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Cowboys vs. Seahawks: Previewing the Seattle offense

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The Seahawks have a steady and explosive offense.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Seahawks’ offense has posed problems for defenses all year long. Russell Wilson is a dynamic quarterback who can make plays in every imaginable way, but this year Seattle has enjoyed something they haven’t had since the days of Marshawn Lynch: a running game.

After missing the playoffs last year, Seattle fired longtime offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and replaced him with Brian Schottenheimer, architect of stale offenses with the Rex Ryan Jets and Jeff Fisher Rams. But in his first year in Seattle, Schottenheimer has established the running game with a three-back committee while dialing up more deep shots for his star quarterback.

Whereas Bevell had run a West Coast offense that focused on zone blocking in the ground game, Schottenheimer has implemented a power running offense that takes deep shots downfield. It failed in his previous stops, where his quarterbacks were Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez, but Wilson is thriving in it.

Additionally, the Seahawks rank first in the NFL in total rushing yards with 2,560 and are averaging 160 yards per game. And unlike last year, Wilson is not their leading rusher. Chris Carson has been the lead rusher with 247 carries, which he’s turned into 1,151 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. Carson has been supplemented by Mike Davis and rookie Rashaad Penny, who have combined for 197 carries, 933 yards, and six touchdowns. Davis and Penny have found themselves a highly productive role as change of pace backs for Carson.

But don’t let all that distract you from the running threat of Wilson, who has run the ball 67 times for 376 yards. His 5.6 yards per carry leads the team, although he hasn’t run for a touchdown this year. When the Seahawks do throw the ball, it’s usually on long passing plays that go for a big gain, as evidenced by Wilson’s adjusted yards per pass attempt figure of nine yards, a very high mark. Wilson also has 35 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions; he is doing a good job of ball security.

The downside of an Air Coryell system like the one Schottenheimer runs, though, is that the pass plays take longer to develop than that of a West Coast system. Thus, pass protection needs to be great or the quarterback will take a lot of sacks. The offensive line has been a problem for Seattle in recent seasons, and it’s had challenges this year. Wilson has 51 sacks which ranks as third most in the NFL. In fairness, Wilson will hold the ball or extend plays in the pocket and that accounts for some of the sacks in a similar way to Dak Prescott. Seattle’s offense can best be described as having a steady and efficient ground game with a boom or bust passing attack.

As often as the bust happens in the form of sacks, the booms can more than make up for it. In fact, the Seahawks have the sixth-most efficient passing offense in the NFL, and a lot of that has to do with the weapons Wilson is throwing to. Eight year veteran Doug Baldwin has quietly been one of the most consistent receivers in the NFL during his career, and this year he’s caught 50 passes for 618 yards, an impressive 12.4 yards per catch. But it’s Tyler Lockett who’s been the most explosive receiver on this team, snagging 57 passes for 965 yards and ten touchdowns. That he’s averaging nearly 17 yards per catch is crazy, but what’s more impressive is how reliable Lockett is as a deep threat. He’s catching 81.4% of passes thrown his way, an incredibly high number for a receiver. And then there’s this statistic:

Aside from Baldwin and Lockett, the Seahawks mostly employ a committee of pass catchers that includes running backs Davis and Carson, tight ends Nick Vannett and Ed Dickson, and receivers Jaron Brown and David Moore. Most of these players are utilized in the shorter routes of the passing game, but Wilson frequently looks to his top two guys on the deep throws.

This is a good thing for the Cowboys, who are one of the best at limiting big plays on defense. Additionally, their run defense is one of the most efficient units in the entire league. However, it will be a battle to see which team’s strengths hold up and which one bends.