Blue Friday Fodder: Early Road Tactics Need to Change
Bye weeks in the NFL are time for rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Seahawks coaches have also shown they can use the extra time to self-scout and adjust their approach to improve results on the field. Most memorably, they looked at their porous offensive line during the first half of the 2015 season and decided to install a quick passing package that saw the ball leaving Russell Wilson’s hands faster than ever before. Sacks immediately dropped, scoring immediately skyrocketed, and Wilson had the best stretch of football in his career. A change of that magnitude is unlikely this season, but I have my fingers crossed the team makes at least one change.
Reduce early deep passing on the road
Pete Carroll made a comment in a recent interview that caught my attention. I am too lazy to track it down, so I’ll paraphrase. He said they prefer to go for early explosive plays on the road. That stood out to me for a couple of reasons. First, his comment was about a general approach to road games, not just one. Second, it seemed like a high risk approach that may be more rooted in Carroll’s propensity for hyper-aggressive, overly optimistic, game strategy than in sound football.
I decided to see if I could find evidence that the Seahawks have been going for big pass plays early in road games, and what the outcomes have been. Using some of reports at SharpFootballStats.com, I was able to compile this chart comparing road versus home approach across different quarters of the game.
It looks like Pete was not kidding. Over a third of the pass attempts on the road in the first quarter this season have been over 15 yards. Going play-by-play, it looks like there were six deep pass attempts on the road in the first quarter this year. A grand total of zero have been completed, unless you want to count the one that was caught by a Rams defender for an interception. Russell Wilson overall is 7/17 (41%) for 46 yards, with 0 TDs and 0 INT (Tanner McEvoy threw the pick), and a 48.9 passer rating in the first quarter on the road this season. He has also been sacked twice, which very well could have been more deep pass attempts gone wrong.
That strategy has not translated to points. In fact, the Seahawks have yet to score in the first quarter on the road this season.
This is not a new trend. Seattle ranked 21st in road scoring in the first quarter last season, 26th in 2014, 20th in 2013. The one recent season where they did better was the aforementioned 2015 season when they relied far more heavily on short passing 8th in first quarter road scoring. In that season, just 5 of the 46 pass attempts (10.8%) made on the road in the first quarter were deep throws.
Wilson had a sterling passer rating of 112.7 in those first quarters on the road, and was sacked just once in 47 dropbacks. This all stands to reason. Deep throws are lower percentage by nature. They require the line to block longer, and the passes are more difficult.
The trend across quarters indicates the team learns that deep early throws are not working and so they gradually move toward more realistic and reliable options closer to the line of scrimmage. By the third quarter, just 8% of throw are over 15 yards on the road. Wilson’s numbers rise as well. His second quarter road passer rating is 91.5, and his completion rate jumps to 64% from the nasty 41% in the first quarter. Perhaps even more interesting is his yards per pass attempt climbs from 2.7 in the first quarter to 7.1 in the second, despite attempting shorter passes.
You can see that Wilson struggles under the weight of the early deep throws, and benefits when the team allows him to start getting in a rhythm as the game progresses. The fourth quarter has both a high deep passing rate and good results. That is a quarter often thrown out of evaluation because it is treated so differently. Teams that are ahead tend to play different defenses, as do offenses that are behind. Both coaching staffs and the players have also had three quarters to acclimate to how their opponents are playing them.
Wilson is a fabulous deep thrower, so nobody should be calling for him to stop throwing deep balls. Getting him started on the road with higher percentage passes would appear to be a wise adjustment before graduating to some strikes downfield.
Explosive play narrative
Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times wrote a piece on the Seahawks problems containing explosive plays on defense this season. Kris Richard, the Seahawks defensive coordinator, said he forced the defense to watch each explosive play they surrendered this season when they returned from the bye. Condotta’s article implies that the Seahawks have struggled with explosive play differential all year long, and references their -1 total on the year as evidence.
The numbers do not exactly back up that narrative. Seattle game against the Rams was their worst explosive play differential (-9) that I have recorded since at least 2012. Before that game, the Seahawks had actually been doing pretty well in that stat over the season.
They were not quite back to their championship levels of 2013 and 2014, but were vastly improved compared to last season. Now, they are not. If you look more closely at the Rams game, you will find that the issues there were explosive passes, and nearly all of them were 25 yards or less. The one big chunk play was the 35-yard throw on the first play of the final drive up the seam.
Of Rams 8 explosive passes, 5 were 20 yds or less. None were longer than 35 which came on final drive.
3 went to TE
5 came on 1st down
The Rams were not exactly carving up the Seahawks secondary. Jared Goff finished with a passer rating below 50.0, while being sacked and intercepted multiple times. I am all for the team looking to improve in this area, but the more concerning problems came earlier when they allowed massive breakout plays against Carlos Hyde, DeMarco Murray, and Rishard Matthews. Those were uncharacteristic, and massively damaging to the team’s ability to consistently play winning football. They showed great progress against Todd Gurley in that regard, so I find myself feeling more optimistic about this area of the team than Condotta’s article might leave most readers feeling. The Giants present a perfect chance to limit explosive plays to low single digits. San Francisco was held to just three explosive plays. Expect a similar number for the New York.
Change in metro bus shuttle service at home games
The Seahawks announced this week that there would be an end to metro bus shuttle service to Northgate, Eastgate, and Kirkland. This is a huge blow for folks who make the trek to the stadium and want to avoid exorbitant parking fees of $70 or similarly expensive Uber/Lyft options. I have tried taking the standard metro buses home after games, and it is like playing Russian roulette. If you are lucky enough to get a spot, you are happy, but you’ll be waiting another hour if you are not.
I have done some research on this topic. Here is what I have found.
The Federal Transit Administration decided that federally funded organizations like King County Metro Bus cannot enter into a bidding war for charter services if any private company expresses interest. That means if Starline or MTR decide they want a chance to run the shuttles, metro has to drop out. Because Starline and MTR are vastly more expensive (figure $30 each way versus $8 each way for metro shuttle service), the team likely (and rightfully) assumes nobody will pay for that, and the whole thing collapses.
If you are impacted by this and want to be heard, here are the places to voice your displeasure:
Maria Cantwell did successfully negotiate an exemption for Seattle from this statute, so it is possible our Senators can impact the decision. My understanding is that this falls more on Patty Murray’s plate now instead of Cantwell.
Alternative options in the meantime
I will likely start looking for places along the light rail line to park and ride in, and see how that goes. You can also look at ride shares on Uber or Lyft to save a few bucks on single rider fares. The Seahawks sent out an email to season ticket holders with options like this. It is a pretty frustrating and nonsensical situation where a well-intentioned government has made life worse for citizens.