A Tale of Two Halves

Last Thursday’s road game against the 49ers was supremely frustrating to watch.  The Seahawks looked awful, and that’s led to a lot of fans voicing opinions of the “fire coach X and/or bench player Y” variety.  That’s understandable, but I think it’s premature to be calling for changes that drastic.  Right now, the Seahawks are 3-0 at home and 1-3 on the road, with one more road game in Detroit coming up on Sunday to finish out the first half of the season.  If they can sweep at home and win just one of their remaining four road games, that’ll give them a 10-6 record – not enough to win the division, probably, but good enough to put them in contention for a wild card berth. 

Granted, sweeping at home is going to be tough considering one of those games is going to be a rematch with the 49ers, but losing that one home game would still leave Seattle with a 9-7 record, which wouldn’t be enough wins to make the playoffs but would give the team its first winning season since 2007.  Be honest with yourselves now, how many of you would have given your eyeteeth for the Seahawks to finish 9-7 over the last four seasons?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we can’t or shouldn’t criticize the Seahawks’ performance, because we can and we should.  I’d just like to see everyone maintain some perspective here.

Does the team still have problems that need fixing?  Yep.  Have they lost some games they should have won this year?  Definitely. But matter how aggravating those lingering issues may be, they don’t cancel out how much better the 2012 Seahawks are than their 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 iterations.  They’re improving every year, and on the whole they’re still headed in the right direction.

I’ll go back to doing a regular stats article next week, but I figured this time around it’d be more beneficial to examine a few stats from just the 49ers game.

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Offense

1st Half 2nd Half Total
Rush Att 15 14 29
Rush Yds 74 62 136
Rush Avg 4.93 3.71 4.69
Pass Cmp 6 3 9
Pass Att 13 10 23
Pass Yds 103 19 122
Pass
Yds/Cmp
17.17 6.33 13.56
Pass
Yds/Att
7.92 1.9 5.3
Sacks 1 1 2
Sack % 7.14% 9.09% 8%
QB Hits - - 3
Sack + QB
Hits %
- - 20%
TDs (TD %) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)
Ints (Int%) 0 (0%) 1 (10%) 1 (4.35%)

(Note: I don’t have access to QB Hit stats in any form other than simple totals, so I can’t break those down by half.)

As you can see, the Seahawks played adequately enough in the first half, then screwed the pooch in the second (we’ll see the same pattern emerge when we get to the defense).

Along the offensive line, LT Russell Okung and C Max Unger had pretty decent performances.  LG James Carpenter struggled most of the game to contain DE Justin Smith, who bulled his way past him to the inside on any number of plays.  The other guard, Paul McQuistan, wasn’t great but had a better game than Carpenter; however, had their situations been reversed I don’t think McQuistan would have held up nearly as well against Smith as Carpenter did.  RT Breno Giacomini was horrible against San Francisco, especially against speed rushes off the edge.  I know the coaching staff loves his attitude and all, but they desperately need to find a right tackle with a faster kick-step at the snap.  As things stand now, the Seahawks are basically giving Aldon Smith two extra Christmases a year.

Marshawn Lynch had a pretty decent game overall, finishing with a 5.42 yds/att average on his 19 carries, but he also suffered a significant drop-off in production between halves, going from 6.11 yds/att on his 9 first half carries to 4.8 yds/att for his 10 second half carries.  4.8 is still a pretty great average, but losing over a yard per attempt after halftime is not a good thing.

And with that we come to the passing game.  The receiving corps had issues, with several deep passes bouncing off the hands of their intended target (I have no idea what Evan Moore’s deal is, but so far he’s been targeted just four times this season and has zero catches).  Losing Doug Baldwin halfway through the game also hurt, since they only other wide receiver on the roster who’s shown much a feel for the slot position is Charly Martin and he was inactive for the game.

However, Baldwin’s injury and all those drops still aren’t enough to explain away the second half performance of everyone’s favorite bone of contention, Russell Wilson (his first half stats weren’t great either, but they were good enough to get the job done).  Wilson mobility kept the tallies for sacks & QB hits allowed much lower than they would have otherwise been, but he was pressured all game long.  As a result, whatever trust he had built with his o-line through the Panthers and Patriots game seemed to be long gone by halftime, because what I saw on film was a rookie QB becoming increasingly rattled by San Francisco’s pass rush, which led him to make a whole lot of mistakes with the ball.

It’s also hard to ignore that Wilson’s best three performances this season (versus the Packers, Panthers, and Patriots) have all been against teams that have deeply flawed pass defenses.  At some point we really need to see Wilson make things happen against a defense that’s strong in coverage, because racking up moderate passing stats against weaker opponents doesn’t do much to instill confidence in a QB’s abilities.

If Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell make the decision to bench Wilson in favor of Matt Flynn, I’d wouldn’t expect it to happen until the Seahawks’ bye week so that everyone involved has more time to adjust to the change.  The next three games are going to tell us a whole lot about Wilson’s mental fortitude.  If he rebounds against the Lions, Vikings, and Jets, he’ll most likely keep the starting job for the rest of the season, but if he continues to crater like he did in the second half versus the 49ers (1.9 yds/att?  Really?), then we could see Flynn get the nod even sooner than week eleven. 

Either way, the onus is on Wilson to step up and perform.  Yes, he’s still just a rookie, but even so he needs to show he’s at least improving.  Is the 49ers game just an off performance in what has otherwise been an encouragingly upward trend in his play this season, or is it the beginning of a much longer downward spiral?  I wish I had an answer here, but for now there’s nothing we can do but wait and see how well he does versus Detroit.

Defense

1st Half 2nd Half Total
Rush Att 10 22 32
Rush Yds 58 117 175
Rush Avg 5.8 5.32 5.47
Pass Cmp 7 7 14
Pass Att 15 8 23
Pass Yds 59 81 140
Pass
Yds/Cmp
8.43 11.57 10
Pass
Yds/Att
3.93 10.13 6.09
Sacks 2 0 2
Sacks % 11.76% 0% 8%
QB Hits - - 3
Sacks + QB
Hits %
- - 20%
TDs (TD %) 0 (0%) 1 (12.5%) 1 (4.35%)
Ints (Int %) 0 (0%) 1 (12.5%) 1 (4.35%)

Yes, the Seahawks really did give up 5+ yds/att on the ground all game long.  The stats get even worse when you look at just Frank Gore, who carried the ball 16 times for 8.19 yds/att (6.5 yds/att on 6 first half carries, 9.2 yds/att on 10 second half carries).  However, Gore is not the guy who’s responsible for his inflated rushing stats.  From his rookie year in 2005 to 2011, Gore averaged 4.6 yds/att; this season, he’s averaging 5.8.  So, either he’s found a way to miraculously erase seven years’ worth of NFL wear and tear on his body, or his offensive line is doing a hell of a job with their run blocking.

I’m not terribly fond of the 49ers or their snarling rabid dog of a coach, but I’m not going to let that stop me from giving credit where it’s due.  Re-watching the game, I found myself double checking to make sure that someone working for NFL Rewind hadn’t accidentally replaced the Seahawks-49ers game with footage of the 1987 Redskins in the Super Bowl.  I’m not exaggerating for effect here, either – they really were that good.   We all know how stout Mebane, Branch, Clemons, and Bryant usually are against the run, but the 49ers pushed them around like they were playing against a high school JV squad.  You could drive a truck through some of the run lanes they opened up with their trap blocking schemes.  LG Mike Iupati in particular is playing like a guy who should be voted the NFC’s all-pro team for years to come.

That said, the Seahawks gave up a lot of rushing yardage in the middle of the field, but they still managed to keep San Francisco’s runners out of the end zone.  Why that is, I’m not entirely sure.  It isn’t like they stopped running the ball effectively near Seattle’s goal line, as 9 of the 12 plays the 49ers ran inside the Seahawks’ 35 yard line in the second half, and they averaged 4.67 yds/att on those rushes.

Against the pass, the Seahawks were pretty great in the first half at making Alex Smith uncomfortable and minimizing big gains, but posted mixed results against him in the second half.  Allowing him to complete 87.5% of his throws is pretty bad, as is giving up a touchdown, but they also picked him off in the end zone to prevent another score.  Also, Smith’s 10 yds/cmp average for the game is abysmally low (for a point of reference, Jacksonville currently ranks 31st in the NFL with 10.1 yds/cmp).

Marcus Trufant is not making me terribly happy as the Seahawks’ nickel back.  With Byron Maxwell continually battling injuries this season there haven’t been any better options available, but now Walter Thurmond is ready and eligible to come off the PUP list.  Assuming he can stay healthy for once (which for him is a mighty big if), he could prove to be an immediate upgrade for Seattle’s pass coverage in the middle of the field.  If nothing else, it would mean no longer having to watch Trufant give slot receivers five-yard cushions.

The pass rush was actually pretty decent in this game.  Both Clemons and Irvin were shut out on the stat sheet, which is never good, but both Greg Scruggs (2 QB Hits) and Jason Jones (2 sacks, 1 QB Hit) made up for that by making Smith as uncomfortable as possible.  He regained his composure somewhat in the second half, but even so he still looked pretty jumpy back there.

*        *        *

There’s more I could examine here, but all the other stats I could bring up here point to the same pattern: mostly lukewarm production in the first half, followed by a collapse in the second.  There are plenty of mitigating factors we could talk about – the strength of San Francisco’s defense, playing a road game on a short week, etc. – but none of that stuff is going to make this loss any more palatable. 

This also marks the third time this season that the Seahawks have lost to a divisional rival in a game they could’ve won or sent into overtime with one touchdown score, which is three times too many.  The defense is filled with enough solid, young players to remain a top five unit for years to come, and there’s plenty to love about the special teams unit (except when they’re facing Tedd Ginn, Jr.).  All this team needs to be 7-0 instead of 4-3 is slightly more production on offense, especially in the passing game, and preferably production that isn’t limited to just the first and fourth quarters.  Hopefully, Wilson can continue to progress and start playing stronger throughout games as we get into the second half of the season; despite the bad games he has, I still love what he brings to the table, and he’s got potential by the truckload.  But if he can’t get it done, next year he and his potential may very well be riding the pine while Flynn and Bevell’s replacement take a shot at running the offense.

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