The two missing elements to the Seahawks getting to the Super Bowl were a more sophisticated offensive approach and a more consistent pass rush.
If their 28-16 win in Indianapolis is any indication, the Hawks have taken care of those issues and may have their best shot yet at returning to the title game.
Sure, it’s only one game. But Shane Waldron came out with a great plan against one of the NFL’s top defenses (seventh by DVOA in 2020), and the defensive line did indeed come in waves against Carson Wentz.
Waldron inherited an all-star cast, but we got to see a small sample of what he is going to do with it – and he drew raves from everyone with the way he spread the ball, mixed the tempo, confused the defense and helped Russell Wilson have a nearly perfect day (18 of 23, 254 yards, four TDs).
Tyler Lockett (four catches, 100 yards, two scores) and Chris Carson (117 total yards, 5.7 yards per carry) also had great days (Carson’s fumble the only mar) – both quickly validating the new investments the team made in them in the offseason.
The tight ends were well involved, as advertised. Will Dissly ran 20 pass routes; he didn’t have more than 16 in any of Seattle’s last 11 games last season.
Gerald Everett, fresh from the Rams with Waldron, caught a screen pass for a first down and then a cross for a 9-yard TD. He wiped out his own 20-yard gain on another screen because he lined up wrong (not covering the left tackle).
Pete Carroll said, “There’s a lot more to see. We haven’t done all of our stuff; there’s a lot to come. Really, Gerald is such a versatile football player. You’ll see him do all kinds of things. He got a touchdown pass today and all that. He’ll do a lot more. He’s got a lot of good stuff in him.”
DK Metcalf did nothing until the second half, when he scored on a 15-yard pass. And he was fine with that: “When the ball is spread around like we did today and everybody’s touching the ball and Chris Carson’s breaking long runs, I mean, it’s hard to stop us — because you don’t know who’s gonna go next.”
That’s just one reason the Seahawks were impressed with Waldron.
“I thought we did phenomenal, man,” Lockett said. “Understanding the coverages that they were running. Understanding their tendencies, the philosophies, all the things that they were trying to do. I thought we capitalized on it, we adjusted to it, we ran the ball the way we wanted to …
“It opened up a lot of stuff in play action. We didn’t always need to go deep. We went short at times. We went medium at times. I think that’s the thing that’s really going to help us out a lot, because as you go into these next weeks, and even next week, teams are going to try to stop certain types of plays. But I think what we showed is that it doesn’t matter who gets the ball. We’re going to feed whoever and however, based off of what it is that a defense chooses to give us.
“I think the best thing that we’ve learned is just being able to take what the defense gives us, and that’s what happened today.”
Thanks largely to Lockett’s 69-yard TD catch and Carson’s 33-yard run, the Seahawks averaged 7.2 yards per play. Even in their hot 2020 start, they hit that number only once (Week 2 win vs. New England).
The Seahawks finished with 140 yards rushing against the NFL’s second-ranked run defense from 2020 (No. 1 in yards per carry). The Colts allowed only one team to rush for more than 124 yards in 2020.
Put all that on the balance Waldron brought in his first game as a play caller.
“Really the day to me goes to Shane,” Carroll said. “I’m really, really proud of what he was able to do because he went for it the whole time and we did exactly how we’ve been practicing and how we’ve been preparing, and he handled it with such a cool overall mentality.”
Wilson said “the chemistry between Shane and I was great. It was terrific tonight. It’s been great all offseason. We’ve spent a lot of time really working on the game and working on what we want to do.
“He’s so knowledgeable. I told you guys earlier this week he is like the wizard. I’ll control a lot of it, too, at the same time and we’re all working together. It’s a beautiful thing. It was a great game tonight against a really great defense, too. That defense is one of the best in the league, so I thought we played really well.
“I thought we played with great tempo. I thought also we were able to control the game but still be explosive, still get the ball out quick, and do all the plethora of things that we can do. There’s nothing we can’t do.”
Carroll added, “I’ve never seen this kind of chemistry be so obvious between the caller and the quarterback. I hope this is just the first step of a great march together.”
The deep defensive line took its own big first step, with three sacks and 10 QB hits.
Veterans Carlos Dunlap, Kerry Hyder and Benson Mayowa all played well, but they were upstaged by Rasheem Green and Bryan Mone as the Hawks mixed and matched their linemen. Their “Cheetah” formation was Dunlap, Hyder, Green and Mayowa. They also had a “Big 5” line of Darrell Taylor, Poona Ford, Mone, Al Woods and Mayowa – Carroll joked, “That might have been a mistake in the substitutions today.”
Green was all over the field, coming up with a sack, two QB hits and two passes defensed – putting him in apparently rare company. Carroll said they are playing him outside more: “I just think we found a better spot for him to show his stuff. … He just cut it loose so well in camp, and it showed up in the game.”
Mone finished with five tackles, three pressures and a QB hit.
Taylor came up with a huge fourth-down sack as Indy neared the end zone in the fourth quarter.
“When we get him with the 12’s, he’s going to be 12’s best friend now,” Carroll said. “When they can get to roaring on third down and on passing downs and get him the chance to get off, you can see how explosive he is coming off the football. He’s going to have some big games. He’ll have some big games where it’ll be really hard for people to match him up, so I’m excited about that.”
Carroll said the D-line combinations were a product “of the versatility of the edge players. We’ve been developing that ability for a while now to see how flexible we can be. We have a number of guys that can all do it. We didn’t see a whole lot of Alton (Robinson) today, but he’s in that mix too.”
Robinson had a very efficient game, with three pressures in five rushes and two tackles on seven run plays.
The Seahawks held the Colts to 223 yards passing. Quite a flip from their horrendous start to 2020, when they did not hold an opponent under 248 yards passing until their 11th game (Wentz and the Eagles had just 180 in that one). The Seahawks also held the Colts to 4.7 yards per play, something they did just three times last season.
“I thought we felt our pass rush much more than we have like early in last season, much more like how we finished the year,” Carroll said. “The back end, though, definitely knocked down a couple different route concepts that allowed us to get to him, and the rush was really consistent and persistent. And it worked together really well, so it’s a good start for us, really good start.”
A “really good start” that bodes well for a potentially great finish.