The Seattle Seahawks’ season came to an end Saturday with their 30-20 wild-card playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams at Lumen Field. A season that saw the Seahawks go 12-4 and win the NFC West concluded far earlier than the team and its fans anticipated.
And like all of you, I’m left asking myself one question:
What the heck happened to the Seahawks’ offense?
It’s the story of Seattle’s season. Through the first eight games quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seahawks were en route to etching their names on the list of the NFL’s all-time greatest offenses. The “let Russ cook” chant had been heeded, and Wilson and company were putting up historic numbers. Seattle led the league in scoring at 34.3 points per game, and the Seahawks were amassing 415 yards per contest, a total that would have finished the season ranked second in the league. Wilson had compiled a 117.1 passer rating, which would have finished second to Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, and with 28 touchdown passes he was on pace to break the NFL’s single-season record.
But then someone flipped a switch and the Seahawks reverted into the 1992 version of themselves. Beginning with game No. 9 — against who else, the Rams — the well-oiled machine began sputtering like an old Ford Pinto. Over the final eight games of the regular season Seattle’s points per game dropped to 23.1 (which would have ranked 23rd in the league) and yards per game dropped to 324 (28th). Wilson’s passer rating plummeted to 91.3, which would have landed him at 23rd, between Carolina’s Teddy Bridgewater and the Rams’ Jared Goff.
All of this is summed up in Seattle’s yards per passing attempt, which went from 8.6 during the first half of the season to 6.4 in the second half.
The offensive regression was somewhat glossed over because the Seahawks, due to a coinciding improvement on defense, were still winning. Wilson, while not playing to the same standard as the first half of the season, was making just enough plays late in games, and Seattle went 6-1 over its final seven to carry optimism into the postseason.
But on Saturday against the Rams, all the little warning beeps about Seattle’s offense started blaring like school fire alarms, and the Seahawks were sent home for the offseason.
So why the sudden offensive downturn? Seattle coach Pete Carroll addressed that question following Saturday’s game, saying opponents figured out how to take the deep ball away.
“There’s a lot of space we create in the (play-action passing) game,” Carroll said, “and it seemed like during the course of the season, after the halfway point, we had hit so much early, we had been so effective that people found a way to stay back and just try to bleed us and make us have to throw the ball underneath. We were maybe really going for it more than we needed to and didn’t take advantage of switching gears a bit there as effectively as we would like.
“As I look back now — I have a lot of work to do to figure it out — I would think we might think that way a little differently,” Carroll continued. “One part of the year it was available and we took it. Then the second part of the year, against the really good defenses we played, they were able to keep us out of that mode. I wish we would have adapted better under those circumstances.”
Adapted better? That points toward coaching. In a similar vein, receiver Tyler Lockett credited opposing coaches for devising ways to slow Seattle’s offense.
“I just think teams probably did a great job game planning against us, scheming up against us,” Lockett said. “A lot of times teams played defense a little differently from what we saw on film, they just came out with a whole different game plan that we hadn’t seen them run in games.
“I think that just comes with this year being a passing team,” Lockett added. “Because we became a passing team it became easier for teams to scheme a little bit different. When we ran the ball a lot we didn’t have to worry about teams trying to throw out all these weird different coverages that we hadn’t seen before because they had to figure out how to stop the run. But sometimes when you start passing the ball like we did — we did a great job in doing it as well — but now you’ve got teams that are starting to figure out like, ‘Let’s drop eight people back, let’s do all this different type of stuff,’ that they normally haven’t shown on film, and now we have to learn how to adjust.”
For the record, Lockett went on to say he thought the Seahawks were able to make those adjustments.
Wilson was asked several times, in several different ways, the same question about Seattle’s offense. For the most part he did his usual thing of pivoting toward the positive and pulling out the cliches. But he did provide one moment of insight.
“Early in the season we were able to get the deep shots and stuff like that early on,” Wilson said. “I think our tempo and pace and getting in and out, I think we kind of lost that along the way maybe a little bit. I think that’s something we do really well. So to keep that tempo and that pace, I think that’s something I’m really going to try to study a lot this offseason to see how we can continue to put our foot on the gas and everything else along the way. I think that will help us a little bit.”
I suppose the explanations are good news in the sense that the issues are viewed as correctable, and with most of the key offensive cogs returning next season it’s possible those corrections will be made.
However, that’s small consolation in the moment. The Seahawks had a chance to do something special this season, but the inability to get the offense back on track is the one thing that will leave everyone wondering, “What if?”
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.