Hawk Blogger 2014 Season Preview Part II: A Look Back At 2013
The better team does not always win each week. The best team in the league does not always win the Super Bowl. Seattle finished on top of the hardest division in football. They beat Drew Brees and the Saints, and then Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers. They played the most prolific offense in the history of football and a player many would argue is the best quarterback in the history of football on the world’s largest stage, and won by a Nintendo score. Your 2013 Seattle Seahawks were indisputably the best team in all the land. This part of the Hawk Blogger season preview will look back at just what made them so special, and jog our memories for clues that could be helpful as we look forward.
My formula for determining team strength has become a measure I look to more and more as it proves useful each year of separating contenders from pretenders. The 2012 Seahawks finished with a team strength of 39.6. It was the highest of any team in franchise history. The 2013 Seahawks were below that number for exactly one week of the season. They were a powerhouse throughout.
In some ways, the Seahawks were the model of consistency that Pete Carroll strives for.
They were nearly identical across both halves of the season when it came to scoring and keeping opponents from scoring. And also like a Carroll-led team, they improved in both areas in the last half of the year. But it was not that simple when looking more closely.
Seattle had two very strong quarters of the season and two more pedestrian, at least by their standards.
The team struggled in the second quarter of the season against the Colts, Titans, and Rams. It would be fair to throw the Texans game into that streak as well in week four. A lot of that was due to incredibly weak offensive line play, in part because of injury. The impressive part of that turbulent stretch was that the Seahawks managed to win each of those games except for @ Colts, and that was a game they really should have won going away if not for some key missed opportunities early on.
But it was not just that stretch where the team was less than dominant. Their final month of the season was troublesome as the offense took a major nosedive.
The team went 2-2 in their last four games. That was the only 2-2 stretch all season. Scoring dropped under 20 ppg and yardage dropped to a paltry 263 ypg. Sure, they faced the 49ers on the road, but they also lost to a Cardinals team at home that they had scored 34 points against earlier in the season. And a 23-0 drubbing of the Giants hid some poor execution on offense. This was a team that was averaging over 28 ppg after 12 games. If not for a defense that stepped up their game to the tune of a dominant 11.3 ppg allowed, the Seahawks might have lost the division title, and those beautiful rings may have never been made.
Breaking it down by halves is misleading and makes the offense look consistent
KEYS TO SEATTLE DOMINANCE
Seattle tries to do two things on offense: control the ball and collect explosive plays. The defense is built to keep opponents from doing the exact same two things. One of the obvious keys to keeping the ball on offense is 3rd down conversions. Seattle dipped below 30% on offense during the last quarter of the season, but were helped greatly by a defense that held opponents to an even lower conversion rate.
The two quarters of the season where the Seahawks were less than their best featured opponents either matching or exceeding their third down rate. On the flip side, look at games 9-12 where the Seahawks played their best football of the season. They converted a gaudy 54% of their third downs.
Explosive plays may be even more important than third down conversions. Seattle was one of the best in football both at achieving explosive plays (as a percentage of offensive plays) and preventing them. You can see to the right that the Seahawks had a healthy advantage in explosive plays in every quarter of the Season except the last. Their explosive play output on offense was less than half their average from the other three-quarters of the season. But when they were really humming in games 9-12, they were churning out a fantastic 10.8 explosive plays per game. That’s a big number for any offense, but especially one that tends to run fewer plays.
Yards per play is one of my favorite measures of team performance. It allows for a more apples-to-apples measure of efficiency between teams since it does not matter how many plays a team runs. Denver led the NFL in YPP at 6.3. Seattle was running at a 6.6 YPP clip during the third quarter of the season. And their defense was holding teams to a 4.4 YPP rate. In essence, Seattle was gaining 2.2 yards on their opponent for every play run by either side. That shows up in field position, yardage, scoring…nearly everything. The defense got downright nasty in the last four games to hold opponents to a 3.9 YPP average. It was the only quarter of the season the team did not have close to a full yard advantage in YPP over their opponents.
Getting the ball in scoring position is only so helpful if the team just comes away with field goals. During their hottest stretch, the Seahawks were averaging 4.5 trips inside the red zone each game and were scoring a touchdown on 2/3rds of those trips.
The defense limited opponents trips inside the red zone all year, but even when teams did get their, they had a heck of a time getting seven points. The 57% rate in games 9-12 is misleading considering how few attempts opponents had.
Takeaways were a major part of what made Seattle tick in 2013. They averaged over two per game for three-fourths of the season. Their “worst” stretch still saw them taking the ball away 1.5 times per game. A less appreciate aspect was how well the offense protected the ball. The offensive line issues contributed to a higher turnover rate in the first eight games, but the team got it down the last eight. Had their turnover rate increased appreciably in the last quarter of the season, things likely would not have finished well. Even when the offense was scuffling, they protected the rock.
The offensive line was an issue all year. Russell Okung, Max Unger, and Breno Giacomini were out for large parts of the season. It was the single biggest reason the offense struggled to find consistency.
Pass protection improved moderately as the line started to regain health later in the year. As the team appears to be headed toward a rookie right tackle with pass protection issues, keep in mind just how much that played a role in how the offense functioned last season.
SUMMARY STATS +/- 2012 (NFL RANK IN PARENTHESES)
This was a team with one of the best defenses in the history of football, and a very efficient offense. If not for a few slips at the end of the year, they would have been the first Seahawks team to win 14 games, and may have even challenged to 2005 team’s franchise scoring record. The offense had the feel of a precocious child star. The potential was there even if they did not know how to realize it yet. The defense was ahead of the offense, but the offense was considerably better than most understood. All this without mentioning a special teams unit that was the league’s most efficient.
This was a team for the ages, that will be appreciated more as time rolls on. But even legends have flaws. The offensive line barely held together. More than any opponent, the health of that group was the biggest threat to the 2013 Seahawks finishing on top. They persevered, and confetti followed.
As nice as it would be to run the same team out there again, the 2014 squad has new faces that have helped to create new strengths. Part three of the Hawk Blogger Season Preview will dive into the new faces that will help determine whether this team can plant their flag on top of the mountain again.