My initial thoughts from Sunday's game were that Seattle had it's running game, and it's entire offense for that matter, running at it's best on their final two drives of the game. After watching the game on replay last night, I'm not quite sure if I've seen the Seahawks offense string together two beautiful drives like that so far this season. They were efficient, methodical, and innovative. They were unpredictable. What especially stood out was the use of the running game. We all know that Pete Carroll has wanted to create a run-first team since arriving in Seattle in 2010. However, just because a team is dedicated to running the ball does not mean that a bit of balance would do them harm. With the emergence of Russell Wilson through the air and on the ground, we're starting to see the evolution of the Seahawks offense.
Through the first 56 minutes of the game, we saw much of the same of what we've come to expect from the Seahawks offense. The potential to string together long, successful drives has existed throughout the season but is far too inconsistent to be considered reliable. Much of that has stemmed from the fact that when teams are able to stack the box with 8 and 9 defenders to slow down Marshawn, the passing game has not been able to make the defense pay often enough to keep them honest. We've seen Green Bay, New England, Miami, and to a certain extent Detroit (minus the long TD run by Beast Mode, of course) be able to force the Seahawks to the air to try and beat them. Funny enough, when the Seahawks have resorted to airing it out with the rook, they've gotten it done. When they've stayed committed to the running game til the bitter end is when they've gotten burnt.
We all know what happened with Green Bay... the beginning of Golden Tate's greatness of course!
New England was able to shut down Lynch and it wasn't until the final 2 drives on offense, when the Seahawks had no choice but to put the ball in Wilson's hand, that the Seahawks were able to defeat New England. Miami had success plugging up the middle with Starks and Soliai and the Seahawks offense never could quite get over the hump despite an excellent second half from Russell Wilson. The Seahawks stayed determined to running the ball into the teeth of the Dolphins defense, which ultimately may have been their demise.
The Detroit game is a bit different because in essence the Seahawks offense was able to march down the field and score the go-ahead touchdown only for the defense to give it right back on the game's final drive. Russell Wilson and company got the job done this time, which appears to be the case more often than not this season.
Now let's look at the Chicago game. A signature win for Pete Carroll and his coaching staff and a game where the offense appeared to run ideally towards the end of the game. Running backs were kept fresh all throughout the game, which led to their continued effectiveness down the stretch. The Zone-Read was featured heavily down the stretch and left the Bears with no clue as to what was coming their way. The WRs and TEs also did a great job of holding their blocks and allowing the running lanes to the outsides that were available for Wilson late. While the Seahawks actually threw the ball more than they passed (37/32) on Sunday, the running game was still extremely effective to the tune of 176 yards or a 5.5 YPC. After all, it's the quality of the carries not the quantity that matters for elite rushing teams.
There's no denying that the leaps forward from the offense have been nothing short of amazing. It was, rightfully so, the Achilles Heel of the team at the beginning of the season and is now one of the team's most exciting weapons. It's almost as unexpected as the sudden, apparent decline of the Defense. I still have faith that they'll get their shit together, even potentially without Sherman and Browner being out, but I certainly didn't see the lack of pass rush being such an issue by this point in the season. Shows how much I know.
Let's take a lot at some of the ways that the Seahawks can continue to evolve on Offense.Continuity Along the Offensive Line
With news that last year's First Rounder James Carpenter, is headed to I.R., it's important that the Seahawks let John Moffitt get as many snaps as he can handle and allow the same group of 5 linemen to play together as much as possible the rest of the way. As tempting as it will be to rotate promising rookie J.R. "It Ain't Easy Bein" Sweezy with Moffitt, I think it's important that the Seahawks line get as much time to gel together as possible. Ask any Offensive Lineman or coach and they'll tell you that continuity along the line and cohesiveness amid the group is one of the most important factors for having a successful offensive line. Moffitt has looked solid two weeks in a row now off the bench when replacing Carpenter. He did a great job of peeling back and sealing off his block on Marshawn's TD run against Chicago and looked equally impressive in space against the Dolphins. I like his ability to get to the second level as well. With Carpenter out, it's time to let #74 take the job and run with it.Greater Use of the Zone-Read Option
The Zone-Read can be a huge weapon for Russell Wilson with the way his game is tailored and the weapons that he has. It's no secret that teams will now have to be aware of where Wilson is at all times. He's proven that he can now not only beat teams with his arm but he can also do it with his legs. I think Pete Carroll's strategy to have him stay in the pocket for the early stages of his NFL career to establish his ability to consistently make throws in the pocket is helping Russell here. Had the Seahawks given the rookie the green light to scramble at will from the get-go, he might not be as polished and poised a thrower as he is now. Then again, I don't want to put anything past the kid, he's that damn good. Where the Skins are able to utilize Robert Griffin The Third's explosive running style as a key component of their offense, the Seahawks are wise to not focus their offense around Wilson's scrambling capabilities. Instead, it makes the Seahawks much more DangeRuss if they have Wilson's ability to scramble as a 3rd or 4th option, which is exactly what the Zone-Read Option allows and what makes it a great weapon for Darrell Bevell. When running the Zone-Read, defenses now have to try and decide whether it's Marshawn taking the handoff, Wilson keeping it and dropping back to pass, or Wilson either dropping back to pass and scrambling or Wilson just running it from the get-go. As we saw against Chicago in the 4th Quarter and Overtime, this can be even too much for an elite defense to try and solve.Keeping the Running Backs Fresh
While Marshawn Lynch will always be the featured back, it's important that the Seahawks continue to get Robert Turbin, and even Leon Washington involved. Washington was used exclusively during the 1st Half in the 2 Minute Drill, which is interesting. I think it makes sense considering he's got the surest set of hands of all the RB's and is good on Draws, quick hitters, and screens which you tend to see a lot of in the 2 Minute Drill, especially in the First Half. Marshawn got the bulk of the playing time, as expected, but he only received 19 carries, which definitely kept him fresh for when the Seahawks needed him most. This team needs Marshawn Lynch to be fresh to close out games, no doubt about it. Robert Turbin only received 1 carry for his troubles, but got a handful of snaps and was solid in pass protection. I'm still waiting for Turbin's role to increase in the offense and I feel that now would be the perfect time to utilize him. The Cardinals have allowed over 170 yards rushing to opposing backfields in consecutive weeks. This could be a good week to gash the opposition with Turbin while still keeping Beast Mode fresh.
Here's an excellent chart from Field Gulls showing the Hawks snap count analysis. Interesting to note Michael Robinson's decline in playing time with the emergence of the Zone-Read.http://www.fieldgulls.com/2012/12/4/3725684/seahawks-vs-bears-week-13-player-snap-counts-quick-analysisResurgence of Doug Baldwin/Emergence of Tight Ends
This one is huge in my mind. Baldwin's had a tough season in which he just hasn't been able to stay healthy, until now let's hope. With Sidney Rice and Golden Tate becoming a solid, playmaking 1-2 punch, it's imperative that the Seahawks now try and find ways for Baldwin to exploit the middle of the field. Baldwin showed genuine ability last season and wasn't just the product of having nobody else around him for Tarvaris Jackson to throw to. It helped pad his production but the level of his play was still quality, especially when working out of the slot. With Rice and Tate both showing the ability to take the top off of opposing defenses, this should create more room for Baldwin to work 1 on 1 underneath seeing as how opposing defenses will now have to respect the potential of the deep ball. Health is certainly the key here though and if the Seahawks can get Doug going at just the right time it could be a tremendous boost to the consistency of the offense in general, especially on 3rd downs.
Also, we've heard Pete Carroll and company gush over the potential of having two quality tight ends to utilize. It's never quite come to fruition as Pete would have probably envisioned before the season, although Miller has been getting open a good deal this season. McCoy has also made plays when called upon, while Moore has done virtually next to nothing. Much like Baldwin, the production of Rice and Tate on the outside should have a trickle down effect to the tight ends that Pete so desperately wants to use. Hopefully Zach Miller can continue to get open and hopefully Wilson will start bringing down some of the throws he's aired over Zach's head. The 4th and 3 was huge, as was McCoy's catch and attempted hurdle over nobody for a key first down when the Hawks were pinned deep. It's important that these 3 guys all make their presence felt and exploit the 1 on 1 opportunities they get, especially Doug.Expect the Unexpected
There's nothing worse than being in a crowded bar full of Seahawks fans who all know which play is coming next. The only thing that might be worse is seeing that the defense already knows what's coming too. The Miami game was full of such scenarios and I'm very impressed with the job Darrell Bevell did in crunch time to keep the Bears off balance and keep them guessing all the way down to the final play of the game. I love this team's smash mouth identity more than anybody and I fully expect to continue to see that identity for as long as Pete Carroll is in charge, especially on short yardage situations. That's actually where you don't want to get too cute with this team. However, having a more balanced offense will allow the Seahawks to keep that smash mouth identity while also having another way of beating opponents. The more the ball is in the hands of Russell Wilson, the more confident I am in victory, and I'm sure his teammates would agree. If Bevell can mix the Zone-Read Option, with getting his best receivers the ball, with smash mouth elements, and some trick plays sprinkled in, I think this team can make a run deep into the playoffs provided the defense show a little more consistency.
Tom Cable said earlier this season that "you run to win, throw to score." I agree with this sentiment, but if the Seahawks and Russell Wilson continue to evolve, they might be able to do both.