So what exactly are the Seahawks getting in Shane Waldron, who is expected to soon be announced as the team’s new offensive coordinator?
Even those who have watched him closely say that may be hard to really know, considering the 41-year-old has never been a coordinator at the NFL or college levels, serving as the Los Angeles Rams’ passing game coordinator the last three years. He has four previous years of NFL experience as a position coach — with the rest of his experience in college, high school, minor league football or at the administrative level.
“He’s been more of a behind-the-scenes guy,’’ said Kirk Morrison, who played linebacker in the NFL for eight years and has hosted the Rams’ pregame and postgame shows since 2016, witnessing the team’s revival since Sean McVay took over as head coach in 2017. Waldron was one of the coaches McVay brought with him from Washington.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Tuesday night the Seahawks “are planning to hire’’ Waldron. While no announcement arrived on Wednesday, sources confirmed to The Seattle Times that Waldron is the choice to succeed Brian Schottenheimer.
Waldron was the Rams tight ends coach in 2017, then served as passing game coordinator in 2018, passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2019, and passing game coordinator in 2020.
“I don’t feel like (Waldron) has had his stamp on anything that he’s going to get a ton of credit for,’’ Morrison said of Waldron’s Rams’ tenure. “But I feel like he’s been a piece of this culture, he’s seen how things have gone. And I think the Seahawks are looking at the potential of what he could be in terms of their offense.’’
And, added Morrison, “I just know he’s got a lot of faith from Sean.’’
Indeed, it’s Waldron’s association with and knowledge of the Rams’ prolific and creative offense that may be his biggest selling point.
NFL teams have picked apart the Rams’ coaching staff ever since they went to the Super Bowl in McVay’s second year in 2018, including two former offensive assistants who are now head coaches in Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur and Cincinnati’s Zac Taylor. Brandon Staley, defensive coordinator in 2020, was just hired as head coach of the Chargers, as well.
It’s an offense Seattle coach Pete Carroll has studied well the last four years, playing the Rams nine times, with LA scoring 28 or more points in six of those games. That includes a 30-20 Rams’ win in a wild-card playoff game on Jan. 9 that ended Seattle’s season and helped lead to the firing of Schottenheimer two days later for what the team said was “philosophical differences.’’
Now, Carroll hopes to implement substantial portions of the Rams’ philosophy into Seattle’s to try to prevent the kind of second-half offensive collapse that derailed the 2020 season.
And Morrison says that should get Seattle fans excited.
“I just say, if you thought the Rams offense was pretty cool, just think about it with a guy like Russell Wilson,’’ Morrison said.
Wilson threw a career-high and team-record 40 touchdown passes in 2020 but only 12 in the second half of the season as opponents went to more two-deep zone coverages to limit Seattle’s big-play passing attack.
Morrison says adding a heavy dose of the Rams offense “will give Russell Wilson more tools’’ with which to work.
“There will be more opportunities for Russ to not have to feel like the offense is always going to be on his shoulders,’’ Morrison said.
One of the defining features of the Rams offense is running a number of different plays out of the same formations and personnel groupings.
The philosophy is to not tip off opponents what may be coming based on the formation and personnel.
“The run game mirrors the passing game and vice versa,’’ Morrison said. “So they will (call) a run, yet then they will do the same look and it will be a play-action pass with throws to the tight ends, throws to the receivers.’’ Morrison said the result is “some easier throws and not all those contested throws.’’
That’s what Seattle lacked at the end of last season as opponents ganged up on the deep-passing game.
Morrison says frankly that the Rams’ defensive philosophy against Seattle this year was “let’s stop DK Metcalf and take him out of the game and force them to have to run the ball and make some tough throws, force Russell Wilson to go somewhere else with the football.’’
As Morrison notes, that worked as the Rams beat Seattle twice and held the Seahawks to 20 points or fewer in all three games, all of which came in the second half of the year.
“What Shane will bring is giving Russell Wilson more options, but he will still have the threat in Metcalf that the Rams did not have this year,’’ Morrison said.
Morrison pointed to two plays in the Rams’ wild-card playoff win over Seattle as examples of the difference Waldron may bring to Seattle — an interception return for a touchdown by LA cornerback Darious Williams on a screen pass to Metcalf, and the Rams’ final score on a 15-yard pass to Robert Woods.
On the screen-turned-pick-six, Metcalf motioned from right to left, which Morrison said was somewhat out of character for Metcalf and something that likely wouldn’t happen similarly in the Rams’ scheme.
“Why are we motioning to a stacked bunch alignment?’’ Morrison said, adding that to the Rams that meant “they are probably going to get him the football. That’s an easy indicator for a guy who watches the film.’’
The pass to Woods, meanwhile, came out of a personnel grouping and alignment out of which the Rams had just run the ball a few times.
“He was just wide open because that pass mirrored the run,’’ Morrison said. “And that’s how you get a guy wide open. It looks exactly the same as the run yet all the sudden the quarterback pulls the football and the receiver is wide open.’’
But that also only works if defenses fear the run, which is why the Rams had the seventh-highest run-to-pass ratio in the NFL last season. That aspect, at least, jibes with Carroll’s stated goal after the season to run it more and better.
Morrison did sound a few notes of caution.
For one, he noted the teaching time needed to implement the Rams’ scheme, which could be something of a challenge if the NFL again goes to an all-virtual offseason and eliminates on-field workouts until training camp due to COVID-19 protocols, as many are assuming will be the case.
He also said the Rams offense is predicated on spreading the ball around, or “being selfless,’’ which he said could decrease the numbers some for a player such as Metcalf, who had a franchise-record 1,303 yards in 2020, while also maybe asking him to block more in the running game.
“He’s not going to be the go-to guy,’’ Morrison said. “It will be a shared responsibility. But his talent will definitely show.’’
What’s unclear, of course, is how much of the Rams’ offense the Seahawks will take in. When Schottenheimer was hired, he said about 70-75% of the playbook was the same as it was under Darrell Bevell, while he added 25-30%.
Carroll, and Wilson, though, may be ready for a more significant makeover this time.