New to TDN, I’ll be doing a weekly series that exposes some of the NFL’s most common misconceptions and false narratives. First up, I explored the Seattle Seahawks and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, detailing why, unlike some like to claim, he isn’t the actual problem in Seattle.
I’ll be quite honest, when Schottenheimer was hired before the 2018 season, replacing long-time Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, I was far from enthused. Despite being the son of legendary coach Marty Schottenheimer, Brian’s sub-par resume consisted of mediocre stops in New York, St. Louis, and briefly at the collegiate level with Georgia. Commonly known for his run-first approach and predictable play-calling, Schottenheimer did nothing in his first Seahawks season to disprove this bland narrative, rushing a league-high 534 times (compared to just 426 pass attempts). The tipping point came in a dismal divisional-round loss to the Dallas Cowboys where he failed to make the adjustments necessary to win the ball game, showcasing a startling lack of creativity and aggressiveness. It was at this point (after just one season) where I admittedly wanted him fired, fair or not.
Since that fateful day back in January of 2019, however, Schottenheimer has done a complete 180-degree turn. From his work with Russell Wilson to his increasing use of pre-snap motion and shifts, Schottenheimer hasn’t just distanced himself from being Seattle’s biggest problem, but he might now actually be considered a positive for the organization.
Although Wilson has essentially carried the Seahawks on his outstretched back for the past two seasons, it would be a disservice to think Schottenheimer has had nothing to do with his progression from great quarterback to elite passer.
Becoming more of a quick-oriented thrower in Schottenheimer’s scheme, Wilson has developed into a quality pocket thrower, demonstrating the consistent ability to thrive in structured confines. Yes, he’ll still make the odd scramble play that ends up as a large loss, but Wilson has learned how to adapt to his struggling O-line and play with a quicker internal clock.
Furthermore, Wilson’s release was getting more elongated over the years until Schottenheimer stepped in. Working on his mechanics, Schottenheimer has made Wilson’s release much quicker, which has subsequently allowed Wilson to make less telegraphed throws and more tight-window passes up the seams to his tight ends.
This, of course, doesn’t mean Schottenheimer hasn’t used Wilson’s mobility to his advantage, either. Running play-action on a much more routine basis than Bevell did, Schottenheimer’s ability to mask passing plays and move the pocket laterally has helped Wilson find easier throwing lanes and open up more deep passes for him to exploit. Ultimately, Wilson has progressed a lot on his own, but to think Schottenheimer has done nothing in this regard is both foolish and factually incorrect.
A great coach doesn’t ask a player to do something they aren’t good at. Instead, they tailor their system to fit their strengths. Schottenheimer has shown the ability to do this, particularly with Wilson and his underrated receiving corps.
Knowing Wilson is the best deep-ball thrower in the league, Schottenheimer, despite operating a quick-oriented system, has complemented it with a strong amount of vertical shots. Ranking fourth in intended air yards (9.4), Seattle hasn’t been afraid to push deep and emphasize Wilson’s beautiful arc and placement on longshot passes.
Furthermore, this deep-attack mentality also fits perfectly with emerging sophomore wide receiver D.K. Metcalf’s skill set. Armed with unreal speed and size, Metcalf’s ability to test defenses vertically is second to none. Yes, his movement laterally and on the horizontal plane is a major issue, but Schottenheimer has simply kept Metcalf to a simple route tree (primarily slants, screens, posts, and nine routes) and it has made all the difference. Possessing such unique talent, it could be very easy to misuse Metcalf and put his insane potential to waste. Schottenheimer hasn’t.
An underrated part of what Schottenheimer does as an offensive coordinator—and something that I didn't appreciate until I legitimately delved into the offense—is the way he schemes and creates.
Showing vast improvement in this regard during the 2019 season, Schottenheimer used many variations on simple concepts during key moments of games, including an exceptional design on the game-winning completion in the wild-card round.
Able to isolate star wide receiver Tyler Lockett on a routine basis, Schottenheimer was also superb at putting him in excellent positions to succeed. Accentuating his versatility by putting him in orbit and jet motions, the diminutive pass-catcher was still primarily used in the slot, but also offered backfield capabilities that Schottenheimer wasn’t afraid to tap into. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), 43% of Lockett’s yards and 50% of his touchdowns came against non-cornerbacks. This speaks to how Schottenheimer and Wilson were able to create mismatches for him and the entire pass-catching unit all year through creative splits, personnel groupings, and pre-snap alterations.
Speaking of some of those pre-snap designs, Schottenheimer used lots of shifts and motion to make reads easier for Wilson to diagnose. No, Seattle wasn’t near the very top of the league in this regard, but it was still a vast improvement from the Bevell days.
Seattle’s spectacular air performance in Week 8 against Tampa Bay (43 pass attempts, 380 pass yards, and five touchdowns) might have been the biggest testament to Schottenheimer’s scheming ability. Going up against the league’s top run-stuffing defense, the Seahawks didn’t waste time trying to “establish the run” and instead came out of the gates swinging through the air. Excelling with seams, slot fades, and vertical patterns, the Seahawks proved that when given the chance, they could fire on all cylinders in a pass-heavy setting.
The only problem—and something that Schottenheimer has caught a ton of flack for—was that Seattle didn’t do enough of it consistently. Twelfth in pass yards and seventh in yards per attempt, the Seahawks only threw the ball the 23rd-most times in the league, which created a huge disconnect between their passing production, volume, and talented personnel.
Of course, this could entirely be pegged on Schottenheimer’s shoulders (and at least some of it is his fault), but a lot of this—and potentially more of it—is head coach Pete Carroll’s fault.
Under Carroll, Seattle has had a running identity for all of his 10 seasons at the helm. Schottenheimer has admittedly manned similar run-heavy offenses, mainly in New York with Rex Ryan, but he has also operated offenses in St. Louis that—when given the full reins—produced above league-average passing volume. This leads me to believe that Schottenheimer is mainly working from within Carroll’s limited and outdated identity and not the other way around.
If this is the case, no offensive coordinator under Carroll could do a much better job than Schottenheimer has done, especially given his work and development with Wilson and Lockett. Yes, finishing near the bottom of the league in three-and-outs—mainly because of their insistence on 2nd-and-10 runs—is beyond frustrating, but as Thanos would say, it’s a small price to pay for salvation, especially if Carroll has a bigger hand in those decisions than we assume.
Schottenheimer is an easy scapegoat when Seattle disappoints given that he wasn’t there when either Seahawks team went to the Super Bowl, but he is unequivocally not the problem with this football team. Focusing on atrociously conservative fourth-down decisions, lackluster personnel on the O-line and D-line, and fixing a porous pass defense that let Matt Schaub, Andy Dalton, and Jared Goff all throw for 400+ yards should be the priorities for Seattle, not Brian Schottenheimer.