Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks’ Schottenheimer explains his calls, says team’s exploring some changes

Play caller Brian Schottenheimer: no one with Seahawks’ offense happy with the opener

Play caller Brian Schottenheimer: no one with Seahawks’ offense happy with the opener.
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Play caller Brian Schottenheimer: no one with Seahawks’ offense happy with the opener.

They are even mad at Brian Schottenheimer in Brazil.

“O coordenador ofensivo do time basicamente admitindo que se for 3a descida muito longa, ele desiste da campanha... Lamentável.”

Translation: “The offensive coordinator of the team basically admitting that if it’s a very long 3rd down, he gives up the campaign.... Unfortunate.”

That was one of the multiple posts in Portuguese on social media received after some of the Seahawks play caller’s comments from his press conference Thursday. Another one came with the flag of Portugal attached. It stated people were mad at him over there, too.

As the team traveled across the country for Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh (0-1), Schottenheimer was getting criticized from Poulsbo to Portugal. Folks aren’t thrilled with the play calling in the Seahawks’ 21-20 escape at home past heavy-underdog Cincinnati in last weekend’s season opener.

The Bengals out-gained Schottenheimer’s offense 429-232. Everyone agrees the Seahawks were fortunate to win.

Including their play caller.

“Didn’t play well enough last week. Didn’t coach well enough last week. Got the W,” Schottenheimer said following Thursday’s practice.

“I give those guys credit,” he said of the Bengals and their new coaching staff. “They came in here and did some things that they hadn’t shown.

“Again, we feel very fortunate to come out with a win.”

Because of penalties, sacks of Russell Wilson and the Bengals jamming the line and stuffing Seattle’s running game on early downs, the Seahawks had second and 16 or more three times in the opener. They had third down and 16 or more yards to go a staggering five times. That was the most such situations in the NFL in week one.

Seattle was in long, long yardage on almost one-fourth of its offensive snaps, 12 times in the 49 plays it had in the Cincinnati game.

“That’s crazy-bad football,” coach Pete Carroll said.

Why Pete Carroll says his Seahawks will get better than uneven escape past Bengals in the opener.

Schottenheimer acknowledged a blitz play when the Bengals had a better call than he did. He called it “just really a weird game. I can’t remember really being in a game like that in a long time,” because of how unknown a foe Cincinnati was and proved to be.

His in-game adjustment was to call more conservative plays safer to Wilson’s well-being on second and third and long. The Seahawks ran the ball four times on second and 10. That was NFL’s most runs on that down at that distance in week one.

They ran it on one of their two second and 16s or more, and on two of their five third and 16s-plus plays. The sold-out CenturyLink Field crowd booed more lustily with each one of those running calls.

“It’s a third and 25? Yeah, I’m going to hand it off. I’m not going to apologize about that,” Schottenheimer said. “Hand it off and let Michael Dickson hit a boom punt.

“Maybe if the game is going a little different, maybe you try and take different shots and things like that. That’s my job as a coordinator to kind of, again, feel what’s going on, how the game is playing out. I told the guys, ‘There’s not a lot of great calls on third and 22.’

“It’s funny. You get on the headset and you start asking for suggestions and it’s like you’re on an island by yourself. No one says a word.”

There’s logic and justification in his reasoning.

The white-flag plays calls last week were what they were when Schottenheimer did them last season: a decision to rely on Dickson to flip field position. Then, rely on the defense to keep the Seahawks in the game while Wilson stays upright long enough for the offense to figure it out.

And that’s what happened in the opener.

Dickson had punts of 51, 60 and 54 yards. Although the defense was giving up yards by the dozens, it wasn’t allowing points. Cincinnati kept self-destructing inside the Seattle 35-yard line: sacks, missed field goals, a turnover on downs, Dalton losing grip on a pass that became a fumble into the mitts of Seahawks defensive tackle Al Woods.

Then, with Seattle only down 17-14 in the fourth quarter despite being out-played, Wilson faked a hand-off left, rolled right and found Tyler Lockett wide open freed from day-long blanket coverage. The 44-yard touchdown pass, Lockett’s first pass target of the game, on Cincinnati’s broken coverage proved to be Seattle’s winning points.

Quarterback Russell Wilson characteristically saw many positives in Seahawks’ opening escape past Bengals.

But the Steelers aren’t the Bengals. Neither are the Saints. The NFC finalists from last season come to Seattle next week.

That points to the bigger problem, bigger than the thankless, can’t-please-’em calls on third and long: The Seahawks being in so many third and longs to begin with.

This is where Schottenheimer and the Seahawks may be different in Pittsburgh on Sunday.

Seattle ran the ball 13 times and threw 10 passes on first down against Cincinnati. That actually broke the Seahawks’ tendencies from last season. Schottenheimer and Seattle ran it 278 times on first down and threw it 160 times in 2018. That was NFL’s most runs and fewest passes on first down last year.

Of course, that fits. The Seahawks ran more and threw it less than anyone in the league in 2018. Wilson had the most efficient season passing in his career and the Seahawks went to the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years.

Particularly galling to many: Seattle ran it all four times it had second and 10 against the Bengals. The offense led the NFL in runs on second and 10 in the opener. In 2018 the Seahawks were 12th in the league in runs on second and 10 (29 rushes). They were 30th in passes on second and 10 (29 throws) last season.

Schottenheimer, Carroll and Wilson have been looking hard at those tendencies this week, with an eye on perhaps changing some of them against the Steelers and their attacking defense. Look for more passes on second and 10, for instance.

“It’s hard. I think that’s one thing that we looked at as a staff this week, maybe some other calls or things that can help us,” Schottenheimer said.

“Again, when we looked at the third-down numbers, we came at it really frustrated, you know? Really, when you look at it, I think we were 4 of 7 on third and 9 (yards) or less. We had five that were third and 16-plus.

“I mean, shoot, I was over there booing: What are we doing?

“Again, we own it. And that’s not the position you want to put yourself in. Is it difficult? Sure.”

Gregg Bell gives you his five players to watch as the Seahawks go on the road to face the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The reason behind all this, the context in which Schottenheimer must decide whether to open it up more or white-flag it in certain situations, is Seattle’s offensive line. It still has big problems in pass protection, particularly when the other team knows Wilson should or must throw.

Cincinnati sacked Wilson four times and hit him nine other times on 24 drop backs last weekend.

When your team’s $140 million quarterback is getting hit more than half the time he drops back to pass, his play caller is going to hesitate to expose him more to potential harm. Particularly when the NFL average conversion rate on the second- and third and 16 is around 10 percent. At least he should.

Schottenheimer and Carroll saw the Bengals were pressuring Wilson mostly with their four-man pass rush. When four defensive linemen are beating five blockers, that’s a problem on top of a problem.

The Seahawks don’t just run Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny so much because Carroll wants to play that kind of throwback, anti-2019 football just to be contrarian. The Seahawks have to run so much. They must keep the Steelers on Sunday and every other defense they face honest. Otherwise, foes will feast on Wilson. Schottenheimer knows if Wilson gets hurt and misses games for the first time in his career, Seattle’s season is likely over.

The Seahawks are 1-0 now. The line is basically the same as last year’s. It appears to be getting back the lone difference, new starting left guard Mike Iupati. He’s had a sprained foot from late July. The 10th-year veteran signed from Arizona this offseason is likely to make his first start for Seattle on Sunday.

Just in time for the Seahawks’ trip to what Schottenheimer says is still “Blitzburgh.”

“Just a guy with veteran experience. It’s been good to see him getting some reps. It would help,” Schotteneheimer said, “but I thought Ethan (Pocic) did a nice job in there. ...

“The more our guys can play together, continuity is a big thing with the offensive line. It’s not just in games. It’s in practice. The more we get those guys playing in there together, that will certainly help.

“These guys (the Steelers) obviously will have some challenges that they present for a blitz package. ... We call it the non-verbal communication because it’s so loud that they have to feel each other’s movements is important. ...

“It’s no excuse. We need to play better. And I think our guys understand that.

“And we’ll do that this week.”

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.
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