How the Seahawks are in playoff race after offseason overhaul

The Seattle Seahawks seemed destined for a rebuilding year after an off-season overhaul. At 6-5 and coming off two-straight wins, they’re now in the thick of the NFC Wild Card race.

The NFL always brings a handful of surprises each season. This season, the Seattle Seahawks are one of the pleasant overachievers as Week 13 began Thursday night. At 6-5, they’re on the cusp of breaking into the final Wild Card spot, with a favorable schedule to finish the year.

Without completely reliving a franchise-changing off-season, the Seahawks swapped out defensive stalwarts Richard Sherman, Sheldon Richardson, Kam Chancellor, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. Chancellor and Avril were due to unfortunate health issues, and Sherman, Richardson, and Bennett were due to a mixture of a desire to clear out their locker room of big personalities and saving money.

Their list of replacements was certainly dubious, and once the Seahawks started the year 0-2, it looked as if this team was destined for a top-five draft pick.

Their former dynamic pass-rush duo was replaced by the likes of Dion Jordan, Branden Jackson, and Rasheem Green. Richardson’s snaps have gone to Shamar Stephen and Quinton Jefferson. And Sherman’s perch has been taken by former Oklahoma State safety Tre Flowers.

On paper, this is a no-name defense relying on castoffs and rookies to make an impact. And yet they rank 11th in defensive DVOA, eighth in points allowed, and in the middle of the pack in passing yards per game.

It’s been Pete Carroll’s best job of developmental coaching of his NFL career. The only team to score more than 28 points on their defense has been the mighty Rams, who have done it twice.

Their infamous Cover 3 defense has maintained their play despite all of the changes and loss of Earl Thomas to injury. Losing Thomas had been disastrous for this unit in the past but they’ve at least been able to better limit the disastrous chunk plays as Tedric Thompson has taken over Thomas’ roaming role compared to last year.

Where the team has taken a significant identity change is the offense.

Their decision to cut bait with Tom Cable as offensive line coach has immediately paid dividends. Not only has Cable’s presence submarined a once-terrific Raiders offensive line, but the Seahawks’ group of athletes have turned into a respectable unit that gives Russell Wilson a chance to make plays without running for his life immediately.

But the more questioned decision to hire Brian Schottenheimer has also been more positive than negative thus far. Schottenheimer drew ire after he said he wanted to re-establish the run, and his resume has left room for significant questions as to why he continues to get these jobs. So far for the Seahawks, though, Schottenheimer’s had the answers this team has needed.

His vertical Air Coryell system is a traditional one that gives the quarterback the option to audible to a zone-beater or a man-coverage beater with at least four receiving options. If the defense gives the offense a numbers advantage in the box, then the quarterback’s decision has been made for him to audible to a run play.

This is partially why the Seahawks are now leading the league in rushing attempts and yards per-game. Other factors include Wilson’s own rushing ability and gravity that he pulls as a run option, and that Seattle has a talented duo of backs and blockers to augment the attack.

Sometimes the reactionary offensive mindset is a negative when the defense is able to dictate the terms of the Seahawks’ play-calling. This was clear against Chicago, Arizona, and the Los Angeles Chargers. Unsurprisingly, those are games where this offense and Wilson struggled to create chunk plays.

For the most part, though, Schottenheimer’s downfield passing and balance within the offense has had a considerable on Wilson’s production. He’s on pace to set his second-best completion percentage despite throwing a career-high average yards per average and well above his career-high for the percentage of touchdowns per total attempts. Schottenheimer has helped Wilson blend his efficiency and explosiveness in his age 30 season.

Like the defense, the amazing part of the team’s passing success is the personnel they’re doing it with.

Doug Baldwin, an elite slot receiver, has been severely limited this season with a hamstring injury, and hasn’t been a threat for most of the year. Instead, it’s been seventh-round rookie revelation David Moore, speedster Tyler Lockett, and a variety of contributions from tight ends getting the job done. Both Wilson and Schottenheimer deserve praise for using a multitude of formations and alignments to stay unpredictable while sticking to the principles of the offense.

Digging into Wilson’s touchdowns beyond 10 yards is the easiest way to highlight how well the offense has created big plays. The video below highlights each of them.

18 of his touchdowns have been at least 10 yards out from the end zone. Eight of his 25 touchdowns have been beyond 20.

Their ability to stretch defenses vertically and finish drives before hitting the tightest part of the field also gives Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny space to operate on the ground. This has finally become a healthy offensive ecosystem for Wilson, something that hasn’t been seen since Marshawn Lynch was the catalyst for the offense in 2014.

I thought this was one of the worst five teams in the league after their off-season and the first two weeks. This staff needs significant credit for bringing along a cast of players who had few outside of the organization believing they could make a playoff push in 2018. With two games remaining against the 2-9 San Francisco 49ers and one against the Cardinals, it’s possible this team will win 10 games.

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