Examining the Seahawks' Offensive Evolution

Seattle has become more pass-happy than ever before. Is it a mirage or a trend?

After dominating the Vikings in Minnesota this past Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks have now won five of their last six games and are once again being mentioned as a legitimate contender.

That shouldn't shock anyone who has watched this team the last few years.

What's surprising, though, is that the hype has shifted from the Legion of Boom and the running game to Russell Wilson and the aerial attack.

Throwing 11 touchdowns with zero interceptions in the last three games will do that. 

So what are we to make of this offense?

The Evolution

When Pete Carroll took control of the Seattle Seahawks in 2010, the team was a mess. They won five games the previous year and ranked 27th in schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) and 29th in Adjusted Defensive NEP. NEP is our signature metric at numberFire that factors in variables, such as down and distance, to quantify how good a team really is. For more information, please visit our glossary

Carroll's vision entailed building a great defense complemented by a physical run game. He traded for Marshawn Lynch early in the 2010 season and slowly built his defense through the draft. Incremental progress was made the first two years, but then they hit the jackpot with Wilson in the 2012 NFL Draft.

Since inserting Wilson as the starting quarterback, the Seahawks have ranked either first or second in rushing attempts per game every year.

The defense became dominant, and Lynch punished defenders, while Wilson managed the game and kept defenses honest with his ability to run and pass.

The formula brought back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, one play from repeating as champions.

We all know that play.

That play was a harbinger for the philosophical shift for the Seahawks' offense. On the most important play in the most important game, the Seahawks trusted the arm of their quarterback. It was a trust that was slowly forged over three seasons and a trust that continues to grow to this day. 

Don't believe me? I get it. You come to numberFire to get analysis backed up by stats.

Below is a chart showing the average number of rushing attempts per game by running backs and the average number of passing attempts per game by Wilson. 

Year RB Rush Attempts per Game QB Pass Attempts per Game
2012 26.88 24.56
2013 24.75 25.43
2014 24.25 28.25
2015 22.41 29.33

Every single year, the number of rushes by running backs has gone down while the number of passing attempts by Wilson has increased. Perhaps the coaching staff realized what they had in Wilson but wanted to bring him along slowly.

Well, all good things come to an end at some point.

Here and Now

Any time there is change, a period of transition ensues. The Seahawks offense had a rough time early in the year. The new offensive line had difficulty meshing. As a result, Wilson was sacked 31 times in the first seven games.

Incorporating Graham into the offense was a struggle as well. Before he was shut down due to injury, Jimmy Graham had seven games in which he caught fewer than five passes in a game. Excluding his rookie year, he never exceeded five games without catching at least five passes. 

While the passing game was struggling, the run game remained effective. Thomas Rawls seamlessly stepped in for an injured Lynch and posted a 0.07 Rushing NEP per play, which is good for fourth among running backs with at least 100 carries.

Wilson has also contributed, whether it be scrambling for his life or on designed runs. As a result, the Seahawks have posted a positive Adjusted Rushing NEP per play number in every game they have played. Only the Bills, Vikings, and Steelers can make the same claim. 

Around the mid-point of the season, the passing game started to show some progression. No longer was Wilson running for his life. Instead, he began to stand strong and deliver more passes from the pocket.

Since Week 8, Wilson has only been sacked seven times. 

That brings us to the recent three-game stretch.

Wilson has completed 82.8, 70, and 77.8 percent of his passes. His passer rating has exceeded 138 in every contest. Wilson's passer rating against the blitz was 158.3!

Oh, and Doug Baldwin has caught five touchdowns. His career high in a season was five. Doug Baldwin, people! 

Going Forward

Of course, it's hard to envision the the Seahawks' morphing into the Miami Dolphins and throwing 66.01 percent of the time.

The coaching staff has proven to be competent, but the pass-to-run ratio has slowly been creeping up. During Wilson's rookie year, they threw 45.76 percent of the time. 2015 is the first year they cracked the 50 percent barrier. 

The Seahawks have evolved into one of the most diverse offenses in the league. They can pound you in the power run game, spread you out and run read-option, throw short, and beat you deep. All of this with the threat of the quarterback running on any given play.