Seahawks QB Geno Smith finding success with more rhythm

ARLINGTON, Texas -- While continuing to stress that the Seattle Seahawks' entire offense needs to play better around Geno Smith, both coach Pete Carroll and coordinator Shane Waldron noted the same thing when asked last week how the quarterback can do his part.

To help get the Seahawks out of their recent scoring rut, Smith has to get the ball out quickly.

"The one aspect I think for Geno is that timing and rhythm in the pass game," Waldron said, "especially in the known passing situations on third down."

The opening drive of their 41-35 loss to the Dallas Cowboys last Thursday night presented an early test.

After a false start on third-and-4, every one of the more than 93,000 people inside AT&T Stadium knew Seattle was throwing on third-and-9. Smith took a shotgun snap and glanced to his left, where DK Metcalf was running a post route against cornerback DaRon Bland. Smith briefly shifted his eyes towards the middle of the field, getting safety Donovan Wilson to take the bait, then looked back at Metcalf. With defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence screaming towards him off the left edge, Smith fired a laser to Metcalf for what would be a 73-yard touchdown. Metcalf hit 22.23 miles per hour on his way to the end zone, the fastest by a ball carrier in more than three years, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

But the more important measure of speed on that play was 2.64 seconds -- the time between snap and throw.

That was a theme for most of the night as Smith put together perhaps his best game of the season against a top-tier Dallas defense. He entered Week 13 with an average time before the pass of 2.91 seconds, which was 24th-fastest in the NFL. Against Dallas, it was 2.54 seconds, which tied for his fastest in any game this season. For context, 2.54 seconds matches the fourth-fastest season-long average of any quarterback this season.

The difference was slightly more pronounced on third down, where Smith also averaged 2.91 seconds (18th-fastest) heading into Week 13 but shaved more than a half-second off, getting a rid of the ball in 2.38 seconds against Dallas.

That timing was among the reasons why the same Seahawks offense that came into the game ranked fourth-worst in third-down rate converted nine of 14 chances (64.3%), easily its best performance of the season. And it came against a defense allowing conversions at the second-lowest rate (34.3%).

"Just getting the ball out," Smith said of what was working so well on third down. "I thought Shane called a great game. He called an amazing game. The receivers ran great routes. The protection was awesome. ... The whole O-line played phenomenally. They gave us a good chance to make plays, and guys made good plays."

It was not a signature performance by the offense, which ran for only 72 yards (3.3 per carry) and failed to convert on three fourth-down plays in the fourth quarter, including a fourth-and-1 midway through that frame and a fourth-and-2 on what would be their final play.

Nor was it a perfect game for Smith. He threw an interception, overthrew tight end Will Dissly in the red zone and appeared to have a hand in two of the fourth-down misses, with Carroll implying that part of the issue was Smith not properly identifying the defensive look.

But Smith's Total QBR of 91.2 was his best of the season. He threw for three touchdown passes, ran for another score and racked up 334 passing yards. That doesn't factor the two touchdown passes he had wiped out by replay (Jaxon Smith-Njigba's near catch in the end zone) and by a last-second timeout (Noah Fant's score one play later).

Smith also was not sacked against a Dallas defense that ranked first in the NFL in pass rush win rate (60.8%) by a wide margin. Smith faced heavy pressure for much of the night but repeatedly got the ball out before it could get to him.

In addition to Smith throwing in rhythm on traditional dropback plays, the Seahawks also got the ball out of his hands quickly via the screen game. That has been inexplicably absent from Seattle's offense for years, but it's more of a factor this season, especially against Dallas. Running back Zach Charbonnet gained 39 yards on one screen to set up Seattle's final touchdown. Receiver Jake Bobo caught another for 9 yards but came up just short of converting a third down in the fourth quarter. Seattle has gotten the ball to Smith-Njigba via screens several times in recent weeks.

"We threw the ball on the perimeter well," Carroll said. "The ball got out, and the screens on the edge worked well for us. We had a couple of big plays, couple of nice ball-control plays to Jaxon. He's good at that stuff. We like him in that role, but I thought we moved the ball all over the place and it gave us a chance to keep them guessing a little bit and stay productive. We just needed one more sequence, and we were going to put together a fantastic night."

The Seahawks did not get a win against Dallas, something they badly needed after two straight losses and with two more tough matchups upcoming. But they may have found part of an offensive formula that will give them a fighting chance against the 9-3 San Francisco 49ers on Sunday (4:05 p.m. ET, FOX) and the 10-2 Philadelphia Eagles next week before their schedule lets up with a Christmas Eve game against the 4-8 Tennessee Titans.

The Eagles rank fifth in PRWR (50.1%). The 49ers are eighth (47.3%), one spot ahead of Tennessee (47.2%). Can the quick passing game and screen plays they executed against Dallas be a template against the strong pass rushes the Seahawks will face in the coming weeks?

"One thousand," Smith-Njigba said. "That's the name of the game. It's starting to get to that, get the ball out quick and find the open target. The more we can do that and be good at that, the more success we'll have. We know that, so it's just about doing it."