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Eagle Eye: First Look At Seattle's Offense

Posted Nov 30, 2017

On offense, the Seahawks obviously have some flaws, but they have the ability to put up huge chunks of yardage and a ton of points on anyone due to their style of play. This is a team that loves to plunge daggers into the hearts of defenses with back-breaking plays. Russell Wilson is usually the one holding the dagger when it’s all said and done, and his dynamic playmaking style certainly helps fuel the entire operation.

When studying the Seahawks, you can’t help but notice that a large amount of their big plays come from ‘outside of structure’, where the play breaks down, Wilson escapes the pocket, and he makes a play in a ‘scramble’ situation. This is not a flaw, mind you, every quarterback needs to be able to do that when the situation arises. I do think, however, that it’s fair to wonder if the Seahawks are too close to making that the main threat in their scheme. Offensive line woes have plagued this team for some time, leading to leaks in protection. This puts Wilson under fire more often than a lot of quarterbacks. Over the course of the last few seasons, having been under duress so often, it’s common to see Wilson leave the pocket in situations where it’s not warranted or needed. While this may leave yards (and at times, points) on the field for Seattle, this is a part of their scheme that you have to live and die with if you’re a Seahawks fan. In ways, it can be similar to the way Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers looked like a year ago. There’s not a consistent flow or rhythm to the passing game, and there’s a lot put on the quarterback to go out and ‘make a play’.

Keep in mind, just because there is no rhythm doesn’t mean they can’t hurt you. In fact, I would argue the opposite. This Seattle passing game is very much a ‘feast or famine’ attack, and for that reason they are one of the top big play offenses in football. Wilson has completed 20 passes on throws that traveled 20-plus yards in the air. The 43 20-plus yard completions ranks fifth in the league. They’ve scored seven times on those kinds of plays. They are a big ‘shot play’ passing team that will look to stretch the field, and it’s not always on plays where Wilson runs around in the backfield to throw, either.

Here are two examples of the Seahawks attacking down the field in the passing game. On both plays, notice the personnel groups. On the first pass, they’re in ‘12’ personnel, with one running back and two tight ends. On the second, they’re in ‘21’ personnel, with two backs and just one tight end. Against these kinds of offensive sets, the defense will likely play in their base defense. This allows Wilson to try and find favorable matchups with his running back (who right now, in space, is JD McKissic), and former All-Pro Jimmy Graham at tight end. At wide receiver, Doug Baldwin is one of the best pure route runners in the NFL and is a threat every time the Seahawks face third down. Third-year receiver Paul Richardson, a former second-round pick, has improved every year he’s been in the league, and he can stretch the field vertically. Tyler Lockett, a slot receiver by trade, lines up both inside and outside and also can make big plays down the field.

One of the other ways the Seahawks pick up big plays courtesy of Wilson is the Empty set, where all five pass catchers spread out across the field and Wilson lines up in the shotgun, completely alone in the backfield. This Empty set really plays to the strength of Seattle’s style of play. Think about it…

The mismatch players (Graham, McKissic, etc) can find favorable matchups in space.

The coverage can easily be identified pre-snap by the quarterback, who can then attack those coverages quickly and efficiently.

The ball typically comes out quickly, helping the offensive line.

The offensive line will see very defined looks from defensive fronts, because even if they do blitz they won’t disguise their blitzes pre-snap (expecting a quick throw).

If pressure does get through, the quarterback has room to run around in the backfield to create time and space to work, allowing more time for his receivers to uncover downfield.

The Seahawks operate out of Empty as much, if not more, than any team in the league, and here are a few examples of how it works in their favor.

In that video you can get a real feel for why Wilson and Seattle are tough to defend in the Empty set. With the playmakers at Wilson’s disposal and the threat of him running the football, the defense has a lot to think about when Seattle tries to spread them out. It will be one of the themes I’m most excited to follow in Sunday night’s game.

The last thing I’ll cover in this preview is Jimmy Graham, who has been one of the most dangerous players at the tight end position in this decade. In New Orleans, Graham was extremely productive, and while it took some time for him to match those kinds of numbers in the Pacific Northwest, he certainly appears to have hit his stride in this offense this year.

Coming into this game, Graham leads the entire NFL in red zone targets, catches and touchdowns. The back shoulder fade is a big reason why, but it’s not like they just throw the ball up to him on every play inside the 20. He’ll run slants, he’ll run to the back pylon, they’ll run ‘rub’ concepts to create interference in man coverage. They get him matched up on linebackers inside or smaller defensive backs outside. The Seahawks do a lot to get him the football near the goal line, and he’s come through in a big way. The Eagles will have to have a plan for the game-breaking tight end on Sunday night.

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