No single factor ignited Seahawks’ offensive improvement

December 16, 2012 

The numbers support the claim: The Seahawks’ offense has evolved from one of the NFL’s worst into one of the best.

In the past two weeks, the Hawks have gained a league-high 969 yards against the league’s No. 3 (Chicago) and No. 7 (Arizona) defenses.

And in the past six games, they’ve upped offensive production by more than 100 yards per game – an improvement of roughly 72 percent. Oh, to have bought stock in a commodity that grew at that rate in the past month and a half.

Contributing factors seem obvious: Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson has thrown 12 touchdowns with only two interceptions, and also has nearly doubled his rushing output as Seattle has implemented a read-option package that forces defenders to chose between two unattractive options – tackling the bruising Marshawn Lynch or the elusive Wilson.

The Hawks have shifted emphasis to more aggressively target receivers Sidney Rice and Golden Tate, and each week they’ve added wrinkles to the blocking schemes.

But when asked to identify the root of the improvement, those responsible for it earmark nothing in the way of specific insights or offensive master strokes.

“Maturity,” said Tom Cable, the offensive line coach and assistant head coach who shares oversight of the offense. “More than anything, it’s maturity, and with maturity comes confidence. When they grow into it, they start to take ownership. The other part of that is they understand if we do it right together all the time, they see what happens.”

After the first seven games of the season, the Seahawks were ranked 30th among the league’s 32 offenses. Since the offensive turnaround in Week 8, they’ve won four out of six games, with the two road losses (Detroit and Miami) the result of late defensive breakdowns.

“I think we’re growing with our players and finding the strengths and weaknesses of all our players,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “Obviously we’re growing in the run game a little bit because of what Russell Wilson brings to us. You’re always trying to accentuate the positives of the players you have.”

Bevell also singled out Tate, whose catches per game have more than doubled (1.8 to 4) in the past six games, as has his total yardage when including his gains on bubble screens that are counted as rushes.

“Golden Tate has come light years in terms of how much we’ve been able to get him the ball, and the playmaker that he’s become for us,” Bevell said.

Center Max Unger said the players pay no attention to the statistics and rankings, but he also senses the impact of collective maturity.

“I think it’s the familiarity with the system,” Unger said. “We’re able to make some pretty drastic changes to the game plan from week to week and take it over, rep it out in practice, and have a firm grasp of it on Sunday.”

Unger cited Wilson’s uncanny ability, as a rookie, to master the evolving schemes.

“We can’t say enough about him,” Unger said. “You can just see his progression throughout the season.”

But it’s not just Wilson who has to be up to speed, and the weekly variations in the offensive game plan demand a high football IQ at every position.

“There’s a lot of thinking that goes on out there,” Unger said. “To be able to vary the plan so much from week to week is stressful, but we’ve been able to take control of it and use it to our advantage.”

The Seahawks’ offensive staff employs an interesting division of labor, as Cable mostly designs the rushing attack and Bevell mostly shapes the passing scheme. Cable generally handles meetings when the offense is together, while Bevell calls the plays during the game.

But the final package includes the collaboration of all assistant coaches.

“We have such a good relationship across our whole offensive staff that everybody’s involved and we arrive at everything together,” Cable said. “So I think it’s a credit to all those guys.”

If the Hawks’ average output of 406 yards a game in the past six outings had been their season average, it would rank No. 4 in the NFL (to go along with their No. 3 overall defensive ranking).

Cable was reluctant to read too much into the statistical rankings.

“Here’s the thing,” he said. “We’re getting better, we’re improving – that’s the key.”

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 dave.boling @DaveBoling

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