The Elephant in the Locker Room: Jimmy Graham… Cracker Jack or the Next Harvin?
After two Super Bowl appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that there’s always some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.
By Greg Wright
Time to get offensive.
Remember the Seahawks’ previous attempt at augmenting their offense with a high-profile trade? The experiment with Percy Harvin melted down over the first five games last season, culminating with the star refusing to go back into the game during the fourth quarter of the embarrassing home loss against the Cowboys. Russell Wilson finished that game with a woeful 126 yards in completions; the offense only mustered 9 first downs; and the Cowboys controlled the game clock with over 37 out of 60 minutes.
And really, that Cowboys game was not just an anomaly at that point in the season. After that game, and after Harvin was traded to the Jets the ensuing Friday, I inaugurated this column with the following:
It was fine and dandy that Percy Harvin was catching 85% of the passes thrown his way. It’s not fine and dandy that he was averaging just 6 yards on those catches–the lowest YPC average on the team, and, yes, 144th in the league!
Clearly, the offense needs a lot of work. A lot. “We really played like crap,” Baldwin offered in a follow-up interview on Wednesday.
This is what things look like when your team graduates from underdog status to figuring out how to win with a roster stacked with highly-paid superstars. “All our guys are very talented. We want to have all of them involved,” admits Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell. “It’s a tough orchestration of the whole thing.”
“Tough” is an understatement. This is what the scoring drive chart looked like for that game.
One scoring drive of any significance for the Seahawks. Yes, pretty offensive.
Those of us with memories like elephants (either those in the living room or locker room, as you prefer) probably have our thoughts of the Hawk offense colored by games like the fiasco against the Cowboys. It’s why, even when things look so bleak against the Packers through three quarters in the NFC Championship, we’re neither surprised nor panicky. We know the Seahawk offensive has the ability to stink up the place good. And we know fourth-quarter heroics have become one of Wilson’s trademarks as a consequence.
Here’s the part we may not be aware of, and which gets ignored amidst all the attention the Seahawks’ number-one ranked defense gets.
The Seahawks’ offense was ranked number 9 in 2014.
That’s not too shabby in a league led by pass-happy teams like the Packers, the Patriots, the Cowboys, the Chargers, the Saints, the Broncos, the Eagles, the Ravens, and the Colts. Uh-uh. In fact, it’s almost shocking.
What’s more, the Hawks were 6th in yards per offensive play at 5.9; 3rd in time of possession (32:22); and 4th in turnover margin (+10). The latter two categories are really a tribute to the defense, but still: the Seahawks’ O makes more big plays than any team in the league, and it’s not just the running game that contributes. And they tend to own the second half of games.
It’s certainly true that a sterling D will give the offense more chances than a crappy one; but it’s equally true that if your team is stocked with defensive talent, the odds are that the offense is not likely to be equally stocked.
Which brings us, finally, to Jimmy Graham. What kind of impact can we expect the former New Orleans “tight end” to have on offensive output?
First, he won’t have the kind of impact Harvin had… which is to say, the negative kind. Bevell admitted having problems getting Harvin his touches, and they tended to look mostly like quick screen passes for little to no gain. Wilson will not be dumping passes to Graham behind the line scrimmage. No.
Second, Graham won’t be called on to be what Zach Miller was. He won’t end up being a de facto sixth lineman.
But don’t expect the Hawks to start amping up the passing game overall, either. The offense will still center around Marshawn Lynch and the running game.
There are, nonetheless, specific areas where Graham’s height and downfield threat will help.
First: productivity in the red zone. In the Super Bowl, we saw the difference that a big target on the outside can make–and Graham will be a bigger and better target than Chris Matthews.
Second: ball control and third down percentage. Sure, the D puts the ball in the hands of the offense a lot; but the O doesn’t do as much with it as they could. Seattle ranked 11th on 3rd down with 42%… a long way behind–guess who?–the league-leading New Orleans Saints at 48%.
Don’t expect Graham to be the Seahawks’ leading receiver, and don’t expect Wilson’s number to start looking more like Rodgers’ or Brees’ or Manning’s.
But presuming all the moving parts stay relatively healthy, do expect the Seahawks offensive to move up in the rankings a bit.
And, in an upgraded game of keep-away, do expect an improved offensive to make an already stunning D look even better.