Gallant: The Seahawks’ offense still hasn’t figured out 3rd down, so what’s to blame?

Dec 24, 2020, 12:54 PM
Seahawks Russell Wilson...
The Seahawks' one constant this season has been trouble converting on third down. (Getty)

There’s only been one constant for the 2020 Seahawks.

Is Seahawks’ D good enough to carry this more conservative offense?

It’s not the offense. They were an unstoppable force to kick off the season and at one point looked like they’d help Russell Wilson set the single-season record for passing touchdowns. Since then, they’ve looked a lot like recent Seattle offenses – run-centric and conservative.

Thankfully, it isn’t the defense either. A unit once destined to be a historic liability has surprisingly become… enough. We’re not sure if the defense is actually good after holding the likes of Carson Wentz, Colt McCoy, Sam Darnold and Dwayne Haskins mostly in check, but we do know they’ve improved.

“We all know this, PAWL. GET TO THE POINT.”

Even during their impressive offensive start, the Seahawks have struggled on third downs. They’ve converted just 64 of 160 third down plays this season, ranking 24th in the NFL. That’s within 2% of wretched offenses like the 49ers, Giants, Broncos and Washington.


There’s only one way to find out, so I bolted myself to a chair, put on my blue light glasses and watched all 96 of the Seahawks’ failed third downs using the All-22 angles on NFL Gamepass.

What’s been the biggest problem?

The following inexact stats were entirely based on my own football-watching judgment. I think it’s important to note that this judgment came without the benefit of talking to coaches or players involved about what actually happened.

“Yeah, we know PAWL. Stick to Star Wars.”

On top of that, no two football plays are the same, let alone 96! To simplify my findings, I divided the plays into six broad categories.

• ‘Russing’ for his life: Passing attempts where Russ had little to no time, resulting in sacks, checkdowns, throwaways or inaccurate throws.

Russell’s fault: Passing attempts where Russ held the ball too long (including sacks, checkdowns, throwaways, inaccurate throws, etc.), made inaccurate/deflected/intercepted passes, or fumbled the snap.

Stuffed: Scrambles, runs, and receptions short of the sticks.

Drops: Dropped passes.

Low-probability conversions: Third-and-long plays featuring incomplete passes, short routes with little chance of a first down, and plays where the offense seemed to be conceding the drive.

Victory formation: All taken knees, plus three plays with Geno Smith at QB.

Here’s a fancy pie chart with all the findings:

Let’s ignore the 24 low-probability conversions and victory formation categories entirely. Drops are frustrating, and the Seahawks have had a fair amount of them in 2020 (per NBC Sports, the Hawks are in the top half of the league with 17 on the season). And from time to time, defenses will simply tackle running backs and receivers short of the sticks.

But there’s nothing more important on third down in the NFL than the quarterback. With Russell Wilson under center, Seattle should be better than 24th in the NFL. What else could be at play?

In years past, Wilson’s Seahawks have taken a frustrating number of sacks. In the days of immobile quarterbacks, it’d be easy to blame the offensive line for those struggles. And while offensive line coach Mike Solari’s overseen some serious improvement this season, things weren’t always clean for Russ on those third downs. By my count, the offensive line was beaten or simply overwhelmed by the blitz on 18 of those failures.

But with someone like Russell Wilson who’s always looking to extend plays, you can’t just blame the offensive line. His never-ending quest for the big play sometimes results in him holding the ball too long, something that was an issue against the Rams and Giants. By my count, he was at fault on 27 of the Seahawks’ failed third downs this season – nearly 30%.

It’s impossible to be perfect in the NFL. But for the Seahawks’ offense to be better than it’s been over the past month, Russ needs to be better on third downs. If he isn’t, the Hawks won’t go far in the playoffs.

Follow Paul Gallant on Twitter.

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Gallant: The Seahawks’ offense still hasn’t figured out 3rd down, so what’s to blame?