Thursday, October 31, 2013

Seahawks 2013 Season Progress Report: Mid-Season

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. You can review the quarter-point progress report here.

If you are having trouble viewing the table below, try clicking this link.


CHART GALLERY

Note: The abbreviation "OPP" appears in the charts below to reflect "opponent."

General check-up







Situational play






Focus on pass rush and pass protection




Focus on turnovers



Analysis

It can be difficult to separate the most recent game from the overall narrative of the season. Seattle just finished it's worst offensive performance in recent memory and surrendered 200 yards on the ground to a Rams team that has not run the ball effectively all year. Just one game earlier, they dominated an Arizona Cardinal team that continues to show that win was more impressive than people realize, and allowed a minuscule 1.7 yards per carry. You see the offensive line surrender seven sacks, and forget that they had surrendered seven sacks combined in the previous three games. That is the purpose of these progress reports. Take a step back and look at the overall trends. None of them tell a whole story in isolation, but they each help to add context to what we are witnessing.

The trend in points, both scored and surrendered, looks troubling at first glance. Dig a little deeper. Three of the last four games were on the road. Yards per play, which is a great barometer of overall offensive and defensive efficiency, shows the Seahawks are holding pretty steady on both sides of the ball. Explosive plays, which are runs of over 12 yards and passes over 16, can help show if the offense is being forced to dink and dunk their way down field, and whether a defense is keeping opposing offenses from quick movements. Again, Seattle has remained relatively steady on offense, while making a meaningful improvement on defense. Zac Stacy and the Rams managed a Seahawks opponent season-high with six explosive runs. Opponents had only managed six explosive runs in the last four games combined, and none in the previous two. It is worth watching this, as a similar occurrence last year versus San Francisco became a harbinger of things to come on run defense. For now, the expectation has to be that the Rams game was an anomaly, but it bears watching.

Situational play is a mixed bag. These are the moments that games generally turn on. Seattle continues to struggle on third down offensively, but have improved their play in the red zone. The defense has been incredibly consistent on third downs, outside of the Colts game, and have been among the stingier teams in the league in the red zone. Offensive third down conversions may be the bellwether stat to watch. It will tell us if the team is in manageable third down distances, an indicator of better early run performance, and tell us if the passing game is functioning in the toughest situations. When the offense was humming the second half of last season, they were converting 48.5% of their third downs. They are at 33.7% now. They have only one game so far that was over a 48% conversion rate. The goal here has to be closer to 40% the next four games, and it needs to climb a bit higher once Russell Okung returns.

It is easy to overlook the pass rush with all the attention being paid to the pass protection woes. This defense is averaging a full sack per game more than they did a year ago, and are actually averaging more sacks on the road (3.4) than at home (3.0). That is a terrific sign, and a huge part of the turnover engine that is producing a league-best 2.6 takeaways per game. The team cannot rely on turnovers all year. There is always some amount of luck involved with taking the ball away, even with a dominant defense. Teams can increase their chances of creating them with a good pass rush and great coverage, but there are no guarantees. The offense needs to cut their turnover rate. They are almost a full turnover higher the first half of this year (1.5) than they were the last half of 2012 (0.6). Assume the defense is going to get fewer than 2.6 takeaways the rest of the year. That means the offense needs to protect the ball better to maintain the advantage the Seahawks have enjoyed there.

Three of the next four games are at home. It looks like Percy Harvin will miss at least two of those, and as many as all four. Okung could be back by the Minnesota game, and Breno Giacomini could also return in this stretch. Three of the four opponents have two wins or less. The only acceptable result in this next quarter of the season is four wins. Perfection is a tall order, and this team is showing some signs of weariness. The bye week comes after three more games. Even at 7-1, the Seahawks need a convincing win this week to get their swagger back heading into Atlanta. It is hard to see the Vikings winning here no matter how the Seahawks play. Go 4-0 here, and the team should be setup for a very strong finish if they can continue to gain players back from injury without losing others ones in the process. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Plan For Better Pass Protection

Stolen base attempts per stolen base opportunity
There was an era in baseball when base stealers ruled the game. Vince Coleman and Rickey Henderson terrorized pitchers with hundreds of bases taken with their speed and guile instead of their bats. Managers attempted to stop the thievery with rocket-armed catchers and countless throws to first base. It helped. But the understanding of what contributes to a stolen base became more sophisticated over time. The time it took a catcher to throw to second base was only part of the equation. Pitchers played a large role. Their time to home plate was just as important as the catcher's time to second. The slide-step was developed to drastically reduce that time. Pitchers were encouraged to vary their times to become less predictable. It led to a significant reduction in stolen base attempts and stolen base success over time. As the Seahawks come off a dismal seven-sack performance on offense, it is about time we become a little more sophisticated in our understanding of what factors contribute to a sack.

The Offensive Line

The offensive line in the pass protection equation is akin to the rocket-armed catcher. Everyone knows the importance of a good offensive line when it comes to protecting the quarterback. It is easy to pin all the blame on the big fellas when you see a defensive player blow by them for a sack, and they have a key role. It just is not the complete picture.

Time To Throw

How long an offensive line has to protect the quarterback is arguably more important than the quality of the players on the line. Consider that in 110 times this season that Russell Wilson has dropped back to pass and got rid of the ball in 2.5 seconds or less, he has been sacked exactly one time (source: ProFootballFocus.com). In the 150 times he has taken 2.6 seconds or more, he has been sacked 26 times. His rating on those quicker throws is 108.3 versus 89.4 on the longer ones.

Throwing in just 2.5 seconds may seem like a lofty goal, but five quarterbacks average less than that on all of their throws. Peyton Manning has made a career of releasing the ball quickly to avoid sacks, even behind very suspect offensive lines. He leads the NFL with a 2.36 average time to throw. Mathew Stafford, Andy Dalton and Philip Rivers all average 2.47 seconds or less, and all four of those teams rank in the top eight in opponent sack percentage (percent of pass attempts that result in a quarterback sack).

Russell Wilson ranks 36th in the NFL in time to throw, averaging 3.18 seconds. Only Michael Vick and Terrelle Pryor take longer. He has improved slightly from his rookie year when he took 3.35 seconds to throw, and ranked 38th.

Depth Of Throw

Time to throw might be the most important factor to pass protection, but what contributes to that length of time? One obvious relationship is how far down-field a quarterback is throwing. The longer the throw, the longer the drop-back, the greater the time to throw. Seattle ranks fifth in the NFL in average yards per completion at 12.0 and eighth in yards per attempt at 7.5.

Scheme

The depth of throw is largely effected by scheme and quarterback decision-making within that scheme. Pete Carroll has made it clear that he wants to run to setup big play throws. Seattle should always be among the league leaders in yards per attempt and yards per completion if things are going right. Wilson, though, has shown a reluctance at times to take the quick throw either to an underneath route or to his backs in the flat. That is more him than scheme.

Receiver Separation

Seattle has a useful resource it is not using
Another contributing factor on time to throw is how well the receivers are winning on their routes and giving the quarterback a target to hit quickly. Slot receivers are often a solution when quick route wins are needed. Seattle happens to have the #1 slot receiver in the NFL in terms of yards per route run and catch rate (source: PFF). Yet, of the 23 slot receivers that have played at least 50% of their snaps in the slot, Baldwin has the fewest targets with only 30. Victor Cruz leads the slot receivers in targets with 74, but players like Davone Bess, Jason Avant, Mohamed Sanu, Jerricho Cotchery, Jeremy Kerley, and Brandon Gibson all have more targets than Baldwin.

An Effective Running Game

Not only can a quarterback not be sacked when the team runs the ball, but it creates opportunity for play-action passing to be more effective. Lineman and linebackers cannot be pure pass rushers if they have to honor the run. Wilson is #1 in the NFL in percentage of play-action passes per dropback. He has a 119.2 rating on those plays versus 86.1 on straight dropback passes.


Prescription For Improvement

It will help to get Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini back. That is still weeks away, and is still very myopic in terms of diagnosing the problems causing the protection breakdowns. Wilson is quite possibly the most valuable player on the team and needs to be protected. This is a long-term issue that must be attacked in multiple ways. 

The coaching staff needs to return to its run commitment, regardless of how many players the defense stacks in the box. Pass attempts are up 5% and rushes are down 18% in the last four games compared to the first four. That cannot continue. Getting back to the run will expose Wilson less often to hits and improve the effectiveness of the play-action to deter pass rushers.

There needs to be a greater mix of quick passes in the offense, and Wilson needs to be more willing to use them. Percy Harvin returns and is sure to be part of that solution. Baldwin should be as well. This will have the dual-effect of reducing the depth and time of Wilson's dropback (3 steps verus 5 or 7), and his overall time to throw. Wilson may never be Manning when it comes to quick throws, but maybe he can get to the middle of the pack with his idol, Drew Brees at 2.7 seconds to throw, which is closer to league average. 

It is time for Seahawks fans and Seahawks coaches to take a more nuanced look at the pass protection problems. No area needs to improve more for this team the rest of the way.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Morning After: Seahawks Make Final Stand, Turn Back Rams 14-9

Logo by Kevin Gamache, Hammerhead 

My late grandmother used to do a lot of odd things. It is harder to remember behavior that qualified as normal to my young eyes than odd in some way. One such quirk was piling all the sugar packets on a restaurant table into her purse, as if the owners were leaving diamonds in a bowl for the taking. My mother explained that the generations that grew up during The Great Depression had their worldview forever changed. They always prepared for the worst. I never quite understood how sugar packets were going to save anyone in the face of economic meltdown, but it was not hard to see how going through such a period of desolation could result in cherishing of even the smallest measure of sweetness. There will be a generation of Seahawks fans that will grow up during the splendor of 10+ win seasons and Super Bowls that will have no knowledge of what it was like to cheer for this franchise for the first 30 or so years. Those of us that have experienced the 179 road losses and 0.381 winning percentage prior to 2013, know the rarity of a road win. We were watching that final series for the Rams on Monday Night Football hoping against hope that Seattle would do something it simply never does in that situation: win. Every voice across every brand of media will tell you this week the Seahawks were terrible and exposed. A seasoned Seattle sports fan will pinch that victory and tuck it away in their pocket, knowing that even a little sugar is still pretty sweet.

Five times last season, a Seahawks road opponent took possession of the ball with less than six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter when trailing by less than a touchdown. Five chances to win a game on their home turf. Four of those resulted in scores that either tied the game or won it. There was the heartbreak in Atlanta to end the season, but that was preceded by Miami, Detroit and an equally ridiculous 24 second drive to tie the game in Chicago. The only time the defense held an opponent in that situation on the road was when the Panthers got the ball with 59 seconds to go on their own 31 yard line, needing a touchdown to win, but only managed one play before a strip-sack ended it.

Three times a road opponent has taken the ball in the same situation this year, needing six points or less to win late in the fourth quarter. Three times they have been turned away. Richard Sherman famously intercepted Matt Schaub, and the Texans were stopped on the ensuing possession as well. The Rams took the ball 96 yards, but Earl Thomas, Heath Farwell and company drove a collective staff into the goal line and declared, "You shall not pass!"

Thomas had one of the best games of his career. He is finally taking the step from being great to being elite. He saved at least two touchdowns with great open-field tackles. Nobody hit Kellen Clemens harder. While so many will wring their hands about how the Seahawks have to get by without Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini, it would be wise to be thankful for the guys like Thomas that are healthy and winning games for this team.

That said, let us wring our hands for a bit. Pete Carroll has now been out-coached three straight times by Jeff Fisher. His public line of, "we're trying everything we can" to both protect the quarterback and get the ball to Marshawn Lynch is disingenuous at best. Two tight ends protect the quarterback. Split backs in shotgun protect the quarterback. But most importantly, handing the ball to the running back protects the quarterback. Pass attempts are up the last four games and rush attempts are down. Seattle coaches can claim the defense is taking away the run by stacking the box, but this team prided itself on running against eight-men fronts the last two years. When Wilson was truly being protected the first five games of last year, the team was facing overwhelmingly run-oriented fronts, and the team still ran the ball 34.4 times per game versus 25 passes. It was not always pretty, but the commitment and attitude were there.

It became common to see the team running into a wall in the first half, only to eventually break through in the second, while also opening up the pass. There is no excuse for a game plan that does not hand the ball to Lynch on consecutive plays the whole night. To say that forcing the run would have ended in a better result is a stretch. In fact, the team may not have won if they were pig-headed about the run, considering it was the one big play pass that worked that was the eventual difference. Still, that is not the identity of this team. It is not the formula that will work reliably with this offensive line.

FACT: This was only the second game in Seahawks history where they won on the road despite surrendering 7 sacks. The first was in Kansas City when Dave Krieg hit Paul Skansi to win it after Derrick Thomas set the single-game sack record.

Alvin Bailey is either in the doghouse for some reason, or Tom Cable and Carroll are making an uncharacteristic decision in continuing to run Paul McQuistan out there. The reason I have continued to hear is that the line is already very inexperienced with Michael Bowie, J.R. Sweezy and James Carpenter, and they do not want to add more youth to the mix. Communication and poise are key components to line play. That makes sense to a point. When the veteran is the worst left tackle in all of football and is endangering your quarterback on nearly every snap, it becomes much harder to believe the results would be worse with a another young player added to the mix. To not even put Bailey in for a series to see how it goes is hard to defend. Carroll prides himself on being unconventional, but his commitment to convention in this case by playing the experienced player is putting his quarterback and season at risk.

The mature thing to do is chastise Golden Tate for his taunting on the way into the end zone. Maturity and fun seem to mix poorly. As great as Larry Fitzgerald is, and as much as I respect him, if I had to choose between a league full of Fitzgeralds and a league full of Deion Sanders', I'd take Primetime every time. I am mature with my kids (sometimes). I am mature at work (sometimes). This is a kids game, and I enjoy watching the guys celebrate however they see fit. I loved every bit of Tate's antics, and loved his pose heading into the end zone of the punt return last week. As long as a player backs up their big talk or on-field antics with big results, I will always defend their right to be brash and bold.

And so the first half of 2013 comes to a close. The 7-1 record the team has compiled would be impressive in any year, reached in any way. To do it with the depth and breadth of injuries the team has faced and with five of eight games on the road, makes it all the more impressive. This was easily the worst offensive performance of the season, which is remarkable after the Houston game, but give the Rams some credit. This was the defense I expected them to put on display every week. They were out for blood, and inflicted their share of wounds. Seattle was skilled just enough to avoid the fatal blow. Seahawks teams of yore would never have found a way to hold the Rams team out of the end zone to close the game. A helmet crossing the goal line would have been mistaken for the football, or yet another penalty flag would have flown to give the Rams one more chance. This team did hold. Let the losing team lament a bitter loss. This town knows better than to hollow out any victory.

Hawk Blogger 2013 Power Rankings: Week 8

THIS WEEK
Lots of action this week across the NFL hierarchy. Seattle and Denver manage to improve their team strength despite sub-par performances. The Saints are marching. The Panther keep moving up, and the Bengals jump up an amazing 13.7 points after their blowout victory.

Arizona improved nearly the same amount, showing the Seahawks win their last week may have been more impressive than many would give them credit for.

It is fair to wonder how Seattle gained points during one of their worst games of the year. They did it by increasing their passer rating differential. Despite the terrible offensive performance, Russell Wilson did end with a 100+ rating and Kellen Clemens was held under 40.0. That has been a better indicator of team strength historically than sack differential or total yardage differential, and it's not close. Very odd game, and odd result here.

Note: If you are having problems viewing the rankings below, try this link.(Leave a comment if it doesn't work for you!)



Trying a bar chart of the rankings to see if that is easier to read. This view helps to give you a view of how teams are grouped together. You will generally see tiers of strength develop as the season wears on.



RANKINGS EXPLAINED
Power rankings are always debatable. I don't buy into the gut feel methods most places use to determine their rankings, so I developed a formula a few years back that attempts to take at least some of the subjectivity out of the discussion. My approach was simple, I measured offensive and defensive efficiency based on the Yards Per Carry (YPC) and Yards Per Attempt (YPA), as well as points scored and points allowed. The formula to calculate "Team Strength" was as follows:

(YPC (offense) + YPA (offense) + Avg Pts/Game Scored) - (YPC (defense) + YPA (defense)+ Avg Pts/Game Allowed)


The formula has proven to be a pretty accurate predictor of success, but I am always looking for ways to improve it. I read a great article on ColdHardFootballFacts.com. There was one gem in there about predicting championship teams. The article mentioned passer rating differential as the "mother of all stats." A full 69 of 72 champions have ranked in the Top 10 in this statistic. It is a stat after my own heart, as I believe offensive and defensive efficiency is the key measurable outside of point differential. Turnovers would factor in there as well, but I am not convinced a team has as much control over that. My power rankings use YPA and YPC differentials. I went ahead and replaced the YPA with offensive and defensive passer rating, to give me this:

(YPC (offense) + Passer Rating (offense) + Avg Pts/Game Scored) - (OPP YPC (defense) + OPP Passer Rating (defense)+ OPP Avg Pts/Game)


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Passer / QB Rating For Quarterbacks Excel Formula

This is a post for the geeky minority of you, who like me, have been unhappy with the search results thus far for what you would think should be all over the InterWebs. Passer rating, or quarterback rating (QB rating) as some incorrectly refer to it, is among the most convoluted of all long-time NFL statistics. There are sites out there that will show you an Excel formula for it that looks terrific until you put in especially high touchdowns per pass attempt, or interceptions per pass attempt, or yards per pass attempt. Then, you start getting ratings that are not possible because there is a minimum rating of 0.0 and a maximum rating of 158.3. My sincere hope is, that by posting not one, but three solutions submitted to me by readers, football geeks everywhere can raise their game.

The first solution was submitted by Benjamin Hall.


It passed all of my tests, and be downloaded here  (you will need to choose File>Download).

The second excel formula was submitted by Patton Richard.


It passed my tests as well. You can download that spreadsheet here.

UPDATE: A third solution was passed along that allows you to calculate the rating in a single cell, without the need to have a bunch of hidden cells in the background. This is very useful if you want to drag it across a series of rows where you have attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and interceptions already filled in.

This solution comes from Jason Reilly



So there you have it. Link to this page from your sites, and share the link with others so that future football geeks may have an easier time finding this, and less time using annoying online calculators. Geeks unite!

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Few Russell Wilson Trends

Certain seasons, certain players require a little extra attention. The first superstar franchise quarterback merits that, and this season has qualified as special thus far. As such, I have been tracking Russell Wilson stats each and every week. And not just what you get in the box score. I can tell you how he has performed on third down, in the red zone, when the team is ahead, when they are behind, when he throws over 20 yards, when he throws to the left, the right, the middle. It was the only was I knew how to quantify the growth he is demonstrating and the challenges he is facing from week to week. People love to talk about small sample sizes when it comes to breaking down trends. The NFL is a 16-game season. Trends are measured by quarter, by series. Something that happens over the course of three games is worth paying attention to. With that in mind, here is a first look at some items that stood out to me when examining Wilson's progress to this point in the year.

PODCAST: Talking Rams, Percy, Russell And More With Softy


Softy and I spent 20-odd minutes going through Seahawks past, present, and future. We talked about Carolina, Arizona, St. Louis and Atlanta, New Orleans and San Francisco. Softy welcomes yet another new sponsor to the show. Enjoy.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Challenge To Pete Carroll's Commitment To "Always Compete"

Percy Harvin's return is imminent. Bobby Wagner is hoping to get back soon. Both are assured of significant roles on the offense and defense, respectively. The standard way to handle their return would be for Harvin to get most of the snaps as a slot receiver and for Wagner to return to his starting role at middle linebacker while K.J. Wright shifts back to weakside starting linebacker. The problem with the standard is that it means your leading receiver and best linebacker would need to take a back seat. Doug Baldwin and Malcolm Smith have been the best players at their positions on the team through seven games. How Pete Carroll handles their roles the rest of the season will say a lot about how real his "Always Compete" philosophy is.

Baldwin leads the team with 360 yards receiving. His 76% catch rate in third in the NFL among wide receivers with at least 20 receptions. He ranks 2nd in the NFL among receivers in DVOA, according to Football Outsiders, meaning he is the second-most productive receiver per opportunity at his position. Pro Football Focus has him graded as the best receiver on the team so far. That sounds like a player that has earned more time, not less.

Smith is graded as the 2nd-best outside linebacker for 4-3 defenses in the NFL by Pro Football Focus, behind only Lavonte David. He grades out strongly in the positive for run defense, pass coverage and pass rush. No other Seahawk defender can make the same claim. He has a forced fumble, tackle for loss, pass defensed and sack. No other Seahawk has done that so far. He is fifth on the team in tackles despite playing only 50% of the snaps so far. This is a player rising to the occasion.

My focus is not to say which players should have their time cut to make space for these two to get more time. It is simply to point out that it should happen. If every snap is open to the best player, a philosophy I believe sets the Seahawks apart from the rest of the NFL, than these two players should play, and play even more than they have thus far.

Should this follow the standard path, and both players see a diminishing role the rest of the way, it will speak volumes about Carroll's ability to stick to his standards when the outcomes are tougher to manage. Make no mistake about it, somebody gets the snaps and someone else does not. There are winners and losers in this, and someone is going to be unhappy. Carroll has won, in part, because the unhappy people have largely been the ones being outplayed. Let's hope that trend continues.


Points To Ponder: Michael Robinson, Percy Harvin, And A Loaded Pistol

Seahawks fans rejoiced this week at the return of a fan favorite and a fan obsession. Michael Robinson waited patiently for his chance, and had himself prepared like a pro when opportunity presented itself. Percy Harvin has passed all tests thus far with flying colors and has managed to turn the late start to his Seahawks career into an early return. The fact that these two predominant members of the Seahawks return on the same week presents a perfect time to re-examine how the roles they play are more interconnected than most would see.

When Marshawn Lynch joined the Seahawks three years ago, he came with a preference for doing things his way. He preferred one-back formations with no lead blocker. He would decide when to make one cut and go, and when to probe for an opening in the line. That eventually changed the week preceding the game in Dallas in 2011 when Lynch approached Tom Cable on his own, frustrated with the results so far, and the two men had a conversation that has changed the landscape of Seahawks football ever since.

Lynch became much more committed to decisive cuts in the back-field and attacking the hole the play called for, even if there was not a clear opening. He had developed a friendship with Michael Robinson, and was now more willing to follow his lead blocker. In an NFL Network interview that featured both players, Lynch called Robinson "my eyes."

Robinson's unique bond with Lynch, as well as his status as a vocal leader on the team, made it surprising to many that he was cut before the year began. What most still do not understand is that the running game has changed again, and the role of a fullback, any fullback, just is not what it used to be. And it could be decreasing even more with Harvin's impending return.

Robinson played 32% of the offensive snaps last year. That was less than part-time lineman like James Carpenter, John Moffitt and back-up tight end Anthony McCoy. Derrick Coleman, the man who replaced Robinson, has played in only 24% of the snaps this year. Kellen Davis, who only recently joined the team, has played in 21% of the snaps. So why the change?


  1. The read option became a part of the Seahawks offense late in the year. It was not a predominant part, but it was a meaningful chunk. There is no fullback in the read option. 
  2. Use of the H-Back has increased. These are plays where either Zach Miller or Luke Willson line up in the back-field as a lead blocker, playing the fullback role. This gives the offense tons of flexibility, and the defense a lot to prepare for.
  3. Increasing use of 3 WR 1 TE 1 RB sets. Doug Baldwin has been the teams leading receiver, and Miller rarely leaves the field because of his value. 
  4. Lynch clearly did not trust Coleman the way he trusted Robinson. There were multiple examples where he would completely ignore Coleman's lead and pick his own direction. 
Robinson will eliminate the fourth item on that list. This is a rare case where losing a starting player to injury may actually improve the team. Coleman has promise, but is not the player Robinson is, and definitely not the player Lynch trusts. Robinson will not have any impact on the first three items on the above list. Getting Willson and/or Baldwin on the field is a higher priority than getting Robinson out there. What it does mean is that when a fullback is called on, the play now has a higher probability of success.

Now consider Percy Harvin. Nobody knows for sure how Seattle plans to use him, but there are some pretty good bets. Robinson, himself, actually spilled some beans on an interview with KJR's Mitch Levy a few weeks back when describing a split-back shotgun formation that would have Lynch on one side of Russell Wilson and Harvin on the other. That type of look would stress defenses in all sorts of interesting ways.

Harvin can be used as a running back or a receiver. Lynch would mostly still be a runner, but has been used increasingly on screens. Harvin going out to the flat would pull at least one defender with him, leaving fewer players to bring down Lynch. Lynch threatening the middle of the field will make it hard for defenses to commit enough players wide to combat quick screens to Harvin or Golden Tate. That formation also allows for three additional receivers to be on the field. Baldwin could still be in the slot, with Harvin having the ability to motion into the opposite slot if they choose. Danny Kelly, over at Field Gulls, did a great look at this formation when it was used at the end of last year for Seattle. I recommend taking a look.

There is a strong chance that the team will implement more pistol formations as the season wears on as well. In particular, a Pistol Wing-T offense could be incredibly hard to defend with players like Wilson, Harvin, and Lynch involved. The video below will give you an idea of how that might look.



Imagine Harvin as the crosser on each play, threatening the defense horizontally while Lynch is always threatening vertically. That is exciting stuff, and unlike the read-option, not something other teams can replicate with anywhere near the same effect. There is only one Percy Harvin.

Harvin will take snaps from more than just Robinson. Baldwin, Willson, Miller, Robert Turbin and Jermaine Kearse could all see fewer snaps as the team incorporates more Harvin into the game plan.

It is always tempting to focus on the additions, and assume it will be like a math equation that looks something like:

Already Awesome + More Awesome = Super Duper Awesomeness!

I have fallen for that so many times, my expectations have changed. There have been a number of occasions where adding a new player to the mix, even a great player, can have a negative affect on team performance. The most stinging example of this for Seahawks fans was when Mike Holmgren took over in 1999 and led the team to a 6-2 start with star receiver Joey Galloway holding out. The team had been getting by with the like of Sean Dawkins and Derrick Mayes at receiver. Adding a true star like Galloway was sure to supercharge the team. Except, it did not. The Seahawks went 3-5 the rest of the way. Incorporating Galloway in the offense was a simple task. He ran fast and straight and Jon Kitna had to throw it to him. They had played together before. Yet, Holmgren has surmised that Kitna felt too compelled to involve Galloway, and stopped making decisions based on what the defense was giving him.

Harvin and Wilson have yet to play together, and the Seahawks certainly have more complex notions of how to take advantage of Harvin's multi-faceted talents than what Holmgren did with Galloway. Nobody here is suggesting this year's Seahawks are going to tank when Harvin returns. It would be wise, however, to expect it to take some time before the offense settles into a groove. Remember how bad the running game looked in week one when they tried a new approach. The best guess here is that the team will install bits here and there over the next week weeks, and then use the bye week to put in a chunk more.

Harvin did not want to be forgotten during rehab. His tweets roughly translated to, "I know they are 6-1, but don't forget about how important I am!" I will be watching and listening closely to see how he handles moments where he is not the focal point or the star. The team will get him touches, but whether it be enough to satisfy his ego remains to be seen. Judging the man is as much a part of evaluating and projecting what is to come as judging his talent.

What Harvin can do right away is relieve some of the pressure on Wilson and the offensive line. Harvin can take a short pass to the house. Having some quick outlet plays that get the ball in his hands, and reduces the time the line has to block is a no-brainer. The split-back shotgun formation is a great place to start with something like that.

So, as Seahawks fans welcome back Robinson with a big group hug, and prepare to be wowed by Harvin, these two men will impact the team in different ways. The more Harvin plays, the less Robinson will. Robinson immediately upgrades the running game with his blocking, relationship with Lynch, and short-yardage prowess. Harvin looks to be the hot fudge on an already delicious sundae. It will be fascinating to see how it unfolds.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Royal BALTYs Strike Back


Reign on, indeed. After a dismal 1-3 start, the BALTYs are on a three-game tear at 4-3. Why should you care? Crown Royal is giving away prizes every week to the teams with the highest score that week, and prizes to the division winners and an all-expenses paid trip to Florida for a taping of a CBS football show, and I'm giving away any prize I win to my readers. 

This was a crossroads week for the BALTYs as we made a major trade. Saddled with a feeble wide receiver corps all year, and a stable of strong RBs, the BALTYs have been trying to turn Reggie Bush, or even Jamaal Charles into a big return so that Eddie Lacy could get into the lineup and the rest of the team could be more consistent contributors. To give you some idea of the depth of problem at receiver, the team totaled 1 point between Golden Tate and Donnie Avery last week. Vincent Brown and Chris Givens were on the roster. This is a 16-team league, so the pickings are extremely thin.

We went hard after A.J. Green, but after a half-dozen variations, we finalized a deal that brought over Erik Decker, Jermichael Finley and Keenan Allen for Bush, Larry Fitzgerald and Charles Clay. At the time, it was a sell high, buy low attempt. The injuries at the Packers receiver spots seemed to create an opening for a big finish by Finley. Allen is in a similar situation in pass-happy San Diego with the injuries to their receivers. Decker is just a most consistent bet than Fitzgerald at this point, given the quarterback differences. The changes meant a lineup of:

Russell Wilson
Reggie Bush
Jamaal Charles
Golden Tate
Larry Fitzgerald
Charles Clay

would now be:

Wilson
Lacy
Charles
Decker
Allen
Finley

I also have been active on the waiver wire, picking up Jarret Boykin and Joseph Randle last week. It all looked brilliant for most of Sunday, and then the terrible news about Finley hit. Next man up. I added Mike James, Kendall Wright and Andrew Quarless this week via waiver. James should be a fine backup RB option the rest of the season with Doug Martin's injury. Wright looks to be Jake Locker's number one target, and Quarless steps into Finley's role. I don't know much about him, and was tempted to go with Joseph Fauria or Zach Miller instead, but I always choose upside, and if Quarless gets half the chances Finley did, he'll be a solid starting TE. 

So now I'm faced with a depth decision at WR for the coming week. Who would you start out of these three? Tate, Decker, Boykin. Decker would seem to be the clear must-start. Boykin and Tate have great match-ups this week. Boykin is in a pass-heavy offense, and it is unclear how Tate's role will be affected should Percy Harvin come back. In fact, I was tempted to drop Tate in favor of Darius Heyward-Bey given the injury to Reggie Wayne, but I couldn't pull the trigger. Something tells me Tate is on the upswing, and may even benefit from Harvin's return. 

What say you? Tate or Boykin? 

We also dropped the disappointing Bengals defense in favor of a Saints defense that hosts the Bills this week. We may go week-to-week with defenses to find the best match-ups. 

The BALTYs are two games out of first place in their division with six games left to play. The division leader lost Julio Jones, and should be vulnerable the rest of the way. We catch the team with the most points in the league this week at an opportune time, as Andrew Luck has a bye week and he has to play Carson Palmer. Here's to hoping for a four-game win streak, and some prizes I can start to give out!

Hawk Blogger 2013 Power Rankings: Week 7

THIS WEEK
Things get a little tighter at the top this week with Seattle adding slightly and the Broncos continuing to come back to the pack. The most interesting move of the week is the Panthers climbing into the top five, and ahead of the undefeated Chiefs. I am sure to receive a few comments and emails about that. Also, the Colts drop some in team strength despite beating the previously unbeaten Broncos.

The formula is the formula, folks. Football Outsiders does a great job with DVOA, which includes strength of schedule, but I choose not to include it here because I don't believe it is worth the effort given the way I would want to calculate SOS. Every place I see that includes SOS does it on an ongoing basis given the combined current record of team opponents. A better SOS measure would be the calculated team strength of the opponents at the time the team played them. Teams change week-to-week. There is no better illustration of that than this week with all the injuries. Was the Texans team the Seahawks beat better than the one the 49ers or Chiefs beat? I think so. Is the Rams team the Seahawks going to face worse than the one the 49ers beat? Most likely.

So I stick with this formula, and am pretty happy to have it. That win over Carolina on the road to start the season is looking better and better for Seattle.

Note: If you are having problems viewing the rankings below, try this link.(Leave a comment if it doesn't work for you!)



Scatter chart of the rankings. This view helps to give you a view of how teams are grouped together. You will generally see tiers of strength develop as the season wears on.



RANKINGS EXPLAINED
Power rankings are always debatable. I don't buy into the gut feel methods most places use to determine their rankings, so I developed a formula a few years back that attempts to take at least some of the subjectivity out of the discussion. My approach was simple, I measured offensive and defensive efficiency based on the Yards Per Carry (YPC) and Yards Per Attempt (YPA), as well as points scored and points allowed. The formula to calculate "Team Strength" was as follows:

(YPC (offense) + YPA (offense) + Avg Pts/Game Scored) - (YPC (defense) + YPA (defense)+ Avg Pts/Game Allowed)


The formula has proven to be a pretty accurate predictor of success, but I am always looking for ways to improve it. I read a great article on ColdHardFootballFacts.com. There was one gem in there about predicting championship teams. The article mentioned passer rating differential as the "mother of all stats." A full 69 of 72 champions have ranked in the Top 10 in this statistic. It is a stat after my own heart, as I believe offensive and defensive efficiency is the key measurable outside of point differential. Turnovers would factor in there as well, but I am not convinced a team has as much control over that. My power rankings use YPA and YPC differentials. I went ahead and replaced the YPA with offensive and defensive passer rating, to give me this:

(YPC (offense) + Passer Rating (offense) + Avg Pts/Game Scored) - (OPP YPC (defense) + OPP Passer Rating (defense)+ OPP Avg Pts/Game)


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Russell Wilson's World Of Wonders (Sneak Peek)

Come one, come all, and behold, Russell Wilson's World of Wonders. He runs! He throws! He runs and throws! HawkBlogger.com is proud to announce to an upcoming opening of a shrine to the improbable splendor of the Seahawks young phenom behind center. Readers will be able to find a collection of Wilson's most jaw-dropping moments, and it is sure to grow for years to come. 

Seahawks fans can start today, by enjoying some of Wilson's fantastic plays against the Cardinals this past Thursday.

Wilson punctuates Seattle's first possession of the day by avoiding the rush, back-pedaling, and throwing a dart 45 yards down-field off his back foot to Sidney Rice in perfect stride for the touchdown.

Wilson stares down a blitz by the Cardinals on 3rd and 8, and scrambles to his right before throwing what looks like a desperation heave that finds the hands of Rice again for a first down, that eventually led to points for Seattle.


Wilson throws the second of his three touchdowns to Zach Miller in perfect rhythm and with remarkable accuracy between two defenders and in a spot only Miller could make the play.


This play defies physics, and infuriates defenders. Wilson turns a sure sack on 3rd down to a first down by heaving a pass to Miller without his knee hitting the ground.

Wilson's best throw of the day came late in the game. This is a play that will baffle those that still want to believe Wilson is too short to see open receivers. Watch Golden Tate from the beginning, and try to keep track of him. This was a throw Wilson had to make to a spot, and did so perfectly while backing up. 



Friday, October 18, 2013

The Morning After: Seahawks Snipe Cardinals With A Bazooka, Win 34-22

Logo by Kevin Gamache, Hammerhead 

Go big, or go home. The Seahawks decided they preferred to do both Thursday night. In what was their most dominant performance of the season, relative to opponent and setting, Seattle dominated so thoroughly that two turnovers inside their own 20-yard line barely figured into the outcome. This was the game where the nation was forced to face a cold reality; the Seahawks are already the most complete team in football, and they should improve more than any other over the last half of the season.

It was a little over a year ago that Russell Wilson made his first start in Arizona, and was unable to win the game in the closing seconds with seven tries inside the Cardinals red zone. His return to the desert may have been the best performance of his career. Yes, he fumbled three times. No, that is not acceptable. Even taking those missteps into account, his play was transcendent last night. He had more sensational plays in that game than some quarterbacks will have all season. One of the most exciting aspects of his game was the clear growth he demonstrated in areas that had been lacking thus far this season.

The touchdown to Sidney Rice killed about five birds with one throw. Wilson showed patience in the face of a heavy rush, kept his eyes down-field, chose to deep receiver, who happened to be Rice that had separated from his defender by ten yards. The two hooked up late in the first half for a similar moment that was nearly as spectacular.

Wilson's touchdown throw to Zach Miller was at the top of his drop, on perfect rhythm, in a tight space that only his player could get to. His final touchdown came when all his receivers were initially covered and he did not have any rushers in his face. Last week, that would have been a scramble. This week, he surveyed the field with veteran patience and eventually found an open Kellen Davis for a score. Another throw late in the second half to Golden Tate was ridiculous. Wilson was able to drop it in a bucket 25 yards down-field with all sorts of traffic obscuring his vision.

His third down play was off-the-charts. He finished 7-8 for 51 yards, 1 touchdown and 0 interceptions for a passer rating of 132.8. No play better captured the improvisational ability and will to win better than his miraculous throw to Miller on 3rd and 3 after the Cardinals had crept back into the game at 17-13. It was the type of play that so thoroughly defies logic, that fan brains can only manage one-word utterances, "No...Yes...How..What...Holy!"

This is what Russell Wilson can be. Deadly efficient. Smart. Accurate. Improvisational. Irrepressible. For the first time this season, it is safe to say he took a clear step forward in his development. History has shown that he rarely steps back.

You would be hard-pressed to find a better example of a team win than this one. Nine different players had receptions. Four different players had touchdowns. Eight different players had at least 0.5 sacks.  Fifteen different defenders had at least one tackle.

The defense was a whirling torrent of terror. They, like Wilson, are showing clear signs of improvement. It is easy to start with the pass rush, but consider the run defense. Seattle started the season with questions at 3-technique defensive tackle and gave up 109 yards rushing per game with a 4.2 yards per carry average through four games. They have held their last three opponents, two of which were on the road, to 68.3 yards rushing per game and 3.1 yards per carry. Only two teams in Seahawks history have held a road opponent to less than the 1.7 yards per carry the Seahawks held the Cardinals to last night. The last team to do it was the 1994 squad.

FACT: Only two teams in Seahawks history have held a road opponent to less than the 1.7 yards per carry the Seahawks held the Cardinals to last night
Seattle only faces two teams in the top 16 in yards per rush the rest of the way. They already are holding opponents to 3.7 yards per carry for the year, so this could turn into a limbo game of how low can they go?

The pass rush was phenomenal. Belittle the Cardinals offensive line all you want, but they entered the game in the top ten for sacks allowed and sack percentage. The 49ers sacked them only once in San Francisco. The Panthers sacked them only twice the week before. Seattle battered not only the Cardinals statuesque quarterback, but their offensive lineman. Seven sacks and 13 quarterback hits makes for fun football. With 23 sacks through seven games, the Seahawks are now averaging 3.3 sacks per game, up a full sack per game over last season.  Only the 1998 (29) and 1984 (26) teams had more sacks through seven games.

FACT: Only the 1998 (29) and 1984 (26) teams had more sacks through seven games than the 23 Seattle has this year
The 1998 finished team finished with 50 sacks. The 1984 team finished with 55. This year's team is on pace for 53. And they are coming from every direction. How on Earth does an offense plan protection against a defense that has six players with at least 1.5 sacks, and eleven players with at least 0.5 sacks? Chris Clemons and Cliff Avril played great off the edge last night, but the story that needs more attention is Clinton McDonald and his 3.5 sacks. Remember, he had no sacks in his career before this year, and was cut before the season. In a year where every Seahawks cast-off is getting snatched up, McDonald could not get on a roster a week into the season. Seattle re-signed him the Saturday before the 49ers game. He is playing his way into a nice contract when the season ends.

Seattle now has ten days to rest up, heal up, and prepare for a Monday night game in St. Louis. The Percy Harvin return to practice will add potential for improvement and distraction. It will be worth watching how Pete Carroll handles it. This was a game that validated expectations. It was the most complete performance on the road since handling Buffalo last year, and this was a far more talented opponent. The Cardinals smelled blood after realizing they could blitz to good effect late in the first half and into the second. Seattle withstood the surge and pushed back. Carroll likes to talk about staying connected. Each aspect of the team was working in unison last night. That included a raucous contingent of Seahawks fans. It was a game that left you feeling proud to be a Seahawks fan, and eager to savor every moment along the way.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Thoughts Heading Into Arizona Game

There was a moment last year where former 710 radio host Mike Salk talked about being scared of the Cardinals in the game that was due to be played in Century Link Field a few days later. He was a good sport about how foolish it sounded to be scared after the 58-0 drubbing. I would not describe my feelings about the game today as scared, but unsettled would not be far off.

Division games are tough. Usually. Road games are tough. Always. Thursday night games are unpredictable. Commonly. Of course it would have been preferable to get the Cardinals at home early and on the road late, when hope will likely have left their side. Instead, the Seahawks face a team that knows a win puts them in the middle of the division race and a loss puts them three games out with 11 left to play, and five home games remaining for the Seahawks, including one against the Cardinals.

This is a game that should not be judged on style points, but on result. Seattle will have 10 ten days to get healthy and make mid-season adjustments after today. That is why players like Chris Clemons, who are borderline ready to play, will likely be held out. Carroll has erred on the side of caution all year with injuries, and is staring a long rest period in the face. He is fond of saying every week is a championship opportunity, but he has been managing injuries like the championship opportunity is in January and February.

It also is why I have this sneaking suspicion that Christine Michael might see his first action today during a meaningful part of a game. His speed and shiftiness could be just what the doctor ordered, especially fully rested.

ProFootballFocus.com gives the Cardinals offensive line the worst pass blocking grade in the NFL, but Arizona is 10th-best in the NFL in sacks allowed per game and 8th in opponent sack percentage per pass attempt. Maybe Carson Palmer is getting rid of the ball quickly to avoid more sacks. There is some evidence to support that theory, as the team is 18th in the NFL in yards per completion (10.8) and tied for 31st in the NFL in interceptions thrown.

They have faced some powerful defenses in San Francisco, Carolina, Tampa Bay, New Orleans and Detroit. The Rams defense has struggled, but they are no pushover either. Carolina is a much better team than most realize, and the Cardinals hammered them at home 22-6 two weeks ago, even though the Panthers out-gained the Cardinals 353-250 in total yards and the Cardinals had three turnovers. They did it by sacking Cam Newton seven times and forcing four turnovers themselves.

If the Cardinals can manage to hold onto the ball, this will be a very close game. That will be a tough assignment against one of the best ball-hawking teams in the NFL.

The sunny outlook on this game is there for those that want it as well. Seattle lost in the closing seconds to the Cardinals last year in Arizona in a game that featured Russell Wilson and J.R. Sweezy playing in their first pro game. The Seahawks offensive line in that game resembled what we saw in Houston a few weeks back. It would be a surprise to see the same level of ineptitude this year. It is hard to find a part of these teams where the talent gap has narrowed, let alone a group where Arizona is clearly better than Seattle.

I could paint this as a game Seattle has to win if they want to have a clear path to home-field advantage in the playoffs, but it would be disingenuous. The truth is, the Seahawks could win eight of their next nine, or even all nine, if they dropped this game. It just would be a lot less stressful for all of us if they could take care of business tonight.

This is a team that has a bad taste in their mouths after their last road trip. Let's hope they come out with revenge on their minds tonight. 

Seattle P-I and HawkBlogger.com Announce Partnership


I moved to Seattle in 1997, after growing up in Portland and going to school in Washington D.C. My first two priorities after finding a place to live were: (1) buying Seahawks season tickets (2) subscribing to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Reading the paper every morning has been a ritual for me since I was eleven-years-old. My obsession with Seahawks football was a large part of what drove that routine, and eventually led to the creation of HawkBlogger.com in 2007. The site has grown from a scant few readers to a place where thousands of people come every day to get Seahawks analysis that is just a little bit different from anyplace else on the Web. It never occurred to me when I started my Seattle P-I subscription or started HawkBlogger.com that they would one day cross paths. Today, I am excited to announce an agreement has been reached that will allow P-I readers to get Hawk Blogger content from within the friendly confines of the SeattlePI.com web site.

This agreement will provide P-I readers with unique analysis of their favorite football team and help HawkBlogger.com reach a broader audience. Readers can find Hawk Blogger content within the sports section, under Football Blogs.

Articles will appear there a short time after being published on the Hawk Blogger site.

A big thank you to Nick Eaton, sports editor and writer over at SeattlePI.com for reaching out and working overtime to make this deal possible. He does some great Seahawks writing of his own, so be sure to check out his work on the Seattle P-I web site as well. And give him a follow on Twitter.

For those of you that already read my blog, nothing much changes here. HawkBlogger.com stays right where it is, and I write whatever I want, whenever I want. Stay tuned for news on a re-design underway on Hawk Blogger as well that should help you navigate the site better, and have a better reading experience on mobile devices.

For those that are reading my work for the first time via SeattlePI.com, and are wondering what this blog is all about, please take a moment to read this post explaining what HawkBlogger.com is all about. You may also enjoy some of these popular past articles:

Richard Sherman Feature - Always Doubted, Never Deterred

Doug Baldwin Feature - Greatest Ever? Don't Bet Against Doug Baldwin

An example The Morning After series I run the day after every game - Seattle's Historic 23-20 Win Over Houston

I am also very active on Twitter. Too active if you ask me. Please consider following me there.

Thanks to all the loyal readers who helped make this blog matter, and welcome to all the new readers who love the Seahawks. Go Hawks!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

PODCAST: Talking Russell Wilson, Explosive Plays and More with Softy


It was time for Softy and I to have our weekly conversation about the Seahawks. We went over the silliness of the Russell Wilson debate, the places Wilson can improve, and why explosive plays matter.



***DOWNLOAD THE PODCAST***

First and Crown Fantasy League: The Royal BALTYs Reign On


It had been a rough season for the BALTYs, who started out 1-3, but have managed to climb back to 3-3 after a two-game winning streak. The dual threat at running back of Reggie Bush and Jamaal Charles has been powering a very consistent group, but the weakness at wide receiver is a killer. With a great back like Eddie Lacy sitting on the bench and gaining value, it may be time to trade one of the three backs to upgrade the receiving corps. 

My compatriots have been reluctant to make a move, so we will see where things go in the coming weeks. Injuries to Julius Jones, Randall Cobb, DeMarco Murray and others should have some folks ready to entertain my offers, especially since I am including Larry Fitzgerald (no division opponents on this squad!). 

I picked up Joseph Randle on waivers, who should benefit from Murray's injury, and Jarrett Boykin, who should be a new target for Aaron Rodgers with the Cobb and James Jones injuries. As I write this, there is a trade offer on the table that would get me Eric Decker and Jermichael Finley for Randle and Bush. Very tempting. Finley is probably going to pop given the receiver injuries on the Packers. 

I countered asking for AJ Green instead of Decker. Seems like a buy low opportunity on two premium players with Finley and Green for two buy high players in Bush in and Randle. Always tough, though, to trade away running backs for receivers.

My plan to pick a new GM for the BALTYs has fallen by the wayside. I just haven't had time to set people up each week. All the folks that GM'd in the past will get some Crown Royal swag. I promise! Any prizes I win will still be given away to readers. Keep your tips coming, and maybe we will Reign On together by season's end!

Russell Wilson: An Inconvenient Truth

Brock Huard spent a good chunk of his radio show with Danny O'Neil yesterday railing against what he referred to as "Wilson Haters." The qualifications of becoming a Wilson Hater, from what I could tell, was anyone that thought: (a) the passing game could be better (b) the passing challenges were not all the fault of receivers and lineman (c) that Wilson has room to improve. If those are hater qualities, I shudder at the thought of how we would describe Texans fans feelings about Matt Schaub. This whole debate among Seahawks fans is fundamentally flawed. Choosing between, "Russell Wilson walks on water," and "Russell Wilson is terrible quarterback," is sensationalist bull.

Wilson has now started 22 regular season games. Identifying areas he can still improve is both logical and hopeful. It strikes me that deciding he has already reached his full potential is far more damning. Wilson has led his team to a 16-6 record through those first 22 starts. He had the second-best rookie passer rating of all-time and tied a rookie touchdown record set by the player most consider the best quarterback in the game. His passer rating of 120.3 in the last eight games of 2012 was the 6th-best in the history of football. His yards per attempt of 7.9 was the 2nd-best ever for a rookie with at least 300 pass attempts. He makes impossible plays with his feet. He is fantastic when the game is on the line. He leads by example on and off the field. His preparation and work ethic are unparalleled. He has already set the Seahawks season and single-game rushing records for a quarterback. He is one of the best quarterbacks ever through his first 22 games. He can get better. Those two statements can both be true.

Steve Mariucci joined the Brock and Danny show yesterday and brought up Brett Favre as an example of a player who married improvisational splendor with the west coast offense for spectacular results. Mariucci was right to point out the magic of Favre's creativity, but that is only part of the story. It took Mike Holmgren and Andy Reid coaching Favre toward repeatable throws within a system to truly unlock Favre's full potential. Wilson is already so far ahead of Favre in terms of efficiency as a quarterback. Nobody would accuse Wilson of being reckless the way Favre was.

I raised the comparison to Steve Young before the season started last year. Young remains the perfect vision for what Wilson could become. He was athletic, mobile, intelligent, creative and could make every throw. Young is a Hall of Fame quarterback. To assume Wilson is already at that level would be silly. Consider the difference between Matt Hasselbeck in his first year or two with the Seahawks and where he was from 2004-2007. No position in football benefits more from experience than the one Wilson plays.

He will make better choices over time. He will make better throws. He will learn to make throws that he does not currently make. Case in point, he worked on the back-shoulder throw all through training camp, and it has started to show up in games. That was not in his repertoire last season. He needs to improve on slants, rhythm throws where he gets rid of the ball at the top of his drop, and swing throws to his backs, among others.

The reason people should continue to harp on these throws is because repeatability and precision are your best friends when the windows get tighter and the pressure mounts. Is it possible that Wilson could sustain his success doing as much improvisation as he does now? Sure. Adding these other elements to his game just makes him that much harder to defend.

He does miss open receivers down-field. He does choose to throw to a covered Golden Tate when scrambling more often than finding the open player. His touchdown rate per game is down 38% from where he ended the season last year (from 2.0/gm last 8 gms of 2012 to 1.3/gm this year).  His completion percentage and yard per attempt are down as well, while his interception rate is up.

The problems on the offensive line are absolutely a large part of the issue. Consider, though, that Seattle ranked 26th in the NFL in sack percentage allowed last year. This line has yet to demonstrate great pass protection, but it was good enough for Wilson to excel last year. This receiving corps has improved from last year. Doug Baldwin is playing his best ball as a pro. Jermaine Kearse is a big step up from the options at fourth and fifth receiver last year. Golden Tate and Sidney Rice are largely the same players. They did not hold back Wilson last year, and if you look at some of the plays they have made this year, it could easily be argued that they are helping Wilson look better than he has played this year. Think about some of the catches Baldwin, Kearse, Rice and Tate have made. Then remember past Seahawks receiving corps, and try to recall how many guys could have made those same plays. Remember the drops from players like Koren Robinson. The narrative that the receivers are the root of the problem in the passing game is a fallacy. If you are waiting for a receiver that is going to be standing by himself most of the time, prepare to wait a really long time.

Defenses are playing the Seahawks passing game differently than they did a year ago. Pete Carroll admitted as much this week. The offensive line has been reshuffled nearly every game. Seattle has played four of the best pass defenses in the NFL in their first six games. Wilson has faced all those challenges, and will come out the better for it. His team is 5-1. They are 8th in the NFL in scoring and 10th in total offense. He is growing and learning. That is a nightmare for opponents, and should be celebrated by Seahawks fans.

Save the brinkmanship and hyperbole for the politicians in Washington. There is no need for Seahawks fans to take sides on Russell Wilson. It is okay to love him, and want him to do better. It is okay to put the weight of expectations on his shoulders. He can handle it. In a world so often defined by two extreme ends of a spectrum, find sanity by being moderate. Relish the results, but savor the journey.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Hawk Blogger 2013 Power Rankings: Week 6

THIS WEEK
The top five is an interesting bunch. Seattle is the only one to make an improvement this week. Their game was sloppy, but the ranking formula does not care. They lowered their opponent passer rating, points against, and opponent yards per carry. The Chiefs, meanwhile, won convincingly on the scoreboard, but are held back by a very low team passer rating (79.8) and are being out-rushed in terms of yards per carry (4.2 to 5.1). The Colts dropped 13.1 points, more than any other team in the rankings.

I have been beating the Carolina drum since game one. The Saints better not count their chickens because the Panthers are better than people realize, and improving quite a bit. The Cardinals destruction of the Panthers a few weeks ago becomes even more impressive as time moves on, as does the Seahawks opening day victory.

The Steelers and Rams make big strides this week. Pittsburgh joins the rank of teams with positive strength scores. Eight of the Seahawks remaining ten opponents are ranked 21st or lower.

Note: If you are having problems viewing the rankings below, try this link.(Leave a comment if it doesn't work for you!)



Scatter chart of the rankings. This view helps to give you a view of how teams are grouped together. You will generally see tiers of strength develop as the season wears on.



RANKINGS EXPLAINED
Power rankings are always debatable. I don't buy into the gut feel methods most places use to determine their rankings, so I developed a formula a few years back that attempts to take at least some of the subjectivity out of the discussion. My approach was simple, I measured offensive and defensive efficiency based on the Yards Per Carry (YPC) and Yards Per Attempt (YPA), as well as points scored and points allowed. The formula to calculate "Team Strength" was as follows:

(YPC (offense) + YPA (offense) + Avg Pts/Game Scored) - (YPC (defense) + YPA (defense)+ Avg Pts/Game Allowed)


The formula has proven to be a pretty accurate predictor of success, but I am always looking for ways to improve it. I read a great article on ColdHardFootballFacts.com. There was one gem in there about predicting championship teams. The article mentioned passer rating differential as the "mother of all stats." A full 69 of 72 champions have ranked in the Top 10 in this statistic. It is a stat after my own heart, as I believe offensive and defensive efficiency is the key measurable outside of point differential. Turnovers would factor in there as well, but I am not convinced a team has as much control over that. My power rankings use YPA and YPC differentials. I went ahead and replaced the YPA with offensive and defensive passer rating, to give me this:

(YPC (offense) + Passer Rating (offense) + Avg Pts/Game Scored) - (OPP YPC (defense) + OPP Passer Rating (defense)+ OPP Avg Pts/Game)


Monday, October 14, 2013

The Morning After: Seahawks Claw To 5-1, Beat Titans 20-13

Logo by Kevin Gamache, Hammerhead 

Titans are elder gods in Greek mythology. There massive and powerful, and seemingly completely unrelated to anything in Tennessee. That was what I thought until witnessing this game on Sunday. Seahawks fans got to see what their team looked like playing with a Titan on their backs. Everything was harder. There was no sense of flow or free movement. Each step was arduous and unsure. The times the Titans climbed off the Seahawks backs, they moved directly in front of them. When Titans clash, thunder claps and lightning crashes. When a Titan collides with a kicker, noses are bloodied, GIFs are born, safeties become holders, and field goals turn into opponent touchdowns. 

It is tempting to say it is early yet, and point to the myriad of injuries the Seahawks have endured. Seattle is two games from being halfway done with their season. Two games away from the point in 2012 when a mediocre 4-4 team transformed into a juggernaut 7-1 team that outscored their opponents by an average score of 34-14. That sort of decisiveness has been missing this year, and yet the team has the best point differential in the NFC. With great power, comes great expectations. It is no longer early in the season. Seattle is set to get Zach Miller back this week, which makes them remarkably healthy overall. Four-fifths of what will likely be the offensive line played yesterday. Michael Bowie is playing his way into a starting job. This is not golf. No handicaps are applied. You are the team you put on the field each week.  This is a great team playing like a good one right now. It is time to shed the Clark Kent costume and let the "S" on their chests show.

One area where the team is showing better progress than most will admit is the offensive line. Russell Wilson completed 23 passes--his second-highest total of the season--on 31 attempts and sacked just twice and hit only four times. Seattle is ranked 27th in the NFL in percentage of pass attempts that result in their quarterback being sacked (9.3%). That number was 6.1% on Sunday. They did it against a worthy opponent. The Titans entered the game a top ten defense in sack percentage and sacks per game. In fact, an untold story of the season is the quality of pass rush defenses the Seahawks have faced to this point. They have faced teams ranked 3rd, 4th, 9th and 11th in sack percentage, and none of those are the 49ers that are 20th and falling without Aldon Smith. Five of the six opponents, at the time they faced Seattle, were formidable pass rush teams. They have also faced four of the top twelve defenses in opponent passer rating, and five of the top fourteen in opponent yards per attempt.

That puts some of their offensive numbers in a brighter light, especially considering they have formed the offensive line on the go. Seattle is 8th in the NFL in passer rating, 6th in yards per attempt, and 5th in yards per completion. The Seahawks appear to be stabilizing in pass protection just at the time they will now face a long stretch of predominantly inferior pass pressure defenses. Only the Saints rank highly in sack percentage (5th) of remaining opponents. The Rams are next-best at 14th, and every other team ranks 17th or lower. 
FACT: Only the Saints rank highly in sack percentage (5th) of remaining opponents. The Rams are next-best at 14th, and every other team ranks 17th or lower

Seattle gained over 400 yards in offense for the third time this season against the Titans.They did that only three times all of last year. The areas holding this team back are less about pass protection, and more about execution and play design. The Seahawks were 2-5 in the red zone, and that included a touchdown that took a fourth down to convert. Everyone will remember the fumbled Chris Maragos field goal snap returned for a touchdown. Few will remember James Carpenter's false start earlier that cost the team their final timeout of the half. That whole final sequence plays out differently if that mistake does not happen. Prior to spiking the ball, the Wilson threw a swing pass to Robert Turbin that had little chance of resulting in a touchdown and no chance of stopping the clock. If that was the design of that play, it was an atrocious call. If it was a poor decision by Wilson, the execution was flawed. Only the people in the locker room know the answer, and the only thing that really matters is that the results improve. This team in 19th in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage, at 50% (11-22). They should be a top five team, 65% or better, with the offensive options at their disposal. That is the difference between 20-13 and 27-13.

The third down execution was better, even if it was hard to discern. Seattle wound up with their third-best conversion rate at 38.6% against a defense that came into the game 3rd in the NFL in third-down defense. Seattle's offense had the best third down performance of any Titans opponent so far this year.

FACT: Seattle's offense had the best third down performance (38.6%) of any Titans opponent so far this year

Yes, a number of those conversions came on Wilson scrambles, but it is silly to belittle a very real part of the Seahawks attack. Wilson was the quarterback in every other game this year, and the team still struggled to convert. Part of why Wilson had a chance to run was improved protection from the line. There were very few free runners for the Titans, and that is more impressive than you might realize for a team with Gregg Williams helping to design pass pressure.

 Wilson is a microcosm of the team. He is a weird place where he is doing enough to win, but is not yet firing on all cylinders. There continue to be open receivers that he is either not seeing or choosing not to throw to. I hope to illustrate that in a separate story if time permits. That is an issue, but it can be overcome if he continues to take care of the football like he did yesterday. This was the first game of the year that Wilson did not turn the ball over. The combination of Wilson's legs, opportunistic passing and this defense are enough to win an awful lot of games as long as he protects the football.

Just a hunch, but something tells me we may see more of Christine Michael in the coming weeks. This is largely just instinct, but they have to be itching to see how he could impact the game with 3-5 carries and a screen pass or two.

The Seahawks defense played one of their most complete games of the season, and it came against a better-than-advertised Ryan Fitzpatrick. His numbers will not reflect it, but Fitzpatrick was resourceful and led some gutsy drives. It was not nearly enough against a defense that stoned the run all day, and continued a stretch of dominant pass defense at home. Three quarterbacks have faced Seattle in Century Link Field this year. They have combined for 0 touchdowns, 7 interceptions and a 36.8 passer rating. Suffocating.

FACT: Seattle has held three opposing quarterbacks at Century Link Field to 0 TDs, 7 INTs and a 36.8 passer rating

Tennessee could only manage 223 yards of offense. Chad Henne and the Jaguars rolled up 362 in Denver. After starting 3-6 on 3rd down conversions, the Titans were held to one conversion in their last six attempts. And a defense that got burned by big plays last week can be proud of a performance that saw them limit the Titans to only two explosive plays (16+ yard pass or 12+ yard run) on the day, a season-best for Seattle. The mistakes of last week were turned into lessons this week, albeit against a far lesser quarterback.

It is a shame to spend three quarters of a game review focusing on an offense that is not quite clicking when a defense puts in such a great effort, but when testing the aerodynamics of a vehicle attempting to reach escape velocity, you have to focus on the places where the smoke is not traveling freely over the frame. There is a fair amount left to hammer out on offense in order to reduce the bumps and increase the altitude of this team over the final ten games. There is reason to believe adding a playmaker like Percy Harvin will be a major boost, but it is rarely that simple. The next two games will greatly alter the course of the Seahawks season one way or another. They enter the crucible confident, but still unproven. Six games into the season, Seattle remains a Demigod, part human and part god. Their 5-1 record implies Zeus-like powers, but their lack of comprehensive execution across all three phases highlights their mortality each week. Nobody can say for sure whether this is a process toward ascension, or a struggle that will keep the team Earth-bound throughout the season. 
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