BY Art Thiel 01:01PM 12/15/2018

Thiel: Seahawks game plans nearly idiot-proof

The Seahawks are last in the NFL in pass attempts, but sixth in yards per attempt. How? First Carrollians: “Thou shalt have no other gods before the run.”

Russell Wilson has completed only 21 passes total in the past two games. So what? / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

The renaissance of the rushing game has been the story of the Seahawks season. It took a long time and many resources to back-fill the void left by Marshawn Lynch. But here they are, needing only a win Sunday (1:05 p.m., FOX) in Santa Clara against the 49ers (3-10) to clinch a playoff spot with two weeks to spare, a development as freakish as finding a street  in downtown Seattle free of orange cones.

Not as freakish, but still weird, is the seeming shrinkage of the passing game, to the point where in the past two games combined, 320-pound tackle George Fant has more receptions (one) than the No. 3 wide receiver, well-regarded youngster David Moore.

In the victories over the 49ers and Vikings, Seattle’s top four wideouts have combined for  12 catches and 183 yards. Total, not average. The two tight ends have combined for three receptions and 20 yards.

Teams such as the Steelers, Colts and Vikings get 12 completions between “home of the” and “brave.”

Given the oft-cited commandment in First Carrollians — “thou shalt have no other gods before the run” — the fact that the NFL’s No. 1 rushing team has smaller passing numbers is no surprise.

But 11 completions against the Niners in a game in which Seattle had 43 points? And 10 completions in a Vikings game that was 3-0 until 13 minutes remained? And now, dead last in the the NFL in pass attempts (346, 204 behind the No. 1 Steelers)?

Fred Flintstone looks at Barney and says, “Barn, this is old school.”

There is another way to look at it. The sacred texts are inviolate: The Seahawks have a formula that produces as close as an NFL team can get to an idiot-proof game plan.

The successful emphasis on earth over sky is reflected in some seasonal team rankings that are illuminating.

The Seahawks are:

  • Tied for second in fewest fumbles lost (four)
  • Tied for third in fewest interceptions (six)
  • Second in turnover ratio (plus-11)
  • Second in fewest drives ending in turnovers (seven percent)
  • Tied for sixth in receiving touchdowns (29)
  • Fourth in average yards per passing attempt (9.0, a half-yard behind leader Kansas City)
  • Additionally, the Seahawks have cut down on penalties. The season total is about break-even, with 93 penalties against (tied for 12th-most) to 89 for opponents, a fairly remarkable feat with so many new players on defense.

The upshot?

Using the run to set up the pass means fewer chances for mistakes (interceptions, penalties, sacks), better success when throwing and greater uncertainty for defenses later in games when fatigue combines with play-action misdirection to create openings.

Never was there a better example than in the fourth-quarter drive that produced the game’s only offensive touchdown.

With a tenuous 6-0 lead, and at their own 37-yard line with 5:38 remaining, the Seahawks ran the ball every play, seven in a row — six by RB Chris Carson for 23 yards (the final two for the TD), and one game-breaking, play-action scramble by Russell Wilson for 40 yards, when the Vikings forgot about containment.

Then for the two-point conversion, the Seahawks crossed up the heavy-legged Vikings with a pass to open WR Tyler Lockett.

The drive was physically demanding on both sides. Said Carson afterward: “I was just tired. I just wanted to get into the end zone so I could go back (to the sidelines).” It was worse on the defense.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer sounded a little bewildered after learning the Seahawks had rushed for 214 yards.

“I didn’t think we were playing the run that bad,” he said. “They are a good running football team. These are good, hard running backs. If you don’t get in there and get physical with them, they’re going to gain some yards.”

Physicality gets harder later. Here’s how Carson put it:

“We believe that the first three quarters don’t even matter in the sense that you win the game in the fourth quarter. We know if we do right longer, it was going to turn up in the end.”

Pete Carroll, the grid prophet who co-authored the ancient scrolls, again explained post-game Sunday the truism handed down through the generations.

If you don’t emphasize the running game, it’s really hard to call on it when you need it,” he said. “That’s why you’ve heard about the commitment — so strong for so many years.

“If they  can’t stop you, you don’t need to throw the ball and take any chances.”

Regarding Sunday against the 49ers, who have a league-worst minus-21 turnover ratio, he seeks to demonstrate another commandment from First Carrollians:

“Though shalt covet thy neighbor’s football.”



  • Don Nolte

    I’m glad you didn’t describe the 49ers as the Barney Fife” of the NFL. I think it was Steve Rudman that described Oregon State’s football team in the eighties (1985?) As you may recall the Huskies lost. Great article Art.

    • Archangelo Spumoni

      Mr. Nolte: Here ya go:
      Several readers here have written Mr. Thiel to ask Mr. Rudman to write some sort of commemorative or retrospective column, but–alas–we wait.

      • art thiel

        That’s all you need.

      • Don Nolte

        Thank you for providing the link. My memory was correct!

    • art thiel

      Yes, Steve wrote the 1985 column, and they were the Fifes of college football. Except for one day.

  • 1coolguy

    “a development as freakish as finding a street in downtown Seattle “free of orange cones””
    I expected you to write “busy with bicycles”, but that’s another discussion.
    Last in the NFL in passing attempts by over 200, yet 6th in passing TD’s? How do you explain this dichotomy? This may be an NFL record in itself, indicating we run, run, and run and then use the pass sparingly and to mostly to score. Remarkable.

    • art thiel

      Defenses have to commit to stop the run, often leaving receivers 1-on-1.

      • 1coolguy

        Yes, but I would also ascribe to RW having the balls to throw the ball deep when other’s wouldn’t, as he is not only very accurate on his long throws, but also is such a remarkably confident guy.

  • bugzapper

    You forgot:

    First in ugly uniforms.

    For god sakes, give them back to the Ducks!

    • art thiel

      If you just ate crayons in grade school like the rest of us, you’d be fine with bile green.

      • 1coolguy

        Haha – Good one Art!

      • Kristafarian

        “ate” them?
        That’s weird.
        I thought they were sposed to go up one’s nose.

  • DJ

    Thanks Art!
    For those former of the Carrollonian beliefs who were cast off for their anti-team first rhetoric: Speak not of Russell Wilson with an unfair tongue, or thoust shall certainly be proved to look the fool!
    GO HAWKS!!!

  • Kristafarian

    Hawks are Better and their backs are NOT up aganst The Wall.

    San Fransisco by 6.

    (Currently [2pm] down by about 8)
    [Currently (2:09pm) only down by 1] !

    • Ron

      Backs are now against the wall. Lost to the worst team in the league. Will likely lose next week to a rested Chiefs team. Then the final game at home against the Cardinals who always seem to win at the Clink.

      Where were you today, SeaBass? Missed PAT followed immediately by no attempt to tackle on the TD runback.

      The taem that showed up today was the team we were expecting back in the off-season.

      • antirepug3

        The Hawks showed up to watch the game, not play it. They haven’t yet figured out that receivers are supposed to be covered on pass plays as part of a defense.

        • Ron

          Wish I could be paid to watch the game, too.