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2021 Opponent Scouting Report: Week 1 Seahawks Offense, can a new OC make Russell Wilson happy?

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Overview

On September 12th, 2021 the Indianapolis Colts will host the Seattle Seahawks. In this Week 1 match-up, I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our Colts.

The last time these two franchises met in 2017, the Colts took a 15 to 10 lead into halftime before the Seahawks scored 36 second half points and winning the game 46 to 18. That was four years ago and four years is a lifetime in the NFL. Both teams have seen tremendous change in that span and the 2021 offseason has been a rollercoaster, for very different reasons, for both squads as well. Week 1 always gives us more questions than answers but we can try to sort through the noise to find as many answers as possible.

Let’s see what we can expect in week 1.


Offensive System

This offseason the Seahawks moved on from offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and hired Shane Waldron to take his place. Waldron spent the past three seasons as the passing game coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams, under head coach Sean McVay. What does that mean for the Seahawks offense? Well, we can’t be absolutely certain what the offense will look like we know that Waldron spent a significant portion of his coaching career learning and coordinating one of the most modern and prolific offenses the NFL has to offer. That’s not to say that Waldron is going to trot out a carbon copy of the Rams offense, but it seems safe to assume there will be similarities.

Even with many similarities, there is no doubt the differences will be vast. For one, the Seahawks offensive personnel isn’t the same, for another, this is Shane Waldron’s offense. He’s going to run it as he sees fit... at least as much as Pete Carroll will let him. So until we have tape (actual regular season, tape) on this new Seahawks offense, I sought out articles and interviews with coaches and players explaining what they were seeing and experiencing in Waldron’s new system.

In this article from the Seahawks website Pete Carroll had this to say about Waldron and his offense:

“His command of the entire notebook, and his sense for creating the system, it’s really accessible to the players where we can do a ton of stuff, but yet they are understanding the principles and understanding the continuity of how things fit together in marriage, that’s really talking about the run game, the pass game, the perimeter game, the tempo stuff that we do, he just knows it really well,” Carroll said. “He knows it really well and he’s packaged the teaching part of it. I say that because there’s a lot of code things that they have to know and there are a lot of systems that are within the format that’s in advance of where we’ve been in years past. And the reason we’re able to do it is because he knows it so well, he can teach it really well. Some of the guys say this seems easier than it was in the past, and we’re doing more.”

There are a few things we can take away from this quote. The first, and biggest considering that this is the first game of the season, is that Waldron is teaching the offense to his players, really well. Offenses are always way behind defenses early in the year, that’s just the nature of the beast, but it seems that the Seahawks offense is further along under Waldron than it has been in the past.

The second takeaway is that Carroll mentions tempo in how it fits with the other aspects of Seattle’s offensive system, meaning that using tempo isn’t just something they plan to do based on game situation at the end of the second and fourth quarters. Tempo is a core aspect of Waldron’s offense. That’s not to say the Seahawks are going to be in the no huddle for most of the game, though they could. What’s more likely is that they use some no huddle and they focus on getting lined up quickly to allow Russell Wilson to read the defense and make adjustments accordingly.

The third takeaway is when Carroll mentions the marriage of those aspects of their offense, the pass, the run, the perimeter and tempo. The first few times I read this quote, “the perimeter” didn’t really jump out at me. I just skipped right over it, but then I kept searching and kept reading article after article and finally it hit me; the Seattle Seahawks offense will feature a heavy dose of jet sweeps and all of the possibilities that come from that. Waldron plans for it to be such a heavy dose that Pete Carroll mentioned it as a core tenant of his offensive system when he mentioned “the perimeter”. Now that’s not to say that we should expect to see five to six handoffs go to a wideout in week one. It’s possible but unlikely. What is more likely is that we will see a lot of pre-snap motion with quite a bit of play action and run-pass options coming off of that motion.

What does that mean for the Indianapolis Colts defense? The biggest thing is going to be playing disciplined assignment football. If you feel that the Colts have a well coached defense, then you should feel pretty good about their chances of playing disciplined football in week one. If you don’t feel that the defense is well coached you can feel good that the Colts linebackers have rare speed and may have the ability to recover from mistakes like biting hard on play action.

During the preseason it’s tough to know what a first time offensive coordinator will bring to the table but if everything the Seahawks have said is true, the feeling I kept getting while doing this research was that the 2021 Seahawks offense is hoping to resemble an offense similar to what our Indianapolis Colts use. Several teams around the league use similar systems but most of what I read about Waldron’s system felt like I could have been reading about Frank Reich’s offense. Obviously Waldron will create a system all his own especially given the perimeter, tempo and complexity talk, but as a base offense the Seahawks will look to throw a lot of short passing concepts that rely on yards after the catch.

Preseason clips incoming. Preseason football might tell us absolutely nothing while it might also give us a few clues, take these clips with a grain of preseason salt.

Another thing that Frank Reich’s offenses have specialized in that the Seahawks will look similar with are clever third down concepts:

It’s a simple play. The outside receiving target runs right at the defender who is covering the tight end. Is it a pick? Maybe, but it worked and it didn’t draw a flag.

The Seahawks have mobile quarterbacks, it’s safe to assume they will look to use that as an advantage:

If you watch the offensive line and the receivers and, well, everyone, they’re all moving to their right. The Seahawks have split the field in half with their receivers all running to one side of the field, simplifying the quarterbacks reads. This can also stress a defense (especially a defense in preseason) and create a big play if a defender gets caught out of position flowing with the offense instead of staying home.

Even if they focus on plays that will create yards after the catch they still have DK Metcalf and when you have players like that, at some point you just have to take a seven step drop and let him go make a play:

This is a preseason result, I’m more focused on the fact that a deep drop off of play action is in the playbook. Like I said, sometimes you just need to let guys with deep speed, get deep and see what they can do. They may not take many deep shots but I’ll be nervous every time they do.

One more thing that I wanted to mention are the Seahawks formations. I can’t take credit for this information as I read it and I failed to save the link but the Seahawks will look to use bunch formations in ways that could create mismatches with the defense. At times they will do their best to chip with receivers instead of bringing in a tight end, so that they can be more versatile and less predictable with their personnel groupings. So this will be another wrinkle to watch for as the game progresses on Sunday.


Quarterback

Russell Wilson

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Las Vegas Raiders Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a lot that can be said about Russell Wilson both on the field and off. On the field there are few signal callers better. Off the field, Wilson is... an interesting character. I won’t get into all of who he is, or rather how he presents himself, but part of his off the field life intersected with his on the field career this offseason and it has to be mentioned.

It seems like eons ago now, but just a few short months ago “Team 3” (Russell Wilson’s agent- I guess) released all kinds of statements about the quality of the Seahawks offensive line and the direction of the team and offense. For a time it seemed like a real possibility that Russell Wilson was forcing his way out of town and “Team 3” went so far as to say that Russell would love to be with the Chicago Bears.

I’m sure Seahawks fans will tell you this is nothing, that Pete Carroll and their star quarterback have smoothed everything over and it will be back to business as usual in Seattle. And while that might be true, after all reports from Seahawks training camp have talked about how well Wilson has responded to new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, throwing your offensive line under the bus and mentioning another NFC foe as a place you would like to play, is a lot to come back from.

Winning cures all in the NFL and if the Seahawks start their season hot, I believe it’s safe to say Carroll and Wilson will put their differences aside all season long. If they sputter in their first four games, things could get ugly. It’s for this reason and this reason alone, that I wish our Colts were playing them in week six instead of week one. Everyone is still on their best behavior and that might not be great news for the Colts. Because when Russell Wilson is good, he’s really good.

Also in a move that is almost certainly unrelated (seriously, I’m just noting this here because we’re talking about quarterbacks, I don’t think this is related to the offseason situation at all) the Seahawks surprised their fans by keeping three quarterbacks on the roster. I got the sense that this move was very surprising and unpopular for some folks who thought the roster spot would have been better used elsewhere. As of today both Geno Smith and Jake Luton are filling the QB2 and QB3 roles respectively. And while he’s no Russell Wilson, Geno Smith didn’t look bad in the preseason, unless they’re keeping three QB’s due to Covid concerns, one would think having Wilson and Smith on the active roster would be enough.

In case, you forget what Russell Wilson looks like at his best or you haven’t watched football since 2011, here are some clips:

We can all sit back and say whatever we want about the character that is Russell Wilson (frankly, I find him highly annoying) but it’s impossible to discount the fact that he is the type of quarterback that gives you a chance to win every game your team plays. He’s a rare player and I wish the Colts weren’t playing him in week one.


Running Back

Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, Alex Collins, DeeJay Dallas, Travis Homer and Nick Bellore are the backs you could see on Sunday for the 2021 Seahawks.

Back in 2017 this is what I had to say about Chris Carson after his second NFL game:

...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.

It turns out, most of what I believed about Carson after seeing him get meaningful playing time in two NFL games, was correct. He’s a good back. Unfortunately for Chris Carson, the Sunday that followed this article coming out, he was tackled awkwardly by Jon Bostic, Terrell Basham and Grover Stewart and it resulted in a gruesome broken lower left leg. Carson came back and had 1,151 and 1,230 yard rushing campaigns in 2018 and 2019 respectively before rushing for 681 yards in 12 games a season ago.

Carson was a free agent that the Seahawks brought back on a two year and nearly $10.5 million deal. Chris Carson is a good back and is unquestionably the Seahawks starter but he has never played a full 16 game season. Of course the Colts are getting him in week one, so that won’t be a problem for the team.

Plays like this are the norm for Carson:

It seems that the Seahawks were less sold on Chris Carson following his 4 game performance in 2017 than I was (though he did snap his leg, right in half) as the team selected Rashaad Penny in the first round of the 2018 draft. Penny was an interesting prospect that season out of San Diego State. Most draftniks had Penny going somewhere in the third round, but the Seahawks did what they do when they don’t trade away their first round picks; they drafted a guy everyone expected to go much later. So far Penny hasn’t been a meaningful contributor, rushing for 100 yards in a game, twice and rushing for 823 total yards in his three year career.

With a return like that, I would trade my first round picks, too.

That’s not to say he hasn’t had his moments, he has:

But for one reason or another he’s never been the kind of back you expect to get if you’re taking one in the first round.

Alex Collins, DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer round out the position with good but unspectacular depth. All in all this is a very capable unit that’s headlined by a good but oft-dinged up Chris Carson.

The last guy I want to mention is Nick Bellore.

Nick Bellore made the Pro Bowl last season as a special teams specialist. But he’s more than just a special teams guy, he’s a fullback... and he’s the team’s second string inside linebacker. I’m giving you a clip from a block he threw when he was with the Lions, just because I want to include a clip of Nick Bellore in all three Opponent Scouting Reports this week. I just think it’s really cool that we could see someone play in all three phases of the game and do so at a high enough level that it’s not some gimmicky CB to WR to returner stunt. So here’s a block from a fullback:

Ironman football isn’t quite dead yet.

Maybe.


Pass Catchers

The Receivers

The Seahawks initial 53 man roster only included four receivers: DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, D’Wayne Eskridge (aka Dee) and Freddie Swain. Many Seahawks fans had high hopes for former Colts UDFA Penny Hart to make the squad, but he fell victim to the final roster cutdowns following the preseason.

Metcalf and Lockett are both players whose names most NFL fans will know. Lockett has been a consistent face and a very good receiver in Seattle for years while Metcalf has absolutely unbelievable physical traits (4.33 second 40 time at 6’3” 228 pounds while looking like a Greek god chiseled out of marble) that just so happen to translate to an NFL football field, really well.

Darius Slay recounts his encounter with DK, here and it’s hilarious (since this is a family website I’ll give you a warning that there’s a lot of beeps and a little bit of bad language in this video).

“I said boy, that’s a heavy kid”

“...this ain’t no 22 or 23 year old kid, this a *** **** action figure...”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Tyler Lockett is someone that doesn’t get much attention from fans around the league but has quietly become one of the best receivers in the game. He’s the perfect compliment to someone like DK Metcalf. In each of the last two seasons he has gone over the 1,000 receiving yardage mark and missed it by 35 yards in 2018. He’s also reeled in 28 touchdown passes since 2018 and there’s a good reason why:

According to PFF he’s never dropped an end-zone target. Not only that but catches like this aren’t even hard to find from Lockett:

If I were Russell Wilson, I would feel pretty good throwing it this guy’s way too. One more Lockett video, this time all just some highlights from the same game:

Dee Eskridge was the first of the Seahawks three 2021 draft picks (not a typo they only had three picks). They selected him with the 56th overall pick in the second round, out of Western Michigan. The former Bluffton High School (Bluffton, Indiana) football and track star seems to have retained his reputation as a speedster as scouting reports noted that his best usage early in his career will likely be as a sort of gadget player limited to running simple routes over the middle. He only had two touches in the preseason but both fit those reports.

Speed

These kind of plays are what Eskridge is expected to bring to the Seahawks offense. Eskridge is a legitimate threat on jet sweeps and end arounds and his presence can create a lot of interesting looks for the Seahawks offense by way of options and play action.

After reading more about Shane Waldron’s offense, it makes sense that the Seahawks took a 5’8” wide receiver with their first of three picks in the 2021 NFL draft. They hope that Eskridge will plug right into the hole they have planned for the undersized speedster.

Simple Routes

If given the opportunity to run simple crossing routes where Russell Wilson can find him over the middle, Eskridge can be dangerous picking up yards after catch. Given his speed, it’s possible he could be used as a decoy to run deep routes to open things up underneath for the other receivers on the roster. Though this is speculation, time will tell all of the ways Waldron will look to use the quick rookie.

Freddie Swain was a 6th round pick in 2020. In his rookie year he caught 13 passes for 159 yards and 2 touchdowns. Freddie Swain isn’t someone that any NFL defensive coordinator will be game planning for anytime soon, especially considering the talent and versatility of the Seahawks other three wide receivers.

The Tight Ends

While it’s true the Seahawks only have four wide receivers on the roster, if someone wanted to argue that Gerald Everett was just a big wide receiver, I wouldn’t argue against it.

Given this performance it’s no wonder the Seahawks wanted him on their team. Also for an offense that is focused on picking up yards after the catch, Everett fits the bill perfectly. This is his first season with the Seahawks but it wouldn’t surprise me if they plan to use him as a matchup problem all over the field. If he and Russell Wilson get on the same page, Everett could be in line for a massive season.

Will Dissley is a solid blocker and should see the field whenever a blocking tight end might be needed. He isn’t the best mover in space but is a reliable target. Watching him reminded me of a younger Jack Doyle. He just seems like a solid, consistent tight end but not someone that will ever concern a defensive coordinator.

The third tight end on the roster won’t play. Colby Parkinson has broken the same bone in the same foot in each of his first two NFL off seasons. Before that, reports were that Parkinson had looked good in camp. Terrible luck for the former fourth round pick from Stanford.

On Monday, September sixth the Seahawks called up TE Tyler Mabry from the practice squad. Mabry was a UDFA from Maryland in 2020 and hasn’t played in an NFL game. Plan for him accordingly.


Offensive Line

36 year old left tackle Duane Brown is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. Brown, who is in the final year of his contract, has yet to participate in any practices so far in 2021. Brown is “holding in” and refusing to practice until his contract situation is resolved. At the time of this writing (September 1st) it is still unknown if Brown will be on the field for week one. Brown has refused to play in the past, in 2017 as a member of the Houston Texans Brown held out until week seven of the regular season. Not long after ending his holdout the Seahawks traded for the talented Tackle.

Pete Carroll was on record saying that he’s not concerned about Brown potentially missing week one but now it seems that Pete Carroll might be a little more concerned about Brown, as he said last week he is counting on Brown to play. Updating this story on September 6th Duane Brown is back at practice and as of right now that sure seems like bad news if you, like me, were hoping Brown would hold-in for at least another week.

Beyond just their left tackle spot this might be the best opening week offensive line (on paper) Russell Wilson has had during his time as a Seahawk.

Second year guard Damien Lewis had an excellent rookie season and figures to improve in year two. If anything can slow Lewis down it will be that he moved from right guard to left guard when the team traded a fifth round pick to the Las Vegas Raiders for veteran guard Gabe Jackson. Jackson just turned 30 and it seems that the Raiders believed his best days were behind him. I don’t trust any player evaluation that happens to be done by the Raiders, but there is always a chance that they’re right.

The absolute worst case for Lewis and Jackson (and best case for the Colts) is that Jackson’s a shell of his former self and Lewis struggles to adjust to life on the left side. If that happens then those guys are still going to be a couple of big, mean, strong guys looking to put defenders in the dirt. I don’t think this is what will happen, I think Jackson will be fine and while Lewis might have a few issues early on adjusting to the left side, I believe he will play well also.

Brandon Shell will start at right tackle and played some of the best football of his career in 2020 before missing time with an ankle injury and a Covid close contact. Time will tell if Shell can continue his upward trajectory but the great-nephew of Hall of Famer, Art Shell, has improved a lot during his pro career.

Leaving us with the starting center position. I left this for last because center is this offensive lines weak link. Ethan Pocic who started 14 games at center for the Seahawks in 2020 and Kyle Fuller battled during camp and the preseason for the starting spot and Fuller is the man who won the job. And he won the job despite the fact that he didn’t play that well. Given the play we were able to see on the field during preseason games it’s somewhat surprising that Fuller got the nod over Pocic. The only thing I can figure is that Pocic isn’t well liked by someone (possibly multiple someone's) on the offensive staff.

If Duane Brown isn’t available (and it seems as though he will be) the Seahawks will do their best with Jamarco Jones and Stone Forsythe. Jones has never been great in the NFL and seventh round rookie, Forsythe, is a seventh round rookie coming into his first ever NFL game.

One last note on the offensive line that I found while researching this team is that backup guard Dakoda Sheply, once the fifth overall pick of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the CFL draft is also something of a movie star. Shepley was given the role of Omega Red in the Marvel movie Deadpool 2.

His IMDB is a little bare, but he at least has one.

Offensive lines always improve with continuity. The longer guys play next to each other the better they work together. This is the most talented offensive line the Seahawks have had in quite some time but it’s tough to know how quickly they’ll come together as a unit. The hope for Colts fans is that this unit is a mess in week one. In reality it’s most likely they experience some bumps in the road but they’ll be somewhere between good and average, maybe even early on.

We will also get to see just how “real” Colts first round rookie Kwity Paye really is. Duane Brown is a tough draw for your first real NFL matchup, it will be interesting to see how Paye handles the challenge.


Final Thoughts

Before I wrote this I felt more confident about Indy’s chances in this game. Even though the Seahawks didn’t add a ton of talent to the offense, the players they did add; Dee Eskridge, Gerald Everett and Gabe Jackson, could all three have a ripple effect on the other players on this Seahawks offense. A season ago the Seahawks scored 28.7 points per game, which was good for 8th in the league. As long Shane Waldron doesn’t completely wet the bed as a play caller this offense could end up as one of the two or three best in the entire league.

The Colts defense has their work cut out for them. Matt Eberflus has been good in his time as defensive coordinator, but this week’s matchup will be an especially difficult task.

It’s important to remember, once the dust from this game settles, it’s just one game and week one always has some bizarre things happen. Last season the Jaguars beat our playoff bound Colts before losing 15 straight games. A terrible Dallas Cowboys defense only gave up 20 points to a Sean McVay coached team. The Denver Broncos looked like they had a chance to be competent and 32 year old Ryan Kerrigan found the fountain of youth and won NFC defensive player of the week honors, before returning to looking like a past his prime edge defender.

It’s just one game, no matter what, let’s not overreact. Please?