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On the Offensive: Making Progress? Or Deja Vu?

Sep 18, 2021, 1:37PM PDT

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Wilson ranked 1st in CPOE (Completion % Over Expected) and 1st in EPA/CPOE Composite through the first 8 weeks of 2020. Anyone who paid the slightest attention to the Seahawks (or the MVP race) last season knows that Wilson and the rest of the offense fell off a cliff in the second half. Wilson became a league average or worse QB in EPA/Play and EPA/CPOE Composite in Weeks 9-17 last season despite ranking 7th in CPOE, where he’s traditionally dominated this category and is 1st in CPOE since 2012 by a wide margin.

As a team, the Seahawks offense tends to mirror Wilson’s performance, as it should. They currently rank 8th in EPA/Play after their hot start in Week 1. However, the offense ranked 1st in EPA/Play after Week 1 in 2020; an even better start en route to 3rd in EPA/Play through the first half of 2020 before falling to 13th in the 2nd half of 2020 before ultimately finishing 7th overall in EPA/Play.

By now, you’ve likely seen all the reasons for the offense’s regression in the second half - stronger opposing defenses, Cover 2 schemes taking away DK and Lockett, Wilson’s refusal to take what is given, offensive line issues, lack of scheme creativity, etc. For all of these reasons and an inability to adjust, Brian Schottenheimer was let go and Shane Waldron was hired.

We’ve heard all offseason that Waldron’s system was “creative” or “complex” and buzzwords like “tempo” were vaguely thrown around. Preseason failed to provide much clarity either, as few, if any, offensive starters played and it’s difficult to draw conclusions about a scheme’s effectiveness when Alex McGough and Sean Mannion are responsible for executing the offense. Fans were more eager than ever to see how Seattle’s offense would look, especially now that Wilson’s future in Seattle is in question.

The anticipation was well rewarded. For the 2nd straight year, the Seahawks impressed in their season opener on offense against a stingy Colts defense that ranked 7th last season in Overall DVOA, including 8th in Pass DVOA, 9th in Run DVOA and featured two First Team All-Pros - Darius Leonard and DeForest Buckner. Despite this, Wilson produced another one of his signature uber-efficient passing days, completing 78.3% of his passes for 4 TDs, 11.0 YPA (Yards Per Attempt), and an 84.6 QBR (Quarterback Rating, different from Passer Rating). After Week 1, Wilson ranks 4th among QBs in EPA/Play, 1st in CPOE, and 3rd overall in EPA/CPOE Composite.

But we’ve seen this before, right? After all, Wilson and the offense played even BETTER and MORE efficiently in week 1 of last season. No one would be surprised if Wilson and the Seattle offense continued to dominate for the next 7 weeks before hitting a proverbial wall and becoming near league average. We saw this happen in 2020 and in 2019 as well, where Wilson was 3rd in EPA/CPOE in Weeks 1-8 of 2019 and fell to 11th in Weeks 9-17 (by the way, rbsdm’s EPA is adjusted for opposing defenses, so schedule shouldn’t be much of a factor).

As mentioned earlier, Waldron was hired to bring a more creative approach to Seattle’s scheme. We’ve become familiar with the McVay system over the years. The scheme generally relies on motion, misdirection, and homogeneity to disguise plays. As Week 1 finally rolled around, Waldon’s system impressed and we had the pleasure of watching our beloved Seahawks demolish a quality Colts team.

Plenty of motion was used, including two sweeps to Dee Eskridge and one to Freddie Swain. When watching All-22, you can see Colts linebackers taking 1-2 steps towards the sweep side of the field, putting them in a poor position when the play happens on the opposite side of the field, as intended. The TEs were also clearly more involved in this game, including 2 TE screens to Gerald Everett (when was the last time we saw a Seahawks TE screen?), one of which was nullified due to a penalty. The Seahawks finished Week 1 with a 23.8% TE target share, much higher than the 20.1% TE target share in 2020, but much closer to the Rams’ TE target share of 22.4% last season. According to Sharp Football Stats, the Seahawks ran 38% of their plays in 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TEs, 2 WRs), the 5th most in the league. Last season, the Seahawks only ran 12 personnel 28% of the time, as they were more frequently in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs; 66% vs. 57% this season).

Yes, the one game sample is extremely small, but the results have been encouraging thus far. For a team that wants to run the ball as much as Pete Carroll does, having 2 TEs on the field makes an enormous amount of sense. Plus, when tight ends are as multi-dimensional as Will Dissly and Gerald Everett are, the team automatically gain a matchup advantage if you choose to pass out of 12 personnel, since it’s likely your opponent will be in their base defense (not nickel) and the tight ends will likely be matched up against either a safety or a linebacker.

The main difference between Waldron’s Week 1 performance and the “Let Russ Cook” movement was that Waldron’s offense actually didn’t let Russ cook all that often, but when Russ cooked, it was amazing. The Seahawks had the 26th highest early down pass frequency in Week 1. In contrast, the Seahawks were the 5th most pass-heavy offense in early downs last season. We’ll see if Waldron’s scheme continues to provide Wilson with more high-value and efficient opportunities, because if it does, Waldron’s mix of run-heaviness, efficiency, and creativity likely keeps both Wilson AND Carroll happy.

Waldron’s scheme seemed to benefit the running game as well. Carson had an efficient day on the ground against a strong Colts front seven, averaging 5.7 YPC (Yards Per Carry), while Seattle RBs as a group averaged 5.5 YPC. As aforementioned, Seattle actually ran the ball more often than they passed, even when excluding Wilson’s two “runs” on Seattle’s last clock-killing drive. There’s not a lot of evidence yet that suggests Waldron’s scheme is outright better than Schottenheimer’s in the run game, as Waldron’s offense currently ranks 9th in Rush DVOA after Week 1 while the 2020 Seahawks also ranked 9th overall. The 2021 Seahawks currently rank 2nd in ALY (Adjusted Line Yards), T-1st in Power Success, and 2nd in Stuffed rank, while the 2020 Seahawks ranked 10th, 22nd, and 17th, respectively. Again, the sample size is small so it’s tough to draw any conclusions in the run game.

Waldron’s scheme has impressed thus far. However, it is important to remember that Schottenheimer’s offense was also impressive through the first half of 2020. While there is certainly hope that Waldron and the Seattle offense will adapt as defenses begin to key in on their scheme, it is far from a foregone conclusion. Perhaps it is a Russell Wilson issue as well. After all, Wilson himself saw significant regression in both 2020 and 2019 when looking at the second half of the season versus the first half. Plus, it is no secret to the rest of the league that Waldron came from the McVay offense, and while the Seahawks have emphasized that Waldron’s system brings its own wrinkles, the basis of the scheme is very similar. Thus, it is not out of the question that teams begin to game plan against the Seahawks in the same way they would prepare for the Rams. Waldron was a part of McVay’s offensive staff who were shockingly stifled by defensive mastermind Bill Belichick in Super Bowl LIII.

Again, while hopes are certainly high, it will likely take a few weeks before fans completely trust Waldron to adapt to adversity.

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