Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Seahawks 2013 Season Progress Report: Quarter-Point

There are plenty of statistical sites on the web. HawkBlogger.com is largely a journal of everything going on with the Seahawks over time. There are times that statistics help to tell that story, and that is why I created this Season Progress Report series a couple years back. A gap in the statistics out there is the ability to freeze points in time, and allow you to rewind and compare how the team has progressed or regressed as the year rolls on. Player splits (e.g., first half of the year vs second half of the year) are common, but team splits are less so, and quarter-season splits can only be found here, from what I know. I track every Seahawks game, and have for years. That allows me to break down trends over any period of time I choose. As this season continues, I will provide a progress report at each quarter point of the year, and highlight other trends I see in-between. Once we get to mid-season, I will be able to compare this year's team to itself over time, but for this first report, I will focus on comparisons to where the team was last season as a way to provide some context.

If you cannot see the table below, CLICK HERE


The organization of the information above can be a little confusing, so let's walk through it. The first three columns on the left list actual averages during the specified time period. For example, Seattle averaged 34 ppg in the last 8 games of 2012, and is now averaging 27.5 ppg through the first four games of 2013. That is a change of -6.5 ppg. I have color-coded the change column to let you know where the team improved or regressed. More is not always better (e.g., opponent sacks per game). I chose to compare to the last 8 games of 2012 because the team found its rhythm over that span, and I wanted to know how this 4-0 team lined up with that stretch of performance. You will notice that I do not have every number for the last 8 games of 2012, like red zone scoring percentage. Those represent holes in my data that are being filled in this year.

The last three columns are where the team ranks relative to other NFL teams. So, the team ranked 10th in the NFL in scoring last year, and is 6th in the NFL thus far this season. Note that the time period for these columns compares the full 2012 season numbers instead of just the final 8 games. There is no good way to get NFL rankings over a specific stretch of time, so I stick with full season numbers. The next report will be able to compare where the team ranked in each of the categories at the 4-game mark to the 8-game mark, and then 12 and 16-game marks.

A Few Observations


Sputtering offense 

The offense is struggling, especially the run game. That is an odd thing to say when the team is averaging 27.5 ppg and ranks 4th in the NFL in that category, but it is true. Look at the fundamentals. Yards per carry is down over a yard from where it was the last half of 2012. This was the best running team in football when the regular season ended, and a top five team over the course of the year. You may think the 180 rushing yards per game in the final eight last year is an unfair compare, but the team averaged 221 rushing yards per game in the final four. Even when the team struggled mightily on offense the first four games of 2012, they still averaged 151 rushing yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry. 

This offense is supposed to be hyper-efficient, but it will never get there if the running game is stuck in the middle of the pack when it comes to yards per carry. Lynch is running with authority. The team is committed at 35 attempts per game so far. That is right in line with their 36 attempts per game at the end of last season. The two biggest culprits are a tough two-game open, and reduced reliance on Russell Wilson to contribute to the running game. 

The season opener skewed the numbers here as Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell have acknowledged they got away from their normal approach in the run game. That, combined with a terrific front seven in Carolina led to dismal running numbers. The team has rushed for 172, 156 and 179 yards since that game, and at a clip of 4.5 yards per carry. That gives me hope that the team can eventually return to their production from last year, especially as the offensive line solidifies.

Pass protection issues

Passing is surprisingly tracking pretty well to last year. Yards per attempt is comparable. Passing yards are up slightly, and passer rating is still over 100. The problem area here is pass protection. Seattle is yielding almost a full sack more per game than last season, and ranks near the bottom of the NFL in that category. The five sacks given up this past week without three-fifths of the line did nothing to help that. 

Tom Cable is one of the best there is at his job, but he does have a tendency to favor run blockers over pass protectors (see J.R. Sweezy vs John Moffitt as one example). It puzzled me how Michael Bowie could be ahead of Alvin Bailey when Bailey was so fantastic in pass blocking until I realized Bowie was the better run blocker. The team is without Russell Okung for a while longer. Paul McQuistan is not going to improve much there. The team needs to get serious about working Bailey into the mix, and don't be surprised if he turns into a legit left tackle while Okung is out.

Situational snafus

I did my best to triangulate the red zone numbers in the last half of 2012, but I couldn't find them. I know there was a long stretch where the team was converting at well over 80%, so 53% is a big drop-off. [UPDATE: Thanks to Davis Hsu for providing the RZ numbers on offense for the last eight games, and confirming a large drop-off] After starting 3-9, the offense is now 5 for their last 6 trips. That is a good sign. 

Third down conversions are way down as well. this last game was a killer there. Pass protection and yards per carry are two key components of a good third down conversion rate. It all works together, and Seattle has to improve in all three areas to unlock the full power of this offense.

Mirror image

While the offense has taken a step back in rushing efficiency, scoring and pass rush, the defense has improved in all of those areas. Run defense and pass rush were two areas of focus heading into this season, and the team has made meaningful steps forward in both so far. The run defense is still not sterling, but the team has faced the 3rd, 7th and 8th best running teams in football in their first four games. Indianapolis ranks up there as well, but the road should get considerably easier after that. The team will have a game against the Saints (25th), two against the Cardinals (26th), the Giants (30th) and two against the Rams (32nd). Throw in Atlanta and Tampa, and eight of the last eleven games are against teams ranked 20th or worst in rushing. 

The dramatic improvement in sack numbers is especially encouraging considering the missing players through much of the first four games. This upcoming game against the Colts will mark the first time all the pass rushers should be available. A top ten finish in sacks would seem very realistic, with the potential of top five. If this team can become a top ten pass rushing defense, coupled with the best secondary in football and just an adequate run defense, this team will make the game against San Francisco seem ordinary.

Explosive plays

One stat not shown above that will be featured throughout the year is explosive plays. Carroll defines explosive plays as 12+ yard runs and 16+ yard passes. The Seahawks averaged 9.9 explosive plays per game in their final eight games of 2012. They are averaging 8.3 through four games this year. On defense, they allowed 6.4 explosive plays per game in the last half of 2012, and have stayed on track with 6.5 per game this year. Before they allowed 13 explosive plays in Houston, the defense was only allowing 4.3 explosive plays per game. 

Big Picture

There are some areas in need of improvement, but the team has managed to go 4-0 in a four-game stretch. They only did that once in the last year, and never in 2010 or 2011. The offensive line is easily the biggest issue for this team at the moment. There is some hope the team can come out stronger for having battled through this stretch. Michael Bowie may end up being an improvement over Breno Giacomini. Alvin Bailey may prove to be a superior back-up to Okung should he go down again. 

There is a resiliency and unbending confidence this team has that cannot be measured by numbers. The 49ers used to have that aura of "we have beaten you before we take the field." That has dissipated after some humiliating defeats this year. The Patriots have had that unshakable confidence for the past decade. It doesn't matter who is injured or who leaves for another team. They are going to beat you. Seattle is showing signs that they are at the very earliest stages of that kind of run of confidence. Teams missing players of the caliber of Cliff Avril, Bruce Irvin, Chris Clemons, Brandon Browner, Okung, Percy Harvin, and Max Unger should not go 4-0 against quality competition. Seattle has. 

This team, as currently performing, is not ready to win a Super Bowl. They have to get better on offense. They will. Three of the next four games are on the road. Then, five of the final eight are at home. This current stretch could go a long way toward deciding whether any other teams will have a realistic shot to catch Seattle for the #1 seed and the division title.

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