A lot of people are not happy about the Seahawks replacing an average offensive coordinator with an average offensive coordinator, but we’re going to have to look past the stats and project a bit to see why Pete Carroll and John Schneider reportedly are hiring Brian Schottenheimer to replace Darrell Bevell.
Schottenheimer is an underwhelming pick to a lot of fans because he has not had a lot of success. In nine seasons as OC of the Jets and Rams, he had only one top-10 scoring offense — Brett Favre led the Jets to ninth in 2008. His running game hasn’t been very good; outside of three straight top-10 years with the Jets (2008-10), it never ranked higher than 19th. And he has never orchestrated an offense that has ranked higher than 11th — seven of the nine ranked 20th or worse.
Bevell supporters, meanwhile, will point out that his offenses with Russell Wilson have been in the top 11 in scoring in five of six years and set team records for rushing yards in 2014 and total yards in 2015.
Of course, hidden in those final stats are the many struggles to get there. The 2014 offense finished poorly — the team won on the strength of its dominant defense.
The 2015 unit was terrible in the first half of the season due to poor coaching choices — Wilson took off after the coaches finally swapped centers and told Wilson to get the ball out faster. But that record-setting boost was short-lived as the offense regressed over the past two years — and looked pretty clueless by the end of 2017.
Bevell was fine when the running game was going, led by the mercurial talents of Wilson and Marshawn Lynch. But he became a victim of Tom Cable’s ineffective offensive line, and the offense’s regression finally sent Carroll and Schneider in a new direction.
While Schottenheimer’s rankings do little to recommend him, there are other reasons to think he might be able to help Wilson & Co. better than Bevell could.
For one, Schottenheimer has not had many QBs who could run his system properly. In New York, other than the one year with Favre, he had weak-armed Chad Pennington and overdrafted Mark Sanchez, with a little Kellen Clemens thrown in. Even with Sanchez at the helm, the Jets made it to the AFC title game in 2009 and 2010 — thanks to a strong running game and defense.
In three years with the Rams, Schottenheimer’s QBs were injury-prone Sam Bradford plus journeymen Clemens, Shaun Hill and Austin Davis. The results were predictably bad. Schottenheimer just hasn’t had much to work with at quarterback. Wilson probably will qualify as the best passer he has had.
As a QB coach, he has done some good work — which is probably part of why Carroll wanted him. Back in the early 2000s with the Chargers, Schottenheimer helped Drew Brees turn into a Pro Bowl QB.
“He’s been such a great influence for me,” Brees said in 2006, as he was leaving San Diego for New Orleans. “I don’t think we would have had the success we’ve had as a team or as an offense without him, nor do I think I would have had the same individual success were it not for Brian. … I couldn’t ask for someone to do a better job of instructing and preparing me to play the game each week.”
The last couple of years, Schottenheimer has helped Andrew Luck and Jacoby Brissett in Indianapolis. Some think his work with the mobile Brissett in 2017 was a good setup for taking over an offense run by the even more dynamic and talented Wilson.
So which offense is Schottenheimer going to run?
Bevell ran a base West Coast scheme that had some major Air Coryell elements (deep passes, power running, multiple tight ends). Schottenheimer is a pretty pure Coryell disciple, having learned it from his dad, longtime NFL coach Marty Schottenheimer. So we can expect the focus on the running game and deep passes to remain.
One of the best things about Schottenheimer, though: His scheme uses a lot of pre-snap motion and shifts. The Seahawks didn’t do this nearly enough under Bevell, which is partly why their running game failed and thus why Wilson ultimately regressed in 2017.
The language is different than the West Coast terminology, which is why the Seahawks are likely to re-sign Davis or else bring in Clemens to help Wilson pick it up. Davis started eight games under Schottenheimer with the Rams in 2014. Clemens started nine in 2013; the 34-year-old has been with the Chargers for the past four years and will be a free agent.
Another free-agent question: Will the hiring of Schottenheimer increase the chances of Seattle re-signing the enigmatic Jimmy Graham? True to Coryell scheme, Schottenheimer likes using two tight ends when he has them. The Rams’ Jared Cook & Lance Kendricks combined for 83 catches in 2013, 79 in 2014.
In three years, Bevell never really figured out how to use Graham consistently. Bevell finally started using him more frequently in the red zone in 2017 — mostly because the Hawks could not run. But Graham basically disappeared between the 20s — often seeming disinterested. He’s certainly not worth the $10 million he was making; so, even if Schottenheimer would like him back, it seems unlikely.
The biggest thing Schottenheimer needs to fix is the running game. Cable ran a zone scheme, but he moved guys around far too much and was too passive and predictable, and the lack of motion and misdirection in play calls made it almost impossible for the Hawks to succeed — even if they hadn’t had so many RB injuries the past couple of years.
Schottenheimer has been pretty flexible in the running schemes he has used, alternating or mixing zone and man. The Hawks certainly could use a new approach up front, where they now have a pretty talented crew that seriously underachieved in 2017.
So who will be Seattle’s new line coach? (UPDATE: The Seahawks reportedly picked Mike Solari on Jan. 15.)
Bill Callahan was Schottenheimer’s line coach with the Jets, who had a star-studded line in those great rushing years of 2008-10. Callahan has been with Washington the past three years and could perhaps be lured away — named assistant head coach (like Cable was) if his contract is not up.
Rick Dennison is a longtime zone proponent and helped orchestrate a lot of good running attacks in Denver and Houston. Recently fired by Buffalo, where he coordinated the league’s No. 6 rushing attack in 2017, he could be a good option to help kick-start Seattle’s running game.
Whoever ends up coaching the line, we know Schottenheimer is going to run the offense the way Carroll wants — a balanced attack with a power running game and deep passes.
And we just have to hope he can create the consistency Bevell couldn’t and doesn’t turn out to be as average as his history makes him seem.