Why we cannot judge Seattle’s needs on offense

September 27th, 2012 | Written by Rob Staton

This is what a Seahawks receiver looks like after catching a football

Some interesting numbers from Advanced NFL Stats

- Sidney Rice, earning $8.2m in 2012, has been targeted 15 times in three games. That’s good enough for 58th in NFL receivers, behind Andrew Hawkins, Michael Jenkins and Dexter McCluster. Rice has caught eight of those passes, 40% of which are considered downfield attempts.

- Golden Tate is 7oth on the list with 11 targets but missed the opening game against Arizona. 55% of his targets have been downfield throws, second highest in the NFL.

- Braylon Edwards has nine targets with five catches. Not a single one of those targets was considered a downfield throw.

- Only two tight ends have seen less targets than Zach Miller and Anthony McCoy (both thrown at eight times). In comparison, Jeff Cumberland of the New York Jets has 15 targets.

- Russell Wilson has attempted 75 passes, less than every active quarterback in the NFL not named Kevin Kolb or John Skelton. The two Arizona quarterbacks combined have thrown nine more passes than Wilson.

- Only one running back has rushed more times than Marshawn Lynch – Houston Adrian Foster. Lynch (72 carries) and Foster (79 carries) are well clear of the chasing pack. Third most active running back – Doug Martin – has 63 carries. Maurice Jones-Drew is fourth with 59 carries.

Conclusion: How can we judge if this quarterback and group of receivers are good enough if the passing game is taking such an exaggerated back seat to the running game?

I ask this question only because people are either a.) saying Seattle’s greatest need is at receiver and b.) that it’s time for Matt Flynn to start at quarterback. I’ve made the point about receivers myself, but I’m starting to question it. How can we come to that conclusion on such little evidence? Likewise, I’m not sure what you expect to see from Flynn in such an unbalanced offense?

Let’s start with the receivers.

In 2009 Sidney Rice was 4th in the NFL for receiving yards and yards per game. Only Andre Johnson, Wes Welker and Miles Austin were ranked higher. Sure, the Vikings had the good version of Brett Favre that year. But Rice, when healthy, showed he can be a truly effective NFL receiver. He was a big-play threat too, with only Vincent Jackson and Robert Meachem earning a higher yards per target average. Nobody has ever questioned Rice’s quality, just his ability to stay healthy. Considering he’ll earn $9.7m in both 2013 and 2014, the team will need to feel he’s having a big enough impact to justify that salary. When he signed the deal, Pete Carroll and/or John Schneider clearly felt he could be a defining piece of the offense.

Zach Miller’s cap hit in 2012 is $7m and it’ll rise to a humongous $11m in 2013. By the end of the 2012 season Miller will have cost the Seahawks $10m. Another way of looking at it is $1m per three catches and zero touchdowns. He’s played 18 games, most of which he’s acted as a third offensive tackle. Before he moved to Seattle, he was Oakland’s top receiver by some distance in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Again, when he signed the deal, Pete Carroll and/or John Schneider clearly felt he could be a defining piece of the offense.

Golden Tate has cost Seattle just $2.06m in salary to date, with the final year of his rookie contract worth $880k in 2013. He also cost the Seahawks an important second round pick in the 2010 draft – Carroll and Schneider’s first with the team. Interesting fact – had the Seahawks not traded for Charlie Whitehurst, they would’ve had the opportunity to draft Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham or Aaron Hernandez. Even with the Whitehurst trade, they had a shot at Graham and Hernandez. Tate has so far produced five career touchdowns for the Seahawks, 13 less than Graham and Hernandez combined for in 2011 alone. Not that anyone expected Tate to produce similar numbers, but people perhaps expected more than they’ve seen so far. After all, he won the Biletnikoff Award at Notre Dame as the nations top college receiver and accumulated 25 receiving touchdowns in 2008 & 2009. The team lacked playmakers in 2010 and Seattle’s front office clearly believed Tate could change that.

The point I’m getting at here is, these guys have proven production. In the case of Rice and Miller, it’s proven NFL production. Throw in the promise of Doug Baldwin and Anthony McCoy and this should be a group that you feel comfortable with. Sure, there isn’t the superstar high draft pick who legitimises a unit by reputation alone. Yet there should be enough talent to at least form the basis of a decent passing offense. This isn’t the Cleveland Browns where finding legitimate receivers is beyond a crucial need. It’s just in Seattle, these guys aren’t getting a chance to really show what they can do.

I would argue it’s the same situation at quarterback. Robert Griffin III (+14), Ryan Tannehill (+27), Brandon Weeden (+40) and Andrew Luck (+47) all have more passing attempts than fellow rookie Russell Wilson. Pete Carroll has admitted he’s trying to limit turnovers at the moment and I believe him when he says it’d be the same situation for Matt Flynn. It’s not an individual issue at the quarterback position – it’s a scheme decision. It’s worth noting that Seattle has a better record than Griffin’s Redskins, Tannehill’s Dolphins, Weeden’s Browns and Luck’s Colts. Tannehill, Weeden and Luck have combined for 14 interceptions in three games. Griffin III and Wilson – the two quarterbacks with much less passing attempts – have combined for just two interceptions. Coincidence? Or smart coaching?

The team wants to run the ball and limit turnovers – there’s no secret there. They are very happy right now to play field position, great defense and hope for one or two big plays to compliment the run game. If the defense can hold a powerhouse offense like Green Bay to twelve points and a decent Cowboys outfit to seven, it might not be the worst plan in the world at home. Yet when Wilson has been challenged he’s looked very sharp. For all the little errors we’ve seen (to be expected from a rookie) we’ve also seen three glorious looking touchdown passes to Rice (Arizona), McCoy (Dallas) and Tate (Green Bay – and not THAT touchdown pass).

We look at the list of eligible 2013 receivers and wonder whether a guy like Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson or Keenan Allen could become a #1 target for Wilson – but what’s the point in making that investment if the team is throwing 15 passes at a guy earning $8.2m this year? We look at guys like Robert Woods and Tavon Austin and wonder if they could be the teams answer to Wes Welker or Percy Harvin, but are they going to have an impact if you’re not going to put the ball in their hands?

Perhaps a time will come in the future when they feel confident to allow Wilson to let it rip? Maybe that day will come soon, but this is a regime that has consistently delivered bad numbers at the quarterback position. In 2010 Matt Hasselbeck was 21st for passing yards but delivered an ugly looking 12-17 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His QB rating was only higher than the bad version of Brett Favre, Derek Anderson and Jimmy Clausen. In 2011 Tarvaris Jackson had just 14 touchdowns – as many as Colt McCoy and twelve less than Mark Sanchez. He had a QB rating worse than Kevin Kolb. Ryan Fitzpatrick had over 700 more passing yards than Jackson and more touchdowns, but he also turned it over many more times. More than anything, they wanted Jackson to secure the football – something Hasselbeck struggled to do in 2010.

Now Russell Wilson is near the bottom of the same lists. There are some positives because he’s not turning it over, but he’s also showing numbers that belittle all the pre-season hype that built up around the NFL – not just in Seattle. With good reason too – he was superb. It’s a bit like leaving a great car in the garage and then patting yourself on the back because it looks brand new. On the one hand, you have a perfectly unblemished motor vehicle. That’s cool. You’re not lying when you boast about it. But nobody ever sees you driving the thing, so people wonder ‘what’s the point’?

The whole situation is being masked by a 2-1 record right now and rightly fans should be satisfied with that. Maybe the Seahawks go into St. Louis and Carolina and out fight their opponents before returning to Seattle with a fantastic 4-1 record? Who the heck is going to complain then if Russell Wilson throws barely over 100 yards in each game?

Then there’s the other side of the coin. What if the Seahawks face a situation like the Arizona game? A closely fought contest on the road ending in defeat because when the game was on the line, they couldn’t throw the ball into the end zone? This could become more of an issue very quickly. In fact, had Seattle not been awarded a favorable decision on Monday, it would probably be the big talking point in the local media this week and not ‘that catch’.

An unbalanced offense is easy to accept while the team is winning. If that continues, nobody will question anything. Go ‘Hawks! But a risk-free strategy still carries an element of risk. I think back to Rice in 2009, or Tate at Notre Dame, or Wilson in pre-season and wonder… can we turn this on like a tap when needed? Are we making the most of some talented skill players? And can we properly judge them in this current form of a Seahawks offense?┬áRight now I’m not sure how we can judge this quarterback or group of receivers. They’re still in the original packaging.

27 Responses to “Why we cannot judge Seattle’s needs on offense”

  1. Hawkspur says:

    Good piece. I’m hoping that much of the conservative playcalling can be attributed to easing Wilson back into things against some good teams with some good pass rush (Ware, Matthews, Raji et al) after the onslaught he faced in Arizona. Maybe the leash might be loosened a tad in the next couple of games? I know that the Rams have Long, Quinn, Finnegan, Mikell, Jenkins etc and the Panthers have Charles Johnson but I really hope that Carroll and Bevell are more prepared to back Wilson in these games. Let him find his feet a bit before the Pats and 49ers in some games where there may be more perceived room for error than there was against Dallas and Green Bay.

    It’s appeared to me that the Seahawks have looked much better on offence when they’ve had more balance between the run and pass so that’s what I’d like to see.

    And at least if the offense stutters,we still get to watch the defence, right?

  2. Colin says:

    Pete mentioned that the limitations in the pass game are by design, and that when the time is right, they’ll turn Russell lose. I believe him entirely. He said this would be a defense and running team, and what has he delievered? A FEROCIOUS defense and “beat the living hell out of you” run game. Why should we risk big turnovers when our D and run game will keep us in games like they have? Sure, I want us to blowout the competition every week, but we aren’t there yet.

    There isn’t a need to panic and worry about Wilson. He’s made some pretty awesome plays that don’t get enough recognition (go look at that throw to Sidney on 2nd and long in the Dallas game- 18 yards on a dime between multiple defenders). Plays Tarvaris would never make.

    And for all the scrutiny of the Tate TD catch, if Tarvaris plays in that same situation, do we even get down in range for such a shot?

    I would say no.

  3. Turp says:

    Are we stunting RW’s growth a little bit by playing so conservative? There will still times against GB that he looked fairly skittish in the pocket and tends to roll out instead of stepping up in the pocket. Those things are correctable but worry me if we are ever going to have a real passing attack. Good teams won’t let subsist on the running game alone.

  4. peter says:

    Nice writeup Rob. I honestly think balance and more passing is going to have to manifest itself at soemtime but all the people calling for Flynn, or making statements to the effect that “trust,” of the QB has anything to do with the scheme, need to go to ESPN and dial up the stats for Big Ben, Matt Ryan, and Flacco for their rookie years.

    I suggest them because as fans people look at Cam Newton’s stats for last year and say “heck yeah, I want my rookie QB to do that….” the problem being and here’s the big one…Cam Newton had a losing record last year. Where as the three QB’s I suggest people to look at stat wise had winning records, and yeah threw for more yards, then Wilson’s three game splits work out to, though his TD to Int ratio if currently sustaining works out better then either of the three. Point is….it’s just the third game.

    Are we using overall yards to be the determining factor of QB play? Or yards for attempt…point is when you start evaluating splits and stats for three games your info is going to be a bit skewed. The bottom line stat for me is going to be Wins and Losses and as of now the Seahawks have a winning record, with Wilson possessing more NFL game experinece then any other QB on our roster as well as more wins. His start to me mirrors multiple successful QB’s in the leagues first season. And Turp is correct good teams won’t subsist on running games alone, though the Niners, texans, ravens, and falcons, all used a good to great running game along with awesome defensive play to allow their passing attack to be effective…and for two of those teams maybe even great in time ( falcons, ravens)

  5. AlaskaHawk says:

    Rob, you’ve just presented a great arguement for cutting Rice and Miller at the end of season, since they will be due 21 million next year. If your not going to use them then we my as well get the best cheap rookies we can. I don’t know why the Hawks aren’t passing more but it’s obvious from our last game that we need a more balanced attack, even Green Bay went to more balance in the second half and they kicked our ass. Even if you do want to run the ball, what happened to our other backs? I thought we were going to rotate with Marshawn getting half the carries.

    • peter says:

      I could see limiting Lynch’s carries, but half? Marshawn is built to take the load or “tote the pill,” as he says 24-26 times a game.

    • Rob Staton says:

      I think they’ll almost certainly be cut, and replaced with cheaper alternatives and a high draft pick. Wouldn’t surprise me to see a handful of WR’s added in the off-season and a competition ensuing. Plus a R1 pick at the position.

  6. Darnell says:

    I don’t mind it. For now anyway.

    It is a much better direction than the alternative. The alternative being what the Bears did against the Packers defense – opened it up with Cutler to dissastrous results. I’ll take the game Wilson had against the Pack over the game Cutler had every single time. I’d take the game Wilson had against the Cards over the game Vick had against the Cards.

    There something to be said for conservatism when the opposite nets disastrous results and ruins games.

  7. Darnell says:

    ^^

    Oh, and I am not saying that Wilson would be as bad Cutler or Vick under the same circusmatnces – I highly doubt it. But why find out if you don’t have to? yet.

  8. Barry says:

    A dominant receiver is evident on every play. Rice has talent but he’s always been soft. Right now Wilson and Tate have more chemistry. It seems Tate has gained Wilson’s trust more then the others. IMHO Tate has the most alpha WR mentality of any of that group. But we have some talented TE’s its just too bad they don’t know how to make themselves get open. They don’t know how to “post” (on a smaller defender) ect. I hope with coaching this can be remedied, they great receivers know how to get open naturally its why you have have guys that run not the most spectacular 40′s and still be a great dominant receiver.

    Being in a running offense does hurt Wilson as far as getting into a rhythm. Wilson almost needs a game where we are down by 5 touchdowns or so were he just has to throw. But with our system that is more then likely not going to happen.

    • Darnell says:

      Rice isn’t soft. He has been fragile though. There is a difference. Sidney has never been a guy to get scared over the middle or shy away from contact.

      • Rob Staton says:

        One thing I’ve noticed – and this is just my take – I don’t think he competes anywhere near enough. I spent the entire Cincy game last year – the one I flew over from Europe to attend – complaining to my unfortunate wife about Rice showing no effort to come back to the ball. He can get open and he will run into dangerous zones where he’ll get hit – but he rarely does more than the call says to make a play.

        • Barry says:

          When i say soft it also applies to playing through injuries and training hard. Everyone gets banged up and only then dominant stars work harder then the rest. One thing though is amusing how second or third teams benefit from younger or immature players the second teams get the player as they are older and had a few bumps in their career and are ready to start playing. I was hoping that would apply to Rice, still hoping though. Rice has all the talent but its the little things that will hold him and the Hawks back.

  9. adog says:

    The problem with this game plan…is failure in the red zone. It is in the red zone that a team needs to have a precision passing game. Can you have a precision passing game by throwing the ball 15 times a game? Probably not. The running game is not as effective in the red zone because the defense can stack the box with less ground to cover behind them. The Seahawks should be able to overcome their red zone problems solely through the excellent pocket presence and the mobility of RW. I think that it is here that Rice and Miller seem to fail the team. When Wilson is running around, the only receiver i have noticed with an ability to peel off his route and find a open spot is Tate.

    • Barry says:

      I agree adog. And I worries me how it would appear how unfamiliar the teams is with its talent. I’d like to see some shuffle passes from the shotgun ext. Also you can see how good of a athlete Tate is, he’s a explosive leaper. I love to see Rice and Miller stacked tight on one side where they can work each others defenders and Tate opposite, esp. in the endzone. Take advantage of Tate’s explosive leaping (he achieve max height faster) and get him matched up one on one. I think the coordinators need to know the strengths of what our players can do and feel comfortable doing.

      I’ll admit I was calling Tate a bust, until now. He does seem to be coming back to the play and really working his ass off.

      • adog says:

        I’m not sure if it’s just Rice’s role on this offense to just run fades down the sideline…along with a bubble screen or two, but he seems to be running predictable routes for the most part. One thing i remember about his banner year in Minnesota was that he was all over the field catching balls from Farve…who reminds of RW in the way he constantly moved the pocket(for better or worse). Bevell was calling the offense then in title, and he calling the offense now…in title, so it’s a mystery why Rice is not getting more variety in his routes. Of course you can say the same thing about any receiver on this team due to the low number of pass attempts. Once again i think Rice needs more to run more option routes…come backs…outs…hooks…and ins…and alas…a double move. Then he can run those fades down the sideline with a much higher rate of success. To get back to this article…i think it’s less on Rice and more on the game plan.

  10. Jim says:

    What ever happend to the concept that the “run is to set up the pass” and/or the “pass is to set up the run”? I have been under the overall impression that the typical offensive series we have seen in the first 3 games consists of rush, rush, penalty, pass, punt. I would much prefer the defense to be on their heels a little more and actually not know what is coming (a run) at least a few more times in a game.

    With the defenses stacking the box on most every play, isn’t that when “balance” comes in and they pass on something other than 3-rd down? Run/pass options, roll outs, semi-roll outs, screens and check down passes all seem to be missing and make the offense too damn predictable IMO. Wilson needs to progress beyond straight handoffs. PC/Bevell should let up on the training wheels a little bit and mix up the calls a lot more for real ongoing success. But then the season is still realatively young and who knows what or when a system alteration may occur? I hope sooner rather than later.

    • Barry says:

      Yeah thats something that has been frustrating me also Jim. Thing is that Wilson can run. Teams have to know this, but you dont see any motions or singles to get the D out of position. And lets face it our O-line isnt going to dominate most D-lines on the straight up power runs we have been setting up the other teams with. And I understand thats what it is setting up game plan. But how about not getting 3rd and 8 all the first half. We all know Robinson has great hands, our TE’s have talent, and our RB’s are studs, lets get some guys out of position and take advantage of that. Our O-line is light and mobile or throw screens, counters, shifts to get our FB and other guys like that on a weak side and let Wilson and his athleticism win that.

  11. Hawksince77 says:

    Rob,

    I came to your site today to pose a question, then found this timely article. I don’t know if the question is still relevant, but I will pose it anyway.

    Three parts:

    1 – has PC built a team that is one dynamite offensive player away from putting them over the top?

    2 – if the answer to 1 is yes, is there a player anywhere in next year’s draft that fits the bill?

    3 – if the answer to 2 is yes, do you think Seattle should pull an Atlanta trade (like the one they did for Julio Jones) to obtain that player in the first round? (this last is assuming that Seattle is picking somewhere in the 20s, and they are targeting a top-10 player)

    • Rob Staton says:

      How I would answer:

      1 – Yes if we’re talking about a truly great player – put Calvin Johnson on this team and I think that puts the team over the top. Put Larry Fitzgerald on this team and it’s the same thing. The problem is, those guys don’t come around very often.

      2 – No

      3 – Obviously the answer wasn’t yes, but I wanted to answer anyway. If Julio Jones was in this draft class, I would be all over this. Sometimes you have to roll the dice and make a bold move – and I think Atlanta are better for it. As fans we value picks too highly. Cleveland looked like champions after that trade because they got a decent defensive tackle and an extra first round pick. Well, 12 months on I’d guess they’d rather have Julio Jones than Phil Taylor and Brandon Weeden. If you are smart with your scouting, can properly identify a guy worthy of such a trade and are in that position of having a good team and are maybe 1-2 pieces away – you absolutely should be aggressive. Jones was a no-brainer – insane physical skills, big time college performances for a great programme and intangibles/character to boot. If only there was a Jones for Seattle.

  12. Hawksince77 says:

    In a more general response to your article, I think PC is doing what he thinks he needs to do to win games, period. He has as much as said so. They didn’t need to throw for 300 yards and multiple TDs in any one of the three games. They were never far behind, never more than a score down (if memory serves).

    To your point, when it became necessary to move the ball, RW did so (albeit with the help in some cases of timely and very beneficial penalities, some of them ticky-tack). He led 3 last minute 4th QTR drives and in every case put the ball in the endzone, giving his receivers a chance to make a play.

    I think what worries many of us (myself included) is to depend on holding such a tight score until the very end. It would be nice to see some explosive plays earlier in the game (ala the first TD pass to Tate). On the other hand, absent the self-inflicted penalites in the GB game, they probably sustain a few drives, like they did in the second half of the Dallas game.

    I haven’t studied the GB game, but I recall at least one series where they mixed it up a bit, and were moving the ball by throwing earlier in the series. I also recall a couple of excellent defensive plays to break up a couple of passes.

    Point is, had things gone just a bit different in the GB game (a second half more like what we witnessed in Dallas) I doubt we are having this kind of discussion.

    • Rob Staton says:

      One thing I didn’t notice that was highlighted by Brock and Salk today – Big Ben’s rookie numbers. He lost his first game as a rookie starter in Pittsburgh then won 13 games in a row (the Steelers ended 15-1 overall in 2004). Here are his passing yardage numbers in each start:

      176, 163, 174, 231, 193, 196, 183, 134, 138, 131, 221, 144, 316, 221.

      So that’s four games where he went 200+ and one game where he went 300+. He had four games where he threw for less than 150 yards. Pittsburgh won a lot of tough, tight games that year. I’m not saying Wilson is going to lead Seattle to a 15-1 record, but it shows that what Seattle and Wilson are doing right now isn’t foreign. It isn’t unique. And it won’t necessarily prevent the team from having a winning record.

      • Darnell says:

        What it does do is keep your young, potential franchise QB from becoming a shell-shocked tackling dummy like David Carr or Sam Bradford.

        What I don’t get is if the Seahawks have enough foresight to protect a QB that they invested a 3rd round pick and modest money in why don’t more teams protect QBs that they invested a 1st round pick and huge money in?

        • Colin says:

          That’s what happens when you keep adding Ends (Chris Long, Robert Quinn) and DT’s (Brockers) with your 1st round picks. The chickens come home to roost eventually.

          And what’s scarier for the Rams (I’d love to get your opinion on this Rob), is that Sam Bradford just might not live up to the “potential”. He may just never get there.

        • Hawksince77 says:

          Big difference on context between Seattle’s situation drafting Wilson and the Texans and Rams when they took Carr and Bradford, respectively.

          In the latter cases, those teams were drafting at the top of the draft because they were terrible teams. In general, they couldn’t pass-protect and they didn’t have playmakers. They drafted a franchise QB, and then attempted to build a team around them.

          Seattle is obviously much different. Having the luxury of a top QB falling to the 3rd round and already having built an offensive line and defense, the team was tailor-made to bring in a rookie QB and allow him to be successful.

  13. Brendan Scolari says:

    Don’t really have much to add, great article Rob!