NFL Playoffs: Has Seattle Seahawks' Offense Figured It Out?

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NFL Playoffs: Has Seattle Seahawks' Offense Figured It Out?
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
John Carlson spikes the ball after scoring against the Saints last weekend.

There’s a good reason no one predicted the Seattle Seahawks would score 41 points last weekend: They hadn’t done it all season.

They had come close to 40 points just once (in a 36-18 win at Arizona) and had averaged just 19.4 points during the season (ranked 23rd in the league). They hadn’t even scored 41 points combined in their previous two games— or the two before that.

So, the question is: Can they do it again?

After bumbling along for most of the season, have the Seahawks finally hit their offensive stride just in time? Or was that explosion against the Saints just a once-in-a-season Mega Millions ticket?

It’s not hard to see why the Seahawks have struggled on offense for the third straight season.

They have used a league-high 10 combinations along the offensive line, which has lost four players to injured reserve. They have had to shuffle through receivers all season and have lost Deon Butler and tight ends Anthony McCoy and Chris Baker to IR. They have had to start both quarterbacks and also played a chunk of the season without a true fullback.

Already hamstrung by those personnel deficiencies, first-year coordinator Jeremy Bates more than occasionally added to the problem by misusing his players and calling some highly questionable plays.

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Bates inexplicably ignored tight end John Carlson for most of the season— a pretty glaring personnel mistake considering the Hawks have had all kinds of problems with their receivers. Carlson should have been their first or second receiving option all along and, he was hardly used after the first month.

After being targeted 24 times in the first three weeks, he was thrown to just 34 times the rest of the season. That’s 58 targets (31 catches) for the season after being thrown to at least 80 times in each of his first two years (55 catches in 80 targets in 2008 and 51 for 83 in 2009).

With Michael Robinson hurt for five games at midseason, Carlson was often used as the fullback, which explains some of the disappearance.

Carlson also had some of his own issues. He missed practice leading up to the Chicago game because his wife gave birth and.  He also missed one game with a hip problem and, had the flu in December.

As Carlson told reporters after his two-TD game against the Saints, “Obviously, I want to catch more balls than I have this year. Some of that’s on me. I didn't make plays at times when I was asked to. And some of it is just we needed to run the ball or I need to pass protect.”

But, the simple fact is: Bates should have used him more in the passing game.

Among Bates’ other personnel errors, he waited too long to start using the dependable Ben Obomanu more and didn’t use Justin Forsett or Leon Washington out of the backfield nearly enough after Marshawn Lynch was acquired.

Matt Hasselbeck said Bates tries to fit the offense around what the players do best, but the rookie play caller seemed to take a long time to figure that out. His method seems to be to feel things out and set things up but, that doesn’t always work as well as if he were just aggressive from the start.

Bates has for some reason preferred sideline passes to working the middle, which might explain why he hasn’t used Carlson as much as he should.

With the running game stuck in neutral most of the season, Bates’ basic attack has been to throw quick laterals to wideouts and hope they can gain yards. It hasn’t always worked.

Bates also has tended to get desperate in short-yardage situations. Twice in three games at midseason, he called sideline fade patterns on fourth down. That’s a low-percentage play that he was misusing.  

But Bates certainly has learned a lot, and he has shown flashes of brilliance.

He had perhaps his best game against the Saints. He used a lot of his sideline throws, but he also used a double-stack formation, where he had two receivers stacked out wide on either side of the line. That’s a good setup that offers some interesting options. The Hawks used that as a screen of sorts at times, hitting the receiver who was off the line. Hasselbeck also faked that pass and threw to the deeper receiver a couple of times.

Of course, Bates’ best play calls vs. the Saints were the play-action passes to Carlson for short touchdowns. Bates also called a couple of nice, quick-hitting vertical routes right off the line. That’s the kind of prototypical West Coast play Hasselbeck used to throw a lot under Mike Holmgren— and the kind Bates should call more of.

From play calling to quarterbacking to running, the Saints game was easily the Seahawks’ best offensive performance of the season.

But was it a fluke or has the Seattle offense arrived?

For more observations on the Seahawks' playoff games, go Outside The Press Box. Also, check out Marshawn Lynch's scintillating 67-yard touchdown run, Tecmo Bowl style.

 

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