The Seahawks’ post-Russell Wilson offense has not scored a point in six quarters.
That is while having the quarterback with the highest completion percentage in the league through two games.
Has it been second-year offensive coordinator Shane Waldron’s play calls that have throttled quarterback Geno Smith, mandating he throw shorter passes than any other NFL quarterback so far this season?
Monday, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Smith throwing more down the field: “We need to not hold back, at all.”
Or is it Smith being himself, cautious and avoiding risk — the traits that won him the job over Drew Lock to be risk-averse Carroll’s quarterback to begin this Seattle season?
“I haven’t felt hindered,” Smith said.
“We are not trying to go out there and throw the ball up into double coverage. ..So we are going to be efficient and will do whatever it takes to score, whether it’s throwing it deep, short, or intermediate. We are trying to get points on the board. I think that is the main thing. Whether it’s long or short, when you are scoring points, it’s not an issue.
“But when you don’t score points, it becomes an issue.”
Oh, yes, it’s an issue for the Seahawks (1-1) entering their game Sunday against Atlanta (0-2) at Lumen Field (1:25 p.m., channel 13 locally).
Carroll said Monday “we needed to take what they were giving us more so (at San Francisco). They were really laying off and giving us some room. ...we should have gone that way a little more...
“We had a chance to throw the ball a little more than we did.”
The Falcons and their varied defense this week have watched game film of Denver’s 3-4 defense and San Francisco’s 4-3 both holding the Seahawks’ offense scoreless over the last six quarters. Atlanta knows the Broncos and 49ers dropped two and sometimes four men in deep in “umbrella” coverage against deep throws on the majority of Seattle’s pass plays. Denver often bracketed wide receiver DK Metcalf with a safety deep behind him, San Francisco last weekend less so.
That, Smith says, is why he’s been throwing short. That, in turn, is why Smith leads the league with an 81% completion rate while being last among 33 quarterbacks who have started a game this season in yards per completion (8.3).
“Just seeing what the defensive gives us, and trusting it,” Waldron said after practice Thursday.
“Just focused on better execution down in and down out — starting with me getting guys in the right position to make plays.”
Waldron did not do that in the key offensive sequence for Seattle last weekend in its 27-7 loss at San Francisco.
The 4 running-backs formation
Smith’s efficiency would look worse if officials hadn’t given him a reprieve midway through the second quarter against the 49ers. He threw a pass over the middle behind Metcalf that cornerback Emmanuel Moseley tipped to Niners teammate Fred Warner, but Moseley was called for contacting Metcalf while breaking onto the poorly thrown pass.
Two plays alter Smith then deftly escaped pressure to his right and threw 27 yards to Lockett on one of the wide receiver’s signature improvisational routes, to the 49ers 13. It was Smith’s best play of the game.
Then Waldron took the ball out of his quarterback’s hands.
The play caller employed a disastrous formation with all four running backs in the backfield, Walker taking two consecutive direct snaps out of that — and DeeJay Dallas’ horrid pass well short of Metcalf the Niners intercepted at the goal line. Smith was lined up outside as a wide receiver watching that horrow show.
So ended Seattle’s best chance to get back into a game it lost by 20.
Carroll said after the game he wished he’d called time out from the sideline just before that snap, that he sensed the play was a bad idea doomed to fail.
“I know I think I can do a better job putting us in the right position when we are in those red-zone situations,” Waldron said.
Waldron said that four-running-back formation and direct snaps to Walker came about last week in practice, that it was San Francisco-specific, based on the 49ers’ defense.
Waldron already this season has been more varied strategically than he was last season with Wilson as the quarterback. He’s gone to a pistol look, Smith in shorter shotgun and running back Rashaad Penny lined up behind him. He’s used more three tight ends with sometimes two or three tight ends in the backfield.
“In my mind, it’s the evolution of the personnel that we have within the offensive system,” Waldron said, “and trying to get guys in the best position where we can move some guys around.”
What to change for the Seahawks’ offense?
Asked what needs to change, Smith stated the obvious.
“We need to score,” he said. “We need to keep drives alive. Get more plays, more opportunities, and just finish drives.”
As for the deep passing game, Smith said he isn’t trying to force anything that isn’t there.
“We are just going to take what they give us,” the QB said. “Until they start to play us more man coverage and up in our faces, it doesn’t make sense to air it out just for the sake of doing that.
“I believe there will be more opportunities,” to throw the ball down the field, Smith said. “I mean, we are two games into the season. We’ve got a long season to play. But I do believe there will be more opportunities. That will come with different scenarios and situations and games.”
Geno Smith and the Seahawks beginning practice 3 days before they play Atlanta.
Starting center Austin Blythe (63) not participating in the early work media is permitted to view. @thenewstribune pic.twitter.com/dX3WIaGNM5
— Gregg Bell (@gbellseattle) September 22, 2022
Tyler Lockett sees completing 81% of all the short passes over the first two games as a positive. He said the offense needs to be able to build long drives, and give Seattle’s defense to rest, as opponents take away explosive plays during the season.
“It has been what defenses give you,” he said. “I mean, when you go against teams that give you certain fronts, like 3-4...they want you to take short stuff and try to drive all the way down the field.
“Every team plays differently. You’ve got to figure out what they are willing to give you.”
The team captain and longest-tenured Seahawk, in his eighth season with Seattle, said he’s not particularly concerned of frustrated with the offense.
“I think it’s too early,” Lockett said. “You can’t really say you never everything that’s going on in two weeks, you know what I mean?”
Smith reiterated he hasn’t had many chances to throw the ball more than 25 yards down the field. He says defenses are backing up and focusing their coverages on those passes.
“Like I said, when there’s opportunities to take shots — which we had taken one in the last game and it got called back — but when we do get those opportunities, you know, we are going to take them,” Smith said.
Geno Smith’s few long balls at the 49ers
The one shot Smith is referring to last week at San Francisco came in the second quarter with the 49ers leading 13-0. Two offensive snaps after Smith threw behind Lockett over the middle for an interception, Smith tossed the ball to running back Ken Walker to the right. The rookie threw back to Smith on a lateral left. As he did, rookie right tackle Abe Lucas pass blocked on the right edge.
Lucas stayed engaged past the line of scrimmage, which is legal on a pass beyond the line of scrimmage, as Smith threw deep to Metcalf. Metcalf made a ridiculous catch with one hand and arm while falling over cornerback Charvarius Ward for what would have been a 49-yard gain inside the 49rs 15-yard line.
But after Lucas’ defender disengaged from the rookie’s block, Lucas took a couple more steps up field, to 2 yards past the line of scrimmage. That by letter of the NFL law is an ineligible receiver illegally downfield on a pass, and a 5-yard penalty and a relatively ticky-tack call. The rule states a lineman blocking cannot be more than 1 yard past the line of scrimmage when a legal forward pass is thrown.
The 1 deep shot Geno Smith, Seahawks took at 49ers: Double pass back from RB Ken Walker 2Q down 13-0. 49-yd pass to DK Metcalf, to SF 14.
But RT Abe Lucas (top of screen) was engaged pass blocking then drifted 2 more yds, got the illegally downfield penalty. Letter-of-law call pic.twitter.com/cZnbxhL5Se
— Gregg Bell (@gbellseattle) September 22, 2022
Waldron said the coaching point for Lucas is to be mindful of staying lateral while he pass blocks.
Smith said he has not declined to throw deep shots and thrown shorter and safer passes instead, to play it safe and not risk turnovers.
“Not at all,” he said. “No.”
As Metcalf (71 yards receiving through two games) said Wednesday talking about Carroll saying the Seahawks need to have Smith throw further down the field: “We’ll see.”