As we’ve been doing for several years now, we’ll break down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponent each week, telling you what to expect from a scheme and individual standpoint. Like last year, Josh Carney and I will cover the opposing team’s offense. I will focus on scheme, Josh on the players.
Today, scouting the Seattle Seahawks’ offense.
ALEX’S SCHEME REPORT
Seahawks’ Run Game
Something Seattle will likely rely heavily on now that Russell Wilson is out of the starting lineup. But there’s injury concerns at this position too. Starter Chris Carson is dealing with a neck injury that caused him to miss Week 5’s game against the Los Angeles Rams. That did come on a short week so perhaps the extra couple of days will have him ready for primetime action. If he can’t go, Alex Collins will get the nod. Carson is averaging 4.3 YPC. Collins sits at 4.4. The offense has just 12 runs of 10+ yards, tied for 21st in football.
Rookie wide receiver Freddie Swain has carried the ball three times for 21 yards, all coming in the team’s first three games. All three came on an early down “and ten” play, 1st and 10 or 2nd and 10 in Seattle territory between the 25 and 41 (two came at their own 25). All three came early in the quarter but occurred in three separate quarters, second through fourth. So the tendency is a WR run on early downs from the 25 to 49.
Their run game is primarily a zone scheme. Inside zone with some split zone. Some examples.
They do have a FB in Nick Bellore, who also serves as a linebacker, but he’s played just four offensive snaps this season and is a primary special teamer. They prefer to use a collection of tight ends instead. Four of them have played 15+ snaps this year.
This could apply to either section but the Seahawks run a fair amount of RPOs, just as the Steelers do. It’s tough to tell if that will decrease under Geno Smith but the offense did give Russell Wilson options. With Smith in the game last week, the team ran two read-option plays. Something I suppose they’re capable of doing with Wilson but were probably less willing to risk (of course, you could argue it’s even more risky under Smith; if he gets hurt, then they’re really in trouble). But they ran it twice and Smith kept it once, a threat with his legs even in his 30s.
Some other stats, though the numbers here don’t mean as much with Wilson out. They average 24 points per game, tied for 13th in the league. The offense struggled on third down, 26th at 34.7% while the red zone offense was extremely efficient, 4th at 76.9%. This team has succeeded because they take exceptional care of the football. A league-low three giveaways this year, two of them coming in Week 5’s loss to LA. Smith will need to have similar ball security for this team to weather the storm.
Seahawks’ Pass Game
One without Wilson. Which is very strange territory for them to be in. Sunday night will be Seattle’s first game without Wilson under center in his entire NFL career. The last game Seattle played without Wilson being their guy came in Week 17 of the 2011 season, January 1st 2012 when the late Tarvaris Jackson got the nod in their finale.
Instead, it’ll be Geno Smith as the guy. His first start since December of 2017, a 24-17 loss to the Raiders as a member of the New York Giants. That makes film study of this offense tough to do. I spent a lot of my time watching Smith’s 2nd half performance against the LA Rams, of course, but that came under difficult circumstances with his team trailing and forced to throw.
Before we get into the film, some numbers. Which again, are tough to make much of. The pass offense had been among the best in football which makes Wilson’s absence all the tougher to swallow. The pass offense had the 5th highest completion rate at over 70%, top ten in touchdowns with 11, and the number one passing attack in terms of yards per attempt at 9.3, signaling their downfield ability. That’s made up by two vertical threat receivers in Tyler Lockett (one of the league’s most underrated receivers) and DK Metcalf. Two different body types and styles for the defense to deal with.
And those are the top guys. Lockett and Metcalf. Lockett has 25 catches on 35 targets, averaging 15.6 yards per catch, and three touchdowns. Metcalf has 25 catches on 38 targets, averaging 15.3 yards per catch, with five touchdowns.
There are only six WRs in the league this year with 25+ catches and 15+ yards per catch. And Seattle has two of them. Count on the Seahawks looking for chunk plays in this game and those are the two guys to do it.
As an offense, they have 20 asses for 20+ yards. Tied for 7th most in football. Four of those have gone 40+, tied for 6th most.
Despite those vertical-looking numbers, this is an offense that throws the ball over the middle a lot. It has a Chargers/Saints feel to it. A lot of throws and YAC chances between the numbers. They also run a heavy amount of 12 personnel. Even when needing to throw last week, they’ll put out a second tight end instead of a third wideout.
One concept they’ve shown, which is fairly unique, is to go empty and align FiB (formation in boundary) with three players to the top. They’ll walk the RB out as #1 to the two-receiver side and align DK Metcalf in the slot. Less attention to that side, he gets a more free release, and often runs a slant out of it. Examples. The first example isn’t FiB but the second one is.
They’ll also often run bending routes from #2, running boundary to the field. Playing with outside leverage here in man coverage will leave the DB in trail all day long. Watch Lockett in the slot run across the field behind the curl.
This drifts into some of the individual territory for Josh below but I noticed a bad habit of Smith leaving a clean pocket and drifting to his right. That internal clock going off and telling him to escape. On one occasion, he bailed a clean pocket and ran into a stunt. The Steelers must contain that side well so Smith can’t escape. Bringing backside nickel or LB pressure could easily flush Smith out of if feels some heat, even if Seattle blocks it up well.
They also struggled with overload blitzes out of empty. I don’t know if they’ll scale down empty use this week or not but I would check to a “safe’ four man overload pressure against empty this week.
Josh’s Individual Report
It’s Seahawks week, Steelers fans!
Though the Seattle Seahawks will be without All-Pro quarterback Russell Wilson for the Sunday Night Football clash at Heinz Field, this NFC West team still presents a significant challenge to a strong Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense, especially in the secondary.
Without Wilson, the Seahawks will be limited some in their ability to pick up yardage from quarterback scrambles and extended plays resulting in big splashes, but veteran quarterback Geno Smith has been around the block a time or three, and certainly played well in relief of Wilson in the Week 5 Thursday Night.
Make no mistake though: this Seattle offense won’t be the same on Sunday night, regardless of having a week and a half to prepare. Wilson is that special and Smith had not really seen game action since 2018, aside from a brief five-attempt cameo in a 40-3 blowout win by the Seahawks over the New York Jets in 2020.
Now, he’ll be asked to go on the road to a tough environment on national television against one of the better defenses in the NFL.
Fortunately for Smith, he has a tremendous supporting cast around him, led by superstar wide receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
While Metcalf is dealing with a foot injury that kept him out of practice two days this week, I fully expect the third-year receiver to be a go on Sunday. Should he play, he’ll be a major problem for the Steelers’ young secondary, as Metcalf is a physical freak that has incredible explosion and straight-line speed, and is becoming a savvy route runner on top of it.
In Week 3 against the Minnesota Vikings on the road, Metcalf made a splash right away, dominating veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson this route. Metcalf had concerns about his three-cone time and change of direction skills coming out of Ole Miss, but he’s been fantastic since Day 1 in the league, and is frighteningly only getting better.
The Seahawks do a great job moving him around and utilizing him as a possession receiver, a field stretcher vertically, and even get him matched up against slot corners and linebackers, letting him dominate on crossing routes, especially off of play-action.
Check out the usage here against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 4.
The route concept is fantastic, creating a natural rub on the slot cornerback off of play-action, freeing up Metcalf to sprint freely across the formation for the 28-yard catch, igniting the 49ers’ offense after a very slow start.
Last week, with Smith in the game for the injured Wilson, he developed great rapport with the veteran backup quarterback and hauled in this touchdown on a simple fade route in the red zone.
Yes, the Rams’ cornerback played this ball as poorly as one can, but that’s what Metcalf does to defenders. He has them second guessing, which leads to mistakes and puts points on the board for the Seahawks.
Even without Wilson on Sunday, Metcalf will be a force to be reckoned with.
Along with Metcalf, Lockett is quietly a borderline top 10 wide receiver in football. He’s a fantastic route runner, is incredibly tough over the middle and after the catch, and can really stretch the field vertically. He was a significant weapon with Wilson at the helm, but it doesn’t feel like Smith had much of a feel for him throughout the game, as he targeted Metcalf more.
Behind those two stud receivers, I do like the way Freddie Swaim has developed as the slot guy in Seattle. I felt pretty good about Swaim’s ability to stick in the NFL as a No. 4-5 wide receiver due to his abilities in the slot and his special teams prowess. So far, that’s what’s happened with Swaim, who has seized upon the opportunities at the position, elevating into the slot receiver role with the Seahawks.
At tight end, the Seahawks go four deep with Gerald Everett, Will Dissly, Colby Parkinson and Tyler Mabry.
Everett is the true move TE of the bunch as the Seahawks move him all over the place searching for mismatches, while Dissly and Parkinson hold down the in-line roles. Everett is a real weapon, but the Seahawks just don’t use him much in the passing game, and why would you with Metcalf and Lockett on the same roster.
Dissly quietly can carve up a defense over the middle. He’s a tough guy after the catch to bring down, and he has tremendous hands, which weren’t often displayed at the University of Washington.
In the backfield, an old foe looks to be the next in line with Chris Carson dealing with a neck injury.
Enter Alex Collins, he of former Baltimore Ravens production. Collins has gashed the Steelers in the past, and he’s looked good the last two weeks for the Seahawks on the ground and through the air.
The Seahawks do a great job utilizing their running backs out of the backfield on delayed leaks off of play-action, or on designed screens and swings to get them into space. Be on the lookout for that on Sunday night.
It will all come down to how the Seahawks’ offensive line holds up on Sunday night against a really good Steelers’ front seven.
Here’s how I expect the Seahawks to line up left to right on Sunday night:
LT — Duane Brown
LG — Damien Lewis
C — Kyle Fuller
RG — Gabe Jackson
RT — Brandon Shell
Brown and Lewis on the left side are as good a pairing as you’ll find in the NFL at this point. Brown is getting up there in age, but he’s still a terrific athlete for his age and size, and does a great job holding down the blindside.
Lewis was a guy I really liked at right guard coming out of LSU, but he switched to left and has thrived in Seattle. He’s a physical people mover in the run game and has improved week-to-week in pass protection.
Fuller is a bit dicey at center, though the Seahawks have skimped at center in recent years and gotten away with it.
Jackson is a guy I was high on when he was with the Raiders, but injuries and poor play overall have befallen him, though he’s still starting caliber. Shell is the question mark. He’ll draw TJ Watt, and will undoubtedly get some help with chips and extra tight ends. He’s a good run blocker, but pass protection has been a struggle for him on tape.
On special teams, the Seahawks should feel fantastic with where they’re at. Kicker Jason Myers is as consistent as they come, having missed just two kicks in his last 29 attempts. For his career, Myers converts at an 85.7% clip. Pretty darn good.
Punter Michael Dickson has a massive leg and is a real weapon at the position, even when he is double punting the football illegally. He can really flip the field and is skilled enough to pin returns to the sidelines, helping out his coverage team immensely.
Swaim is the punt returner, having taken over the duties from Lockett, who held down that role for five years prior to Week 1 this season. Swaim returned a couple punts for scores in college and has looked solid, averaging nearly 8 yards per punt return on the year.
Running back DeeJay Dallas is the kick returner and has flashed some serious straight-line speed and homerun abilities returning kicks this season. Dallas has a 33-yarder on the year to date and has looked close to busting a few so far this season.