All 22 Review: Worst Execution of Brian Schottenheimer Era Hinders Seahawks vs. Rams
Matty F. Brown
Last Sunday was bad. You could see it. I could see it. If she liked football, my 98-year old grandma could see it. The Seahawks' defensive gameplan was a first-half abomination, with a return to Cover 3 Sky and 5-2 fronts punished by an up-tempo Los Angeles Rams attack.
Even when the defense recovered in the second half by running more Cover 3 Buzz, the other side of the ball could not capitalize. A Russell Wilson-led offense was unable to score a single touchdown in prime time, in front of the nation. The offense was the worst element of a dreadful performance, but what exactly was wrong with it?
Powered by a tub of Ben and Jerry's 'Phish Food,' by far the best flavor, I aimed to find out. It’s a cliché, borderline pretentious statement to emphasize the importance of "watching the tape.” Yet it’s a valid response nonetheless. You need to be able to see the full picture. Having now viewed the All-22, I feel far more positive about the overall state of the Seahawks’ offense. Here’s why you should too.
In the post-game misery, fear set in that Seattle was having issues passing on defenses that wanted to spend most of the game with two-high safeties. In an earlier road win over the Eagles, the Seahawks were unable to fully exploit the designed adjustments through the air. The passing game also struggled to get going in a run-driven victory at home versus the Vikings. With Russell Wilson curtailed in Los Angeles, had two-high stilted him again?
Fingers, naturally, get pointed at the offensive play caller in these crises. I see you elephant in the room. There are numerous factors which excuse Brian Schottenheimer, a man whose name when typed in my phone is quickly followed by the suggested noun of “scapegoat.”
Shoddy execution of Schotty’s passing game adjustments has proven costly in the last few weeks. Incurring eight penalties for 64 yards and one mesh-point fumble for negative seven yards, the Rams defeat was the nadir of trash performance. We’ll get to this.
Furthermore, Los Angeles was not playing middle of the field open, two-high pass defense. Instead, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips sat predominantly in middle of the field closed, using Cover 3 and Cover 1 looks. We’ll get to this too.
Schottenheimer had answers for the above. He adapted his concepts for how the Rams were playing and how the game was developing. Routes were nestled in the dead zones. His play action game became more intermediate to compensate for a winning pass rush led by Aaron Donald. He employed various methods to move Wilson away from a chaotic pocket. He called multiple quick game concepts. He had a varied, intelligently designed screen game.
I’d love to write about the praise-worthy areas of Schottenheimer in more detail, but that would be straying from the nature of this piece. We’re going to look at the factors that stopped the offense from succeeding and prevented the unit from managing to get into the end zone. Ultimately, guys were getting open and the play calling was done with sound thought. You’ll see all of this in the following list of point-preventers.
First, though, Schottenheimer is not without fault, despite coordinating the No. 4-placed offense in Football Outsider’s DVOA metric. In his latest article, Sheil Kapadia of the Athletic NFL highlighted an issue with the coordinator. “Schottenheimer’s offense has gone three-and-out on 38.5 percent of their opening drives — tied for the second-highest rate of any offense,” Kapadia wrote.
The sample size of 13 drives is naturally limited. The scores are two touchdowns and three field goals. Still, Kapadia’s work does raise that there could be an issue with Schottenheimer’s opening script when it comes to scoring points in that moment. While Schotty has shown an ability to adjust based off the intelligence this script gathers (DVOA rises in the second half of games), questions remain over whether the apparent sacrifice is worth it.
A coordinator’s opening script is around 10-15 plays that the quarterback must stick to. Around this time last year, Mike Vorel of the Seattle Times provided excellent insight on Schotty’s approach. It’s slightly different.
“We’re not so married to the script that you say, ‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.’ I’ve done that before a long time ago. If you run for nine yards on first down and then the second play is supposed to be a pass, you’re almost crazy if you do that,” Schottenheimer revealed in the piece. “So we have opening thoughts, is what we would call them — top runs, top passes that we want to get to early in the game.”
By extending the play count to 10, we reach the first third down of the offense’s second drive of the game. Seattle rushed consecutively, reaching a 3rd and 2. On that down, Schotty provided a coverage indicator pre-snap—as he so often does—on this occasion shifting Chris Carson from out wide into the backfield to then confirm zone pass defense.
Los Angeles aligned with seven defenders in the box for the five Seahawks blockers. Even with the threat of Wilson keeping the football, the count was minus one with Seattle facing six on seven. However, no Wilson adjustment was made at the line of scrimmage.
The quarterback has the power to change into a different play, one better suited to beating the defense. This can be checking into the right pass defense beater after getting coverage intelligence, or it can be checking out of running into a bad box count. It appears to be a choice of three plays: man-beater, zone-beater, or run.
Here Wilson should have changed into his zone-beating pass concept but, presumably because the Seahawks were still in their opening script, the passer did not. Most frightening, did Wilson get an in-moment sideline call to run no matter what? The alternative explanation, that Wilson decided to hand off into a bad box count while ignoring the check option, makes less sense.
Carson received the inside zone handoff. Wilson kept one of the extra defenders away from the run. But the other free man, box safety Taylor Rapp, was totally clean to fit the backside B-Gap and make the stop. Perhaps, faced with an under front in short yardage, left guard Mike Iupati would have been better climbing to the backside? Did Seattle think run because they had 10 personnel on the field and were facing six defensive backs? Regardless, a highly preventable three-and-out transpired. Rapp can tackle.
Whereas Minnesota played match quarters, middle of the field open pass coverage that took away the honey-hole shots and Seattle’s staple play-action concepts, enticing Seattle to run the football, Los Angeles did not.
The fantastic analytics work of @Deryck_SG illustrates the dip in production of the offense. Per Deryck’s figures, the Seahawks’ pass EPA has dipped from .187 (9th in NFL) to -.143 (24th in NFL). The air yards have also plummeted.
While the Vikings were selling out to stop the deep pass, the air yardage numbers versus the Rams and pass EPA would have been high if execution had occurred. The first offensive drive of the game was an example of this. Seattle was marching, then Los Angeles got away with a blown coverage on 3rd and 3.
Wilson got his pre-snap man coverage identifier, as Chris Carson went into the flats as a leverage beater to the outside versus a perceived one-on-one. The Rams tasked Eric Weddle with manning on Carson, matching the back’s release, but three players went for Carson and Tyler Lockett was subsequently uncovered in the middle of the field.
On that previous play, Wilson was tempted by the seemingly open middle of the pocket, before it was closed by the game up front. The signal caller was often guilty of trying to do too much in increasingly desperate efforts to ignite the offense.
The two-minute drill near the end of the half saw Wilson attempt the big play to Lockett despite the Rams clearly being over the top of the vertical routes. He should have taken the nestled dig of DK Metcalf at the bottom of the screen, wide open and in Wilson’s vision too. On second down, the dig was covered up by a coverage tweak and Wilson tried to extend the play and ended up getting sacked.
Looking scrambled, Wilson failed to identify open receivers largely due to a panicked process. Chris Collinsworth highlighted him not hitting Metcalf, wide open on the sixth drive on 2nd and 7—Wilson hurriedly checked down.
On the following drive, Wilson knew he was facing man-to-man and had a brief passing window for Metcalf’s open shallow crossing route if he had stepped up and taken a hit. Instead, he was sacked. Moving up was a clearly an emphasis on the drive after this one, where Wilson scuttled upwards to hit Lockett’s hitch route in between zones for 15 yards.
Wilson was in a tricky situation though. One element was his receiving group repeatedly failing to execute their job remit, dropping three crucial footballs. This patchy play did nothing to help Wilson’s own inconsistency.
There was Carson’s drop of a throwback screen on the first drive. Designed like Rashaad Penny’s 16-yard gain that sadly saw the second-year back tear his ACL at the end of the play, Carson could have gotten serious yardage—perhaps even a touchdown. Instead, the result was an incompletion and tame attempt to catch the football.
Directly after an awful spot for Tyler Lockett on a beautiful drive concept, the perfect zone-beater (something pre-snap shifting had identified), Malik Turner let Wilson down on the resulting 4th and 1. The drop came on the same concept which he’d caught earlier in the game, a play action slide variation. The third offensive drive stalled. As an aside, look how Jacob Hollister and company look to sell the play fake by stretching their arm across as though run-blocking.
Hollister had a terrible drop on the next drive, the fourth drive of the game, with the offense desperate for a play. Wilson succeeded despite his coverage indicator being misleading. He was told initially that he was facing man-to-man, but the Ram’s bunch check changed things up.
Schottenheimer gave the passer a mesh to read, unexpected for the defense, by releasing Carson on a shallow crosser too. Hollister’s intermediate dig came wide open in between halted zones/matchers over the middle. Yet the tight end jumped and fought the football as soon as it left the quarterback’s hands.
Drive eight was plagued by receiver issues too. With 1:00 left to play in the third quarter, Metcalf set the offense back 15 yards with an unnecessary roughness penalty that Jalen Ramsey was looking to bait all game. With Seattle working their way back to 3rd and 8, Josh Gordon slipped on the break in his route. The hitch would have been open against the coverage and the Seahawks would have picked up the first down.
In most of Wilson’s bad or negative plays, you can see the quarterback playing with a hurried internal clock. The quarterback was sacked five times in Sunday's encounter, some of which were on him. More importantly, though, he was often rushed in his reads and unable to wait for concepts to develop—be them quick or medium-developing.
Since Justin Britt’s season was ended with an ACL injury, backup center Joey Hunt has struggled when left in one-on-one assignments. Rams nose tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day got him good. Wilson is visibly aware of Hunt’s issue and Ethan Pocic coming back off Injured Reserve could be huge for the offense.
The rest of Seattle’s offensive line has not been good in pass protection either. They rank 28th in ESPN’s pass block win rate metric with a figure of 52 percent (explained here). The work of @PFF_Moo hints that while Wilson invites pressure through his play extension ability.
The quarterback is also pressured way too quickly too often:
Quick game concepts like Seattle’s snag variations were taken away well by disciplined zone-matching coverage, but Wilson barely had time to view his primary read—let alone his secondary. Take these back-to-back plays from drive seven, where Wilson could first have hit Lockett’s banana route with prescient anticipation (pre-snap, he knew it was man), but realistically stood little chance given Aaron Donald slanting inside was left one-on-one against Hunt. The second clip shows the snag variant removed and Wilson not having time to get to his open hitch route with Iupati losing to Donald.
Here’s Hunt getting bull-rushed hard by Joseph-Day. Wilson knew the coverage was zone, had his snag variant removed, and was unable to calmly look to his other zone beaters in time due to the rapid pressure in the middle of his pocket. Lockett nonchalantly running his route, the immediate backup plan, can be seen across the middle too.
Execution must improve
Let’s review how each drive ended, not forgetting that the third and long situations were brought about due to shoddy execution. By the fourth quarter, the Rams’ win probability reached over 90 percent according to number Fire LIVE and the Seahawks’ offense went into two-minute mode, hence why I ended this analysis after the eighth opportunity Seattle’s attack had to score a touchdown.
· Drive 1, 9:20 First quarter, 3rd and 3: Russell Wilson sacked for minus six yards with multiple receivers open, primary removed but blown coverage.
· Drive 2, 3:42 First quarter, 3rd and 2: Carson run into minus 1 box count, stopped for one-yard gain.
· Drive 3, 7:36 Second quarter, 4rd and 1: Malik Turner drops open conversion.
· Drive 4, 4:20 Second quarter, 3rd and 7: Jacob Hollitser drops open conversion.
· Drive 5, 0:30 Second quarter, 2nd and 10: Russell Wilson sacked for negative five yards.
· Drive 6, 8:30 Third quarter, 3rd and 6: Incomplete to David Moore’s badly run stop-and-go, Josh Gordon on same route was open on other side of field.
· Drive 7, 2:46 Third quarter, 3rd and 7: Wilson sacked for negative 11 yards, could have stepped up for throw to open shallow route.
· Drive 8, 15:00 Fourth quarter, 3rd and 8: Wilson knew he had a one-on-one and Gordon slipped running his hitch, which would have picked up the first down.
Execution, then, was by far the biggest issue. Encouragingly, players were open downfield and the concepts were working. On the majority of snaps, Wilson knew what was the coverage was thanks to pre-snap work from Schottenheimer and the quarterback had the correct beaters in place. While Seattle spurned the opportunities created by the scheme, this was a rare level of bad from Seattle and a repeat of this would be a shocking disgrace. They never could get going on offense.
This was a team one week removed from a flu outbreak that threatened to keep players out of action and impacted their performance versus Minnesota. They did play with a pervasive lethargy that persistently hampered them in Los Angeles. It was slow motion that was like The Matrix in all the wrong ways (maybe what The Matrix 4 is going to be?).
What's certain? A 10 AM PST start in Carolina must be the get right game for Seattle.