On October 1, 2017, the Indianapolis Colts will travel back to the West Coast to face the Seattle Seahawks. In this prime time week four match-up I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea for what we’re up against.
The Seahawks are just two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance and hope to get back there this year. The last time our Colts played these Seahawks things went as well as they could have. A lot of faces have changed for both teams since 2013, hopefully that turnover won’t hurt our chances this time around. Let’s figure out what we can expect in week four.
Offense: Pete Caroll’s “Ground Chuck” Scheme
After watching the Seahawks vs Packers play in week one of 2017 I couldn’t really tell you what the Seahawks offensive identity is or what it is supposed to be. If I ignore recent history and completely throw out what I know to be true of Seattle’s professional football team, I would tell you this team doesn’t know what it wants to do.
I do, however, remember the last five years of professional football in Seattle. I remember Marshawn Lynch pounding teams into submission. I remember the read option runs and Russell Wilson taking his shots when they were there, and that is exactly what Pete Carroll wants to do. His entire offensive philosophy is based around running the football, ramming it down the other team’s throat until they wave a white flag.
If you enjoy football history I found a cool piece on how Pete Carroll relates to an NFL coach of yesteryear “Ground” Chuck Knox. In my research I found another cool piece in the LA Times from 1992 on Knox in the twilight of his career and finally accepting the forward pass as the strength of his team. It’s a fun read and really shows how far the NFL has come in the last 25 years.
Back to the point, Carroll wants to run the ball and beat you up until you don’t want to play and he couldn’t have created a more perfect football player to emphasize that idea than Marshawn Lynch. In short, he was the engine that made that possible.
- Bout That Action, Boss:
This is what Carroll wants, he wants a demoralizing, physically unstoppable run game to be the basis of everything they do. In his own words:
“It’s the most consistent, proven championship formula in the history of this game. When you tie it all together – and it’s not just that we want to run it, it’s about ‘we want to take care of the football’, ‘we want to own the football’, and that’s the biggest determining factor for winning and losing.
So, when you start tying it all together, a balanced offense gives you a better chance of taking care of those issues, better than just going to the throwing game. The throwing game is a great way to go, [but] it’s most reliant on a quarterback that’s got to be there for you…
The drastic example is, look at when Peyton left the Colts. That football team fell apart until they got their new quarterback, and then they go back. I don’t want to put our program in that situation ever. I want to always be ready to play with the guys that we have available, and give us a chance to keep winning and continue to win.
[It’s] the way we want to play. We want to be physical, we want to be tough, we want to attack you, we want to get after you, we want to make sure you know you’ve played a very hard football game; when you play our team, we’re going to beat the hell out of you if we can.
All that ties together with defense and special teams and a running game. You don’t get that feeling when you’re a throwing team. You can’t get that.
So, that’s why Marshawn is so important. When you put all these elements together, there is some thought here, I want to put together a football team that does a number of things really well, that there’s a number of ways we can beat you…
Those are just more factors, more ways to win football games, so that we maximize our chance to keep winning and stay on top. So, all that fits together. I don’t see that happening with a throwing game, I don’t see that happening unless you’ve got three quarterbacks in your back pocket that can all do it, because if you lose one guy, or he gets a hamstring or something, then where are you?
It’s not about winning just this game or this year, it’s about a long-range approach to winning over a long period of time.”
-Pete Carroll from an episode of his Seattle based radio show.
Oddly enough the same thing he noted about the Colts when we lost Manning is happening as the Seahawks continue to try to replace Marshawn Lynch. They aren’t exactly falling apart, however the Seahawks aren’t playing the way Pete Carroll says he would like to play. Instead, they’ve become a “throwing team”.
They have relied on Russell Wilson to make plays and carry the offense in ways he’s never been asked to before. This isn’t Pete Carroll’s game, this isn’t what he wants to see. I found a few breakdowns of the Seahawks offense, among the best was this piece from Alex Kozora of Steelers Depot:
Had a nice discussion with Dan Hatman of The Scouting Academy the other day and he first brought up to me the fact the Seahawks’ passing attack is fairly vanilla. You can almost guarantee a pass out of a 3×1 look, something I can back up with what I saw in watching them for three games.
One play call the Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers have in common is their drag/screen. RB screen with the option to hit a wide receiver running a drag away. You can see it here versus the Dallas Cowboys in Week 8.
The Seahawks love to create false run keys by pulling their guard and taking shots downfield. Saw it in all three games I evaluated. This isn’t a run/pass option. Pass the whole way. Like I wrote, the Steelers linebackers are going to have to be very disciplined and read their keys while understanding the Seahawks tendencies to avoid giving up big plays.
As Hatman pointed out and you see on tape, you’ll get a lot of spread 3×1 formations out of 12 personnel with Graham and Willson. That keeps you in your base defense but forces you to defend the entire field while helping to clear out the box. They’ll try and isolate Graham on the backside, just as the Cleveland Browns did with Gary Barnidge. Expect to see Will Allen matched up versus Graham on Sunday.
You’ll also get their Hank/Harry concept, a curl/flat combination. The point to note here is the flat route, the running backs, will turn into wheel routes, carrying vertical up the field. Going to stress the linebackers asked to carry. They’ll throw to the RB if he is out-leveraging the linebacker pre-snap.
...Generally speaking, they are not a creative pre-snap team. What you see is what you get. Occasionally trade the tight end, bring a receiver across the formation, but relatively calm compared to what you get out of a lot of other teams. Pete Carroll’s mentality across the board is to play simple and fast.
You’ll get a little of everything from Seattle’s rushing attack but ... they are predominantly an inside zone team ...
... Lots of difficult reach blocks, especially by the backside lineman. If I’m Pittsburgh, I’m cheating the end inside, and never playing head up, because the backside linemen are usually forced to fend for themselves and reach block a defender shaded inside of them. Very difficult to do, especially given the fact the talent along the line isn’t special.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Here’s the tight end trying to seal off the backside defensive end. The end is head up and the tight end can’t cross his face and seal him. Unable to execute the reach block. The DE crosses his face and blows the play up.
Here it is the following week versus the Arizona Cardinals. This time, the left tackle can’t reach the inside shaded lineman and again, the play is blown up.
And maybe the worst offender of them all. Still no idea what the Seahawks were asking tight end Luke Wilson to accomplish on this play. He’s supposed to…block Deone Bucannon up the A gap? While the play is away from Wilson? At the least, have him come from the other side and turn it into a wham block. Bucannon knifes in, makes the TFL, and Wilson is called for the hold.
This gives us an idea of what to expect in terms of what the Seahawks like to run. I think the thing that stood out to me most is the idea that Carroll wants his team to play simple and fast.
We should see a lot of zone runs and west coast principals in the passing game. Another thing to mention that wasn’t mentioned above is the Seahawks use of read option runs. Week one saw them go away from the play, while week two saw them use it with some success. If they plan to use it in week four or not, our weakside linebackers need to play disciplined football.
Quarterback: Russell Wilson Is Running For His Life.
I went in to watching tape of the Seahawks thinking I had a good handle on who Russell Wilson is. I won't say I was wrong, because he’s pretty much the guy I thought he was; a smart, mobile QB who makes good decisions and often makes plays with his legs.
I wasn’t wrong about him, I just didn’t expect to see what I saw. I’m not going to break these clips down, they’re all really similar and it should be obvious what you’re looking at, right away.
What’s crazy about these clips; I didn’t cherry-pick these plays. I turned on the all-22 and began clicking through the pass plays and this is what I got. Wilson was under duress almost the entire game. His ability is evident, more often than not he escapes pressure and gets the ball off. He throws well on the run
The Seahawks use a lot of option routes and while I don’t know the play call I assume the receiver read one thing and Wilson read the other. The thing to note here is that, if only for a second, there was a pocket to throw from.
Week two saw the Seahawks do a lot of things designed to quell the pressure, Wilson rolled out of the pocket early and often and ran a lot of short, quick hitting passes. The results were slightly better, week two saw Wilson complete 59% of his passes, up from 52% the week before. With that said, he was still pressured often, in spite of that he did throw his first touchdown pass of the season and ran the ball 12 times for 34 yards.
Believe it or not, a lot of those 12 rush attempts were designed. In week one the Seahawks running game died on the legs of Eddie Lacy, week two the ‘Hawks went back to the zone option and introduced a legitimate out-of-nowhere RB1 named Chris Carson.
Week one saw Eddie Lacy run like he retired three years ago and has obviously focused his training on preparing salads just to make weight to collect bonus checks. Eddie Lacy isn’t a good football player. He’s slow, his vision isn’t good, he isn’t a power back in the sense that he runs through tackles, Lacy just takes up more space in the huddle than 99% of running backs in the league and it shows.
- This is more on the offensive line:
Further highlighting the struggles that this team faces, penetration kills this play before it really started.
- Clearly Went to The Trent Richardson School of Vision:
On a play that could have gone for 10 yards, Cheeseburger Eddie gives us a cut into a defender instead of daylight and upon realizing his mistake shows off what has to be the worlds worst spin move. Dancing with the Stars, won’t be calling anytime soon, though I do expect the ‘Hawks to cut him in the coming weeks and then he’ll have plenty of time to work on his moves.
- Small Hole:
The Seahawks zone running attack is designed to get the defense moving which, in theory, will cause defender gap assignments to break down and create holes for the back to hit. You hear a lot of draft prospects called “one-cut” backs which means, basically, they will probably fit best in a zone heavy scheme, making a single cut and taking what they can get.
Here we see that Eddie isn’t a one-cut back. He’s a no cut back. He’s a downhill plodder and he isn’t even good at that. Eddie does press the line in an effort to find an open hole. The problem is he sprints, at a defensive tackles pace, past the hole and only cuts up when he sees the defensive back standing in his way.
A couple things stand out about this. Number one, a quick back with good vision hits that hole and picks up 4-5 yards, more if he can make the first guy miss. Number two, what is a 255 pound running back doing running away from a DB?
Eddie Lacy isn’t the answer and Pete Carroll, to his credit, realized this. In week two Lacy was a healthy scratch. Who played in his place?
- Chris Carson:
Credit to TrillHighlights.
Chris Carson isn’t going to fix the Seahawks offensive line. He can’t block for himself and run too but Chris Carson does create opportunities for himself. He does a good job cutting back and finding holes in the defense that other backs never look for. He does a good job running through arm tackles and he has quick feet in the hole. He can make people miss and punishes defenders when they don’t.
I’m not going to say Chris Carson is a special back after his second NFL game, that would be silly. If the traits he showed in week two, aren’t a fluke, it won’t be long before everyone will be forced to acknowledge that this seventh round rookie from Oklahoma State is, in fact, special.
Carson shows great vision on inside zones that the ‘Hawks tend to dial up, in the clip above you’ll notice his biggest runs come when the designed play side is swarmed with defenders and cutback lanes open. He bursts through them showing great quickness, playing much faster than his 4.58 40 yard dash time. It looks like Pete Carroll found the battering ram he’s been missing since Lynch retired. Carson often lowers his shoulder and speeds his feet on contact.
Expect to see a lot of runs stopped for little to no gain and a couple 7-15 yard runs ripped off on cutbacks throughout the game. If Chris Carson holds up, he’s going to do his best to wear down our defense as the game goes on looking to find holes in the fourth quarter.
WR: Baldwin, Richardson, Lockett, Graham
The Seahawks want to be a run first team. That much we can be sure of, given their struggles running the ball they have had to look in other places to move the offense. The Seahawks don’t have a true elite talent at wideout, not many teams do, but their approach to finding pass catchers has been unique. Teams don’t usually feature a 5’10” former UDFA as their WR1 but the Seahawks do and Doug Baldwin consistently produces at a high level.
- Baldwin Gets the First:
One of the coolest things I learned about Doug Baldwin is about the amount of tape he watches and his work ethic.
“I want to know what coverage it is every single time. I want to line up and be able to read what the defense is trying to do to me so I can get open. And that’s what separates guys at this level.”
“I’m not the fastest, the strongest, the most athletic, the tallest,” he says. “But in order for me to be good at what I do, I have to focus on my craft so much that it alleviates those other things. I can’t have personal relationships like other people do. I can’t spend time on that.”
-Doug Baldwin from the Seattle Times
You probably wont notice Doug Baldwin do anything physically amazing. He isn’t Julio Jones, he isn’t Odell Beckham Jr. and he isn’t even T.Y. Hilton. He’s pretty much the guy in those clips, and that’s good enough. Doug Baldwin has had a good career by out working and out studying the other team. That article talks a lot about how much film Baldwin watches to prepare, it could be a long day for our young corners trying to cover a smart guy like Baldwin waiting to feast on every mistake.
Paul Richardson is the teams WR2. He’s a fourth year pro and until this point has been somewhat of a disappointment considering he was a high second round pick. To be fair he did tear his ACL in his rookie year, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s only started nine games in his career and through the first two weeks, has 6 catches on 12 targets for 78 yards and a touchdown. I won’t say he isn’t a real threat, but at this point in his career his impact is mostly theoretical as he hasn’t changed many games.
Tyler Lockett is a third year receiver from Kansas State. Once every decade K-State sends an electric athlete to the NFL and their last offering, Lockett, isn’t disappointing.
- He’s Fast:
- He isn’t just fast:
Tyler Lockett is the most physically gifted receiver the Seahawks have. He’ll line up all over the field and be used in a variety of ways. If he has the ball in his hands he’s a threat to score from anywhere. Doug Baldwin will probably have the better game statistically, but Lockett’s game changing ability has me more concerned.
There was a time I would have led this section with Jimmy Graham. I would have gone out and found tape on how physically dominate he was, I would have told you about his catch radius and about his ability to go get the ball. But I’m not going to do those things because the Seahawks rarely give him the chance to do them.
With that said, 2016 saw Graham put up big numbers, it was almost like he was back in New Orleans and Drew Brees was still chucking them up. Times change, however and through two weeks in 2017 he has been targeted 10 times and has just 4 catches for 9 yards. This could change in week three or four, he’s still Jimmy Graham, but if the Seahawks aren’t interested in investing in their high dollar tight end, I’m not going to do it for them.
Overall the Seahawks receiving corps is a good one. Their two most athletic players at their positions are Graham and Lockett, yet Baldwin will lead the team in catches. What this means is that if Russell Wilson has time to throw, he has some pretty good options.
Offensive Line: Finally Five Guys Worse Than Ours.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about their pass protection, if you want a refresher, head back up and look at Russell Wilson running for his life. Instead we’re going to go down memory lane.
In 2013 the Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII. They embarrassed a Peyton Manning led Broncos team. Along their offensive line they started three linemen that were drafted in the first two rounds of their respective drafts. Though left tackle Russell Okung (top 10 pick 2010) dealt with injuries most of the year he did start in every playoff game. Meanwhile left guard James Carpenter (top 25 pick 2011) and center Max Unger (top 50 pick 2009) formed the nucleolus of a sold line. Coupled with the ‘Hawks finding a 2012 seventh round steal in right guard J.R. Sweezy, and it’s obvious why this team was 2nd in the league in rushing attempts and fourth in yardage.
2014 featured a line that was the same only they added second rounder Justin Britt to hold down the right tackle position. The Seahawks run game flourished finishing second in total carries and first in yards, rushing touchdowns and YPC.
2015 saw the Seahawks begin to make changes to their offensive line, trading away two time Pro Bowl center in Unger and a first round pick for Jimmy Graham. They did this after losing James Carpenter to free agency. The ‘Hawks then started undrafted players Patrick Lewis and Garry Gilliam at center and right tackle respectively (as of today, Lewis is out of the league and Gilliam is a backup RT for the 49ers). Even with these changes they remained in the top five of both attempts and yards.
2016 saw more shuffling - losing J.R. Sweezy in free agency, while drafting Germain Ifedi in the first round. While Ifedi started 13 games at right guard as a rookie, the Seahawks thought that starting an UDFA at left tackle for most of the year was a good idea, thus George Fant got the call. They also started 2015 fourth round pick Mark Glowinski at right guard while moving Britt to center. The 2016 Seahawks started two UDFA’s at tackle and unsurprisingly they saw a massive drop in team rushing rankings, dropping to 20th in the league in attempts and 25th in rushing yards.
Why did I give you this history of the Seahawks offensive line? It shows the reason for Seattle’s shift in philosophy from a run first team to a team that needs to pass to stay alive. 2016 saw the Seahawks run the football on 42% of their offensive plays, compared to 51% in 2015, 54% in 2014 and 55% in 2013. The reason for this is multifaceted but it begins with the offensive line and an amazing lack of talent.
- This is a fantastic breakdown by Samuel Gold:
So this is the week we see an offensive line less talented than ours. The difference between the two is that the Colts can at least open holes for our running backs. It’s just that the Seahawks may not need to as long as Chris Carson keeps it up.
Russell Wilson is a really talented quarterback. Like most really talented quarterbacks, he gives the Seahawks a chance to win every game they play. Make no mistake, this isn’t the same Seahawks team we played in 2013. They aren’t that good on offense. They can’t protect Wilson the way they use to, and Marshawn Lynch isn’t walking through that door.
With that said, Russell Wilson has developed as a passer and Chris Carson isn’t Lynch but he might be the right guy for the ‘Hawks current situation. I expect to see the Colts defense tested and our young secondary struggle at times. I don’t expect this to be a Rams-like dismantling of our defense at all, but don’t expect a low scoring affair.