An in-depth look at Brian Schottenheimer’s ‘Air Coryell’ offense, how 2019 went, and where to seek improvement in 2020.
By: Peter Vandeventer | @PeteVandeventer
Though Schotty runs a variation of the Air Coryell offense, it’s just that. It’s rare to see coaches running the same style offense unless they come from the same coaching tree. Just like how, despite coming from Mike Leach’s tree, Kliff Kingsbury now runs a different version of the air raid with the fundamentals and structure of the offenses that are similar.
The typical Air Coryell offense relies on strong downfield mechanics and slower developing plays with midrange options to stretch the defense. Along with that, you also see more presnap motions and timing routes that rely on good (if not great) QB play. Within the receiving corps, it’s expected you have a pair of receivers who can make plays downfield with strong QB play. Concepts popularized and/or used in the system include the dagger, divide, and verticals.
When it comes to the run game, power scheme is implemented in favor of a zone scheme. The atypical lineman is large and that is apparent when you see the lineman the Seahawks have favored over the last few seasons (think Fluker, Ifedi, and newly acquired--Damien Lewis). Power running stresses the importance of a strong inside game which is where Chris Carson flourishes in the offense. To add to the folds of the offenses, Schotty used Penny (and Homer later in the year) to work in space similar to how he was used in college.
The most important component of the offense, outside the QB, is the offensive line. Like most other offenses ran in the NFL, you can only get as far as your line lets you. Stressing the importance of downfield passing and power running means you need a combination of agile lineman and maulers...so really you need freaks of nature.
The 2019 Seahawks had a season of ups and downs but put together a top 10 performance both in scoring and in yards per game. They also put up a top 5 rushing game trailing only the Ravens, 49ers, and Titans. All this happened with a TE who started the season on the practice squad, down their top two centers, and practically no RB in the last quarter of the season.
Personnel wise, the offense rolled out 11 personnel 73% of the time. They also had the second-highest four-receiver sets usage last year, while also having 7.6 yards per pass--good enough for 6th in the league. But still, with all that, the Seahawks stuck with their balanced approach that finished roughly a 55/45 (pass: run) ratio. I think this is where Pete’s philosophy comes into play as he stresses the importance of the run game unlike anyone else in the league. He’s stubborn and that’s what makes him who he is.
2020 and Beyond
The place where Seattle can expand further into the Air Coryell offense is to work more TEs split out in the slot, rather than inline. Feed the seam Shotty, feed the seam. You can see this already taking place with how the TE room has evolved and quickly became the position with the most depth this offseason.
The addition of Greg Olsen, Colby Parkinson, and Stephen Sullivan while also retaining Jacob Hollister shows an added emphasis on multi TE sets and attacking the seams. Olsen’s career says enough about him as a receiver but spending a 4th round pick (Parkinson) and a 7th (Sullivan) shows where the team is trying to move. Parkinson broke his foot back in June which has put a damper on any attempt to climb up the depth chart and Sullivan has made strides as a blocker but still has a ways to go. With Dissly and Olsen heading the room, Seattle WILL be attacking the seams and I’m not sure anyone can do anything to stop them.
At receiver, the Seahawks took a step forward with Dorsett filling in as a downfield threat that Malik Turner played last season. Josh Gordon and Paul Richardson are back in town again and can at the very least share snaps as Z receivers. Richardson put up 700 yards the last time he was in a Seahawk uniform and Josh Gordon was pretty reliable in his short stint in Seattle last year.
There are six spots at receiver and you can assume that Lockett, Metcalf, Dorsett, Gordon, and Richardson all are making the roster. The last spot will likely be fought between Moore, Ursua, Thompson, and Swain. No Matter how this shakes out, all the receivers on the roster know how to run routes and move with the ball in their hands. Suffice to say Seattle won’t have a lack of firepower.
Similarly, to further the Air Coryell style, Schotty (and Pete) have to let Russ cook. It looked like Russ had to play second fiddle to the running game at times in 2019 but that isn’t the most effective way to push the ball down the field and utilize the weapons best. Letting Russ cook doesn’t mean that you don’t run the ball, it means that the coaching staff has to be more effective in their gameplan to not only be less predictable but also take a more aggressive approach.
2020 will be the year of the Seahawks offense. And who knows, maybe Russ will finally get an MVP vote.