Seahawks fans are still getting to know new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who took over this season when Darrell Bevell was fired after seven years calling plays for Seattle.
And maybe it’s that newness that has resulted in a weekly deep examination of the numbers to try to decipher trends in the Schottenheimer-led offense.
They are trends that start to take on a little more meaning now that we are through 25 percent of the season.
Here’s a look at a few that have stood out and what Schottenheimer had to say about them when he met the media Thursday.
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One stat drew a lot of social media discussion this week — the Seahawks’ lack of play-action passing this year compared to 2017, something that has always been a strength of Russell Wilson’s (play-action is, at its most basic, faking a run and then passing).
Via Pro Football Focus, the Seahawks have attempted just 21 play-action passes so far this year, which ranks 30th in the NFL, after attempting 151 last season, which ranked fifth in the NFL.
The lack of attempts stands out even more since Wilson has a 149.2 passer rating on play-action — going 15-21 for 242 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions — and has always had one of the best passer ratings in the NFL on play-action in past seasons. The Seahawks also rank fifth in the NFL on yards per attempt on play-action passes at 11.5 (they were 11th last season at 8.51).
Schottenheimer said Thursday the Seahawks want to call more but also noted the team felt it needed to get the running game going first — which it finally did in the third game — to make it work well.
“I think now that the running game is going, it certainly helps and play (action) passes are a lot of different things,’’ he said. “They sometimes get lumped into ‘OK, a play (action) pass.’ Well, there are all different kinds of play (action) passes: ones where he moves outside of the pocket, ones where he stays in the pocket, so you go into each game plan saying ‘this week, we like these, we like that.’ For us to be able to do that would help us and then it’s making the runs and the play (action) passes look the same, I think is important for our success. He’s a great play action passer. He’s a great deep ball passer. When each week, as we look at it, if that’s a big part of the plan of what we think we need to do, then that’s certainly what we’ll have up. We’d love to get a few more of them called.”
Pete Carroll made no secret that one of the reasons Schottenheimer was hired was his experience with offenses that led with the run, and that the hope was he could revive Seattle’s rushing attack after two down years.
That began to happen the last two weeks, when the Seahawks rushed for 113 and 171 yards, after rushing for just 138 in the first two games combined.
In the process, the Seahawks ran the ball on 71 of 129 plays against Dallas and Arizona after running it on 38 of 119 plays the first two games.
In a year when NFL passing numbers are at a record level, Seattle is now running it on 45 percent of its plays after running it on 58 and 55 percent of plays the last two weeks.
Seattle ran it just 41 percent of the time last season, the lowest of the Wilson era.
So what is the ideal percentage of runs and passes?
Schottenheimer said it depends on the team and the game.
“50/50 is the easy answer,’’ he said. “But I think each year is different. There is a formula to win each game, if that makes sense. You go into each game (saying), ‘OK, how do we match up offensively versus their defense, how do we match up defensively versus their offense, special teams, how does that incorporate?’ So I think you go in with a plan of ‘here’s the plan of attack, here’s how we think we’ve got to play this game’ and then, of course, you’ve got to be ready to adjust on Sunday or Monday if it’s not going that way. These have been close games. The defense has been playing really, really well and we’ve been running it effectively. … But there’s no magic number. Each week’s a little different.’’
Hitting on big plays has always been a staple of Carroll’s offense, many coming off the play-action passes mentioned above. But those have been lacking so far this season — according to ESPN the Seahawks have just 13 explosive plays (runs of 15 yards or longer and passes of 20 or longer), which is fewer than all but five other teams.
Seattle’s only completion of longer than 20 yards last week was a short pass in which David Moore broke a tackle and then went 30 yards (Seattle also had one pass of longer than 15 yards that fell incomplete).
That led to discussion of whether Schottenheimer’s offense lends itself to the same kind of big plays Seattle has gotten in the past.
Schottenheimer said Thursday that a few more deeper passes were called but couldn’t be pulled off and that ideally the Seahawks would create more big plays on offense.
“We have to,’’ he said. “We called a couple, (Wilson) got to a checkdown on a couple of them that were good. Especially with the way we’re running the football, it certainly helps, but it’s hard to go against any defense and dink-and-dunk them. Luckily for us, we’ve been running it really well and he’s been hitting a lot of completions but for us to be as explosive as we want to be and be able to score the way we want to score, you need to hit those big plays. That’s something that we’re looking at and we know we can get better.”
This isn’t necessarily evidence of a philosophical trend but rather a number the Seahawks know they have to fix, having converted just 27.5 percent of third downs, which is 31st in the NFL ahead of only Buffalo (24.1).
Of course, Seattle wasn’t doing too badly before last week, having hit on 14 of 41 (34.15 percent) before going 0-10 against Arizona Sunday. According to ESPN the Seahawks were the first team to go 0-10 or worse on third down in a game and win since 2010.
Schottenheimer said he’d never quite experienced anything like it and knows Seattle has to improve on third down.
“I think we talked here last Thursday about getting Doug (Baldwin) back and how excited we were and I teased him and Russ (Russell Wilson) about it. I think they had three of them where he came up like a half-of-a-yard short,’’ Schottenheimer said. “That happens some. We’re certainly better than 0-for-10 on third down. They didn’t really do anything that completely caught us off guard. They did bring some really nice pressures. I think we had five that were third-and-nine or more, so a few of those where we were kind of in field goal range and it was kind of a ‘OK, let’s get the ball teed up for Seabass (Sebastian Janikowski) so he can have a good shot at it.’ It’s a culmination of things, but we need to be better. We will be better and I don’t have any question about that.’’