By John Boyle Herald Columnist
SEATTLE — With wide receiver Percy Harvin healthy and quarterback Russell Wilson continuing to progress as he heads into his third year, a lot of people wonder if this is the year the Seattle Seahawks open up the playbook and start throwing more often.
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll is amused by this line of thinking.
“Gosh, we don’t want to do that,” Carroll said. “Why would we want to do that? We’re just going to keep growing. We’re not changing anything. We’re just playing ball the way we play. … We have no intentions of changing. I don’t even know why we would. Why would you want that? I like what’s going on.”
So no, don’t expect a massive change from Seattle’s offense in 2014, at least not in terms of passing volume. What seems to be misunderstood about Seattle’s offensive progression is that the Seahawks expect their offense, passing game included, to be more productive in 2014, but that doesn’t mean throwing more often.
Friday night’s game was a perfect example, albeit in a preseason game that didn’t count, of what Seattle wants from its offense. The Seahawks ran 31 times and passed 32, yet despite that modest number of attempts, they put up 34 points with 31 of them coming in the first half. Wilson average just over 10 yards per pass attempt, a staggering number when you consider there were no “home run” plays to inflate that number—his longest completion was a 25-yarder to Harvin.
Seattle’s offense appears poised for a big year. Safety Earl Thomas, who is not a fan of false humility — he picked himself over Richard Sherman when asked who should be defensive player of the year last year while Sherman deferred to Thomas — called the offense “explosive,” saying, “They’re growing up right before our eyes, and they’re just as good as us.”
And if the Seahawks’ offense is really catching up to a defense that was one of the greatest of all time last season, well then that’s a very scary proposition for the rest of the NFL. But what Carroll understands as well as anyone is that explosive doesn’t have to mean more passing.
Last year the Seahawks attempted the second fewest passes of any team in the league (26.2), yet ranked 8th in scoring. Most attribute that gap to the defense as well as the strong running game, both of which were certainly big factors. But what’s often overlooked is that the Seahawks made the most of their passing attempts, averaging 8.4 yards per attempt, the second highest average in the league behind Philadelphia’s 8.7. And despite attempting so few passes, the Seahawks ranked in the top 15 in completions of 20-plus and 40-plus yards.
On the flip side, Cleveland, one of the worst teams in the NFL, attempted the most passes in the league, yet ranked 29th in yards per attempt. Passing a lot when you have Peyton Manning or Drew Brees is one thing, but volume passing for volume’s sake is not the answer in football.
And even those teams with great quarterbacks and productive, even record-setting, offenses can struggle when they run up against a physical team, though I probably don’t need to remind anyone of that after Super Bowl XLVIII.
“So many times you see in football that a team gets a quarterback and says, ‘hey, we should throw 50 times a game,’ but then you turn around and they don’t win,” said offensive line coach/assistant head coach Tom Cable, who has a big hand in Seattle’s offensive game planning. “You look at what’s going on around the league, some teams, they get to be pretty good, and they still have issues. If you look at it, the physicality is usually what’s missing. That’s our style.”
Which gets us to another point about Seattle’s offense. It’s easy to look at Seattle’s run/pass mix and assume they’re trying to be balanced, the idea being that an offense that can run and throw is harder to defend because it’s less predictable. But more than balance, Seattle’s desire to run the ball is about imposing its will on opposing teams. As Cable noted, physical play was a big part of Seattle’s success, and a big part of that physical play is wearing teams down with the running game.
“It’s not really a balance issue, it’s a philosophy issue, our style of play,” Cable said. “The team is built for a certain style. If you just say, ‘OK, this is Russell’s third year, let’s just change it up and start throwing the ball around,’ bad things are about to happen. Now you put your defense in peril, you put your special teams in peril, you put your football team in peril, and you’re trying to be something that you’re not designed to be.”
But again, none of this means that Seattle’s offense, and its passing game in particular, won’t be better or even look different this season. Harvin does make a huge difference, affecting a defense every time he’s on the field whether he has the ball or not. And with wide receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse only getting better, and rookie receiver Paul Richardson adding another home-run threat, Seattle gives defenses plenty to think about when their priority still has to be stopping Marshawn Lynch while also contending with a mobile quarterback. Take, for example, the plays where Seattle gives a read-option look, stacks three receivers on one side of the field, then puts Harvin in motion. Harvin almost always requires safety help, which means one less tackler in the box for a defensive front that already has to contend with two running threats. And oh by the way, Baldwin or Kearse in single coverage is an option Wilson will take all day long.
“It’s tough to defend all three or four receivers we have in the game,” Wilson said. “… There’s only so much you can do when you have guys like Doug Baldwin on one side and Jermaine Kearse on the other side, or all three of them on the same side. It’s hard to stop us defensively with the personnel.”
But no, as fun as it might sound, Seattle’s offense won’t suddenly be pass-happy in 2014, even with a quarterback and the receivers to do so. What the Seahawks offense will be, however, is a handful.
“We’ve got guys running all over the field,” said left tackle Russell Okung. “Obviously we’ve got Percy, Doug, Jermaine, and the young guys are coming along and playing some good ball. … We have so many weapons now. The only one that can stop us is us. I think the sky’s the limit for our group.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.