In years past, the Seattle Seahawks' offensive attack would conjure images of a smash-mouth running game led by Marshawn Lynch, an athletic quarterback in Russell Wilson and a host of weapons in the passing game who were honestly a bit underwhelming. The keys to beating those teams were to limit Lynch's effectiveness as well as contain Wilson in the pocket. If you did those two things, you were in good shape. The 2016 Seahawks are a completely different team, however, both physically and philosophically.
Gone are the days when Seattle would try to ground and pound defenses with a battering ram at running back. The Seahawks average just 77.7 yards per game on the ground (30th in the NFL), with just 23.8 carries per game (25th), 3.27 yards per carry (31st) and just two runs of over 20 yards on the season through the first 10 games. Injuries have certainly played a bit of a factor, as second-year back Thomas Rawls is just now returning to the lineup, but this team's identity this year is not about running the football.
However, t's not like the Eagles can just chalk up the ground game as a "W" on Sunday afternoon. The Seahawks will try to stretch defenses out with their staple outside zone run, and that's their go-to play when Wilson hands it off. The other factor to the equation is the offensive line for the Seahawks, a group that has been much maligned this season. When I prepared to study Seattle, I expected a horrid group with tons of mistakes based off of headlines and how analysts talk about them.
From a personnel standpoint, left tackle George Fant (No. 74) is a former college basketball player who hadn't played meaningful football since eighth grade before walking on to Western Kentucky's team last year. Now, the rookie free agent is starting for the Seahawks. He's prone to mistakes in the run game, but you can see his raw athleticism and ability to move people shine through.
Left guard Mark Glowinski is in his second year out of West Virginia, and he's a solid young player still coming into his own. Right guard Germain Ifedi was the team's first-round pick this year out of Texas A&M, and he has flashes of brilliance because of his athleticism and mean streak. The most impressive player, however, is center Justin Britt. The former second-round pick at tackle has transitioned to the pivot about as well as you can ask for a young player. His athleticism is apparent every time you watch him play and his ability to execute reach blocks in the zone run game is pivotal to their success on the ground.
When I watched this group as a whole, I saw a young, raw offensive line with some talent and the potential to be very good in time. Let me show you some examples of what I mean.
Shot 1 - #Seahawks OL is the butt of jokes, but I think they've got high upside. Young interior GCG combo has chance to be very good in ZBS pic.twitter.com/EiFFUlxL1g — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 17, 2016
In the examples above, you see Seattle's stretch run game at work. The Seahawks try to get the defense moving laterally to create creases up front for the back to run through. Notice the athleticism, competitiveness and ability to reach defenders from distance and create lanes in the run game for their ball carriers. Are they where they need to be right now? Absolutely not, but this is a group that is jelling together and, especially with the three interior linemen, have a chance to be pretty good down the road.
Shot 2 - #Seahawks use run to set up play action downfield. Classic 'Post-Cross' concept from Sunday vs Pats to explosive Paul Richardson pic.twitter.com/y2fOPpFJir — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 17, 2016
The Seahawks' rushing attack hasn't been extremely productive this year, but run-action is still a big part of what the teams does to set up the vertical passing game. Most of the "shot" plays downfield come off of some sort of backfield action. This is a play from last week against New England, a deep play that is one of my personal favorites, Post Cross. Wilson throws from a clean pocket off of stretch run-action. He has a post route from Doug Baldwin and a crossing route from receiver Paul Richardson, a vertical deep threat for the offense, and it turns into a big gain.
Shot 3 - Tyler Lockett is such a natural at playing the deep ball. Keeps defender on backside hip; looks the ball in extremely well. pic.twitter.com/Np1syTZSEb — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 17, 2016
The biggest deep threat, in my opinion, on this team is receiver Tyler Lockett. The second-year wideout from Kansas State has great quickness in and out of breaks and 4.4 speed to stretch the field vertically, but his ball skills are what stand out most on film. Lockett does such a great job of tracking the ball in the air and keeping defenders on his back side, meaning that in order for them to catch the ball they have to interfere with him. He's so good at reeling in passes over his shoulder in the deep passing game, which makes him lethal on shot plays for this offense.
Shot 4 - It's pretty good to have a safety valve like Jimmy Graham, who can make a catch in a crowd as well as anyone in the NFL #Seahawks pic.twitter.com/nx9DHOIaTI — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 17, 2016
Lockett sees a lot of reps both outside and in the slot, an area where tight end Jimmy Graham is also so dangerous. After a lackluster first season in the Pacific Northwest, Graham has settled into a real role in 2016. He is a game-changing target for Wilson at every level of the field. You can see the kind of faith the quarterback has in Wilson on this play, as San Francisco jumps offsides and Wilson just tosses this up into a crowd for Graham, who comes down with this prayer of a pass for an explosive play down the seam.
Shot 5 - Graham is used in so many ways by #Seahawks - lot of similarities to his time w/ Saints. A true mismatch in the slot & down seam pic.twitter.com/3MekO17Kjj — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 17, 2016
The Seahawks love putting Graham in the slot, where they get him open in a lot of the same ways that New Orleans did in the start of his career. It may be wheel routes where he can out-leverage defenders and go up and fight for jump balls. It could be down the seam in empty sets where he is on an island in the middle of the field with one defender. They want to get him one on one as often as possible, and with his size and movement skills he is a matchup problem for both linebackers and safeties.
Like most athletic tight ends, Graham is used as the "X-iso" receiver on the back side of trips formations. The advantage for the offense is that you have three receivers to one side of the field, something defenses must account for. With a player like Graham all alone on the other side, it makes for a tough matchup, especially when he's able to make catches like this one.
Shot 7 - Orbit motion in backfield from Doug Baldwin sucks the LBs in, creating room for Graham down the seam. Great design by #Seahawks pic.twitter.com/WRvv3VMkz1 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 17, 2016
The Seahawks have a lot of "influence" plays built into the construct of their offense, where action in the backfield or action close to the line of scrimmage holds the attention of underneath defenders while receivers get behind them for plays down the field. Graham is no exception, as he is used both as a decoy and as a benefactor of these kinds of plays. In this shot against the New York Jets, the orbit motion in the backfield from Baldwin brings the linebackers close to the line of scrimmage only to hit Graham down the seam on a short type of pop pass for a first down.
When it's all said and done, the Seahawks are a shotgun spread passing team. One of their go-to concepts is the rub route where one player runs interference for another (legally), a concept that's especially prevalent on third downs. On the first play, Jermaine Kearse sets up a pick for Baldwin. Against Arizona, the same duo works for another big play, except this time Baldwin works upfield on a type of wheel route for a huge play downfield. The Eagles' defensive backs need to be wary of these types of concepts on Sunday afternoon.
Shot 9 - RB CJ Prosise has developed into a big weapon for #Seahawks out of Empty sets with Rubs and Vertical routes. Huge matchup concern. pic.twitter.com/KgJxFW6sBc — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 17, 2016
A player who has been very effective for the Seahawks in these types of concepts is rookie running back C.J. Prosise. A former receiver at Notre Dame who converted to the backfield just before his senior season, Prosise is very athletic. His versatility was put on display against New England as he paced the team not only in rushing, but in receiving as well. On Eagles Game Plan this week, expect to see the full scope of how dangerous Prosise can be in this Seattle offense.
Shot 10 - One of my favorite quick game concepts, what I call 'Follow'. Basically an advanced form of Double Slants. #Seahawks use it a ton. pic.twitter.com/9TpwM92XrY — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 17, 2016
On third down, another big concept for them is a play I call the follow combination, which is big for them out of the bunch formation. The first route is a quick slant route, typically from the outside receiver in the bunch. The inside man in the bunch breaks outside initially, then breaks back toward the middle of the field, where a huge void is created by the initial slant. This is a go-to play for the Seahawks, and you can see in the clip above that both slants are in play for Wilson depending on the defensive coverage.
Shot 11 - Baldwin runs a route in WR-DB 1 on 1 Drills where the DB gets mad because there's NO WAY a receiver runs this in a real game pic.twitter.com/TPXTJGUnFL — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 17, 2016
Baldwin has developed into the go-to target for Wilson. The veteran lines up inside and outside, plus he's one of the craftiest route runners in the league. Here against New England, it's almost not even fair. He runs a very unconventional four-break route on what can only be described as an out-and-up-comeback for a first down.
On Sunday, the defense has got to corral Wilson. While he's steadily improved each year he's been in the league, there are still a handful of plays where the Super Bowl-champion quarterback struggles to see things from the pocket as quickly as you'd like. On this play against Atlanta, Wilson has the ability to throw this deep over route. It's the exact play we broke down on Eagles Game Plan a week ago. You can see that he hesitates, drops his eyes and looks at the rush. He breaks the pocket to his left to find a back leaking out for a big gain and a first down. The Eagles must keep Wilson contained in the pocket, because when he's out on the perimeter he's far more lethal with his arm than he is when he's kept in confined spaces with bodies around him.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.