Friday, September 21, 2012

The Shape Of Victory Under Pete Carroll

Pete Carroll came to Seattle with a clarity of philosophy reserved only for the best leaders. There is no hesitation or doubt in how he enacts what he believes to be the best way to build a team and win a football game. His first year was hardly representative of the product he wanted to put on the field as the roster was not equipped to play his style. John Schneider and Carroll got much closer last season. Close enough that we can start to see patterns developing for what a game looks like when the plan works, and what it looks like when it does not.

Here is a sample box score:

                       SEATTLE            OPPONENT            
POINTS              28                              13
1ST DOWNS      19                             19
TOTAL YDS      326                           303
PASS YDS         192                           215
PASS ATT          28                             37
YPA                    6.8                            5.9
RUSH YDS        134                            88
RUSH ATT         35                              23
YPC                    3.8                            3.8
TURNOVERS      1                               3
SACKS                3                               3

That represents the averages in Seattle's wins dating back to the beginning of the 2011 season. The sample size is still small, but it is directionally interesting. When things go well for Carroll's Seahawks, they really go well, winning by an average of 15 points. A team built around running and defense logically would seem to be more accustomed to slug-it-out close games. One might expect lower scoring output as well, but the Seahawks are scoring an average of 28 points in their wins. How they score those points is worth teasing out as well.

Seattle is only averaging 326 yards in these games. Eighteen teams averaged more yards per game last season, so the offense is not exactly exploding in these wins. The Seahawks average 192 passing yards in these blowouts, which would have ranked 26th in the NFL in 2011. Clearly, the passing game is not the catalyst. Now, rushing for 134 yards would rank as 6th best in the 2011, but what really stands out are the rushing attempts. Thirty-five rush attempts would have ranked 1st in the NFL last year. The yards-per-carry shows that Carroll's Seahawks are less dependent on production than they are on pure commitment to the run. In other words, the total number of rush attempts matters more than the total yards gained. Looking at these offensive numbers should help explain why Carroll is in no rush to see Russell Wilson throw for 300 yards.

The defense also bears Carroll's fingerprints. Opponents almost gain as many yards as the Seahawks in these wins, but they get them very differently. They actually pass for more yards than Seattle, and put the ball in the air nearly 40 times per game. Some of that is from playing behind, but some of it is the passing philosophy that permeates most other modern offenses. They are not getting much in those attempts, with a paltry 5.9 yard average. The real standout is the opponent turnovers (3) and sacks the Seahawks defense registers (3). Remember those numbers, as we look at this next box score.


                       SEATTLE            OPPONENT            
POINTS              14                             24
1ST DOWNS      16                             20
TOTAL YDS      282                           344
PASS YDS         184                           225
PASS ATT          34                             33
YPA                    5.4                            6.9
RUSH YDS         98                            119
RUSH ATT         24                              32
YPC                    4.1                            3.7
TURNOVERS      2                               1
SACKS                1                               3

As you may have guessed, this is what the average Seahawks loss looks like in the same time period back to last season. Opponents pass for a full yard more per attempt (6.9 vs. 5.9), run for 30 more yards (118 vs. 88), and turn the ball over two less times (1 vs. 3). Seattle's passing game goes from conservative to pre-historic. The yardage output is not that different (184 vs. 192), but the yards-per-attempt drop almost 1.5 yards (5.4 vs. 6.8). These are games when Seattle has gotten away from it's running philosophy, seeing ten more passes (34) than runs (24). The running game is working fine, averaging a healthy 4.1 yards-per-carry, but the attempts drop significantly from 35 in wins to just 24 in losses. Again, some of that comes when a team is playing from behind. The giveaway number is not quite as big as it may seem. The true number is 1.3 giveaways in wins and 1.7 in losses. The box score represents numbers rounded to their nearest whole. Takeaways is that significant of a difference, and so are sacks. Seattle averages one sack and one turnover in losses and three of each in wins.

Carroll will continue to run into diametrically opposing philosophies. Fans and media will find themselves wondering if the Seahawks should open up their offense more when facing scoring juggernauts like the Packers, Patriots and Lions. Early evidence suggests the Seattle offense needs to continue focusing on efficiency. Yards per throw matters far more than total yards. Patient commitment to the run reduces the risk of giveaways and keeps the other offense off the field. Scoring points comes from favorable field position associated with takeaways and low giveaways. This team remains in its earliest stages, but Carroll should already be able to see his reflection in how they play.

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