The question many Seahawks fans asked themselves throughout the 2019 season — and never more so than during Sunday’s 28-23 loss at Green Bay in the divisional round — is one the Seahawks say they will spend the offseason asking themselves, as well.
Specifically: Why did it seem to take so long for the offense to get going so often?
To be fair, Seattle won 12 games this season, and the offense statistically was just fine — Seattle scored the ninth-most points in the NFL and gained the eighth-most yards.
But it’s also fair to say the offense was usually better late than early, leading to the obvious question of why it couldn’t just start the way it finished.
Given the stakes at hand, Sunday’s continuation of that season-long trend was the Seahawks’ most frustrating as they fell behind 21-3 at halftime before rallying and eventually getting the ball back late with a chance to take the lead.
Seattle got well-acquainted with rallying in 2019 as it had five fourth-quarter or overtime comebacks, tied for most in the NFL, and had the lead or was tied at halftime just six times, including the postseason.
Another illustration of that trend? The Seahawks scored 32 touchdowns after halftime this season, 23 before halftime.
“That’s an interesting topic,’’ coach Pete Carroll said Monday. “Why not just start that way? It takes a while to get adapted to the game and see what’s going on, and sometimes it just doesn’t start that way. We surely would like to find it sooner. … I don’t have a lock on it because I’d change it if I did.”
Asked about the propensity for slow starts and fast finishes, quarterback Russell Wilson said Monday: “I think that’s a whole season to look at and examine throughout the offseason and figure out what we can do to be better.’’
Among the factors they will likely consider are what often worked better in the second half of games: Wilson’s running, going up-tempo and airing it out more.
Here’s a review of what the numbers showed about each this season:
1. Wilson’s running
Maybe the biggest commonality in Seattle’s rallies this season has been Wilson making plays with his feet.
According to Pro Football Reference, Wilson ran it just seven times in the first quarter in the regular season and 24 in the first half compared to 25 runs in the fourth quarter alone (even when taking out 13 kneel-downs) and 37 in the second half.
Sunday was more of the same as Wilson had 16 yards on two carries in the first half but 48 on five in the second, all on the three scoring drives.
“Russ gets involved with the rhythm of it and he gets moving more, and he wears them out a little bit,’’ Carroll said. “The pass rush, it’s not as effective and his ability to control the throwing game with his legs as well as throwing the football becomes more available.’’
Green Bay, though, influenced how Wilson played by often going with just a four-man rush and leaving seven back in coverage. The Packers seemed content to give up yards in order to avoid a quick score, thinking Seattle wouldn’t have time to come all the way back.
That led to one of the game’s more interesting statistics: Wilson had an average 4.03 seconds to throw, per NFL’s Next Gen Stats, more than any QB in any game since at least 2016. Wilson spent much of the second half moving around waiting for a receiver to come open, eventually finding one more often than not.
To the question of why Wilson doesn’t run more, the most obvious is his health. Wilson is famously durable — he’s never missed a game in his NFL career. But part of that is because Carroll encourages Wilson to pick his spots to run, and Wilson has obliged, particularly as he has gotten older. His 75 rushes this year are down from 114 in his second year in 2014. He’s probably not going to start running a lot more as he gets further into his 30s.
2. Going up-tempo
As Carroll noted, the Seahawks didn’t really play a lot faster in the second half Sunday than in the first.
“We did work our tempo a little bit more, but not drastically different than we did before,’’ Carroll said.
But in general, Seattle did operate at a faster tempo in the second half this season. According to FootballOutsiders.com, the Seahawks ran a play every 29.53 seconds in the first half this year, slower than all but two other teams, while using 27.07 seconds between plays in the second half, more quickly than all but 11 other teams.
Wilson works well at fast tempos, but there’s always the question of how well a faster tempo would work for an entire game, week in and week out.
Carroll also comes from a defensive background and the school that it’s best to limit the number of times the opponent has the ball.
There’s also the idea that up-tempo works best as a changeup later in the game after the defense has been, hopefully, beaten up a little bit.
“It’s one of those situations where you kind of put the defense a little bit on their heels,’’ offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said following the second 49ers game, when a faster pace led to another Seattle comeback. “It’s not the end all be all. It’s not the only thing that you can do.’’
3. Airing it out
The perception may be that the Seahawks only open up the playbook later in the game.
But according to Pro Football Reference, the Seahawks actually passed at a higher percentage in the first half this season than in the second.
Via PFR, Seattle had 243 rushing attempts in the first half this season compared to 278 passes. That compares to 280 rushes and 290 passes in the second.
Some might wonder if that’s because Seattle had some rushes in situations it was running out the clock. Certainly, there were a couple of times that was the case, but the Seahawks famously this year won only one game decided by more than one possession — and they passed it more than they ran it in that one, a 27-10 victory over Arizona.
Sunday the run/pass ratio was pretty much the same throughout — nine rushes to 13 passes in the first half (six runs by the tailbacks), 15 rushes to 18 passes in the second (though Wilson had five of those attempts with nine going to tailbacks).
Complicating matters with all season-long trends is that the Seahawks who began the season — with Will Dissly as a featured target and Chris Carson as the featured tailback — were not the same as the ones at the end. The Seahawks had to adjust to differing lineups.
So, maybe there aren’t easy answers to some of these questions other than the idea that the offense works at its best when Wilson has the most control.
“When you can feel him take charge of the game like that, you’ve just got to go,’’ Carroll said. “You’ve just got to let him run. And he did it.”
Figuring out how to put him in position to do that the most often may be the key to success in 2020.