What the Hawks were missing and how it could open up their offense

May 13, 2024, 12:17 PM | Updated: 7:46 pm

Seattle Seahawks Jaxon Smith-Njigba Cardinals 2024 Getty 900...

Jaxon Smith-Njigba of the Seattle Seahawks runs a route against Arizona in 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

There were high expectations for the Seattle Seahawks’ offense heading into last season.

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Seattle had finished ninth in points per game in 2022, spearheaded by a breakthrough season from quarterback Geno Smith, a stellar rookie campaign from running back Kenneth Walker III and big years from the one-two receiving punch of DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. With Smith entering Year 2 as a starter and the addition of another weapon in first-round pick Jaxon Smith-Njigba, there was hope the Seahawks’ offense would be even better in 2023.

That didn’t happen. Seattle’s offense took a step back, finishing 17th in points per game last season. A slew of injuries along the offensive line undoubtedly played a major role, but one NFL analyst believed play-calling was also an issue.

“It’s a high-wire act when they throw the ball,” Robert Mays, host of The Athletic Football Show, said on a recent episode of his podcast. “I mean, it is a high degree of difficulty within that offense. … Watching them last year and going back and watching a couple games over the last few days, it felt like, ‘Man, this is hard.’ They’re asking so much of Geno in these moments. And then you look at the numbers and that bears out.”

Mays pointed to one stat in particular: Seattle used in-cuts on just 4.7% of its routes, which was the lowest rate in the NFL. During Monday’s edition of Brock and Salk, former NFL quarterback Brock Huard gave his reaction to Mays’ comments and explained why more in-breaking routes would have made things easier for Smith.

“Why are in-cuts easier and typically gimmes compared to out cuts? Very simple – distance,” Huard said. “When you throw a slant – when you throw an in-cut – that ball from the QB’s hands to that receiver travels less distance. You throw these comebacks, you throw these out cuts, you throw these corners, you throw these out-breaking routes, guess what? The ball has to travel farther, with more precision.”

Under first-year head coach Mike Macdonald, the Seahawks have a new offensive coordinator this season in Ryan Grubb, who oversaw the UW Huskies’ high-flying passing attack as their OC the past two seasons. Huard said he’d like to see Grubb scheme easier throws for Smith – similar to what 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and Rams coach Sean McVay do for their quarterbacks.

“Year after year, you know what I want for these (Seahawks) QBs and what Shanahan and McVay give to their guys when they play the Seahawks?” Huard said. “Just give me gimmes. (Give me) a short little in-the-key lay-in, versus having to make a high-degree-of-difficulty contested shot.

“What if Geno gets a bunch of gimmes?” he added. “What if Ryan Grubb’s whole system is predicated and built (on that)? We watched it for two years with (UW quarterback) Michael Penix here in Washington. … Yeah, there’s (still) out cuts. Yeah, there’s (still) high-degree-of-difficulty throws. But (he’d be) setting (Geno) up for success. Could he not be pushing to be a top-10 QB in that kind of system?”

The view from a WR

Former NFL receiver Michael Bumpus also reacted to Mays’ comments during Friday’s edition of Bump and Stacy. Bumpus said that in addition to being easier throws, in-cuts can cause more confusion for opposing defenses.

“Why do we like watching the 49ers’ offense go? Why do we like watching the Rams’ offense go? Because there’s a lot of stuff going across the field,” Bumpus said. “And when guys are crossing zones as receivers and pass catchers, you’re making the defense have to communicate and pass guys through, and someone is going to get influenced by something they’re seeing.

“If I’m a middle linebacker and I’ve got the running back flashing to the flat, I’m naturally going to slide that way. (But if I also) have a shallow cross by the tight end going the other way across my face, now I’m like, ‘All right, I’ve gotta respect that there, but I also have to slide here.’ And then I have to communicate to the guy outside of me, ‘Hey, he’s coming through the zone.’ It causes confusions and false steps for a defense. Essentially, Mays is saying there (were) harder throws and less confusion being caused by this offense on the opposition.”

Listen to the full conversation from Monday’s Brock and Salk in the podcast at this link or in the player near the top of this post. Listen to the full conversation from Friday’s Bump and Stacy in the podcast at this link or in the player near the bottom of this post.

More Seattle Seahawks coverage

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What the Hawks were missing and how it could open up their offense