Gregg Bell gbell@thenewstribune.com
Gregg Bell gbell@thenewstribune.com

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Here’s why Seahawks could – should – go more no-huddle Sunday against San Francisco

September 12, 2017 6:07 PM

If the Seahawks’ offense really is all about rhythm—looking as it should when it has it and absolutely awful when it doesn’t—why not give these guys a groove?

Why not run the no-huddle offense more?

That’s the question the Seahawks from quarterback Russell Wilson through coach Pete Carroll may be exploring before Sunday’s home opener against San Franscisco.

Heck, maybe even the team’s bird mascot Blitz is asking that, given how obvious Seattle’s offensive production was in no-huddle mode compared to all other times last weekend during the team’s 17-9 slog of a loss at Green Bay in the season opener.

"We always know that we do well in those situations, for the most part," Carroll said Monday.

"Russell is very good in that mode," Carroll said. "And we’ve practiced it throughout the offseason. And we like going there."

What’s not to like?

Seattle produced its fewest yards (225) in a game in three years on Sunday in Green Bay. But 115 of those yards--plus six of the Seahawks’ nine points—came while in hurry-up mode against the Packers.

They had 19.2 yards per play running no-huddle at the end of the first half and middle of the fourth quarter at Lambeau Field. The otherwise-malfunctioning (again) offensive line benefited from the quicker pace; Wilson wasn’t sacked or even hit on any of the no-huddle plays.

The Seahawks gained fewer yards over the rest of the opener--just 110 yards--on their other 42 plays combined in conventional, huddling offense. It was a meager 2.6 yards per play. Wilson was sacked three times and hit seven times when the offense huddled.

And this trend goes well beyond last weekend.

I researched the NFL’s official play-by-play results for all Seahawks games since the start of the 2016 season. The Seahawks have used no-huddle sets on 18 drives in those 19 games, including playoffs. They have scored on 10 of those series, five touchdowns and five field goals. That’s a scoring rate of 56 percent. They have gained an average of 10 yards per play while in hurry-up (889 yards on 89 plays in no-huddle).

In that same span the Seahawks have scored on 35.1 percent of all their other 179 drives while huddling. They are averaging 5.9 yards per play on series in which they huddle the entire time (971 plays, 5,751 yards).

Seattle went no-huddle for the first time at Green Bay at the end of the first half, after C.J. Prosise ran for a first down to get the offense off its own goal line. Wilson scrambled and connected on a pass to Doug Baldwin cutting across the field for 34 yards. Without huddling, Wilson then took off on the next play through a huge gap up the middle for 29 more yards. Presto! Two plays, 63 yards and eventually Blair Walsh’s field goal for the game’s first points.

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The Seahawks gained 36 yards on their other 23 plays of that half while huddling.

"We’re an explosive team, and when we are on it we are on it," center Justin Britt said. "At that point we had rhythm and we had trust. We prepare for moments like that."

What about the no-huddle helps the needy offensive line?

"I keep talking about the rhythm," Britt said. "Whenever you are going quick pace you are just in this rhythm, this flow, and your mind is working fast.

"Russ is one of the best to do it, and we have really good receivers."

Wilson offered other reasons the no-huddle helps his linemen.

"You’ve got big guys on the defensive line that get tired, you know, kind of slows them down a little bit," Wilson said. "Also, we are playing instinctive. We are playing fast. ... It’s kind of like fast-break basketball a little bit. A little bit more challenging (for a defense).

"I think it tires down the defense and makes it tough for their calls. Really, the past five, six years we’ve been able to execute in those 2-minute drives very, very well."

It’s not just the passing game that benefits. The no-huddle’s pace and tendency to tire defensive fronts can make those defenders easier to run block.

Seattle’s line could use any and all help creating lanes for running backs.

Last season, when Wilson had two major leg injuries in the first three games and was limited the rest of the year, the Seahawks dropped from fourth in the NFL in rushing 2015 to 25th. Improving the run game is priority number one for Carroll this season.

But the running backs gained just 20 yards on 15 carries at Green Bay--aside from a jolting, 30-yard dash on a deft cut back by rookie Chris Carson in the second half.

"Yeah, the times were really had the rhythm was when we were in 2-minute," Wilson said at Lambeau Field following Sunday’s loss.

"It’s something we have to see and study and see it it’s something we can do a little more of, or better job at."

Wilson is a team man who speaks in scripted, stay-the-course mantras, as if he is a coach. He rarely hints at change. His response to the no-huddle question Sunday – plus all the statistics and evidence of how well the Seahawks have produced in the no-huddle the last two seasons -- begs that one, pressing question.

Will they do it more?

"Sometimes it’d be easier to play that way," Carroll said, "sometimes it (wouldn’t)."

Ten of the 18 drives Seattle has gone no-huddle since the start of the 2016 have come at obvious times: at the end of the first half or the end of the game, when the offense has been trying to score before time expired.

So why not more than eight times in the last 19 games in the middle of the game?

The chief drawback to going no-huddle more often is the fact shorter Seahawks possessions gives more opportunities to the opposing offense. Worst case is if Seattle, which was 3 for 12 on third downs at Green Bay, doesn’t get a first down on a no-huddle drive in the middle of the game its stout defense will barely have time to get to the Gatorade bucket at the bench before it has to go back onto the field.

"There is some concern when you have a really explosive offense on the other side and a quarterback that can do a lot of damage," Carroll said. "So we play the game a little bit in that regard.”

The inference was clear. The Seahawks shy away from more no-huddle when they are playing Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady or perhaps even against their week-three opponent at Tennessee, potentially lethal quarterback Marcus Mariota.

But this week? Against San Francisco and journeyman Brian Hoyer? He had an interception and a passer rating of just 70.3 while producing only three points in the 49ers’ opening loss at home to Carolina. This would appear to be a prime time for the Seahawks to see if they can capitalize on this no-huddle trend from the last 19 games.

After last weekend’s performance, something has to jump-start the offense.

"I think we’ve always moved really well when we’re going up-tempo," Wilson said.

"I think that it’s something that’s advantageous to us."

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