Saturday, December 31, 2011

Seahawks Key Stat: Time Of Possession

Time of possession was once the chic stat to talk about in a football era now long gone. The last few decades have emphasized it less as the NFL has become more of a fast-break offensive show that emphasizes passing over running. Turnovers also proved to be a more telling factor, and one that could skew time of possession. Scoring a defensive touchdown or getting the ball on the opponent's 20-yard line due to a turnover means your team is winning, but not possessing the ball for very long. Even with those realities, Pete Carroll is going retro. He is bringing a brand of football back that makes time of possession far important.

In the 33 games Carroll has coached, including playoffs, since joining the Seahawks, the team is undefeated (9-0) when winning the time of possession battle. They are just 6-18 when losing that fight. That includes five of the team's seven wins this season. Their only victories this year when possessing the ball less than their opponent was in Week 3 against the Arizona Cardinals and Week 6 versus the New York Giants. Since the team truly committed to the run, starting in the Dallas game in Week 9, their only losses have come in games when the opponent held the ball for longer than Seattle (@DAL, WAS, SF).

This has been a far larger factor in winning this season that last, when only four of the eight victories required winning time of possession. It is another bit of evidence suggesting that Jeremy Bates and Carroll were a bad match. Bates eschewed the ground game for big chunks of yards. It was a high risk, high reward sort of style that allowed the Seahawks to have some of their best passing games in recent history (@ARZ, @NO, NO), but also made them entirely too inconsistent while putting too much pressure on the defense.

There are ancillary statistics to time of possession that are worth watching as well. Things like the ratio of rushing attempts to passing attempts (the Seahawks target should be 1:1), and opponent yards per carry (should be south of 4.0). Running the ball and stopping the run are obviously key elements to holding onto the ball.

The team has found its identity, and is not turning back. Carroll talks about the importance of the ball all the time, largely referring to turnovers. He had a streak of nearly 60 games where his teams had not lost when winning the turnover battle. That streak ended this season in the loss to the Redskins. This is a new streak. The team stands at 9-0 when winning the time of possession battle under Carroll. Expect it to last.

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