As the regular season comes to a close Sunday against the 49ers, the Seahawks offense is almost back to where it started.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
But just as the defense has undergone a second-half transformation that was key to winning the NFC West title, the offense has done something of a 180 since the calendar turned to November.
For two months, Seattle had the most highflying offense in the NFL, with Russell Wilson on pace to shatter the NFL record for touchdown passes in a season, DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett averaging a touchdown a game and both on record paces of their own.
“Let Russ Cook” had appeared to become Seattle’s offensive mantra for good, consigning Establish the Run to the recycle bin.
But now, with 15 games in the books and one left against a 49ers defense that remains one of the NFL’s stingiest despite a slew of injuries, Seattle’s offense looks much like it did in previous years.
Seattle’s average of 375.5 yards per game is almost the same as the 374.9 of last season.
Seattle’s passing-yard average of 252.1 isn’t much different than the 243.0 of last season with Seattle’s yards per pass attempt of 7.2 actually a little bit lower than the 7.6 of last season.
Seattle’s rushing yards per game of 123.3 isn’t much different than the 131.9 of 2019, nor is the yards per attempt of 4.8, compared with the 4.5 of last season.
And after Wilson threw for 28 touchdowns in the first eight games of the season — on pace to break Peyton Manning’s 2013 record of 55 — he has 10 since. The 38 is a team record, but Wilson actually needs 189 yards to break his career high in passing yards (4,219 in 2016) and his touchdown percentage, while a solid 7.3, isn’t likely to be a career high — that was 8.2 in 2018.
But if fans who enjoyed the freewheeling days of September and October are wondering if something is wrong with the Seattle offense, there doesn’t seem to be much angst among coaches and players.
Coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer have said in recent interviews that defenses began playing Seattle differently. Specifically, using more soft zone coverages and particularly two-high looks, meaning keeping two safeties deep. That has helped limit big plays and forced Seattle to do more of the proverbial “taking what the defense gives them.”
Seattle was held to a season-low 292 yards Sunday by the Rams and just 4.8 yards per play. But the Seahawks mounted two long drives in the second half to pull away from a team that has one of the NFL’s best defenses.
Seattle also didn’t have a turnover and has just two in the past three games — all victories — after committing 10 while going 1-3 in a four-game span at midseason.
“We’re playing really good, smart football right now, and we’re playing complementary football,” Carroll said.
With a vastly improved defense, the Seahawks offense more than ever is emphasizing being mistake-free and not forcing things.
“We’re looking for the dub (the win),” Schottenheimer said Thursday. “ … We don’t care how we do it. We still believe we’re one of the top offenses in the NFL.”
Indeed, Seattle remains seventh in the NFL in scoring at 28.9 per game. If the Seahawks score 20 points Sunday they would break the franchise record for points in a season of 452 in 2005.
And as Carroll and Schottenheimer have pointed out, there’s great value in the team being able to show a team can win games playing multiple offensive styles.
But Seattle’s offense now unquestionably is different from the first half of the season.
After the Buffalo game, the eighth of the year, Seattle was averaging 415 yards per game, third in the NFL, and was first in the NFL in passing at 298.1. Seattle now is down to 375.5 yards per game (13th) and at 252.1 passing has dropped to 14th in the NFL. The Seahawks are averaging just 184.7 passing yards the past three games, 28th in the league in that span.
The Seahawks were averaging 37 passes per game through the Buffalo contest. Now they are down to 35.1 and have been at 30.3 the past three weeks. Seattle averaged 32.1 passes per game in 2019.
Schottenheimer said the Seahawks had no choice but to adapt given what defenses were doing — daring Seattle to run or throw underneath.
“When you are throwing it and having the success that you have, what happens is teams started adjusting, and we started getting really third-down defenses on second down,” Schottenheimer said. “So you’re getting all these different, crazy blitz looks, and that is a challenge.”
And as passing has decreased, running has increased. Seattle is averaging 25.6 rushing attempts for the season, 21st in the NFL, but is at 28.7 over the past three (granted, being way ahead against the Jets influenced some of that), on par with the 29.5 average of last year.
In one sense, what defenses are doing is working as Seattle’s explosive plays are far down of late.
Seattle had 22 passing plays of 25 yards or longer in the first eight games of the year but has just six since, and just two in the past four.
Taking the biggest brunt of that are the numbers of receiver Tyler Lockett.
Lockett was among the NFL’s leading receivers in the first six games of the year with 45 receptions for 542 yards and seven touchdowns, including his 15-catch, 200-yard game at Arizona when he scored three times.
In the nine games since, Lockett has 43 catches for 422 yards and one touchdown.
Lockett had four pass plays of 25 yards or longer in the first six games but has just one since. His yards per reception average of 11.0 is the lowest of his career and down drastically from the 16.9 of two years ago.
And though it once seemed a given he’d top 1,000 yards and give Seattle two 1,000-yard receivers for only the second time in franchise history, he needs 36 entering the last game to reach that mark.
Metcalf also has been stunted of late — after recording five 100-yard receiving games in the first 11 games of the year he hasn’t been above 80 in any of the past four, with a long completion of just 21 yards in that time.
But Schottenheimer says what goes around, comes around, and at any time the offense of the first half of the season could return.
“You want to play us soft and play a bunch of two-shell, we’re OK with that,” Schottenheimer said. “We’ll keep handing the ball to (running backs) Chris (Carson) and Carlos (Hyde) and Rashaad (Penny), and at some point they’re going to come out of that look — whether it’s third down or whatever it is — and then we’ll go hunt up those guys that are such great, great players.”