In 2010, the Seahawks' backfield tallied 385 rushes. In 2011, it registered 444 rushes. In 2012, it amassed 536 rushes. And in 2013, it recorded 509 rushes.
Yet, Seattle’s run-heavy approach under offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell could become a thing of the past in 2014. Why? Because the Seahawks have invested a lot of time and money into their wide receiving corps the last two years.
In addition to trading three draft picks to the Minnesota Vikings in 2013 for All-Pro wide receiver Percy Harvin, Seattle drafted two game-changing pass-catchers (Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood) in this year’s draft.
Does this mean the Seahawks will now deploy a pass-first attack? No, but it does mean Seattle will potentially move to a more balanced, dynamic passing offense in 2014.
Let’s go to the tape and examine how the Seahawks’ new weapons could push Bevell’s offense in a different direction.
The first weapon Seahawks fans should acclimate themselves with is the team’s top draft pick (Richardson).
Despite the fact a handful of draft analysts believe Richardson was overdrafted at the top of the second round, the Seahawks felt he had unique qualities that were simply too good to pass up at No. 45 overall.
Here’s what Seahawks Southwest area scout Matt Berry had to say about Richardson shortly after the draft, via Larry Stone of The Seattle Times:
With Paul, his speed and skillset jumped off the tape. It would be frustrating sometimes because he’d be open, and they couldn’t get him the ball. Or he’d be open down the field, and the ball didn’t get there.
Every time they had a single-high safety, you’d hope they’d throw it to him, just to see his electric speed and play-making ability.
Berry’s right: Richardson’s speed did jump off the tape.
On this fourth-quarter play against Colorado State, Richardson was split out wide to the left. And the Rams defense was in its base 3-4 with press-man coverage on the outside.
As you can see in the GIF above, Richardson’s speed proved to be too much for Colorado State’s right cornerback. Once Richardson gave the corner a subtle move off the line of scrimmage, he turned on the jets, caught the ball in stride and scampered down the left sideline for a 75-yard touchdown.
Even though there wasn’t a lot to take away from that play in terms of technique, the one thing to note was the way Richardson pulled away from the opposition.
Another example of Richardson’s blazing speed was when the Colorado Buffaloes battled the Arizona Wildcats in October. In that particular game, he garnered 132 yards receiving on seven catches and scored one touchdown.
Here's a glance at his 75-yard touchdown reception from the first quarter of that game:
Much like the first play I broke down, Richardson accelerated off the line of scrimmage, worked the cornerback with a double-move and darted to the end zone untouched.
Based on the small sample size of those two plays, it’s safe to say Richardson is at his best when he is running vertical routes deep down the field.
That’s good news for the Seahawks offense because it only recorded eight pass plays of 20 yards or more in the playoffs.
As far as Norwood goes, his skill set is completely different from Richardson’s. According to Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com, Norwood is a “quicker-than-fast possession receiver with trusted hands a quarterback cherishes in critical situations.”
This, in turn, means Norwood will try and replace Golden Tate in Bevell's offense. When Tate was with Seattle, he did the majority of his damage from the split end and flanker positions.
Furthermore, he was also Russell Wilson’s safety valve. When a play would break down, Tate would improvise and work his way back to the ball.
Coincidentally enough, Norwood was AJ McCarron’s safety valve at Alabama. For a case in point, take a look at this miraculous reception from the Tennessee game.
In spite of the play looking dead in the water, Norwood never stopped moving downfield. He did whatever it took to get open and work his way back to the ball.
The end result was a 34-yard pass and catch that set up a T.J. Yeldon rushing touchdown.
This next play isn’t as spectacular as the last one, yet it showcases Norwood’s ability to run crisp routes and extend drives by picking up crucial yards after the catch.
On this second-quarter reception versus Kentucky, Norwood used an inside move to create separation. Once he created the separation he needed, he looked the ball in, slipped two defenders in the open field and muscled ahead for the first down.
A routine play like that is generally overlooked by pundits based on the fact it lacks pizazz, yet coaching staffs around the NFL admire those types of plays because they are viewed as quote, unquote reliable plays.
In fact, Schneider touched on Norwood’s reliability after Seattle selected him with the 123rd pick, via Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com: "He's such a solid guy. There’s nothing overly flashy about him, except he's incredibly tough and reliable and smart and savvy, and I think that's probably why he lasted as long as he did."
In the end, Richardson and Norwood both provide exceptional skill sets. One guy is know for his speed and playmaking ability after the catch, while the other is known for his improvisation and savvy route-running skills.
The move to a more dynamic passing offense isn’t an easy one. And it doesn’t come overnight. Oftentimes it takes years of acquiring the right players through free agency and the draft.
Lo and behold, that’s exactly where the Seahawks are at right now. They have been building their offense the right way for the last few years, so they could eventually get to this point.
Now, it’s up to Wilson and the wide receiving corps to execute the plan that was put in place by the Seahawks’ front-office staff.
Long gone are the days when Seattle finishes with the 32nd-ranked pass offense. In 2014, the Seahawks will potentially deploy a dynamic offense that is as balanced as the Philadelphia Eagles offense was in 2013 (508 rushes and 500 passes).