As promised, this week brings news of the Seattle Seahawks Offense. We’ve focused the last several weeks on the Seattle Defense because…well…when you see a masterful work of art it is all one can do to pause a moment and appreciate it. However, this Offense does need to be addressed at some point.
An Offense that manages to work out a 6-6 tie requires a certain amount of attention, and when you are playing a New Orleans Saints squad lead by the ageless wonder that is Drew Brees you need to do a whole lot better than 6 points. The New Orleans Saints are averaging 29.3 points per game, so even factoring in how good the Defense is, points will need to be scored by Seattle if they want to carry a win back home.
New Orleans Saints
How does a team that averages 29.3 points per game end up 2-4? That would be by giving up 32.5 points per game. The Saints’ Defense is 29th according to Football Outsider’s DVOA, managing to be equally wretched against both the run and the pass. At this point in the season they are giving up 287 yards passing and 116.8 yards rushing per game, both ranking near the bottom of the league. They don’t make up for it with big plays either, with only 9 Sacks and 2 Interceptions so far this year.
One look at the roster really helps explain how that happens. This team quite simply lacks great players. Who are the stars of this Defense? Paul Kruger who was cut by the Browns? Nick Fairly? Former 1st Round Pick Cameron Jordan, who has only totaled double digit sacks twice in his 5 seasons? Or how about the high paid Jairus Byrd or the highly drafted and up and down Kenny Vaccaro? This is a set of average to above average players, but they represent the core of this Saints Defense. Many of these players are paid like they are top shelf talent, but a quick glance through their counting and efficiency stats reveal that these are just some very solid but unspectacular players.
So, New Orleans gives up a ton of yards passing and rushing. They have a team full of middling talent with nothing really in the way of true difference makers. What do they do well then? They are 7th in the NFL in defending WR1’s, giving up just 70.8 yards on 9.5 targets every game. Their Defensive Line does rank well against the run (11th), making a solid number of stops on the line. The trouble comes with a 29th place ranking in Open Field run coverage, showing their tendency to give away the big play if a back can get beyond the line. For New Orleans to reach a level of success, they need to run into a team that basically cannot move the ball in big chunks. If a team only dinks and dunks and cannot break out for a big play, that could play into what the team can do.
When you have a team struggling on Offense, you need to take a look at everything. As a result, instead of focusing on the pass or run game it makes more sense to look at the scheme and what the team will do. There have been, and rightfully so, a lot of grumbles over the Offense and the playcalling. There were even more grumbles, and VERY rightly so, over the play of the Offensive Line. This Seattle Offense ranks 20th in Offensive DVOA, pulling a respectable 11th in the pass game, but a dreadful 30th in the run game. That is the key to the game for this Seattle Seahawks Offense – getting that dreadful running game kick-started.
The physical nature of the run game has been the hallmark of the Offense in the JSPC era, beginning with the trade for Beastmode and continuing with the efforts of Christine Michael Sr and Thomas Rawls last year. From 2012 through 2015 the Seattle Seahawks ranked in the top 3 in the NFL in Rushing Attempts. In 2016 the Seahawks rank 25th. There was a lot of talk in the offseason about the team making the shift last year to being Russell Wilson’s team and how the Offense was now so central to the identity of the team, but that squad still ran the ball often and with great effect. This season there is an average of just 3.1 yards per carry and 82.7 yards per game. We at the podcast and no doubt a lot of the fan base in general have been critical of the way the team has neglected the run game, but there is a story behind that.
Russell Wilson is one of the best running Quarterbacks in the NFL, but this year he has been hurt since Week 1 and has just 33 yards on 22 carries for 1.5 yards per attempt. This is from a player that has never averaged less than 5 yards per carry or run for less than 450 yards in a season. Russ’s legs are a key part of this run game, but they are just not available at this point. This is a running game that needs to reestablish itself in a new way. This week against a New Orleans Defense that allows for experimentation I am looking for a Seahawks team to find their new run game. Christine Michael needs at least his 16 carries he’s had, but it would be even better to see 18-20 carries. He also needs help from one of the rookies Alex Collins or CJ Prosise to step up and gather that share of 6-10 carries the second back often had when Beastmode was the lead back for the team.
Look for carries off the right side, where the line has better health and has had more success. Running behind Germain Ifedi and Garry Gilliam is the part of the team’s run game that ranks in the top half of the NFL. Running off the right side has been netting about 4 yards per carry, which works as the anchor for a run game. This will require a good number of carries early and often to force the Defense to address it, but doing so would take a lot of pressure off Russell Wilson and the Offense. Having a run game that forces more players in the box opens up those throws to Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham that are the cornerstone of the passing game.
I don’t really worry about Seattle scoring some points in this game. Against the middling Defenses (especially pass rushers) of the 49ers, Jets, and Falcons the team has scored 37, 27, and 26 points. It is how those points are scored that will matter. If the running game can establish itself that would eat up a lot of the clock and keep Drew Brees and the New Orleans Offense off the field more. It is also a chance for the team to try out a new style of run game that they will likely need as they look to take on some solid defenses with average or better pass rushers in the Bills, Patriots, and Eagles in the coming weeks.
If Seattle can’t establish that run game, it still seems likely they will win just based on the talent gap. However, the win will need to be more like a shootout and that wouldn’t speak nearly so well to the coming matchups.