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Opponent Scout: Geno Smith is the driver of Seattle’s efficient offense

The long-time backup is having a career year, and it’s a big reason why Seattle has been so consistent offensively.

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San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

In this weekly Opponent Scout series, we break down the Kansas City Chiefs’ upcoming opponent by examining their strengths, weaknesses and tendencies — and how those things affect the matchup.

In Week 16, the Chiefs are welcoming in the Seattle Seahawks for a game that has playoff-seeding implications for both. Here’s what to know about Seattle:


Overview

The Seahawks have been captained by head coach Pete Carroll for 13 seasons, but it’s the first year with quarterback Geno Smith as the starter under center. After a 6-3 start, Seattle is fighting for the playoffs from the outside of the NFC wild-card picture, sitting at 7-7.

Seattle is a top-10 scoring offense, ranking seventh while coming in at fifth in offensive yards per play. That efficiency comes through mostly in the pass game; the unit ranks fourth in pass yards per attempt, and have the third-highest passer rating as a team. They convert third downs at the 12th-best rate in the league, and have the 20th-ranked red-zone conversion percentage. Seattle ranks 12th in Offensive DVOA.

The Seahawks come in with the fourth-worst scoring defense, also allowing the fourth-most yards per game. That said, they have forced 21 turnovers, tied for the eighth-most in the NFL. On third down, opponents convert at the league’s fifth-highest rate; in the red zone, the touchdown-conversion rate is the 10th-highest. The unit is currently 25th in Defensive DVOA.

Offense

Seattle’s efficient attack is possible by the play of Geno Smith, who has earned the nod as a Pro Bowl quarterback for the NFC team this year. He plays off of a run game that averages 4.7 yards per carry, taking a lot of pressure off him in the drop-back game.

Their starting running back is rookie Kenneth Walker III, who has dealt with an ankle injury over the last few weeks that makes him questionable for this game. It plays a huge factor: Walker’s home-run ability raises the ceiling of the unit’s ability to score on any given snap. If he doesn’t play, the run game becomes less threatening.

That run game boosts the effectiveness of the pass game — but either way, Smith has been great at operating Seattle’s game plan to attack through the air. He is very disciplined with his footwork and timing, getting the ball out in rhythm and understanding where it needs to go. It can negate pressure at times, but impressive accuracy can negate tight coverage as well.

That margin for error is even greater when star wide receiver D.K. Metcalf is on the targeted end. His strength and size can make tight-window throws look easier to complete than they are. Slot receiver Tyler Lockett can make things easy as well, just by creating separation; unfortunately, a hand injury is preventing Lockett from playing in Kansas City.

Smith’s ability to stay in rhythm and execute the offense has helped his rookie offensive tackles: left tackle Charles Cross and right tackle Abraham Lucas. They have been impressive as first-year starters, but they aren’t perfect; Seattle has allowed the 11th-most sacks this season.

When pressure does take Smith out of the flow of the play, he has shown to make panicked decisions and forced throws at times.

Defense

After a hot start to the season, the Seahawks’ defense has fallen back to reality in recent weeks due to the plethora of inexperience and youth in the unit.

One of the most glaring weaknesses of Seattle’s defense is when opponents run. Over the last five games, they have allowed an average of over 200 rushing yards per game. Those stats haven’t been skewed by big runs either; the yardage came from teams finding success in constantly chipping away at the Seahawks’ front.

That front consists of edge defender Uchenna Nwosu, the former Los Angeles Chargers’ player who leads the team in pressures, sacks, and tackles for loss. He and edge rusher Darrell Taylor have forced six fumbles between each other.

Linebacker Jordyn Brooks is not only the team’s leading tackler but also second in the NFL — racking up 149 tackles playing the third-most snaps among all linebackers this season. He’ll be used as a swiss-army knife, doing a little bit of everything for the Seahawks on every down.

While Brooks is second in the league in tackles, rookie cornerback Tariq Woolen one-upped him by leading the NFL with six interceptions. The fifth-round selection was highly touted before the draft with an exceptional combination of length and speed. That has come through in his first season with playmaking — but it has also been paired with general shut-down play: he has allowed a completion on only 57% of the targets thrown toward him.

The bottom line

The Seahawks’ offense uses both the run and pass game to steadily move the ball down the field and score points, relying on Geno Smith to run the offense very well and get the ball in the hands of playmakers like Metcalf or Walker III. Messing with Smith’s timing could lead to takeaway opportunities.

On defense, Seattle will be trying to tighten their play against the run — but it has been too much of a trend to ignore. They’ll try to make up for it by using their playmakers in pass defense, with a few in the front and some young ones in the back as well.

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