It wasn’t until late in the fourth quarter of Seattle’s second game of the season that the Seahawks’ offense finally scored a touchdown. They could only muster three field goals in a loss to the Packers in Week 1 and only managed two field goals against the 49ers until their fourth quarter touchdown with four and a half minutes remaining gave them a 12-9 victory.
While both the 49ers and Packers deserve their share of credit for restricting the Seahawks, there is clearly a troublesome pattern emerging.
The Seahawks’ offense has a major flaw: the offensive line, which has struggled in both pass protection and the run game. Its ineffectiveness has made the Seahawks’ offense stale and predictable, relying on quarterback Russell Wilson to carry the unit with his ability to scramble and extend plays. The line’s issues are nothing new, and could prevent the Seahawks from contending for a Super Bowl.
The problems start with a run game that has been inconsistent, particularly on first down. Against the Packers, Eddie Lacy and C.J. Prosise ran for a combined 14 yards on nine carries. Rookie Chris Carson did have 39 yards on six carries, but 30 of those came on one single run. For the majority of the game against the 49ers, the Seahawks had similar issues. Carson impressed with 93 yards on 20 carries, but 41 of those yards came on five carries late in the fourth quarter, after they had secured the lead. For most of the game, the Seahawks were unable to establish the run.
The Seahawks are a zone running team. Their base run play is the outside zone, which is what they run on the above play. The intent behind the zone scheme is to get the defense moving side to side, giving the running back lanes to cut back into and burst down the field. But on this play, the Seahawks’ offensive linemen open no holes, with four or five defenders surrounding the runner by the time he reaches the line of scrimmage.
With minimal gains on first down plays, the Seahawks have often found themselves behind the chains, trying to play catchup on second and third down. That leads Seattle to throw the ball more often, which exposes the offensive line’s issues in pass protection.
Here, the Seahawks face a second and seven, not ideal but still manageable. They line up in the shotgun with two receivers either side of the formation. Wilson looks to his right after securing the snap, but is pressured immediately as the right guard lunges at his defender and gets beaten instantly. Wilson is forced to scramble and eventually throw the ball away.
Being unable to run the ball consistently and not being able to give Wilson time in the pocket heavily limits what the Seahawks are able to do. Seattle has to get creative and make use of Wilson’s mobility to give him time to throw. This is done with a series of play-action bootleg rollouts and sprints that move the pocket.
The zone scheme has a natural play-action game built into it, the bootleg series, which is usually a simple but effective way to give the quarterback an easy throw that the receiver can pick up yards after the catch. Typically, the offense will have three receivers to the side the quarterback bootlegs to: one running deep, one running an intermediate pattern towards the sideline and one working into the flat as a checkdown. This is precisely what the Seahawks do on this play.
However, because the offensive line relies so heavily on these types of plays, they have become predictable and easily defended by opposing defenses. Wilson rolls out on the bootleg to the left, but only tight end Jimmy Graham is available in the flat. He dumps it off, and a 49ers defender instantly makes the tackle for a minimal gain.
The Seahawks have tried to vary their play-action attack, not always rolling Wilson to one side and thus eliminating half the field. However, when they try to keep Wilson in the pocket, even after play-action, he’s still faced with immediate pressure.
Here, Wilson attempts to fake a hand-off to his right and then sits deep in the pocket to find a receiver down the field. However, the moment his back foot hits the top of his drop, an unblocked 49ers defender is in his face and sacks him before he’s able to escape.
It’s not a good situation for the Seahawks, and it appears likely to continue barring a significant upturn in performance or a trade to bolster one of the weaker units in the NFL. Without either of those things, the Seahawks’ offense will continue to rely on Wilson’s ability to scramble and extend plays and keep his team in the game. Against the 49ers, he did just that.
Third and seven is about the worst possible situation for the Seahawks, as it’s an obvious passing down. Pass rushers can pursue the quarterback without having to worry about defending the run. Wilson receives the snap in the shotgun and immediately is almost sacked again, but is able to step to his right as two defenders collide into each other. Wilson then scrambles back to his left and makes an incredible throw on the run just before being tackled, hitting his receiver in the end zone for a touchdown.
Miracle plays such as that have become something of a regular occurrence for Wilson, but as entertaining as they are, they can’t sustain an offense over the course of a season. If the Seahawks are to contend in the playoffs, they will have to improve up front or find other schemes to mask their faulty offensive line.
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