Seahawks OC Brian Schottenheimer Schemes One of the NFL's Best-Designed Passing Attacks
Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer still isn’t getting the credit he deserves. The Week 9 home victory over the Buccaneers, a 40-34 overtime squeaker, was the latest example of Schotty’s dreamy scheme. He dictated, adapted, and adjusted. His attack dragged Seattle to a 7-2 record.
It was nice to see Seattle have a season-high pass rate of 66 percent in neutral situations, per @deryck_1. Run-pass balance can get exhausting as a talking point, especially with Pete Carroll as an influential head coach.
The bigger point is this: Schottenheimer is calling a fantastically-designed passing game, one which shows a clear comprehension of the strengths of each personnel and how to maximize each individual skillset—Russell Wilson included. The signal caller passed for a career-record 378 yards and five touchdowns, completing 67.4 percent of his passes.
Yes, Wilson is playing the best football of his life. The improvements he’s made from a technique standpoint, particularly pocket footwork and presence, are largely thanks to Schottenheimer though. Looking at some of the prominent passing designs from the Buccaneers win, we can see how Schottenheimer’s tactics are helping the MVP candidate. Schotty stacks each concept on top of the other to butcher into the finest of cuts. Drive, Shallow, Spear, Slid, and Double China 7, await below...
A goal of Seattle's offense heading into the 2019 season would have been improving upon the pitiful yards after catch (YAC) numbers of the previous campaign. There are significant challenges to this. Giving Wilson the throwing window over the middle typically requires a wide passing lane that can get tricky for protection calls. History is also problematic, with Russell struggling at times with the touch on running back screens.
Easy, quick YAC was required against Tampa Bay. Todd Bowles unleashed a gameplan that bemused. It was blitz and man-heavy to the extreme, a delightful challenge for Wilson to pass on. Insanity. Schotty gave Wilson the concept, a “Drive” combination that looked to hit the shallower of the pair of crossing routes.
One valid critique of Seattle’s 2019 aerial attack is the limitations to the “X” receiver profile. The Seahawks truly aim for the mythical trio of height, weight, speed in this role. Sadly, it’s often resulted in too high a dosage of inefficient routes such as red zone fades.
Though these assignments make sense, getting the big, strong, fast guys the ball quickly in space has serious potential. David Moore getting an opportunity to shine his gliding running style in the open field was sweet. Such panache had made itself obvious on his Central Oklahoma Hudl tape.
More importantly, this was a simple blitz-beating throw for Wilson that easily out-leveraged the man coverage that the Buccaneers were playing. With the receiver aligning off the line of scrimmage, the Seahawks also ensured a free release for their primary option.
The other quick hitter with YAC potential was more akin to a “Shallow” concept. Lincoln Riley does similar things at Oklahoma. Schottenheimer dressed his up to look a bit more like three verts, or spear—which we’ll get to. This gave Wilson two legitimate options that, as opposed to drive, also forced the middle of field safety to make a choice on one of the routes. Man coverage was beat.
Wilson missed an open Tyler Lockett on the deeper, intermediate crossing route. Perhaps it was more of a throwback, deep waggle. The passer made sure to hit the intermediate option of Lockett when given the second chance though. Aligning in nub formations, with only a tight end to one side of the formation, provided the quarterback with the intel of whether the pass defense was man or zone. So did aligning with a tight end split out wide. In Week 4 at Atlanta, not even Kendall Sheffield could stop Lockett on the intermediate iteration of the crosser.
Where the play got really exciting was towards the end of the game, with Seattle driving to get into field goal range. My word was DK Metcalf impressive catching on the shallow part of the route concept, his prototypical “X” traits making him a big problem. Following an encroachment penalty, Wilson read the man coverage and gaping "B" gap—the Bucs weren’t worried about gap integrity given the game situation—and ran for 21 yards. Shouts to Chris Carson for being a boss in blitz pick-ups.
Seattle’s play action Spear concept looks fairly similar to the above shallow concept. The aims of it are very different though, with Spear involving two deeper crossing routes that are run right at each other. The play is an excellent way of beating middle of field closed coverage, with the safety having to pick a route and the other cornerback out-leveraged—unless they pass it off well. Poor execution has left the Seahawks being less successful than they should have been on the play.
Wilson is now excellent at reading the tip of the Spear though. The rapid nature of his check-down to Lockett’s orbit in the flats, after faking the inside zone and end-around, was evidence of this. Once more, observe how the tight end split-out-wide gives Wilson a coverage ID on these plays.
Metcalf’s long, burning touchdown arrived on Spear. In a perfect illustration of how the design breaks middle of field closed, particularly man defense, the high safety chose to double Lockett and Metcalf was a total mismatch burning across the field. His YAC potential shone once more.
The Spear pattern was built in to Seattle’s play-action Slide plays hosting Tampa Bay. The design leaves the quarterback naked, with the run fake acting as the protection and the “slide” route across the formation, behind the line of scrimmage, being the first option for the quarterback.
Play-action slide is explained in detail in this thread:
As the Luke Willson 3rd and short conversion demonstrated, this is a decent, near-guaranteed short yardage play. Wilson knew he was getting man-to-man thanks to cunning pre-snap alignment once more. Again, the space and traffic was too much for the one-on-one coverage. Russell Wilson’s placement was ace.
Three plays after that Lockett slide catch, on the same opening drive for Seattle, Schotty revealed another layer. Lockett came across the formation, as though on the slide route, and managed to be enough of a nuiscance to buy his quarterback more time. Meanwhile, the downfield route combination looked like yankee or spear.
With the Cover 3 zone of Tampa Bay considerably run off, the Seahawks had a two-on-two for their linemen blocking the throwback screen to Carson. The alley was there.
An intelligent variation to play action Slide from Schottenheimer was lining up what was effectively the “slide” shallow route on the same side of the play fake. This saw two-touchdown star Jacob Hollister, the best route-running tight end in the league, fake a crackback block—as though sealing the edge of the pocket—and then pivot back out towards the flat.
The impact was the exact same. Wilson knew he was getting man coverage thanks to the pre-snap alignment. Hollister gained enough separation for the touchdown to end the first half for Seattle’s offense. All game, Schotty’s shifting of wide receivers to wingback and tight ends across the formation broke man coverage and added conflict to run fits.
The two-point conversion was a further wrinkle to the above.
While asking your fast guys to outrun their guys is a nice strategy for beating man coverage—see Spear—creating rubs and picks is also an effective demolition. Post-wheel concepts were present, including on Tyler Lockett's 30-yard catch on 2nd and 22 at the end of the third quarter. These work nice for flooding zones too, as the Seahawks themselves have been taught repeatedly.
This brings us to Double-China 7/Y-Corner/722. (Anyone with Brian Schottenheimer resources, please get in touch). This involves three receivers to one side of the field, with the two outside receivers running shallow in-breaking routes and the No. 3 option running a corner route.
Week 6 on the road in Cleveland saw Seattle get the Browns with the nub tight end formation telling Wilson it was man coverage. Jaron Brown’s corner route had all the leverage advantage. Week 7’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens saw Marlon Humphrey get away with a hold on Lockett. Fortunately, the borderline supernatural connection between receiver and quarterback managed to conjure touchdown still.
Tampa Bay fell victim to a different Double-China 7 look. For starters, we typically only see the Seahawks call the design in the redzone. Secondly, Schotty has flooded coverage strong by releasing his running back behind trips formations into a quads look. However, he’s never done it with Double-China 7. Carson’s pre-snap flare motion and resulting swing route being unfollowed, instead shifted, by the Buccaneers told Wilson the pass defense was zone—middle of the field open telling him Cover 2.
Lockett adapted his corner/7 route into the honey hole of the Cover 2, behind the cloud corner and in front of the deep half safety. Wilson employed some intelligent footwork, navigating upwards and left to hit his trusty pass catcher.
Receiver splits down in the redzone disguised the Double-China 7 later on, with Lockett hauling in the touchdown. Typically, as in the Brown catch at Cleveland, the corner/7-route receiver aligns on the line of scrimmage. Schotty has proven capable of keeping Lockett off the line of scrimmage as often as possible to keep him free of the jam of cornerbacks.
You’ll notice also that the receivers, like in other examples of the play, don’t run the typical routes. Instead, they are keen to sell a vertical stem to command pure man-to-man coverage and ensure no corner peels off to double cover the corner route.
Adding Josh Gordon into this, a player who has YAC potential despite losing some explosion is going to be an intriguing fit. Schotty’s offense has somehow managed to add new pieces in as replacements, Hollister being a prime example. You can bet Schottenheimer will have a plan for Gordon, in addition to the big wideout bullying cornerbacks when blocking.
Asides from all the layers, the superb pocket play, and the utter domination of the passing game these clips show, it’s the pre-snap work of Wilson that is a motif of the footage. Schottenheimer, by giving his elite talent so many coverage clues, is not allowing the best man in the NFL to fail. Wilson has the power to change plays based off the pre-snap information Schotty gives him. Wilson seems to be able to pick a zone-beater, a man-beater or a run. There is genuine power. Furthermore, most of the passing designs have one side with a man-pulverizer and one side with a zone-destroyer.
Perhaps Seahawks Twitter will finally overcome their 2018 offseason preconceptions; the gross misconceptions Brian Schottenheimer is continuing to prove wrong with one of the best-designed NFL passing offenses. But really, who cares? This is a massively enjoyable offense that is multi-faceted and deadly. There’s the right balance of core concepts and complexity. Bring on Monday night in Santa Clara.