We've heard a lot about the Seahawks' four-receiver sets in recent weeks. The national perception says Seattle has basically ditched its regular offense in favor of the four-wide personnel group known as "Eagle" in West Coast playbooks. This is an exaggeration. But with tight end Jerramy Stevens back this week, signaling a possible return of more two-tight sets, it's a good time to look at the four-wide numbers.
My calculations show Seattle has used four receivers on 19.9 percent of its offensive snaps (52 plays). Seattle has one touchdown, four interceptions and one sack from the four-wide offense (compared to five touchdowns, one interception and four sacks in 97 plays from the "regular" offense featuring two backs, two receivers and one tight end). The team has averaged 4.3 yards per rush from the four-wide grouping, a number inflated by a few well-timed run audibles featuring Mack Strong as the lone back.
In looking at all the established personnel groupings Seattle uses (there are quite a few, but four of them account for more than 90 percent of all plays), we notice that the team averages more than 4.0 yards per carry only when Strong is the lone back. This is a reflection of the problems Seattle has had running the ball from conventional sets; the team is having success on the ground only when spreading the field and catching opponents keying on the pass. The inability to run from conventional sets is leading to more third-and-long-situations. Note that of those 52 four-wide plays, 24 of them came on third down -- and the average situation was third-and-9.
Seattle has run only 12 plays (4.6 percent) this season from two-tight-end sets (and two other plays with three tight ends, counting offensive linemen playing the position). I'll be very interested to see if that changes with Stevens in the mix, and to see if the running game improves as a result (we can't say for sure if the running game would have been better had Shaun Alexander stayed healthy, but that is not the point here).
If the running game improves, the Seahawks will find themselves in more favorable third-down distances. That will make the offense much more effective from four-wide and just about any other personnel grouping.