The Seahawks have been fighting in a dark alley so far this season — feeling their way against unfamiliar foes.
First it was new Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor, who brought schemes Pete Carroll and his staff were not ready for and nearly beat the Hawks with them. Then it was Mason Rudolph, who replaced injured Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh and almost rallied the Steelers. Last week, it was Teddy Bridgewater replacing injured Drew Brees and Alvin Kamara breaking tackles and leading the Saints to a surprisingly easy win.
Now Seattle faces another unfamiliar coach and QB as the Hawks head to dreaded Glendale to take on Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray’s AIR-izona Raid offense.
Carroll knows plenty about the Air Raid, though — since it is just an offshoot of the old run-n-shoot. The difference is the mobile young quarterback running it, and the Hawks need to join the other defenses that have made it hard on this year’s No. 1 draft pick.
The original run-n-shoot was popularized by Mouse Davis and run most successfully in the NFL by Jack Pardee’s 1990s Houston Oilers. Detroit (with Davis as OC) and Atlanta (with Davis as QB coach) ran versions of it back in that era as well, and Seattle even had a failed experiment with it in 1990 (Chuck Knox trashed it after five games).
Warren Moon, who mastered the run-n-shoot with Houston, told Rich Eisen in 2017: “Back when we were doing it, it was like, ‘This is some kind of pop gun offense and this thing will never work in the league.’ What they’ve been able to do is take the good things out of it and incorporate it into offenses today.”
Around the time Detroit and Houston were popularizing the run-n-shoot in the NFL, Hal Mumme and Mike Leach were hatching the Air Raid at little Iowa Wesleyan — a scheme blended from BYU’s LaVell Edwards, Davis’ run-n-shoot and Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense.
Just like the run-n-shoot once did, the Air Raid has had its skeptics. But the NFL has become more receptive to quarterbacks coming out of the scheme — in fact, nine current starting QBs ran it in college. And now Kingsbury, a Leach protege, and Murray, who played for Leach disciple Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma, are running the wide-open scheme in the NFL.
Carroll said it is basically the same as the run-n-shoot and the concepts from that offense that are used around the NFL by New England, the L.A. Rams and others.
“I don’t think it’s anything different now other than the continued emphasis in the belief of the passing game,” Carroll said. “I think they were really ahead of the curve back in the day with Mouse Davis. … Now, we see it so much more. It’s more readily received. I don’t think it’s that much different, really.”
So how are Kingsbury and Murray — a bit of a Russell Wilson clone — running the NFL’s first Air Raid offense?
“I think what’s enhanced here is the movement of the quarterback,” Carroll said. “In any offense that has a quarterback that can move like this, it just causes major issues. It happens to be that they spread you all out so there’s a lot of room. You can see why they picked him. You can see why they picked the coach — the whole thing. It all fits together really well.”
Of course, these Cardinals are in their formative days, going through lots of growing pains. Murray has been sacked 16 times and thrown three interceptions in the first three games as Arizona has gone 0-2-1.
“That’s part of the process of being a rookie,” Kingsbury said. “We understand in those three games we’ve had to drop back and throw it a lot more than we want to and anticipate doing. All of these are learning experiences, and (Kyler) understands that. We have to do a better job of getting rid of the football and not taking those negative plays, but that comes with time.”
The Seahawks have had trouble getting much pass rush against their first three opponents, especially with the quarterbacks getting the ball out quickly. But former Seahawk Cliff Avril thinks Seattle will get to Murray, like everyone has.
“They want to throw the ball 50-60 times a game. As a pass rusher, you are excited about something like that,” Avril said on Q13 FOX the other day. “… You like your odds when you’re going against a team like this.
“Sacks come in bunches. This is the game to try to go get those. This is the game to get the wheels turning and get an eight-, nine-, 10-sack game by the D-line collectively. I can see (line coach) Clint Hurtt preaching to the guys, letting them know, ‘Let’s make it happen this week.’ ”
Avril agreed with Carroll that Murray’s mobility causes unique issues, just like Wilson’s has for seven-plus seasons.
“Those are the hardest guys to go against — the guys that are mobile in the pocket. You love to go against the sitting ducks, as they say. You know where they’ll be when you beat your guy. A guy like Kyler Murray, Russell Wilson … you have to rush through your guy to make sure you see the quarterback at all times. It just makes your job a little bit harder, especially in the middle. That’s why you have to change up the looks. … You’ll have guys in the middle of the field kind of spying on him as well.”
The Seahawks have played around 70 percent base defense this season, because Carroll loves his three linebackers. Now the question is whether he will stick to base against Arizona’s four wides. If so, he will have to use his linebackers to blitz, Avril said.
“You have to bring blitzes from time to time; you have to switch up the looks on him from time to time,” Avril said. “No quarterback in the NFL likes to get hit, especially young quarterbacks. Make them feel that presence: ‘Welcome to the NFL, rookie.’
“It doesn’t necessarily have to lead to sacks, but if you’re getting hits, you’re getting hurries, pressures, that still is effective to those types of quarterbacks.”
Ziggy Ansah (back) is expected to play for the second week, and people are itching to see him and Jadeveon Clowney start working together to form the anticipated dominant rush. Avril cautions it will take time. He said he and Michael Bennett didn’t get it together until about six games into their first season together, in 2013.
“Fans have to slow and pump their brakes a little bit on (Clowney and Ansah),” Avril said. “Both guys have not really played any football in about a year. … Once those guys get acclimated to the system (and) philosophy … that D-line can be serious toward the end of the season.”