Seahawks quietly rebuilt offense into passing machine?
8 new offensive starters acquired since March, 2022: Seaside Joe 1557
I’ve used the Scream franchise as an analogy for the Seattle Seahawks several times before, so why not take another stab at it?
At least 3 out of 50 Seaside Joe readers tell me they love the Scream references.
For Scream fans, the original cast is etched in horror history and almost 30 years later many of them are still more popular with fans than current franchise characters, even if they didn’t survive long enough to see a single sequel…let alone five of them. So much so that some of the original Scream characters would be forced fed as hallucinations (ghosts?) in the most recent iteration.
I’m not going to be one of those fans who is mad about the fact that Scream’s popularity demanded that the studio kept taking my money with unnecessary or poorly made sequels because I understand that Hollywood is a movie business and I keep showing up. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t criticize the franchise or point out its flaws, especially when it comes to the disastrous transition phase from the Wes Craven-led franchise to the last two movies to be released since his death in 2015.
Just a year ago, the fifth Scream premiered and co-starred three of the most familiar faces to the franchise but in addition to new directors, had to replace screenwriter Kevin Williamson. Then this most recent movie came out and now there may not be a single important piece left from the original four movies and that’s not really a spoiler because I can’t even remember what happened in the last two Screams, they’re just that forgettable.
What I do know is that the studio has gone through a Scream “reset” instead of a “reboot” and it happened so quickly that many fans like myself may not have noticed just how quickly those changes were implemented. It’s not that changes are bad.
In fact, Scream’s biggest flaw is that the studio won’t let go of the past, but at the same time won’t make tough writing decisions because they’re afraid of what it will do to future sequels and franchise opportunities.
And that’s perhaps where the analogy between Scream and the 2022-2023 Seattle Seahawks may end: Both franchises underwent massive overhauls, both did so without fans necessarily taking notice of changes despite how obvious they may be, but in the case of the Seahawks they might be actually ready to let go of the past and emerge from the deconstruction as a better version of themselves…instead of becoming your own biggest fanatic.
The old Seahawks offense
We only need go back to the beginning of last March to find a Seahawks offense that had these players prior to free agency and the biggest trade in the history of Seattle’s franchise: QB Russell Wilson, LT Duane Brown, RB Rashaad Penny, C Ethan Pocic, RG Gabe Jackson, RT Jake Curhan, TE Gerald Everett, WR Freddie Swain
Making a Seahawks offense without including Wilson felt like making a Scream movie without Neve Campbell/Sidney Prescott and yet that is what happened to both franchises. In either case, it feels sort of like a change that is so obvious and so huge that you kind of forget that it actually happened.
Perhaps it was because the Seahawks didn’t have an obvious immediate Russ replacement on the roster that I never fully embraced it as a “change” like one would have done for say, the Colts drafting Andrew Luck right after parting with Peyton Manning. But now that Geno Smith has secured the starting job and a new contract, it’s beginning to set in that over the last 14 or 15 months, Seattle has replaced every key starter on the team’s offense except for Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, and Damien Lewis.
(Not to exclude Will Dissly, but Everett’s 65% snaps in 2021 is a considerably higher percentage than Dissly’s career-high snap percentage.)
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It’s not just that the Seahawks have turned over almost the entire offense, but they did so only a year after going 12-4 and ranking eighth in points.
Seattle could have decided to give Wilson the contract extension that he wanted, re-signed Duane Brown to play left tackle, extended Penny to a multi-year deal, and pushed their financial commitments into the future with the hope that they could win a Super Bowl somewhere inside of that window. That’s not uncommon. It’s what the Eagles are doing, it’s what the Rams and Bucs did before them, it’s why the Saints are always over the cap.
Perhaps Seattle could have even done those moves, made the playoffs in 2022, ranked in the top-10 for scoring offense, and featured a Pro Bowl quarterback with two 1,000-yard receivers.
Oh wait…the Seahawks did make the playoffs with a top-10 scoring offense, a Pro Bowl quarterback, and two 1,000-yard receivers. The difference being that now the roster is younger, cheaper, and potentially on the dawn of a breakout season in the passing game.
The new Seahawks offense
I was watching a breakdown of new center Olusegun Oluwatimi by a very hyped analyst named Quincy Carrier on Tuesday and something that stood out to me was the assessment that Oluwatimi is further ahead as a pass blocker than he is as a run blocker. Hmmm…where did we hear something just like that for two rookie offensive tackles?
It was just a year ago that the Seahawks drafted Charles Cross and Abe Lucas, two air raid offensive tackles who were both recruited by the late air raid guru Mike Leach and arguably the two least-experienced run blocking linemen in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Also, of course, two really good young players now entering their second season as starters on Seattle’s offensive line.
In addition to Cross, Lucas, and Oluwatimi, the Seahawks have also drafted a first round wide receiver (Jaxon Smith-Njigba), a second round running back who is adept at creating yards in spite of poor run blocking (Kenneth Walker III), and a second round running back with receiving skills and short yardage abilities who should perfectly complement someone like Walker (Zach Charbonnet).
In just the last 15 months, the Seahawks have made the following offensive additions or changes:
QB: Geno Smith, Drew Lock
RB: Walker, Charbonnet, Kenny McIntosh
WR: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Dareke Young
TE: Noah Fant
OT: Cross, Lucas
iOL: Oluwatimi, Anthony Bradford, Evan Brown
Virtually all of those changes would seem to suggest a heavier focus on the passing game, and arguably at times coming at the cost of the running game. That’s where having a home run hitter like Walker and a pass catcher with less explosiveness like Charbonnet may be able to work within the structures of such an offense.
The only holdovers so far would be Metcalf, Lockett, Eskridge, Lewis, Phil Haynes, Dissly, Colby Parkinson, and DeeJay Dallas. That could be as many as five starters, but it could be as little as two or three and by 2024 the changes from the Russell Wilson-led offense will be even more apparent and dramatic.
Giving Geno Smith even more responsibility
It may not have stood out in the moment, but Geno’s 572 pass attempts in 2022 is a higher number than during ANY season in Wilson’s career. Yes, the NFL started the 17-game season in 2021, but even Wilson’s previous career-high (558) may not have necessarily resulted in 572 attempts with a 17th game and though it probably would have, we’re still talking about one season by Geno against an 11-year career for Wilson.
When Russ “cooked”, Seattle ranked 17th in the NFL in pass attempts and that’s despite literally creating a nationally-recognized phrase based solely in throwing the football.
With Geno, the Seahawks ranked 15th in pass attempts…and not a single person created a “catch” phrase for him.
Geno Smith completed 399 passes (also more than Wilson’s career-high, which is 384) and Seattle has responded to that this offseason by focusing even more attention on how to get more balls in the air, especially given what I expect to be an immediately important role for Smith-Njigba. Metcalf received a career-high 141 targets in 2022, while Lockett still got 117 (15 less than his career-high) despite missing one game.
I do not expect Lockett and Metcalf to see their roles reduced, but I do expect Smith-Njigba to get more targets than Eskridge and Marquise Goodwin had combined (55) and what that looks like in Cincinnati—because the Bengals have the best WR trio in the NFL—is 11 targets per game for Ja’Marr Chase, 6.8 for Tee Higgins, and 5.1 for Tyler Boyd.
Joe Burrow threw the ball 37.8 times per game (in an offense built by Zac Taylor, who worked side-by-side with Shane Waldron for a short time with the L.A. Rams) and the Bengals ranked sixth in pass attempts.
A writer could get stalked by killers for decades if they compared Geno Smith to Joe Burrow, so we’re not setting out to do that today, but could the Seahawks be preparing for a similar amount of volume in the passing game and hope that if they throw enough resources at the supporting positions that Smith—or even Drew Lock—could be as productive?
Well…the moves actually do not suggest that Pete Carroll wants to lead the league in rushing yards this time.
As I wrote on Sunday and noted on Seahawks Forever this week (if you haven’t clicked this link at least five times, consider doing it for my family), the road for Geno Smith to have a Matt Ryan-like season is not as narrow, long, and arduous as you might imagine.
I also made sure to reiterate that if Geno starts out the 2023 season like how he finished the 2022 season, that Seattle probably wouldn’t hesitate to give Drew Lock a shot. That’s what happens when over the course of only one year you spend two first round picks on offense (Cross, JSN), two second round picks (Walker, Charbonnet), a third round pick (Lucas), extend a wide receiver (Metcalf), trade for a former first round tight end (Fant), and get two interior starters under contract (Brown, Haynes).
That’s NINE major moves in 14 months, not even counting the change at quarterback.
Why do this? As I’ve been saying and will continue to repeat, I think the new expectation in the NFL has to be that you must keep up with the highest-scoring offenses in the league and that will only happen with a high-powered PASSING offense, which in this case will still be complemented with an explosive running game because the Seahawks do not have Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen. That part is accepted, but Seattle can no longer ignore the types of teams that make deep playoff runs:
The Chiefs and Eagles led their respective conferences in points scored last season; Philadelphia wasn’t top-20 in pass attempts but did add A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith in the course of one year.
In 2021, the Rams and Bengals both scored 460 points (Seattle scored 407 points last season, by comparison) and featured exceptional depth at wide receiver and had made recent changes at quarterback.
In 2020, the Bucs made a change at QB by acquiring Tom Brady and added Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown to a team that already had Mike Evans, Chris Godwin; the Chiefs were third in the AFC in points and of course, have Mahomes, and at that time had Tyreek Hill with Travis Kelce.
The Seahawks need to be able to score 35 points and not just when they’re facing the Lions. They need to be able to score at least 30 points at will, against playoff teams, and they need to be able to score seven points when there’s less than two minutes left in the game. Which Super Bowl winners of late haven’t had to win at least one playoff game without throwing themselves into the lead in the fourth quarter?
Perhaps Seattle could have constructed an offense like that with Russell Wilson. But even after trading Wilson—and in large part thanks to trading him—the Seahawks have still been able to build an offense that at least in theory could catch up to the top-ranked passing offenses in the near future.
That’s why when you commit to a reboot, you fully commit to it. You don’t desperately grip onto what remains of your past in an attempt to remind fans of their fandom because you think that’s what will keep them coming back for more. Franchises are harmed more by waiting too long to kill off a main character than by doing it too soon.
In fact, if you do it at the right time, we won’t even notice.