Our Offense vs. Niners


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Jan 9, 2021
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A playoff game against a team you've already played twice in the year provides a unique opportunity to review what has and hasn't worked over the previous two games against the same opponent. Obviously, a two-game sample size isn't the biggest in the world, so assume everything I post from here has that caveat firmly attached.

However, it's still the most you can have against a playoff opponent, so I thought it'd be interesting to review what the Seahawks have tried and used against the Niners in various situations and see what has (and very much hasn't) been successful.

So, first, a couple of notes about my methodology: I broke down analyzing our offensive plays into three categories - early downs, third and fourth in short (3 or less) yardage situations, and third and fourth in long yardage situations. 'Success', on early downs was defined as any play that generated 4 or more yards. For third/fourth down, that changed: Success was a first down. Anything short of that wasn't considered a successful play.

So, what does the data say?


Looking at early downs, our most common play was short to intermediate passes to the outside. This was 57% of our offensive game planning across the two games in early downs. And you know what? It wasn't a bad call. 60% of all these plays were successful and on average created 6 yards per attempt.

Our next most common tactic was runs up the middle, which, honestly... I hate these. But they were more successful than I thought they'd be. 60%, same as those short/intermediate passes to the outside. However, the average yardage gained was much lower: 3.6 YPA.

SO WHAT DIDN'T WORK: Our worst play call in early downs, far and away, were runs to the left side. Only once out of a half dozen early down runs to the left side produced a successful result. Worse, the average YPA for those runs: -.5 YPA.
Yes, you read that right: Running to the left side in early downs actually had a NEGATIVE total yardage.

What also didn't work was deep passes to the middle of the formation: We only tried this three times, but only once did it work and we had just as many interceptions in this category as we did successful attempts.

What also didn't work: Trick play throws from our RBs... but you already knew that.

WHAT WE NEED TO DO MORE OF: So, there are a couple of things we might want to consider doing more of in this game: First, runs to the right-side. Running to the right was actually more successful than running up the middle, with a 71% success rate and an average of 5.1 YPA. We ran up the middle most often (and I know Pete is in love with the draw play up the middle), but we might be able to exploit this success on the right of the field.

Also, we only tried deep bombs to the outside one time early, but it worked, so as of right now, going deep to the outside has worked 100% of the time against the Niners. A sample size of one renders this info kind of useless, but I would like to see Waldron dial up a few more plays aimed to hit Tyler or DK deep down the sidelines and just test the Niners secondary.


Ok, so unfortunately, the Seahawks found themselves in third and long far more often than third and short, so this is kind of hard to gauge. We ran the ball more here than we passed, but only 3 attempts at rushing compared to 2 attempts to pass make it hard to establish a 'pattern'. However all three attempts to rush (2 left side, 1 right side) succeeded. We were 1 for 2 on the pass attempts.

SO WHAT DIDN'T WORK: Well, we were good 4 out of 5 on those third and short yardage situations, so nothing? What didn't work was managing to keep third down short. Penalties, runs to the left-side, and sacks kept us in long yardage situations too often.

WHAT WE NEED TO DO MORE OF: Well, again, we weren't in this situation very often so first, we need to do more 'third and short' and less 'third and long'. Second, I wouldn't mind taking a couple of third and shorts and dialing up a deep shot, since we never tried that. Scoring was hard to come by against the Niners overall, so getting a couple more deep balls in 'running' situations might be a cure for that ailment.


Our most common tactic, over two thirds of the time, was short to intermediate passes to the outside which produced exactly zero first downs.

SO WHAT DIDN'T WORK: Everything, basically? We basically aimed every single third and long pass play short of the sticks and hoped for a miracle and we got one first down that way aimed short middle and on one broken play, Geno scrambled for a first down and a ton of yards, but that was it. Third and long, obviously, is a tough situation anyway but the Seahawks were uniquely pathetic against the Niners in this situation.

WHAT WE NEED TO DO MORE OF: How about some deep balls? How about anything but swing passes to the flats and shots to our TEs that are half a dozen yards short of the sticks? The issue in this situation is, of course, that the Niners are great at generating pressure, so we design short routes to try and get the ball out quick. The problem is: That isn't working.


So, why did I even bother with all this stuff? Well, first of all, because I was off work today and bored. But secondly, I was trying to figure out if there is anything that the Seahawks can do in these games because our offense has produced two dreadful scoring totals against this team this year and there is a quick exit from the playoffs in our future if that's the case once again.

I'm actually happy to say, there is some spots for optimism. In early down situations, we actually produced positive results relatively consistently in our short/intermediate passing game AND runs to the right side/middle. A game plan that balances 1.5/2 to 1 pass to run ratio in early downs, focusing primarily on getting KWIII out to the right side and short/intermediate routes for passes should be our bread and butter, but--and I think this is key--we should test out the Niners secondary deep to the outside more often on first and second.

On third down, the key is to simply keep third downs short yardage. We do not succeed against the Niners in third and long. I'm not a fan of our 'short of the sticks' style play calling and we might be able to change that up but the Niners ability to generate pressure makes that difficult so avoiding third and long is the key here.

Another thing I noticed, as I looked at these stats and reviewed video from the two games, is that there was a good amount of beating ourselves in these two games. A muffed fair catch, an unfortunate trick play call, untimely penalties from an overaggressive WR, and a fumble that basically killed our offensive momentum and gifted the Niners offense a free touchdown all played an important role in how these games went, so a little bit of luck and we could be looking at a completely different game come Saturday.