New Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron brings with him expectations of quick passes, easy throws and yards after the catch. In the preseason we have already witnessed a core tool for achieving the three listed hopes: the “strike” concept.
The Seahawks aligned in an under center, doubles (2x2), 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three receivers) formation. Geno Smith executed a quick play-fake to tailback Alex Collins and then zipped the ball in to Cody Thompson’s strike route. The completion ticked the requirements: It came out fast, it was a simple completion and there were lots of yards after the catch.
How did this happen? Let’s dive into it.
The Raiders pressured in a cover 3, 3-deep, 3-under fire zone. Most importantly, the Seahawks picked this up long enough to give Smith time to throw. Freddie Swain, lined up in the slot, correctly chipped the blitzing nickel corner before pivoting back outside on his laid down flat, outlet route.
Tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson made a vital block on the slanting nose tackle, sifting back across the line of scrimmage and smacking this penetration away from Smith with an excellent shoulder strike full of strain.
This kind of sift block in pass protection is similar to how a pulling offensive lineman can help sell the run portion of the play, sucking up second level defenders.
You can see how, with the run faked to the side of the strike route, the hot to 2 defender came downhill. He was worried about what would have been a very important B-gap against a run. This is what we call “same-side conflict.”
Meanwhile, the hot to 3 defender tried to run across the formation with the sift block, looking to fall back with the blocking action but also play a potential third receiver in the pattern to one side. As a result, there was no underneath presence remotely close to Thompson’s strike route.
Seattle’s tight splits on the play ensured that the cornerback played with outside leverage on Thompson’s strike route. It also meant that the route hit a lot faster. Thompson’s strike route attacked the leverage of the defense and found the vast space behind the linebackers, inside of the cornerback and beneath the deep safety.
The corner played far off of Thompson in a pedal technique, which gave up a lot in the underneath but allowed him to attack downhill on the throw and limit the YAC. The biggest facilitator of YAC is space being present.
The importance of the condensed receiver splits is already showing up. They also present additional run gaps for a defense to account for and a longer path to the quarterback for wide edge rushers.
An example of what happens in the strike concept when the receiver does not align cut was provided by the 49ers in Week 3 of the 2019 season versus the Steelers (San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan calls the play “drift”).
Here are drawings of “strike” concepts via 12 personnel and Sean McVay’s 2014 Washington offense. We can learn a few things from these.
The “find hole” note for the strike route shows an emphasis on running routes to space, which is promising compared to the alternative of running routes to a precise landmark that does not suitably adapt to the myriad of ways each defensive coverage can occur on a given play.
The plug-and-play nature of Waldron’s offense seems to be that they can dress up their 11 personnel in 12 personnel formations. Swain’s chip-and-release in the slot from the Raiders game is essentially a "tight end’s job." This personnel versatility will prove valuable for the Seahawks, aiming to avoid tendencies and tells, instead adding dangerous multiplicity.
There is some pre-snap shifting or motion on the play drawings. We can expect the Seahawks to be moving more before the snap come regular season football. For now, they appear to be holding this back; there was very little pre-snap movement in Las Vegas. Moreover, this makes sense given the players first need to learn and reliably execute the basic concepts before window dressing is applied.
Therefore, there are exciting times ahead for the Seahawks offense. With most of these concepts in the preseason, such as the receiver screen, quick game hitters, and certain intermediate zone windows, we are seeing different quarterbacks other than Russell Wilson target them.
The 2020 Seahawks offense sputtered and broke down not because Brian Schottenheimer did not attempt adjustments, but because the quick game elements he gave his quarterback were not comfortable for Wilson.
As it pertains to Waldron, the real questions will be how he adapts in the second half of the season and whether he can get Wilson comfortable accessing certain windows that have proved uncomfortable in past years.
Another interesting factor will be how the new offensive coordinator deals with his elite quarterback turning down certain parts for the explosive go ball. For example: on strike, the ‘alert streak’ is likely to be targeted by Wilson a heck of a lot more than it was by Jared Goff.