After being ranked 19th in the NFL in total offense in the first half, the Seahawks finished 2015 gaining more yards than any team in franchise history (6,058). Here’s how it happened.
RENTON — On the night of Nov. 1, as the Seahawks flew home from a sluggish 13-12 win at Dallas and into their bye week, about the last phrase anyone would have used to describe their offense was “record-breaking.”
“Exasperating,” maybe, considering the Seahawks at that time ranked 19th in the NFL in total offense and 28th in passing offense.
“An anchor on the defense,” possibly, considering that two of Seattle’s four wins at that juncture had come in games in which the Seahawks scored just 13 points.
“Missing an identity” to be sure, to describe an offense that too often had failed on third down or in the red zone.
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But here the Seahawks are, eight weeks later, entering the playoffs with an offense that indeed set numerous records, thanks to a stratospheric second half of the season.
The Seahawks finished 2015 gaining more yards than any team in franchise history (6,058). Russell Wilson threw more touchdown passes than anyone in team history (34) and Doug Baldwin caught more (14).
For the fourth time in team history, the Seahawks finished among the top four in total offense in the NFL ,joining the 2005 (second at 369.7 yards per game), 1997 (third, 359.9) and 1978 (third, 344.4) teams.
The turnaround is most stark when comparing the offensive statistics for the first half with those from the second half:
• Total offense: First half — 510 plays, 2,825 yards, 5.53 per play; second half — 526 plays, 3,233 yards, 6.14 per play.
• Passing offense: First half — 161 completions, 234 attempts, 1,878 yards, 8.025 per attempt, 9 TDs; second half — 172-255, 2,183 yards, 8.5 per attempt, 25 TDs.
• Rushing offense: First half: 245 attempts, 1,116 yards, 4.6 average, 3 TDs; second half — 256-1,152, 4.6, 7 TDs.
• Third-down percentage: First half — 41-109, 37.6 percent; second half: 58-104, 55.7 percent.
So what happened?
Though opinions are varied, here are three commonly accepted factors:
1. Bye week evaluation, TWEAKS on offense
The Seahawks had a perfectly placed bye week, after their first eight games and before their second eight.
All teams constantly evaluate what they are doing. But an off week allowed for more time for the Seahawks to delve into their first eight games and come up with some ways to better fit the offense to their personnel.
The most specific change was to implement more quick passes, in part to mitigate pass-protection issues with a rebuilt offensive line, and to take advantage of the ability of players such as Baldwin and Tyler Lockett to make plays in space.
According to Pro Football Focus, 161 of Wilson’s 297 attempts in the first half of the season took 2.6 seconds or more. In the second half, just 134 of his 287 attempts took 2.6 seconds or more.
That led to a big decrease in sacks. After being sacked 31 times in the first eight games, Wilson was sacked 15 times in the final eight.
“The bye week was important for us,’’ offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “That gives you a better opportunity to look in-depth. There’s so much going on during in a week that you don’t look that much in-depth at yourself. That was an important week for us, but as we went through that week, we kind of saw the things that we wanted to do, and we were able to implement those during each and every game.’’
2. A CHANGE AND Emergence of the offensive line
Though the Seahawks changed their offensive emphasis a little bit, what also helped is that the offensive line simply got better. One key was the permanent change at center after Week 8 with Patrick Lewis replacing Drew Nowak. Lewis also started in the Week 6 win at San Francisco but suffered an ankle injury that held him out two more games.
But once Lewis was healthy and fully entrenched as the starting center following the bye week, the offense took off.
Pro Football Focus rated the Seahawks’ pass-blocking efficiency last in the NFL at the midway point of the season, as they had allowed 108 quarterback pressures.
In the second half of the season, the Seahawks were 17th of 32 teams, allowing 89.
“Patrick Lewis seemed to help us when he went to center and made that move,’’ Carroll said. “I think a big emphasis to make sure that we protected the quarterback in every way that we could attend to that. … The bye was when it was glaring, and we had to do something drastically to change the course of events, so we did that.’’
3. Russell Wilson BECOMES the face of the offense
A curiosity of the second-half resurgence is that it came as the Seahawks lost running back Marshawn Lynch to injury (in Week 9), then tight end Jimmy Graham (Week 11) and then Lynch’s replacement, Thomas Rawls (Week 13).
Wilson, though, seemed to only get better, as did Baldwin, Lockett and Jermaine Kearse. All three of those receivers ranked among the NFL leaders in fewest drops this season.
Along with understanding he had to become more of a focal point of the offense with some key pieces missing, Wilson had been challenged by coaches who had critiqued him publicly about as sharply as he ever has been at midseason. Recall Carroll’s comments after the win at San Francisco about being “really disappointed’’ in a Wilson decision that resulted in an interception.
After throwing six interceptions in the first half of the season, Wilson threw just two the rest of the way (one on a long third-down pass the team essentially regarded as a punt).
And after having just two passer ratings of better than 100 in the first nine games, he had six of 123.7 or better the rest of the way to finish at 110.1, a team record that also led the NFL and is 14th-best in NFL history.
“With losing our top running backs, and being forced to throw the ball a little bit more, we needed him to do what he’s done,” Baldwin said. “He answered the call, which he always has.”