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Shane Waldron Lays Out Blueprint For Seahawks Offense to Thrive in Second Half

Injuries haven't helped his cause, but Waldron's first season as Seattle's play caller has underwhelmed in many ways. With his starting quarterback returning to action, he's hopeful a few quick fixes will get the offense untracked in time to lead a second half playoff run.

RENTON, WA – Installing a new offensive scheme under the guidance of offensive coordinator in Shane Waldron, the Seahawks expected to endure some growing pains to open the 2021 season. Even with Russell Wilson returning under center and a plethora of weapons around him, an adjustment period seemed inevitable.

Out of the gate, Seattle kicked off the Waldron era in style, putting up 21 first half points in an impressively dominant 28-16 season-opening road victory over Indianapolis. Showcasing the pre-snap motion, diverse rushing attack, and tight end usage fans had long been clamoring for, the first-time play caller couldn’t have asked for a better start with Russell Wilson launching four touchdowns in a near-perfect outing.

Since then, however, Waldron’s unit has been marred by maddening inconsistency and an injury to Wilson only magnified these issues with the Seahawks going 1-2 with backup Geno Smith replacing him in the lineup. After finishing in the top 10 in scoring offense each of the past nine seasons since Wilson entered the league, they currently rank 19th in the league while ranking a dismal 29th in yardage per game. They also rank dead last in the NFL in total time of possession at 25:52 per game.

While Waldron astutely pointed out quick drives featuring explosive plays have contributed to this issue, perpetually losing the time of possession battle has had a negative cumulative effect on the Seahawks’ defense in several of their losses.

Despite holding a 13-point lead early in the fourth quarter against the Titans at home in Week 2, the visitors held the ball for 19 minutes after halftime by feeding standout back Derrick Henry and eventually came back to win 33-30 in overtime. The next week on the road, even minus star back Dalvin Cook, the Vikings chewed up 22 minutes of clock to put the game away after going into the half with a 21-17 halftime advantage.

Over the bye week, Waldron combed back through film from the previous eight games seeking answers for how to get the offense humming more efficiently in the second half. At the center of their struggles thus far, including the inability to prolong drives with better regularity, execution on third down has been problematic all season long and remains an area of concern that must be shored up moving forward.

“It’s something that we have talked about, emphasized, and will need to continue to emphasize,” Waldron said of the third down woes. “That’s starting with communication and being on point with that, then the receivers need to do a great job of getting open in those one-on-one matchups... For us, we need to continue to progress as an offense in those third downs, so we are extending drives and the amount of plays we are getting within the games. We want to have that play complimentary football to how explosive we have been when we are on track and moving the ball on first and second down.”

As Waldron elaborated, emphasizing improvements on third down isn’t something new for Seattle. Coach Pete Carroll has aired his frustrations about not sustaining drives on numerous occasions in the first two months of the season, but his pleas haven’t been followed by better proficiency in such situations.

In the last three games alone, the Seahawks converted only 30 percent of third down chances against the Jaguars, 25 percent against the Saints, and 25 percent against the Steelers. For the season, they rank 31st overall with a 31.33 percent conversion rate.

What’s behind this third down incompetency? Carroll and Waldron agree that the Seahawks haven’t done themselves any favors on first and second down. While the team ranks near the top of the league with six pass plays of 40 or more yards, they also have shown a penchant for negative plays that have moved them behind the sticks and put them in too many disadvantageous third and long scenarios.

“The second thing would be to eliminate those negative plays, so we can stay on schedule, stay on track, stay out of those third and longs,” Waldron remarked. “It continues to be a point of emphasis and having that bye week to have a chance to look back at it and re-assess where we are at. We need to continue to be on the right track of getting better in those areas. That will help us an offense as a whole.”

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With the offensive line and running backs sharing blame, Seattle's run game has been bottled up at the line of scrimmage or in the backfield far too often. According to Football Outsiders, the team ranks 25th in the NFL with a 19 percent stuff rate, meaning nearly one-fifth of their runs have been stopped at or behind the line. Individually, Alex Collins has lost negative yardage nine times on just 74 carries (12 percent), while Chris Carson has four negative rushes (7 percent) and Rashaad Penny has three on just 15 carries (20 percent).

Two weeks ago against the Jaguars, after getting off to a strong start running the ball, negative plays once again hindered the Seahawks on the ground. Tight end Gerald Everett was hauled down in the backfield for a five-yard loss on a jet sweep and Travis Homer quickly got corralled for a five-yard loss of his own later on the same drive. Somehow, the team advanced the ball deep into opposing territory and wrapped up the half with a Jason Myers field goal to extend their lead to 17-0.

“We’ve had the positive runs, it’s the negative runs that are getting us. We’ve had certain stretches where we’ve been very efficient running the ball,” Waldron explained. “We’re averaging good yards per carry. Our perimeter jet sweeps have continued to have positive results… To me, that’s really where it goes into our mindset of just eliminating negative plays in general. Really starting with the run game. It can’t just be the five-yard, seven-yard, eight-yard runs then we’ve got a minus two, minus three. That’s going to throw our offensive consistency out of whack. We want to keep doing a great job of just eliminating those and even if we’re grinding out two, three, four-yard runs. Those are good things for our offense as a whole.”

Sacks have also remained an issue in 2021, with Wilson and Smith being sacked 27 times combined. Some of this has had to do with the lengthy third down situations, but communication in the trenches has been problematic at times and both quarterbacks have taken sacks they shouldn't have by not unloading the football.

“Each sack we have gone through each week, so sometimes from a communication standpoint, we have to be better there. Other times within games, we need to take the dirt and incompletion there. The receivers need to get open within the time and rhythm within the play," Waldron said. "It’s important to do a great job as a whole and eliminate those plays. Then, especially on the early downs, if there is a chance for a shot to be taken, let’s go ahead and take the check down, move on, and play the next down."

Despite being two games under .500 with nine games left to play, the Seahawks remain bullish on their chances of orchestrating a playoff run in the second half. Getting Wilson back from finger surgery as well as speedy rookie receiver Dee Eskridge back from a concussion this weekend will certainly provide a much-needed jolt on offense to lead the effort.

Even with Wilson running the show earlier before his injury, however, Seattle didn’t excel on third downs and too often found itself in a similar position to the tail end of the 2020 season relying too heavily on explosive shot plays. The offensive line must play better in front of him to protect him and open up holes for the team’s stable of backs, while Waldron himself must be patient waiting for the right opportunity to take downfield shots in an effort to keep the offense on schedule.

That final step will be especially important on Sunday against the Packers, who currently rank sixth in the NFL in scoring defense surrendering only 20 points per game. Playing a lot of two-safety "shell" looks, including Cover 4 or quarters coverage, they've done as well as any team in the league at eliminating big plays in the passing game, allowing the seventh-fewest 20-plus yard completions.

Green Bay has also withstood injuries, including losing defensive end Za'Darius Smith to a back injury, to maintain a reliable pass rush. The team ranks a respectable 11th overall in sack percentage (6.36 percent) and ranks 10th in quarterback hits (54) per Pro Football Reference, which has helped the secondary limit the aforementioned explosives through the air.

“[Defensive coordinator] Joe Barry has done an excellent job of getting those guys to keep everything in front of them, especially as of late. They make you earn everything," Waldron assessed. "They do a great job of playing on the edge, playing hard and physical, and those guys really get after it. The defensive backs playing in their coverage principles, they are doing a great job of not turning people free and make you earn every yard.”

Calling plays for one of the best deep ball throwers in the sport in Wilson and a trio of speedy downfield threats in DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and Eskridge, Waldron admitted it can be tough to be patient with the passing game. Considering personnel, Seattle should be taking its share of shots to take advantage of such talent.

But with more teams playing two-deep coverages emulating what the Rams successfully did as the NFL's No. 1 defense a year ago to take away vertical throws, Waldron understands the Seahawks have to prove they can sustain drives with their run game and quick passes to get opponents out of those looks. If they can do that starting on Sunday at Lambeau Field, the team may be able to claw out of the hole they dug themselves and still emerge as a playoff contender after all.