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Seahawks 3rd down notebook: Execution is key

In a continuation of my series of posts on the Seahawks and Russell Wilson's performance on third downs, here's a look at how the offense fared on that down vs. Washington on Monday Night.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In general terms, the Seahawks did a good job of staying in "3rd and Manageable" (3rd and 6 or shorter). 10 of 15, or 66% of the 3rd down situations were 3rd and 6 or shorter. 5 of 15, or 33%, were of the 3rd and Long variety.


In the first three games, the Seahawks were in 3rd and Manageable (again, 6 yards or shorter) 61% of the time, or 22 of 36 attempts.

Conversely, 39% of their attempts in Weeks 1-3 were 3rd and Long (7 or more yards), or 14 of 36 attempts.

The distance is key, as the Seahawks prior to the Redskins game were 1 of 14 (7%) on 3rd and Long, then went 1 of 5 (20%) versus the Redskins in that range.

Meantime, Seattle had been at 64% conversion on 3rd and Manageable before the Redskins game (14 of 22), then ended up going 5 of 10 there versus the Redskins. As you can see below, they could have easily converted two or three more of those manageable opportunities with better execution.

Overall, I credit the Seahawks for converting a 3rd down on a defensive penalty, and I exclude kneel-downs. Using this method, the Seahawks are at 40% conversion (6 of 15) for the Redskins game, which is about what they had been prior to that, on the year (41.7%).

Official NFL stats don't subtract kneel-downs or credit you for conversion on a defensive penalty, though, so in all honesty, the Seahawks need to be targeting north of 45% using the methodology described here. And, they can get there. Why do I say that?

See below:


1. 1st Quarter, 4:41 mark, 3rd and 5 at the Seattle 45 yard line

The Seahawks have already survived a botched snap on this drive, and a 10 yard holding penalty on Russell Okung. Normally this would be more than enough to kill a drive, yet, because of a Russell Wilson 22 yard scramble, the Seahawks are sitting pretty, near midfield with a 3rd and 5.

Ultimately, this is 3rd and manageable, which is all you can really ask for. Except this happens.


The snap isn't great, and I wonder if the snap count was off as well between Max Unger and Wilson, because Russ seems to be surprised the ball is coming. Regardless, it is snapped to his right, he "dribbles" it like a basketball, then somehow still manages to escape a sack, throwing the ball away as he scrambles left.

There are a number of simple execution issues going on:

(1) Seems like the timing of the snap was not in sync.

(2) Snap is too far to the right.

(3) James Carpenter combos with Unger when he should probably block the free runner (Redskin player #73), this would allow Okung to pick up the player on the edge. Once Okung sees that Carpenter misses his block, he is left in "no-man's land" as he is probably then supposed to move to the inside man. Either way, and I am not an expert in OL protections, but I suspect Carpenter is supposed to pick up #73.

(4) The unfortunate part of this play is that Baldwin (on the right) has leverage in the hook/curl zone on the short right -- that should be a pretty straight-forward pitch and catch for a 3rd down conversion in the NFL. That's about as open as you can expect to be in this underneath zone coverage.

This is just simple execution and very fixable.

2. 2nd Quarter, 11:49 mark, 3rd and 9 on Washington's 32 yard line)

This play is the second longest 3rd down conversion of the year for the Seahawks. Their longest was a 3rd down and 10 10, and came with a pass to Percy Harvin on a type of slant route against Green Bay. Here, Unger false starts to make this 3rd and 4 a much harder 3rd and 9.

It's a ticky tack call, but the Seahawks do some nice things on this 3rd down despite the adversity.

A few things of note:

(1) There is no running back in this personnel group, a four receiver set (Ricardo Lockette, Doug Baldwin, Percy Harvin and Jermaine Kearse) with a 2x2 alignment with TE Luke Willson left in-line to protect. This is a grouping that the Seahawks have been using on third downs at times (often using Harvin as a de facto running back).

(2) It's 3rd and 9 and the Redskins choose not to blitz. In fact, they drop two spies to guard against Wilson bolting from the pocket on either hash, and near the 3rd down marker. The Redskins were afraid of Wilson scrambling for the 1st down (as well they should have been).

(3) Look at the cushion the DBs give the Seahawks' WRs, as well as keeping a deep safety in the hole -- this is a very conservative call.

(4) The DBs on the Kearse/Harvin side (top) are almost playing to expect the rub or exchange, and when Kearse breaks inside, they both hesitate -- this creates a relatively easy catch for Harvin.

(5) Perhaps the Redskins were expecting the pocket to break down, but Unger, Carpenter and Okung control the backside as both defenders converge (made it easier), and Sweezy and Britt combo to create a clean throwing lane. I do believe this right side represents Wilson's initial progression, and TE Luke Willson does a great job isolated on an edge rusher (a Zach-Miller-esque type job).


3. 2nd Quarter, 1:57 mark: 3rd and 3 from Seahawks 36 yard line

The Seahawks are probably in their two-minute offense, but are a bit wary of giving the ball up on an easy turnover before halftime, as DeSean Jackson has just scored on a deep 60 yard bomb. Luke Willson is split out to the far left, and Robert Turbin is in his normal "2-minute offense" role as the RB. 

I believe the Seahawks/Russell Wilson should probably change the call on this play, change the protection, or motion Willson or Turbin to a new spot. I am not 100% sure though, as the Redskins are showing three rushers on the right side of the LOS and three rushers on the left.

A couple more points:

(1) Perhaps Wilson is thinking, "I need to keep Turbin on my blindside in case the Skins bring three from the backside"(they drop one into coverage and rush two from the backside).

(2) Studying Turbin on this play, I don't think he is reading to see if three are coming from the backside, he is running to the flat.

(3) It's 3rd and 3, perhaps Wilson thinks, "I don't care if three rushers are coming to my right because with this short of distance I don't need much time to get this ball off".

(4) The right side is wide open, as the rub concept works well: the defender is "blocked" and falls to the ground, and there is only one defender for two receivers. The other defender drops deep (even though it's 3rd and 3).

(5) Wilson does not fire, perhaps as he sees the defender motion forward, he feels an interception taken to the house is just not worth risking at this juncture in the game, or perhaps he is unwilling to risk the pass being batted down at the LOS.

(6) On the backside, and it would be hard to imagine any QB easily moving through this many reads, Luke Willson sits down and would be wide open, but I think the Redskins are okay with giving up the 3rd down here. They just don't want to get burned deep before halftime with a short clock.

(7) J.R. Sweezy and Justin Britt are in a bind, as they know pre-snap that life will be difficult as the two of them will likely have to block three rushers, but somehow as the Skins perform a twist, they both block only one rusher- leaving two free rushers. Wilson gets sacked.

There is a lot going on in this play in terms of routes, blitz pickup, pre-snap reads, protection, and Wilson/Carroll willingness to live on the risk/reward spectrum. If there was only one free rusher, Wilson may have been able to escape and spin out of the backdoor. In the end, I think the takeaway on this play is a clean-up of protection in terms of communication pre- and post-snap.

4. 3rd Quarter, 9:19 mark: 3rd and 3, Washington 49 yard line

The Seahawks pinned the Skins deep for most of the 3rd Quarter and began their drives near midfield all three possessions (44 yard line, 50 yard line, and 40 yard line to begin the three drives). Seattle should have blown the game wide open with this type of field position- but a DeSean Jackson deep ball, a holding penalty on Okung, and three failed 3rd down conversions by the Seahawks keep the game within striking distance.

The easiest 3rd down conversion attempt was the first one, at the Washington 49 and the Seahawks face 3rd and 3.

(1) First of all, I have no idea why Russell Wilson does not just throw the ball to the target on the top of the screen, formation right. He has Luke Willson flexed out on the wing, only needs 3 yards, and the defensive back is giving him a 10 yard cushion! That's FREE MONEY.

(2) I really have no other analysis on this play except it's just a great tackle by the cornerback on Percy Harvin in space- most cornerbacks whiff on that tackle, and it's usually an easy first down.

(3) Still, though: If a defender is giving you 10 yards cushion on 3rd and 3, throw the ball to this man. Any route should work in that situation: he could run a slant, sit down at the marker, or even run an out and it should be a conversion.

Danny Note: My observation of this play was that Seattle got out of the huddle too slowly, Russell motioned Harvin into the backfield too slowly, and when he got in place next to him, there was one second on the play clock. Perhaps if this had happened with 10 seconds or more, he could've changed to something else when he saw the Redskins playing in a zone look. The leak out route by Harvin would work a lot better, in theory, against man coverage where the DBs in the flats are chasing receivers downfield, but Amerson is able to sit down on the route because he's got the flat zone. 

Also, obviously, I think that Davis is correct that Wilson should've just swung a pass out to Luke Willson upon seeing the huge cushion he's been given. This should be an automatic check in this situation. Perhaps now it will be.

5. 3rd Quarter, 0:34 mark: 3rd and 5 on Seattle 45 yard line

The Seahawks come out in a Trips-Right Read-Option look, this time with Cooper Helfet away from the formation, isolated on the left. This is the same personnel group as plays #2 and #4. 

There are two types of pick concepts going in in this play: Doug Baldwin runs 5 yards and heads outside, again, with strong leverage against the defender. That's a first down right there. He is on the offense right, on the "Trips" side.

The other concept is the "RB" sprinting out of the backfield (it's actually Percy as the RB), with Helfet running a pick to ensure Percy gets open in the flat. I think Helfet has the option to be the target as well, and he has a clear open spot in the zone to sit down. Instead, he runs into the defender in order to break Percy free. Russell Wilson knows Helfet is going to be open, likely pre-snap, and throws to his spot, but Helfet's collision with the defender causes the ball to fall incomplete.

These little details can be cleaned up, and will be cleaned up. The Seahawks are leaving conversions on the table, and this one had nothing to do with talent or offensive line protection, just simple execution and communication.