Seahawks vs Panthers: Drawing Up a Game Plan for Seattle
Coach Carroll's Seahawks are coming off a tough divisional loss to a feisty St. Louis Rams team. So, you know this week will be about setting things right. And the good news is that a Pete Carroll-coached team knows how to right the ship after a loss. It's rare that he will allow his club to lose two games in a row.
To avoid their first losing streak of the season, the Seahawks need to get better on offense first and foremost. Currently, Darrell Bevell's offense is the 29th-ranked unit in the NFL. The run game has truly carried them through the first four weeks. They are averaging 153.2 yards, which puts them fifth overall.
However, the area that needs the most work is the passing attack. They are dead last at 130.8 yards per game. Not to mention the fact they have only thrown four touchdown passes through the air. Compare that to the Buffalo Bills, who have thrown 12 touchdown passes already. Yet the passing game isn't only lacking because of rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.
The wideouts need to be held accountable as well, I echoed those same feelings after last week's loss to the Rams.
So, what will it take to move the ball against the Carolina Panthers? I suspect we see even more of No. 24 this weekend. The Panthers are allowing 134.8 yards per game on the ground, and it doesn't appear its run defense is getting any better.
Pro Football Focus has Carolina as the worst run defense unit in the NFL. So, I wouldn't expect the passing game to expand a whole lot either.
With that, let's take a look at what game plans on both sides of the ball will look like in preparation for Week 5.
When the Seahawks Are on Offense
As I touched on briefly above, the Seahawks need to stick to what they do the best, running the football. But even a strong rushing attack hasn't translated into success. They need to take it one step further. They need to use the play-action pass more effectively than they have been.
During the preseason, it proved to be so deadly. Surely, I realize that the preseason is a whole different ball game. Regardless, execution needs to be consistently flawless if you expect to see results, and right now, execution is the biggest problem.
Seattle's offense has actually been strong on first and second down, but like its defense, third down has been the problem. 14-of-50 on third down through the first four weeks of the season isn't going to win many games, even if you have the second-best defense in the NFL.
Here is one of the Seahawks' most productive play-action passes of the season. Seattle deployed its 12 personnel package in hopes of catching the Packers off base. 12 personnel features two wide receivers, two tight ends and one running back.
Golden Tate will be the target of the touchdown pass on this play. Both Tate and the tight end will be running 9-routes on the right side of the field. Anthony McCoy will head straight up the seam, but Tate will use a double move to get open. He works outside the numbers for position and then heads back inside to get open.
The play-action fake to running back Robert Turbin freezes Charles Woodson in the middle of the field. By freezing Woodson, it allows Tate to beat one-on-one coverage. The All-Pro safety would normally be the help the cornerback needs over the top, yet the fake caused him to freeze.
You can see in the screenshot above that Tate has gained plenty of separation from both defenders. Woodson is almost falling down as he tries to recover and the cornerback is close, but the initial double move did him in for good.
This is exactly how a well timed play-action pass should work. Bevell could afford to be more selective of when he calls in a play-action pass. If you over use these types of plays, defenses catch on. Play selection and execution will get things back on the right track, but for those two things to happen, the team has to be on the same page.
The Panthers defense is struggling right now, so take advantage of their weaknesses by running the ball to setup the play-action pass.
When the Seahawks Are on Defense
As we all know, Gus Bradley's defensive unit is far more stable than its offensive counterpart. They haven't had a whole lot of lapses considering they are statistically the second-best defense in the league. The pass rush has been phenomenal, K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner are owning the middle and the secondary is the best the NFL has to offer.
The only real lapse has been their horrendous third-down play as of late. They are the ninth-worst third-down defense, and it has only gotten worse. Against St. Louis in Week 4, its aggressiveness on 3rd-and-long killed them. All five of the Rams' third-down conversions came with 10-plus yards to go.
Carolina is at the middle of the pack in terms of third-down efficiency, so it has the slight advantage. But just like anything in the NFL, mistakes can be corrected. Especially with the talent it has on the defensive side of the ball.
This week, it may be wise to dial back the pressure on third down. Cam Newton can effectively beat pressure with both his legs and his arm. According to PFF, when Newton is blitzed, he his 24-of-39 for 393 yards and two touchdowns. His quick release and strong arm help him bail out of pressure situations.
After I went back and looked at the tape, I noticed Seattle had the most trouble against quarterback Sam Bradford when it blitzed him. On two of the five very long third-down conversions, it sent five defenders after No. 8.
The top conversion netted 14 yards on 3rd-and-13, and the second one netted 17 yards on 3rd-and-14. On the bottom picture of the screenshot, the delayed blitzers allowed wide receiver Austin Pettis to run down the sideline uncovered. If the left outside linebacker had stayed up in contain, they wouldn't have been able to convert.
Seattle gets such a strong pass-rush with four down linemen I don't understand why they blitz sometimes. Given, its "Bandit Package" is usually successful. St. Louis was well-prepared for every package Bradley's defense threw at the Rams offense.
The keys to the Panthers game defensively will be to keep Cam Newton in the pocket and to play better on third down. Becoming more disciplined and trusting the front four will help the Seahawks achieve that success on Sunday.
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