into coverage, and it's a great pass by Wilson, a great catch by Baldwin, and an awesome run after catch by Baldwin. What I am most impressed with is the protection from the Offensive Line, though, and from Marshawn Lynch. The pocket is clean and Wilson steps up and fires on time.

Lynch does a great job picking up the backside blitzer. James Carpenter and Russell Okung double team and pick up a twist. Justin Britt directs his man deep and Wilson steps forward. J.R. Sweezy does a great job controlling his man and keeping his arms (somewhat) down in the passing lane. Steven Schilling picks up the twist and does a good job.

This is a "must pass" situation and the Offensive Line is ready for the blitz.

Baldwin is a smart route runner, allowing the linebacker to get sufficient depth before he cuts under toward the logo.  The linebacker stumbles and then misses his tackle and Baldwin makes a bee-line up the hash marks for 49 yards. 

Here's what it looked like:

Danny notes: I like this route combination against this coverage, a lot. Jermaine runs a clearing route right up the numbers, which draws the attention deep half safety to the right side. This causes him to widen out and he's almost at the numbers when Doug catches the ball. Additionally, Doug's early movement to the outside means the linebacker that's dropping passes him off to the cornerback playing the flats, and that linebacker tracks Kearse up the seam to try and take away a throwing lane. This leaves Baldwin able to run his angle route back to the inside.

The rest is just Doug making a play to break the tackle, and as Davis pointed out above, none of this would have happened without great protection up front. Man, what a great luxury.

2Q (3rd AND 5, SEATTLE 42 YARD LINE) (11:07)

Seattle comes out in a manageable down and distance with their 11 personnel grouping; Marshawn Lynch is split out wide, far right. Doug Baldwin and Paul Richardson are paired to the left, on the tight side of the field (ball is on left hash). Cooper Helfet and Jermain Kearse and split to the right. The Seahawks are in shotgun and the Rams show four rushers and a spy.  They rush four and keep the spy to ensure Wilson does not leak out for an easy 1st down with his legs. I believe the Rams are playing a man-free coverage behind.

The protection is good, perhaps not great, as Justin Britt's man is turning the corner. It does not matter because the ball is out in two seconds.

Wilson's first read is on his left side.

Baldwin is inside and does a simple hippity-hop to freeze the defender and then heads out. Richardson does his part to complete the "rub". The corner on Richardson has to stick with him on the easy slant, with hopes of contesting a possible ball with his hands ripping a  catch. The defensive back on Baldwin really has no chance here, the spacing and timing work perfect.  Easy pitch and catch for 9 yards on 3rd and 5. Solid execution all around.

Danny Notes: This was an observation I had last week regarding the Seahawks' tendencies on third down and medium or third down and long:


It's really Seattle's go-to play and while it's failed in a few important spots, overall it's actually been pretty effective for the Seahawks for a year or more. Remember those big-time Doug Baldwin third down catches against the Saints last year? Remember Doug Baldwin burning Champ Bailey in the Super Bowl? That was this play.

Here, the Seahawks adjust for down and distance and Baldwin flattens out his route after Richardson provides the pick. If the defense over-pursues and follows Baldwin, the slant to P-Rich should be there for Wilson.

All in all, good execution of one of Seattle's offensive staples.

3Q (3RD AND 5, SEATTLE 15 YARD LINE) (13:43)

When you are backed up near your own goal line and it's 3rd & 5 with receivers split out on both sides, the ball has a strong chance to go toward the tight side of the field (in this case with ball on the right hash, the offense right). The ball needs to get out quickly and you don't need much time or much distance. Pre-snap, I believe Wilson is already trusting Richardson to create a short and slightly contested catch. 

When the Seahawks drafted Paul Richardson, Pete Carroll and John Schneider made some player comps for Paul: DeSean Jackson in terms of his size and speed; Marvin Harrison in terms of his weight. One of either Schneider or Carroll (I can't remember which) also mentioned Doug Baldwin in the way Paul released off the line of scrimmage. In this case, Paul does not exaggerate his release as much as Doug likes to do - but it works well. He stabs left at the snap before he works back right to effectively create space away from Gaines. He wins.

Then, at the turn, he works back to the ball and spins his body to shield away from the defender late and catches the ball away from his body as Wilson is putting the ball on the outside shoulder. The play is good for 11 yards. 

This is why I don't think Richardson is a "one trick pony" (deep threat only. He does regular receiver stuff, which is very important. This all adds to his value as we already know from his long resume at Colorado (with some pretty poor QB play) that he is a legit deep threat. We all know the knocks against him, which are, essentially: his weight, or lack thereof.  But in the end, this is a really nice opening game for Paul Richardson at a time where the Seahawks are in a bit of crisis. 

Toward the core of the formation, the Seahawks are in 11 personnel. Kearse is far left, Baldwin is in the slot, and Helfet is in-line but heads out into his route. Lynch is offset right, as he has responsibility in blitz pickup, and perhaps leak into the right flat if he is free. I believe Richardson is the first read for Wilson, and that's a good thing, as Kearse is pretty well covered up and Baldwin and Helfet almost run into each other.

The Rams look like they are again in man-free. They crowd the line of scrimmage, but end up blitzing five (with the 5th on sort of a delay). The protection looks pretty leaky on Britt's side, but the ball is out quickly. Hands are up but Wilson delivers it over them and perfectly to the outside shoulder.

Good throw from Wilson, and really, much of the credit for this play goes to Paul Richardson.

Danny Notes: To me, this play is about timing and accuracy, both by the quarterback and receiver. This is a three-step drop. Wilson does not have time to aim, really, he just has to throw where Richardson is supposed to be. Wilson delivers a well timed and accurate pass (it's a little high but that's ok), and Richardson's route is timed perfectly as well. If he doesn't take the exact right amount of steps before turning outside to look for the ball, this pass flies out of bounds. Good work by both players.

3Q (3rd AND 6, SEATTLE 30 YARD LINE) (12:17)

Wilson wants to go back to his favorite target, and why not? He has Doug Baldwin in the slot, right side, with the ball on the left hash. The Seahawks are again in 11 personnel with Lynch split out far left. Helfet is in-line and leaks out. Kearse and Lynch aren't really open on the left side, but Wilson's first read is on the right side. Helfet gets open late if he runs sort of a deep corner, but Wilson would not have time to hit him as Britt's defender would have either sacked Wilson or caused him to re-set his platform (or spin etc...).

Brockers bats it down, but even if Wilson was 6'2, the pass might have been batted down. Or not. I really don't know. The Rams show blitz, but rush only four. Seattle picks it up for the most part, but the right side is leaking a bit. Brockers leaps high in the air and the edge rusher is a bit of a threat. I don't think it is an easy play for Sweezy to hold his arms down --Brockers is a big, tall DT with 1st round pedigree.    

Attempting to hit Baldwin is still possibly Wilson's best play in this scenario, though, as there is no easy exit to leak out of the pocket.

It's a failed play, but perhaps Baldwin's best route.  His footwork is awesome here. He hesitates then steps right. The defender lunges outside and his hips are all out of sorts while Baldwin cuts back inside. He is one step ahead of the defender and very much a "thinking man's wide receiver" (with talent). Baldwin has all kinds of space, and the catch would have gained the 1st down and more.  Again, just really cool footwork from Baldwin here.

Danny Notes:

Again:

I'm not going to pretend I'm the only one with this observation. The Rams surely gameplanned and practiced for it. Even then, the Seahawks used it (above) to pick up a first down on 3rd & 5 in the second quarter. Only this time, a little gamesmanship by the Seahawks, as Baldwin fakes the run route outside and instead runs a quick counter move to the inside. This is essentially a back-door cut you see in basketball for the alley-oop dunk. Only problem is that the entry pass gets deflected.

This is the same style of play as the big gainer for Baldwin up the middle in that Baldwin fakes an outside route before working back to the middle. It's just one game with Doug back in the slot, but he really does seem comfortable going over the middle, so that's encouraging.

3Q (3rd AND 17, SEATTLE 45 YARD LINE) (6:53)

How good is it to have Doug Baldwin back in the slot?

This may not be the most important play of the game, but this was probably the most important play of the game in terms of 3rd down for the Seahawks' offense. Russell Wilson did break off both his incredible 52 yard run and 19 yard TD run on 3rd down, but this gain of 19 on 3rd and 17 play was the most impressive to me.

The Seahawks are trailing 21-6 with only 6 minutes to go in the 3rd Quarter. They need a touchdown here in the worst way. The ball is near midfield, but the Seahawks are in 3rd and 17 as they took a deflating 10 yard holding penalty on J.R. Sweezy that brought back a sweet 18 yard run by Lynch.  (If no penalty, the Seahawks would have had the ball 1st and 10 on the STL 27 yard line.)

But...they are back on the Seattle 45 yard line. 3rd and 17. 

Wilson and Baldwin step up big time. The Seahawks are again in 11 personnel. Robert Turbin is in for Lynch as they are giving him a breather.  The cushion Richardson gets is breathtaking -- but then again -- it's 3rd and 17. Richardson, Turbin and Helfet are all open, but it's by Rams' design as they are all short of the sticks.

Kearse is also open on the sideline and he has a first down available. There is no need to hit Kearse, as Wilson is waiting for Baldwin to cross under the face of the defender, which he does around the 10 yard mark, and the ball is coming out at that point. Baldwin idles down in the zone, which is the correct move, as he is essentially sitting amongst three defenders. Baldwin catches it two yards short of the sticks, but breaks a tackle for four extra needed yards. 

As for the throw -- the pocket walls are closing in on Wilson, but he hangs tough and the ball is out at around the 4 second mark -- in rhythm. With such a long down and distance, Wilson needs to hold the ball to allow Baldwin to get downfield.

The Rams show four and rush four. Okung's man is working a spin move inside. Carpenter has his man covered, but his man isn't really rushing (almost playing the scramble).  Sweezy gets beaten the worst here. Britt holds up just enough.  Overall, a great play by Wilson and Baldwin.

Danny Notes: All I have to say is that Doug's presence of mind to reverse pivot after catching the ball to dive forward for the first down is the difference between a failed play and a successful one. Great awareness by Doug, who apparently has eyes in the back of his head.

3Q (3rd AND 3, STL 19 YARD LINE) (4:29)

Not much to say here. Seattle is in what I call "Trips Left, Strong Right, Read Option".  Ball is on the right hash. Lynch is a strong run threat - and this is the closest down and distance (3 yards) the Seahawks would see all day. The edge defender is crashing and actually has leverage on Wilson to the outside, but Wilson is either (a) really confident he is faster than the edge defender or (b) really tuned in to the fact that the edge defender has shifted his weight inside toward Lynch that any leverage doesn't mean much here.

It's probably a bit of both. The best part of the play is when Lynch raises his hands when Wilson is 13 yards away from the end zone.

Touchdown.

Danny Notes: See look, you can run Percy plays without Percy. The threat of the bubble screen to the left is enough for the Rams to overload to that side. They also have to defend the center of the field to account for the likely scenario that Lynch will get the handoff. Bottom line, St. Louis just can't defend the entire width of the field on this play and once Wilson beats the edge defender, he's gone.

PS, watch Cooper Helfet's block.

4Q (3rd AND 9 on SEAHAWKS 23 YARD LINE) (12:15)

The protection is good here as the Rams rush four and the Seahawks chip both Helfet and Lynch before they leak out.  It's tough for 3WR to get open on five defenders. No one is super open. Richardson is bracketed on the top of the screen. Lynch is probably Wilson's second read, and he looks wide open, but the safety is crashing quite hard and fast. It's hard to tackle Lynch in open field, but the 1st down if you dump to Lynch is not guaranteed. I don't think Wilson is really considering anything on the right side, unless they start rolling over with him as he begins to roll left.  Baldwin and Helfet start to roll over with Wilson, and appear open for a second, but the windows are closing.

Really, the Rams are really doing everything here well -- they are doing everything right -- but Wilson shows that he is the best player on the field (on that day). Wilson begins to roll left, he pump fakes perhaps two or three times, the last one of which freezes about four Rams, and two of them leave their feet. Then Wilson rockets down the sideline for 52 glorious yards.

Danny Notes: Watch Earl Thomas on the sideline.

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