Greg Cosell's Playoffs Preview: Seahawks' O hasn't been the same without Marshawn Lynch

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Russell Wilson leads the Seahawks into a playoff game against the Lions. (AP)
Russell Wilson leads the Seahawks into a playoff game against the Lions. (AP)

When Marshawn Lynch left the Seattle Seahawks, you can say their offensive identity left too. This season, they haven’t had an identity on offense from week to week.

The Seahawks offense is still capable of making plays, especially the improvisational plays we see from quarterback Russell Wilson that Seattle depends on, but they no longer have a sustaining element within the structure of the offense. The Seahawks’ offense isn’t bad. But the lack of a sustaining element is a little concerning for them heading into their first playoff game against the Detroit Lions this weekend.

Seattle’s run game hasn’t had much consistency. Last week against the San Francisco 49ers the offensive line consistently didn’t get any movement in the running game, and that’s a bad sign going forward, considering the 49ers have the worst run defense in the NFL. The 49ers had allowed almost 170 rushing yards per game the previous four games before playing the Seahawks. The Seahawks had 87 rushing yards last week.

The lack of a run game affects Wilson too. We all know he’s a shorter quarterback, so in a consistent passing game he has to be a rhythm passer. He’s not a late-in-the-down quarterback because he can’t always see it. He can make a lot of improvisational plays, and he may do that in the playoffs, but that efficient, quick passing game that was very good for the Seahawks late last season isn’t there this season. It’s hard to say why they haven’t replicated that this season, but the lack of a run game doesn’t help. They’re missing a key piece of their offense when they can’t run it effectively.

Here is Seattle’s first offensive play of the game last week. You’ll see that the offensive line gets no push, and there’s no space for Thomas Rawls. He gained 1 yard. There were many run plays like this, in which the Seahawks couldn’t win at the line of scrimmage. And again, this was against the worst run defense in the NFL. It’s a serious red flag going into the playoffs.

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The Seahawks will use read option, but that hasn’t been too successful this season. In Week 16 the Arizona Cardinals effectively used a slant-and-scrape tactic to defend the run game – against traditional runs and the read option. The defensive end would crash hard inside and the linebacker would scrape to play Wilson. That’s exactly what happened on this 4-yard loss by Wilson. Defensive end Josh Mauro slanted inside, linebacker Sio Moore scraped and tackled Wilson.

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It’s hard to see how the Seahawks’ run game turns it around this late in the season. I think Alex Collins gives them their best option as a sustaining back. His running style fits better than Rawls’ style in the Seahawks’ offense. Collins has a better feel for working through small cracks at the point of attack in the inside run game, more of a slasher and glider with better sustaining traits.

But no matter who the running back is, the offensive line has been an issue. Too often they get beat individually in run blocking and pass protection. Guard Germain Ifedi, a rookie first-round pick, has been up and down – I would have expected to see more improvement from him as the season progressed. Inexperienced left tackle George Fant is still working through balance issues; he has a tendency to lunge. His issues in one-on-one protection are a concern this week against the Lions and defensive end Ezekiel Ansah.

Here’s an offensive line breakdown from the Cardinals game in Week 16. On third-and-8, the Cardinals ran a tackle/end stunt concept with Markus Golden looping behind Alex Okafor. The Seahawks protection concept should have worked, with center Justin Britt working to the side of the stunt. But Britt and Ifedi executed poorly and Golden worked through for the sack.

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This is a fourth-and-goal error by Fant against the Cardinals. Fant blocked out, rather than blocking down to take three-technique defensive tackle Rodney Gunter. Gunter was unblocked and got a sack on a huge play in the game. Fant’s inexperience at left tackle could be an issue for Seattle in the playoffs.

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There are obviously positives in the Seahawks offense. While the pass game hasn’t been a sustaining force for the offense, Wilson can still make plays. In a playoff game, a play or two like Wilson can make off script can be very valuable. They are back-breaking plays. It’s hard to generate consistency over the course of 16 games with that as the foundation of your offense, but in an individual game it can work well. Wilson did a nice job on a couple of improvisational plays against the 49ers. This one to Jimmy Graham went for 42 yards.

Wilson also hit Jermaine Kearse for 36 yards on an improvisational play against the 49ers, but the problem was the Seahawks had little success within the structure of the offense. Wilson had three big throws and two of them were the improvisational plays to Graham and Kearse.

One player that will be huge for the Seahawks this week is receiver Doug Baldwin. First, it’s a hard matchup for the Lions because they have issues at slot cornerback. With normal slot cornerback Quandre Diggs out for the season, the Lions tried three different cornerbacks in the slot in Week 17 against the Green Bay Packers. It’s an obvious area of concern, and Baldwin can line up in the slot to exploit it.

Also, Baldwin has developed into a complete receiver who can consistently beat man coverage. This route came on the outside, not from the slot, but watch how he wins against man coverage on a go route with a great release. This went for 31 yards.

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We know Wilson is capable of making big plays when he escapes the pocket. Baldwin is also a player who could have a huge game because the Lions might have real problems matching up with him. But the rest of the Seahawks offense is a bit of a mystery heading into the playoffs. There has been no sustaining identity to it.
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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.