Friday, September 20, 2013

Seahawks Defense Improves On Third Down & Fourth Quarter

Seahawks fans are spoiled. Their defense led the league in scoring defense in 2012, but ask most die-hard fans, and they will tell you about trouble on 3rd down and in the fourth quarter. Seattle is only two games into the 2013 season, but the early returns indicate fans may need to find a new nit to pick.


Third Down

Seattle's struggles last year in situational defense were not an illusion. No stat better demonstrates the oddity of the Seahawks 2012 defense than their problems defending 3rd and long situations. We will define "long" as eight yards or longer. A league average defense in 2012 allowed 25.5% of those situations to convert to a first down. Quarterbacks were held to a passer rating of 76.0. Seattle was not league average. They allowed 36.4% of those plays to convert, and quarterbacks had a fist-pounding 105.2 passer rating in what should have been a disastrous situation against a top-tier defense.

That is more like it. Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com
It is easy to forget this defense is just now inexperienced this defense has been. Last season was just the second year of starting for Brandon Browner, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, and K.J. Wright. It was Bobby Wagner's first, and Earl Thomas' third. It takes time to trust each other and anticipate both what your teammate is going to do and what the opponent is going to attempt. The immense talent of the youth on Seattle's defense makes up for a lot. The last piece of the puzzle is execution in key moments. Third and long should be a money moment. Blood is in the water. That is when sharks feed. Seattle was toothless in those situation last year, but looks like Jaws so far in 2013. The team did not have a single interception in 68 pass attempts last year on 3rd and long. They already have one in just 5 pass attempts this season. The improvement has not been reserved to 3rd and long.


The Seahawks defense has feasted on third down overall. Opponents are converting at a 35% rate, which would have been good for 5th in the NFL last year. Seattle was ranked 17th in this category last year. More impressive is the opponent passer rating, and the uptick in sack and interception rate.


Fourth Quarter

As frustrating as the third down situations were in 2012, the failures in the fourth quarter were far more heart-breaking. Seattle is showing signs of improvement there as well.


Seattle has not allowed a point in the fourth quarter through two games. More encouraging is the tightening of the pass defense. The opponent passer rating is is roughly equal to last season for the first three quarters of the game, but things diverge in the fourth quarter. Quarterbacks had more success against the Seahawks in the fourth quarter last season. Not so this year. It is the best quarter for the Seahawks pass defense thus far, holding Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton to a combined 18.2 passer rating. That is good stuff.

Save Your Small Sample Size

Of course it is ridiculous to make any conclusions after just two games. It is considerably more encouraging to see the exact improvements we had hoped for in the defense than to see signs of continuing down the same path. The road games in Houston and Indianapolis will be great tests to see if a new leaf has been turned. 

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