Geno, Seahawks’ red zone offense start tough stretch vs Browns

Oct 27, 2023, 9:42 AM

Seattle Seahawks Geno Smith...

Seattle Seahawks QB Geno Smith has his pass deflected by the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 15, 2023. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

(Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Under pressure after two bad weeks in the red zone already, Geno Smith and the Seattle Seahawks offense are about to face their two biggest tests of the season that won’t be the toughest stretch of the schedule.

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That instead will be a four-game stretch with a pair of primetime games against Dallas, the 6-1 Eagles, and the 49ers twice, with the latter two being far more complete teams than Cleveland.

But the Browns are particularly lethal on one side of the ball, and it’ll be up to Smith & Co. – not just the improved defense – to keep Seattle competitive Sunday.

In his first year as defensive coordinator for the Browns, Jim Schwartz has sharpened an already talented unit from a tough group into the league’s best through six weeks. Cleveland is the best passing defense in the league, limiting opponents to just 149.2 yards through the air per game. The Browns are also first defensively in total yards per game (243), third down conversions per game (3.7), and first downs per game (12). They’re also the only defense to allow a sub-30% third down conversion rate from opponents (27.5%).

They’re on pace to be one of the better defenses the league has seen over the past few years, but they’re also not without some wrinkles. Perhaps partly by design, they’re not the quickest unit to the quarterback (Philadelphia actually improved there from a 70-sack 2022 season). Their 19 sacks are fewer than Seattle’s total. They’ve also performed better at home (101.8 pass yards allowed) than on the road (244) and don’t have a ton of takeaways. To their credit, they haven’t needed to; they’re making an effort to move the ball down the field and convert on third down a suffocating, mind-numbing process.

It won’t get much easier next week, either. The No. 2 team behind Cleveland in yards allowed per game? That would be the stingy Baltimore Ravens, Seattle’s Week 9 opponent. The Ravens are leading the league with 29 sacks and are tops in points allowed (13.9).

So, a Seahawks offense that was supposed to be a strength entering the season can prove it can fight toe-to-toe with the best. There’s a chance they’ll see the return of starting center Evan Brown (though starting right tackle Abe Lucas is unlikely to play).

The key to red zone improvements

Smith has faced the bulk of the blame and pressure for red zone failures. It’s fair; it’s the burden of being a starting quarterback, and he has two interceptions inside the 20.

But converting to score is a team effort and offensive coordinator Shane Waldron knows that. It’s why the return of rookie running back Zach Charbonnet could offer a potential boost for Week 8.

“It’s always going to start with the run game in the red zone,” Waldron said Thursday. “Being able to have those positive runs.”

Seattle saw an example of what that looks like when it works (against Carolina) and when it doesn’t. Against Arizona, on first down with the ball at the one-yard line, the Seahawks had two rush attempts for -1 yard.

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