Nov 10, 2022; Munich, Germany; Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron (left) and tight ends coach Pat McPherson react during practice at FC Bayern Munich at Sabener Strabe. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The next important step for the Chicago Bears as they navigate the offseason is to find an offensive coordinator.
Just 12 hours after Luke Getsy was fired on the morning of Jan. 10, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported that the Bears requested to interview Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron for their vacant position.
Waldron is 44 and has 10 years of coaching experience in the NFL. He’s also worked under three head coaches who own Super Bowl rings: Bill Belichick, Sean McVay and Pete Carroll.
From 2017 to 2020, Waldron learned under McVay and went from being the tight ends coach in his first season to the Rams’ passing game coordinator for his last three years as part of the organization. In Waldron’s first season as the passing game coordinator, the Rams went to the Super Bowl.
Waldron worked with current Green Bay Packers head coach Matt Lafleur and Bengals head coach Zac Taylor while all three were members of the Rams’ staff.
So, including McVay, Waldron has been around some of the best offensive minds in the game.
He began calling plays for the first time in his career with the Seahawks during the 2021 season.
Points Per Game
Geno Smith resurrected his career in 2022 with Waldron calling plays. After playing in just five games from 2020-21 with the Seahawks as a backup, Smith played in all 17 games as the starter during the 2022 season. The veteran quarterback completed 399 of 572 passes for 4,282 yards, 30 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. This past season, Smith threw for 3,624 yards, 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Waldron’s game plan vs. the Cowboys
The most productive game that Waldron and this Seahawks offense had during the 2023 season was against the Cowboys in a 41-35 loss at AT&T Stadium. Also worth noting is that the Green Bay Packers, who run that same style of offense from the McVay tree, destroyed Dallas, 48-32, in the divisional round in Jerry World on Sunday.
In the Seahawks’ Week 13 loss to the Cowboys, Smith completed 23 of 41 passes for 334 yards, three touchdowns and threw an interception. Rookie running back Zach Charbonnet had 19 rushes for 60 yards and a rushing touchdown. DK Metcalf led the team with six receptions for 134 yards and three touchdowns. Rookie receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba caught seven passes for 62 yards, and veteran wideout Tyler Lockett had five receptions for 47 yards.
Here are six plays that Bears fans should take interest in from the Seahawks’ performance against the Cowboys.
1. Metcalf’s 73-yard touchdown
On the Seahawks first touchdown of the game, Metcalf lined up against All-Pro cornerback DaRon Bland in one-on-one coverage. The Cowboys had middle of the field open with two high safeties. Metcalf ran a slant route, beat Bland and scored a 73-yard touchdown on third-and-8.
There’s nothing wrong with simplyfing things. Waldron decided to give his best playmaker in Metcalf an opportunity on third down and he won his one-on-one matchup against the Cowboys’ best perimeter defender. Football is all about matchups and Metcalf simply won his matchup on this play.
2. Smith-Njigba third down conversion
On the third offensive possession, the Seahawks faced a third-and-5 after Metcalf dropped a slant route that would’ve picked up the first down. To convert the chains, Smith found Smith-Njigba for a first down.
Seattle lined up in a 2×2 set. Prior to the snap, Smith-Njigba motioned down to the numbers and waited for tight end Colby Parkinson to work up field. The rookie wide receiver faked like he was going inside, but pivoted back outside towards the sideline. The natural pick gave Smith-Njigba space to make his man miss and turn up field to secure the first down.
Waldron displayed a good way of creating a slight advantage for Smith-Njibga on this play. Rather than just have the rookie wide receiver beat his man with solely his route running ability, Waldron put the 6-foot-7, 251-pound tight end on the line of scrimmage and used his frame to get in the way of the defender on Smith-Njigba.
On the next play, Lockett ran a post down the middle of the field and drew a 40-yard pass interference penalty on linebacker Rashaan Evans. Cornerback Jourdan Lewis was lined up opposite to Lockett in the slot, but Lewis bit on fake handoff and Smith took advantage of a linebacker attempting to chase down a receiver. Seattle took over on Dallas’ 9-yard line.
The Seahawks ended up drawing another pass interference call. This time it was a 13-yard penalty that occurred in the end zone when Smith targeted Smith-Njigba. Charbonnet scored on a one-yard touchdown run on the next play.
3. Smith-Njigba draws big pass interference penalty
The Seahawks started their fourth offensive possession lined up on their own 25-yard line with 1:30 left on the clock and had zero timeouts remaining in the second quarter. The play that got the Seahawks in scoring position was a 29-yard pass interference penalty by Bland on Smith-Njigba.
Waldron called a deep corner for Smith-Njigba. The Seahawks lined up in a stacked 3×1 alignment — with the rookie receiver in front of Lockett and Parkinson. Smith-Njigba created separation from Bland and drew the pass interference penalty.
It was smart for Waldron to have Metcalf on the opposite side of the field because the single-high safety clearly looked in his direction and couldn’t provide any help on the corner route. Waldron showcased how to strategically place each player in a particular play to get the most out of the rep.
The Seahawks finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown to Metcalf on a slant route against Bland. Seattle went into the half with a 21-20 lead and continued their offensive success on the opening possession of the third quarter. The Seahawks went on a 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended in a Smith five-yard touchdown run. Charbonnet ran for 26 yards on the drive, and Smith hit Metcalf for a 13-yard pickup on an out route on third-and-2.
4. Too Many Outs
After getting beat consistently in the first half, Bland intercepted Smith on the Seahawks’ second possession in the third quarter.
Lockett lined up outside on the line of scrimmage and tight end Noah Fant was inside to his left. Bland played eight yards off of Lockett and sat on the route. Smith’s pass was behind and Bland made a good break on the pass to get the first turnover of the game.
At this point in the game, Bland and the rest of the Cowboys’ defensive backs had seen multiple out routes ran on third down. And it wouldn’t be surprising if that had been brought up during the Cowboys’ half-time adjustments.
It’s tough to fault Waldron for going back to what was working all game, but Bland made Waldron pay for the play call.
5. Big-boy package
Dallas couldn’t capitalize on the Bland interception and turned the ball over on downs. The Seahawks took advantage of the Cowboys’ mistake and went on a 5-play, 70-yard touchdown drive. Waldron decided to go with 13 personnel (1 running back and 3 tight ends) on the first play, and Smith delivered a dime to Fant — who dove to make a 25-yard reception.
Based on how the Cowboys’ linebackers were impacted by the run fake, it appears Dallas was expecting a first-down run from this heavy package. Good design by Waldron to take advantage of the over aggressive defenders to get an explosive gain on first down.
Even though Waldron had three receivers who finished with over 60 catches in Metcalf, Lockett and Smith Njigba, his willingness to utilize a three tight end set in the passing game only creates another wrinkle defenses have to account for.
The Seahawks finished the drive with a touchdown to Metcalf on a mesh concept to give the Seahawks 35 points.
Dallas scored a field goal on its next possession to make it a 35-30 game with 11:23 left in the fourth quarter.
6. Missed opportunity
After the Cowboys scored a field goal, the Seahawks ended up turning the ball over on downs after the unit couldn’t pick up a yard on fourth-and-1.
Three plays before, though, Lockett had a bad drop in the middle of the field that would’ve been a huge gain or possibly even a touchdown.
Lockett’s motion before the snap put him just inside of Metcalf. Metcalf then worked up field on a deep in-route and brought the safety over. Lockett ran the post with no defender in the middle of the field. Waldron schemed up his playmaker open, but Lockett couldn’t execute.
The Cowboys then went on a 7-play, 54-yard touchdown drive and were successful on the two-point conversion, which gave them a 38-35 lead with 4:37 left in the game.
Again, the Seahawks turned the ball over on downs. On a fourth-and-4 attempt from their own 49-yard line, both of the Seahawks’ tackles gave up instant pressure and Smith was forced to get rid of the ball early. The pass should’ve been intercepted, but it fell incomplete. The Cowboys then scored a field goal on a 6-play, 35-yard drive to make it 41-35.
Seattle did get the ball back with 1:43 remaining in the game and had no timeouts. But for the third straight time, the Seahawks turned the ball over on downs. Smith did start the drive with a 17-yard completion to Lockett and then an 8-yard pass to Fant. Then Smith had three straight incompletions, which included the final play when Micah Parsons went unblocked off the right edge.
Analysis and how Waldron could impact the Bears
This game plan against the Cowboys showed that Waldron will utilize all of his receiving threats regardless of the down and distance. There were multiple times throughout the game where Metcalf, Lockett, Smith-Njigba were all the primary reads on a given play. This creates versatility for the offense but also complicates issues for a defense to hone in on one particular player.
In terms of the route tree, you saw everything from slants, corners, posts, verticals and out routes. Waldron liked to isolate Metcalf one on one and have him run a slant, which he scored twice on, and had an explosive gain on a vertical route down the left sideline. Smith-Njigba and Lockett were utilized on out routes but also on deeper posts and corners. Also, the route concepts forced the Cowboys’ defenders to commit three pass-interference penalties for 82 yards.
Although the out routes were working in the first half, especially on third down, Bland did get his interception on that route concept and on a third-down play. The offense also fluttered in the second half. There were more “spot routes,” which had the wide receiver face the quarterback, and the Cowboys defenders were able to break up some of those passes down the stretch.
Smith showed accuracy, clean footwork and timing throughout the game. If Justin Fields had this game plan, it would accentuate his downfield passing, especially on those vertical and post routes. Fields would need to clean up his footwork to get the timing right to become consistent with hitting those out-breaking routes.
If the Bears decided to use the No. 1 overall pick on Caleb Williams, this would be a scheme he should thrive in once he gets comfortable. Williams’ quick release and ability to throw at different arm angles would give Waldron plenty of options to maximize the young quarterback’s talent.
The versatility Waldron showed with this specific game plan should create some optimism about what could be in Chicago. Too many times Getsy’s plans of attack were figured out once DJ Moore was taken out of the equation. This game plan against one of the best defenses in the NFL showed that Waldron can think of many ways to get his playmakers the ball.
That’s exactly what the Bears need from an offensive coordinator regardless of who the quarterback ends up being for the 2024 NFL season.
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