By Nick Shook
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Seattle took care of business in dispatching San Francisco in a game that was closer than most expected in Week 17. The Seahawks fell behind early before taking to the air to put up a flurry of points and erase the Niners’ early lead in an encouraging sign for Seattle’s offense entering the playoffs.
But there was one glaring point: The Seahawks couldn’t run the ball.
In a game in which Seattle could have, conceivably, pounded the Niners into submission via the run game, the Seahawks abandoned it quite early. We’re aware of San Francisco’s lack of talent almost across the board, and it’s understandable for the Seahawks to turn to the pass to win. But that strategy didn’t come against a unit that was staunch against the run; San Francisco has been atrocious against it, nearing historic levels of bad (165.9 yards per game allowed bad).
Seattle tried the ground game early and found little to no success, running primarily out of the shotgun before being forced to turn to the pass thanks to an early deficit. The Seahawks shifted from running inside the tackles to utilizing frequent swing passes out of the backfield, attempting to play the perimeter to move the ball and hope to spread the defense out for future running success. The second part never really materialized.
Alex Collins finished with 55 yards on seven carries. Seventeen of them came on a zone play that only really worked because San Francisco was overaggressive with its stunt and ended up out of position.
Most of the time, Seattle’s run game looked a lot like this.
Like much else in football, a zone scheme is truly effective only if all five-plus blocking parts work together in doing their job. This doesn’t mean double teams, down blocks and pulls, but correct steps laterally and upfield, engaging the right defender according to his path and most importantly, sustaining the block. Seattle’s guards struggled with this frequently, as evidenced by the above whiff by guard Germain Ifedi.
It’s not just Ifedi, and not just the guards, but it’s clear here on this play that Seattle’s line was a half step slow on many of its run calls. Key on Ifedi, tight end Jimmy Graham and center Justin Britt, who didn’t do Ifedi any favors by neglegcting to put a hand on a slanting Glenn Dorsey. The Niners weren’t doing anything outrageously different defensively, largely just stunting and slanting defensive linemen. At the time of the handoff, Dorsey was moving nearly half a mile per hour faster than Ifedi (4.34 mph to 3.97 mph). San Francisco was simply quicker.
Seattle recognized the run wasn’t working, and opted to sprinkle it in while going mostly out of the shotgun. Forty-nine of Collins’ 55 yards came out of the gun (12.3 average), while just six yards came out of the singleback. Oddly enough, when viewing the tape on your run-of-the-mill carry, Seattle looked to be more effective out of traditional run formations like the singleback and I-form (wideout Paul Richardson carried once for five yards out of the singleback), but that isn’t saying much in the larger picture.
There is room for encouragement, though. Seattle successfully executed a zone split play with Luke Willson serving as the wingback, kicking out Ahmad Brooks and clearing a lane for Collins to run through. It went for a gain of 26, and when combined with his earlier 17-yard run, accounted for 43 of his 55 yards. His yards-per-carry average is inflated because of these two runs, and if you cue the tape, you’ll see Seattle’s rushing offense was less than that.
Thomas Rawls, once envisioned as the bellcow in succession to the retired Marshawn Lynch, had 14 yards (including a 1-yard touchdown run) on eight carries.
This should be fairly alarming for a team entering the playoffs, especially behind a suspect line that doesn’t give Russell Wilson much time to throw. Carroll’s update on the status of C.J. Prosise, out with a scapula injury, wasn’t coincidental. Seattle needs a spark in the run game.
Thankfully for the Seahawks, Wilson is dangerous when mobile, but as the intensity rises in the postseason, so does the degree of contact. In a perfect world, a team protects its quarterback and is excellent at run blocking. But when the organization chooses not to invest in its offensive line in the offseason, this is what they’re left with.
Other notes from Week 17 in Next Gen Stats:
1. We’ve hit the end of the regular season, so it’s time for the first annual Next Gennies! Or something. Our fantastic researchers released the season’s best in a myriad of categories. Here’s a selection of them:
» Matt Ryan was the best against the blitz, compiling a 123.1 passer rating on 143 pass attempts while facing a blitz. Ryan also had the highest passer rating on deep passes (20-plus air yards) with 135.4, compelting 32 of 64 attempts for 1,138 yards and a flawless 10-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
» Tyrod Taylor threw the most passes outside the pocket of any quarterback (21.1 percent, completing 48.9 percent), while Eli Manning threw just 5.2 percent of his passes outside of the comfort of the pocket.
» Jay Cutler had the longest completed pass of 2016 with an air distance of 65 yards.
» Mark Ingram was the NFL’s most efficient running back, covering 3.5 yards of distance per rush yard (1,043 total).
» Miami’s Jarvis Landry led all receivers in the slot, catching 65 passes for 848 yards when lined up in the position.
» Landry’s pal Odell Beckham Jr. created the highest amount of separation when pressed at the line of scrimmage, averaging 2.6 yards of separation on his 49 targets.
» Jamison Crowder had the most average separation at target at 3.6 yards per target, of which he finished with 99.
» Kansas City loves to flex Travis Kelce out wide. Kelce finished the regular season with the most receptions and yards when lined up wide of all tight ends, catching 31 passes for 505 yards.
» Atlanta’s singleback formation, out of which they can do just about anything, was the most productive formation of any team in the league, averaging 7.2 yards per play. No. 2-5? You guessed it: shotgun.
» Cliff Avril was the fastest man to the quarterback in 2016, averaging 3.34 seconds per sack, of which he had 11.5.
» No defense blitzed more than the New York Jets, sending pressure on 38.6 percent of pass plays and recording 12 sacks in such scenarios.
2. Despite the crushing loss, Kirk Cousins was excellent in the face of pressure, posting a 145.1 passer rating against an eye-popping 14 blitzes.
4. I might shed a tear. Click here for your final passing and receiving charts from the 2016 regular season.
5. Michael Thomas capped an impressive rookie campaign by tying for the lead in receptions made by receivers lined up wide in Week 17 with nine grabs for 147 yards. Tennessee’s Rishard Matthews also had nine grabs, but for 114 yards.
6. Throwback to Week 16 and something we missed in this section: Jadeveon Clowney makes one question the limits of physics and the human body. Dan Hanzus takes a closer look at how Clowney, listed at 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, outran every defender on the field and almost hawked Brandon LaFell on an 86-yard touchdown reception.