The following article has been rated R, and may contain graphic material unsuitable for fans of 31 NFL teams. You will see parts of the Seahawks team and players that may make you excited or uncomfortable. If you reach a sustained level of excitement lasting more than four hours, please consult with another fan. You have been warned. Let’s dive in.

 

Seahawks 2016 defense may be better than famed 2013 squad

No defense can be judged after just four games. The Seahawks have played some weak offenses so far. Any other caveats the naysayers want to throw out there? Okay, good. Because just as easily as one could argue that the Seahawks defensive numbers to this point in the season are propped up by poor opposition, I could make the case that they are artificially higher than they should be after the 49ers and Jets scored 23 points and gained large chunks of yards in garbage time.

If you don’t count things like 40 yard strip-sacks-turned-into-touchdown scores and two touchdowns scored after the Seahawks went ahead 37-3, they Seahawks are allowing 7.8 meaningful points per game this year.

Dream for a moment. Consider how this Seahawks team would stack up to the 2013 historic squad if they sustained this level of play throughout the year.

Comparing Seahawks 2013 and 2016 Defenses

This crew is allowing fewer points and fewer yards than the 2013 team. The most dramatic differences between the two defenses are defending the run and taking the ball away. The 2016 defense has been considerably better in run defense, and could be even better if not for the garbage yards the 49ers got when Seattle got caught rushing the passer. The 2013 defense was terrific at creating turnovers. Seattle has a considerable challenge ahead maintaining their points and yardage numbers while facing elite offenses in Atlanta, New Orleans, Arizona, Green Bay and New England, among others. However, they should also get more opportunities to take the ball away. This has been a stellar start for what could become Pete Carroll’s best defense.

 

Pass rush has come alive

Most people remember two things about the 2013 Seahawks defense: Legion of Boom and a relentless pass rush. While most of the secondary has remained intact the past four years, the pass rush has changed dramatically. It fell off in 2014 and 2015, ranking outside of the top ten in sack rate (percentage of sacks per opponent dropback). That trend has flipped this year.

 

seahawkspassrushtrends

The current sack rate of nearly 9% would be the best Seattle has posted if it were to last the season. FootballOutsiders.com keeps track of what they call the adjusted sack rate, which includes intentional grounding penalties. They have the Seahawks as the third best pass rush in the NFL this year, compared to the seventh best in 2013. There is no doubt that part of the reason for this rise is the early play of Frank Clark, who is on pace for 12.0 sacks. Another less recognized aspect is Kris Richard’s willingness to send blitzes more than his predecessors. Both K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner have recorded sacks, and Wright has already matched his career high with two.

seahawkstoppassrushers

Cassius Marsh also has a sack and could easily have two or three if not for some unfortunate penalties. One of the biggest question marks heading into this season was whether the Seahawks had a deep enough stable of pass rushers after Bruce Irvin’s departure. Clark had only three sacks in his career and Marsh had none. Early signs are pointing to one of the deepest pass rush groups Carroll has had, with one of the most aggressive defensive coordinators.

 

Oh, that offensive line

It is hard to imagine any fan base spending more time talking about their offensive line than the Seahawks. Most of that conversation involves wringing of hands about just how bad they are in pass protection. Don’t look now, but this group is having a stronger start than most will acknowledge.

seahawks-pass-protection-trends

Tom Cable has infamously never coached an offensive line that ranked higher than 25th in the NFL in quarterback sacked rate. That includes ranks of 27, 26, 32, 25 and 29 with the Seahawks. This year has seen the Seahawks rank 16th in that statistic despite facing two of the top fifteen pass rushes (NY and MIA) and the dominant Rams line that had sacked Russell Wilson at least four times every game since Jeff Fisher arrived (they had two sacks this year).

People will rightly point to Wilson helping the line by getting rid of the ball faster. That is fine, just so long as those same people acknowledge that Wilson was part of the problem in past years. You can’t have it both ways. Similarly, you cannot say that Wilson’s scrambling avoided would-be sacks last year and not point out that his injuries this year have led to sacks he would have otherwise avoided. Anyway you slice it, this year’s line is pass protecting better than any in the Cable era.

 

Fun with projections

There are a number of Seahawks who have gotten off to strong individual starts. Take a look at what their season totals would be if they were to keep up this pace.

Items with (*) denote a number that would be a career high

Russell Wilson

4,256 passing yards*

Christine Michael

1,129 rushing yards*

12 touchdowns (8 rushing, 4 receiving)*

Doug Baldwin

96 receptions*

1,320 yards*

8 touchdowns

Jimmy Graham

88 receptions

1,064 yards

4 touchdowns

K.J. Wright

140 tackles*

8.0 sacks*

Bobby Wagner

120 tackles

4.0 sacks

Kam Chancellor

104 tackles*

8 passes defensed

DeShawn Shead

80 tackles*

20 passes defensed*

Richard Sherman

12 passes defensed

8 interceptions (would tie career high)

Michael Bennett

64 tackles*

12.0 sacks*

Frank Clark

40 tackles*

12.0 sacks*

 

Stronger start than last season in most ways

seahawks-2016-first-quarter-progress-report

 

There has been only one place that really has taken a step back this year compared to the start of last season, and that is the running game. A lot goes into that. The offensive line has not blocked particularly well for run plays. Germain Ifedi is an important part of that aspect of the team and he has played in only one game. The team is running less often this year than in past years. Wilson has been hobbled and unable to either gain yards via scramble or through the bread-and-butter read option play. They also have had a slew of injuries at running back and have been facing some of the league’s best run defenses.

Many of those issues should improve after the bye week. As much trouble as Cable has had building good pass protecting lines, he might be the best in football when it comes to creating a rushing attack. That will improve.

Just about every other part of this team is better this year than it was last year after four games.

 

Quick hitters

  • Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham are both on pace for 1000 yards receiving. They would become just the second Seahawks pair to accomplish that feat in one season. The only other duo to do it was Joey Galloway (1,039) and Brian Blades (1,001) in 1995.

 

  • Michael Bennett and Frank Clark are both on pace to record double digit sacks. They would become the first Seahawks duo to do that since Michael McCrary (13.5) and Michael Sinclair (13) in 1996.

 

  • Seven of the Seahawks remaining 12 games are against the worst 15 pass defenses in the NFL, as judged by passer rating: 30th (TB), 29th (GB), 28th (ATL), 27th (NO), 23rd (CAR), 17th (SF), 15th (NE)

 

  • Seven of the Seahawks remaining 12 games are against the worst 15 run defenses in the NFL, as judged by yards per carry: 26th (ATL), 25th (NO), 23rd (PHI), 22nd (SF), 21st (NE), 17th x 2 (AZ)

 

  • The Seahawks now have played 77 straight games without losing by more than 10 points. That is now the longest streak in pro football history, as they passed the Decatur Staleys-turned-Chicago Staleys-turned Chicago Bears streak of 74 straight set from 1920 to 1925, per Pro-Football-Reference.com

 

  • Since 2012, the Seahawks have allowed 1061 points (15.6 ppg). The next closest defense is the Cincinnati Bengals, who have allowed 269 more points during that time (19.6 ppg).

 

  • Since 2012, the Seahawks have allowed 106 touchdowns. The next closest team is the Bengals, who have allowed 143 during that stretch.

nflpointsandtdsallowed

6 Responses

  1. Michael

    What detractors like me CAN say is that Seattle helped Wilson get rid of the ball faster by reconfiguring the offense during the bye last year. By putting Wilson in control, the offense took a huge step forward. This could have been done much earlier. Letting Wilson throw more on first and second downs like they did against the Jets, means Seattle stays on schedule much better than when they stubbornly insisted on running into the teeth of dominant defensive lines.

    C.f. Rams game, when we ran Collins, a back who has shown absolutely nothing, on 1st and 2nd down, once again putting Wilson in the toughest of situations. That sequence to me was the game turner. We had a promising drive snuffed out by not playing to our strengths, an elite passer with gifted pass catchers.

    • jonathan evison

      . . . michael, you nailed it . . . was so irritated with bevell’s game plane in that rams game . . . we knew exactly what to expect with the rams defensive fronts, all signs pointed to a short, quick passing game to stay on schedule . . . but no . . . isn’t the definition of crazy doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? . . . what a relief we came out throwing against the jets . . .

  2. Doug

    Those last two charts really drive home just how extraordinary the Hawks D has been relative to the league. It is hard to not look forward to the rest of the season based on what we have seen so far.

  3. Cletus Magoo

    The “Stronger start than last season in most ways” table has a red cell for “yards per attempt” that should be green (0.6 is a positive change).

  4. Ken C

    Wow, the Hawks must be 3 or 4 deviations above the norm on points and TDs allowed since 2012. That’s so outlier-ish, it’s scary. Would be interesting to see if any of the other great defenses had a period of 4+ years with that kind of statistical domination.

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