Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Great Defense Is Enough

I tuned into Softy's show today, and he was asking people how good they thought the team could be this year. The constant refrain from callers when something like this, "The defense is pretty good, but that offense...that offense really stinks." Instead of fighting the notion that offense stinks. Let's take a different tack here. Just how good is this defense, and what can we learn about the Seahawks prospects just by projecting the defense?

First, take a look at where the Seahawks stacked up in 2011. The sloppy thing to say is the Seahawks were a Top 10 defense, but they were better than that. Defenses are ranked in various ways, but no matter how you look at the 2011 Seahawks defense, it was damn good.

POINTS AGAINST
1. PIT 14.2*
2. SFO 14.3*
3. BAL 16.6*
4. HOU 17.4*
5. CLE 19.2
6. MIA 19.6
7. SEA 19.7


OPP YARDS/PLAY
1. PIT 4.5*
2. BAL 4.6*
3. HOU 4.8*
T4. CIN 5.0*
T4. NYJ 5.0
T6. SFO 5.1*
T6 SEA 5.1
+ 2 others @ 5.1

OPP PASSER RATING
1. BAL 68.8*
2. HOU 69.0*
3. NYJ 69.6
4. PIT 71.7*
5. SFO 73.6*
6. SEA 74.8


OPP YARDS/CARRY
T1. BAL 3.5*
T1. SFO 3.5*
3. MIA 3.7
T4. JAX 3.8
T4. SEA 3.8

TAKEAWAYS/GAME
1. SFO 2.4*
2. GNB 2.3*
3. DET 2.1*
4. NWE 2.0*
T5. NYG 1.9*
T5. SEA 1.9
+ 3 others @ 1.9

*Made playoffs

The conservative ranking of Seattle's defense last year would be somewhere around 6-7. The final rankings support that, but miss how different this defense was in the second half of the season after inserting Richard Sherman. Check out The Sherman Effect:



You can see that the 65.9 rating would have ranked #1 in the NFL if that had been sustained for a season. Some will point out that the Seahawks faced better QB competition early, and that had more to do with the results than the defense or Sherman. That may be true, but it also sounds very much like what people said before last season about the run defense with/without Red Bryant. A full season of dominant run defense silenced those critics. Expect the same with a full season of this secondary in action.


CLICK TO ENLARGE
Scoring defense flipped in the last eight games as well. The Seahawks held opponents to just 16.3 points per game, which would have ranked #3 in the NFL if that was sustained for a whole season.

Turnovers also saw a major change, as the team averaged 2.5 takeaways per game the final eight games after only averaging 1.4 in the first eight. San Francisco set a turnover record last year by averaging 2.4 per game, to give you some context for how productive the defense had become as turning over the opposing team.

Pass pressure increased from 1.6 sacks/game to 2.5 in the second half of the year. Even with that resurgence, the team only ranked 19th in the NFL in sacks.

Now, add in Bruce Irvin replacing Raheem Brock (3.0 sacks), Jason Jones, faster linebackers, and another year of seasoning for the secondary. There is little reason to project the defense being anything but better in 2012, but what does that mean for the Seahawks chances of improving their record?

Four of the top five teams in scoring defense made the playoffs last season. Four of the top five teams in opponent yards/play made the playoffs last season. Four of the top five teams in opponent passer rating made the playoffs last season. Only two of the top five teams in opponent yards/carry made the playoffs last season. Five of the top five teams in takeaways/game made the playoffs last season.

Predict what you'd like about the Seahawks offense, but this defense was damn near top five last season with an offense that did not exist for eight games. They have added more talent in the one area the defense had a vulnerability in terms of pass rush, and there is almost no reason to project the offense being worse in 2012 than it was in 2011. Lots can happen between now and the season starting, but it is safe to feel bullish on this upcoming year, even if you only feel confident in the defense.

4 comments :

spuddybuddy said...

As long as we don't have another Cleveland game or Washington meltdown we will be better.

To win in the playoffs we need to be able to score against the nastier defenses in the league. Some play making would be nice to have.

brek said...

when the hawks can establish a solid running game and work the pass, the hawks will be the team to beat.

tzane said...

It's worth pointing out that before Richard Sherman entered the starting line-up we had faced 3 solid QBs in Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, and Eli Manning. After he got the starting job we arguably only faced one solid QB in Tony Romo. That said, I agree there definitely was a 'Sherman' effect in the secondary but some of it may be a spurious correlation.

hawkblogger said...

@tzane: I tried to speak to that point in the article. There were very similar arguments made about how good the Seahawks run defense was last season before Red Bryant got injured. People said it was because the team faced better offenses after his injury. A full season with him proved that the run defense was real. After a year in which the team faces Aaron Rodger, Tom Brady and more, there should be no doubt about the quality of the secondary.