The Seahawks (4-1-1) tied the Cardinals (3-3-1), 6-6 in Arizona. A tie can be a sneaky advantage. The Carolina Panthers won the NFC South in 2013 with a record of 7-8-1. The New Orleans Saints were eliminated at 7-9. The Rams (3-4) lost to the New York Giants.
Let’s Workshop The Offense
The kryptonite of the 2016 offense is a defense with an aggressive pass rush. A few factors are at play here—Russell Wilson’s injuries, the struggles on the offensive line, and the lack of diversity in the backfield.
This offense needs a jump start. Luckily, a few changes should make an immediate difference.
1) Russell Wilson needs designed runs. Minutes into the first quarter, safety Tony Jefferson hunted down Wilson on an option that Wilson had kept. Wilson attempted a stiff arm to fend off Jefferson but Wilson’s lower body strength (an underrated aspect of a successful stiff arm) was so absent that instead of repelling Jefferson, Jefferson used Wilson’s arm to scale him. If that sounds familiar, it’s because 49ers linebacker Eli Harold did the same thing to Wilson’s attempted stiff-arm in week 3 and subsequently landed on Wilson’s leg.
These two gifs should dismiss any thoughts of having Wilson scramble, but an easy conclusion quickly becomes a paradox. The state of the Seahawks running game is such that, if Wilson does not immediately start contributing, the passing attack could face further regression, especially from the wide-outs. While Wilson’s scrambling threat could give the offense some pop, it leaves Wilson vulnerable to injury. Wilson cannot run laterally, so his traditional toolset, the zone-read or those bootlegs that have him take off if no one is open, are off the table. The only option is to turn Wilson into a north/south runner.
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell needs to get a handful of plays where the offensive line directs rushers to overpursue on Wilson, Christine Michael stays home for extra protection, and Wilson escapes between the tackles. The goal is four yards per attempt, with a target of twenty yards per game.
2) The offense is about position players, not lineman. Every year the offensive line goes through a stretch of football so putrid one imagines any of a thousand trades that might send off assets and draft picks for immediate help. Those trades will never materialize. The Carroll-era loves it some crazy and bad offensive lineman are the crazy it loves most. One can hope the absence of Luke Willson left the edge vulnerable and that partly explains what happened on Sunday, but no matter how one looks at it, focusing on the offensive line is the wrong area of focus. This offense is about position players winning their individual battles. I will not repeat myself about Christine Michael, (see here and here), but the issues at tailback are of grave concern, but that’s not all…
3) The passing game needs to get “on time.” In 2015, the Seahawks were without Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls, yet the offense was prospering, having committed to the shotgun and gotten its timing straight. After putting Wilson under center for 37% of the snaps against the Falcons, Bevell jumped in the opposite direction. Wilson lined up for 58 of 67 snaps in shotgun with only nine under center (16%). If this offense intends to play exclusively from the shotgun, Wilson needs to throw at the end of his drop and his targets have to run crisp routes.
This Defense Is The Best In The NFL
1) These nickel blitz looks are awesome. It’s third and four. The Cardinals are playing five-wide with an empty backfield. (David Johnson is on the sidelines catching his breath). The Seahawks are in their nickel package, using the following personnel (from bottom to top): Richard Sherman, Kelcie McCray, Earl Thomas, Jeremy Lane, and Deshawn Shead. Bobby Wagner is playing eight yards off the line of scrimmage. KJ Wright is showing blitz to the bottom side of Cardinal center AQ Shipley. Anticipating the snap, Lane approaches the line of scrimmage for a corner blitz. Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer has time to account for Lane but chooses not to. Earl Thomas immediately crashes on Larry Fitzgerald. How did Thomas know to jump the route?
Since the Cardinals have no tailback, Thomas has no responsibility for run coverage. Lane is a free rusher and Palmer is unconcerned. Before the snap, Thomas knows this will be an underneath throw, and he can crash because Shead drops back for outside contain and Wright—who dropped into coverage—is there for inside contain.
This potential pick-six started on the dry-erase board and came to life on the field.
2) Kelcie McCray is a good football player and the Seahawks are fortunate to have him. In regards to the now-infamous blown coverages against the Falcons, I wrote that McCray and Sherman were not on the same “wavelength.” I put it delicately because I believe what happened was a team failure and scapegoating the new guy was beneath this defense. Injuries and Kam Chancellor are becoming a thing, so McCray is a reality, and that reality looks a lot brighter after this weekend. McCray had a fantastic bounce-back performance. He was solid against the pass, tough against the run, and he made the most important tackle, preventing Arizona wide receiver JJ Nelson from scoring a touchdown in sudden death overtime.
3) Tackling is everything. This defense is complicated visually but is simple in theory. They want to terrorize the quarterback, but they don’t want to get terrorized for it. The happy medium is a scheme where the ball stays in front of the secondary. Because of this, the defense gives up a lot of underneath throws, and that means guys have to make tackles. And have these guys been making tackles! KJ Wright took down Larry Fitzgerald for no gain on 1st and 10 in the first. Earl Thomas was all over Brittan Golden for a pass break-up. Sherman rolled over Fitzgerald on 3rd and 10, for a short gain. Hell, Ahtyba Rubin dropped into coverage on Jermaine Gresham in the third quarter. KJ Wright tackled David Johnson by his ankles. (On the next play, the Cardinals failed to convert on fourth down). Sherman came off coverage to annihilate Fitzgerald in the fourth, forcing an incompletion on 3rd and 5. Seriously, I don’t know if I could afford the bandwidth to show you all these great tackles.
Eh, I can spare it for the best one of all.
Thanks for reading!
In case you missed it…
Week 1, On One Leg | Week 2, The Spread Will Save the Seahawks, Exactly Like It Did Last Year | Week 3, Could Trevone Boykin Be The Future? With Doug Baldwin, He Might. | Week 4, Kam Chancellor’s Modified Role Improves Entire LoB, Takes Defense to New Level | Discombobulated But Still Dangerous, The Cardinals Lie Ahead – Seahawks Bye Week Special | Seahawks Defense Comes Up Strong, Team Passes First Test