by: Chris Sullivan
In thinking about the causes of our terrible 2008 campaign, one thing has been often overlooked because it merely seemed so obvious. The Seahawks could not win the time of possession battle. Yeah yeah, we know. Not just that though, the Seahawks were 32nd in the league for time of possession and were, get this, two standard deviations from the norm. About 95% of all potential outcomes would have given us a better T.O.P., in other words (well, not exactly, but you stats nerds get what I’m saying so lets leave it at that). That is really, really, really bad. We had the ball approximately 44% (26:30 / game) of the time in 2008. Detroit was at 26:59. Greg Knapp’s offense did a bit better, but still bad, at 28:09.
I think we all pretty much know the causes — could not sustain drives, could not stop the opponents drives — but the real question is what will be done next year to fix it?
1.) Convert third downs. This is a big one and it will rely a lot on a healthy Matt Hasselbeck. While the running game is often used on 3rd-and-short, the passing threat is key. The top five teams in 2008: Indianapolis (Manning), New Orleans (Brees), Denver (Cutler), San Diego (Rivers), and Green Bay (Rodgers… hm, outlier?). Who are the five worst? From the bottom — Oakland (Knapp, gulp, with Russell), Detroit (Kitna, Orlavsky, Culpepper), Seattle (Hasselbeck, Wallace), St Louis (Bulger), and Cleveland (Anderson, Quinn).
2.) Sustain drives. Well, duh. This follows from converting third downs, obviously, but its worth stating anyway. Sustaining drives in the real world is more than run run pass, first second third. We will need to keep our players energized which will mean sending in different packages, keeping legs fresh, and keeping the quarterback clean.
3.) Improve Defensive 3rd down percentage. The Seahawks defense stunk last year. I don’t think its all their fault — they were on the field 56% of any given game, after all, including a number of games where there would be multiple three-and-outs by our offense. If you’re on the field for 11 minutes of a quarter, you’re more susceptible to losing concentration and wearing down. The Defense has to be responsible for getting themselves off the field though. Attacking will help, forcing turnovers will help, but when its 3rd and 3 this defense can not bend. For the last four or five years, we have. Routinely. We’ll stop you on the goal line but give up the 5 yard slant at the 40.
4.) Always be a threat. This is what I want to see from my Seahawks. Our defense _should_ strike fear in the hearts of opponents, but will it? Our offense could too. We won’t likely have a top 5 running game, but we should have one that is strong enough to open up the passing game. We have a number of good-to-very-good WRs and potentially one of the top TEs in the game. We can play the west coast game til the cows come home, but with Deon Butler, Nate Burleson, and even Housh, we should be able to threaten deep from time to time. If you can complete a 30-40 yard pass in every other game, you force the opponent to be more conservative on defense. If you can do that more routinely, you can have your way with them. This is what I want to see.
So, those are my thoughts. I personally believe that the time of possession battle will be one of the key determinants in our success this year. I had not realized how absolutely atrocious we were last year, but if we aren’t above 49%, I think its going to be tough for this team to hit the playoffs. I think we can do it, but will we? What do you guys think?
Update: Eric Williams tackled this same issue in a different manner over at the TNT blog. Definitely worth a read.