For the second year in a row, the Seahawks have gotten very minimal pass catching production out of their tight end unit. Through the first five weeks of the season, Gerald Everett, Will Dissly and Colby Parkinson have combined for just 188 yards and one touchdown on 16 receptions. This comes after a season in which Seattle tight ends were infrequently and ineffectively used, leading to a minor reboot in the group this offseason.
There is almost certainly more than one answer as to why these struggles have cropped up again. Of course, in the Seahawks' offense, any weapon not named DK Metcalf or Tyler Lockett is going to serve nothing more than a complementary role so long as the star receiving duo is healthy. Naturally, those two lead the team in targets (Metcalf 38, Lockett 35) with Freddie Swain well behind them in a distant third place (15).
Nevertheless, the Seahawks could be doing more to get their tight ends involved in the passing attack. Right now, they're in a three-way tie with the Rams and Saints for 28th in the NFL in tight end targets (21). Teams with comparable wideout groups, such as the Buccaneers (11th in tight end targets, 40) and Cowboys (10th, 43), are having no issues getting the ball out to their big bodies and ruling the middle of the field. Therefore, it's not as simple as Metcalf and Lockett taking all the targets.
Injuries and other health concerns have also been an issue. Parkinson started the year on short-term injured reserve after suffering a foot injury early in training camp. Since his return in Week 4, he's only been targeted twice—catching one of them for a single yard. Everett, meanwhile, has missed the last two games due to a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, though he nearly made it back for the team's eventual 26-17 loss to the Rams last Thursday. Prior to his bout with the disease, he caught eight of nine targets for 77 yards and the team's lone tight end touchdown with strong performances versus the Colts and Vikings.
On Monday, Seattle activated Everett from the Reserve/COVID-19 list, so it's expected he'll suit up against the Steelers this Sunday night. However, he'll be walking into a much different situation than the one he left, with Geno Smith now under center as star quarterback Russell Wilson recovers from finger surgery.
Offensive coordinator Shane Waldron is likely to call a more methodical, conservative game with Smith at the helm. Very few quarterbacks can air it out the way Wilson does, so trying to replicate his downfield assault one-for-one would be unwise in his absence.
This new approach should naturally generate more activity for the tight ends, particularly in the intermediate game. And the one area Smith might have an advantage over Wilson is with his height, using his 6-foot-3 stature to see over the chaos in front of him without the need for passing windows. Therefore, getting some quick-hitters to Dissly and Everett against Pittsburgh's linebackers will surely be a part of the gameplan.
At least, that's the hope.
If the Seahawks want to survive this unprecedented time in their franchise's history, then they need to become more dynamic on offense and get more than just Metcalf and Lockett going. From the days of Zach Miller and Jimmy Graham, this offense has typically been at its best when tight ends see considerable action in the passing game. It thrives off spreading the ball around and giving defenses more to think about. It needs that threat.
And Seattle is not short of the talent to have that. With its top three tight ends now healthy enough to play alongside one another, the time has come to turn things around. If so, Smith and company should be in a much more favorable spot to weather this storm.