Grading the Seahawks’ Receiving Options, Plus Some Recent News

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  I’ll get to the main subject of this article shortly, but first I want to touch on a few recent news items concerning the Seahawks.  First off, a big congratulations goes out to retired left tackle and career Seahawk Walter Jones, who was recently named as a semifinalist for Hall of Fame inclusion in his first year of eligibility.  Left tackle is one of the hardest positions to fill in football; at any given time there are only enough passably competent LTs for about a third of the teams in the NFL to have one at their disposal, and only a handful of those guys are legitimately great tackles.  Truly exceptional left tackles are rarer than red emeralds, and Big Walt wasn’t just exceptional – in his prime, he was quite possibly the greatest left tackle to ever play the game.  There’s a lot more I could say about the man, but every longtime Seahawks fan knows his praises by heart.  If anyone this year is a surefire first ballot hall of famer, it’s Jones.

Secondly, congratulations are also in order for the five Seahawks who are sitting at or near the top of their respective position in the fan Pro Bowl balloting currently underway: Marshawn Lynch, Max Unger, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor.  Lynch is second among running backs behind the Chiefs’ Jamaal Charles, but ranks fifth overall among all vote-getters.  The other four guys are number one for their position – and moreover, Sherman and Thomas rank number one and number two overall among all defensive players.  Again this is just the fan balloting, which counts for only a third of the total voting for the Pro Bowl, but it’s still cool to see so many Hawks players getting recognition for all their hard work.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends.  As reported by several media outlets, both Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner have been handed down suspensions for failing drug tests (as in recreational, not performance-enhancing).  Thurmond faces a four game ban, so he’ll return in time for the regular season finale versus the Rams, while Browner is staring down the barrel of a one year suspension.  Depending on how some things shake out, Browner’s penalty might get cut down to just a four game suspension, but that still isn’t much of an improvement.

I like both of these guys, I really do.  I’ve been rooting for Browner in my articles here ever since the Seahawks first signed him away from the CFL back in 2011 (he may have a limited skill set, but he’s a perfect fit for Carroll’s defensive scheme), and Thurmond is a talented man coverage defender who has persevered despite having to fight through a seemingly endless barrage of leg injuries.  That said, none of the goodwill I feel towards them makes up for a screw-up this big.  Not only do their actions hurt the Seahawks’ depth at cornerback, Browner and Thurmond also likely just screwed themselves out of some sizeable free agent contract offers next offseason.  At this point I wouldn’t expect Carroll and Schneider to bring either one of them back for 2014, but then again I didn’t expect them to re-sign Leroy Hill in 2011 either, so who knows?

While they’re out, Byron Maxwell and (to a lesser extent) Jeremy Lane will both likely be used to replace Browner at the starting right cornerback position, but there really aren’t any decent choices on the roster to fill Thurmond’s spot at nickel back.  Maxwell and/or Lane could move inside on those downs, but both are better suited (both in terms of skill set and physical build) to covering guys on the edges, not patrolling the middle of the field.  The Seahawks just signed ex-49er Perrish Cox off the street and promptly cut him a day later, so he clearly didn’t work out as a nickel option.  DeShawn Shead (who can play both safety and corner) was elevated from the practice squad to the active roster immediately after Cox was released, and the team is also reportedly trying to coax Antoine Winfield out of retirement to man the nickel as well.  If they fail to lure Winfield back into the fold, I’m not sure what plan B is. 

Still, I wouldn’t worry too terribly much – remember, we’re still talking about a defensive backfield that contains Sherman, Thomas, and Chancellor.  Either way, this week’s game against the Saints’ Brees-fueled offense should give us a good idea of what we can expect from the newly reconfigured secondary going forward.

 

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Now that it’s been a few weeks since the loss of Sidney Rice, I thought this would be a good time to take a look at the team’s receiving stats to see how the passing offense has been doing now that the Seahawks are without the services of their highest paid wideout.  Pass catch percentages aren’t perfect; they include a lot of intentional throwaways, the sample sizes are pretty small, and the numbers don’t differentiate between drops by a receiver and inaccurate throws by quarterbacks.  However, if you just want a general indicator for how well your team’s passers and receivers are meshing, they can be pretty useful.

Along with the stats for every receiver who has been targeted this year, I’ve also included stat breakdowns by position grouping as well as total passing stats for both Russell Wilson and Tarvaris Jackson.  I’ll also include some stat tables broken down by on-field target area so you can see which guys are being relied upon most in different zones – the results may surprise you.  First, the overall stats:

 

Name Total Pass Targets Total Receptions Catch %
Derrick Coleman 6 6 100%
Percy Harvin 1 1 100%
Michael Robinson 1 1 100%
Marshawn Lynch 30 24 80.00%
Kellen Davis 4 3 75.00%
Doug Baldwin 50 36 72.00%
Robert Turbin 10 7 70.00%
Ricardo Lockette 3 2 66.67%
Luke Willson 18 12 66.67%
Jermaine Kearse 20 13 65.00%
Zach Miller 34 22 64.71%
Golden Tate 67 42 62.69%
Sidney Rice (IR) 35 15 42.86%
Stephen Williams (cut) 2 0 0.00%
       
All RBs 47 38 80.85%
All TEs 56 37 66.07%
All WRs 178 109 61.24%
       
Tarvaris Jackson* 11 8 72.73%
Russell Wilson* 270 176 65.19%

(* = spikes to stop the clock and passes for which no target was listed in the play-by-play stats are not included in these totals.)

Before you start worrying too much about the percentages here, a catch rate in the 60% range is a pretty good result for wide receivers and tight ends, while running backs should be more in the 70-80% range because they get targeted almost exclusively on high-percentage short dump-off passes.  In other words, Marshawn Lynch is not actually a better receiver than every wideout on the team, he just gets easier passes to catch. 

As you can see, Rice's performance this year was disappointing to say the least.  His catch rate for this year is almost 20% lower than it was last year (62.50%), and while most guys tend to excel in one area of the field over others, as you'll see in a moment Rice was ineffective no matter where on the field he was targeted.  It's possible that his poor numbers are just a byproduct of his injury problems, but when you get paid as much as he does, well, you just don't get to have bad seasons.

On a more positive note, the most improved receiving threat this year is easily Doug Baldwin.  After suffering through an injury-riddled 2012 in which his catch rate sat at a lukewarm 57.45%, he's now catching 72.00% of all the passes thrown his way, which has a lot to do with why he's emerged as Wilson's second favorite target behind Golden Tate.  I guess all those tips he's been getting from Steve Largent are paying off.

Just through watching games this year, I'd gotten it into my head that Zach Miller and the other tight ends were not being thrown nearly as many passes as they had in years past, but as it turns out the numbers don't support that impression at all.  The pass targets for tight ends have dropped off a little bit as compared to last season, but not nearly as much as I thought: this year about 20.11% of all targeted passes have been thrown to TEs, which according to my spreadsheets is only a slight drop off from 23.14% in 2012.  I love that about stats — they're great for giving your assumptions a nice hard reality check.

Next up, I've broken the stats from the table above into passes to the short and deep zones:

 

All Short Zones
Name Pass Targets Receptions Catch %
Derrick Coleman 6 6 100%
Percy Harvin 1 1 100%
Ricardo Lockette 1 1 100%
Michael Robinson 1 1 100%
Marshawn Lynch 29 23 79.31%
Luke Willson 16 12 75.00%
Golden Tate 50 36 72.00%
Robert Turbin 10 7 70.00%
Doug Baldwin 37 25 67.57%
Kellen Davis 3 2 66.67%
Zach Miller 29 19 65.52%
Jermaine Kearse 12 7 58.33%
Sidney Rice (IR) 20 9 45.00%
Stephen Williams (cut) 1 0 0.00%
       
All RBs 46 37 80.43%
All TEs 48 33 68.75%
All WRs 122 79 64.75%
       
Tarvaris Jackson* 8 6 75.00%
Russell Wilson* 208 143 68.75%

 

All Deep Zones
Name Pass Targets Receptions Catch %
Kellen Davis 1 1 100%
Marshawn Lynch 1 1 100%
Doug Baldwin 13 11 84.62%
Jermaine Kearse 8 6 75.00%
Zach Miller 5 3 60.00%
Ricardo Lockette 2 1 50.00%
Sidney Rice (IR) 15 6 40.00%
Golden Tate 17 6 35.29%
Stephen Williams (cut) 1 0 0.00%
Luke Willson 2 0 0.00%
Derrick Coleman 0 0 -
Percy Harvin 0 0 -
Michael Robinson 0 0 -
Robert Turbin 0 0 -
       
All RBs 1 1 100%
All WRs 56 30 53.57%
All TEs 8 4 50.00%
       
Tarvaris Jackson* 3 2 66.67%
Russell Wilson* 62 33 53.23%

 

I know this is stating the obvious, but short passes always have a much higher completion percentage than deep passes, so you shouldn't worry about Wilson's stat line in that particular table.  In fact, his 53.23% completion rate for targeted deep passes is actually a slight improvement over his 2012 completion rate of 49.41%.  His percentages on short passes for both seasons are virtually identical (68.75% in 2013, 69.89% in 2012). 

The overall stats for tight ends may not have changed much between 2012 and 2013, but when they're broken down like this we can see that the ~3% decrease in throws to TEs we saw in the overall stats was caused by  a huge dropoff in the use of TEs on deep passes.  Last season, one out of every four targeted deep passes (25.56%) went to a tight end; this year, that ratio is down to one out of every eight deep throws (12.56%).  Considering that Miller was the team's most reliable deep threat last year (his catch rate on deep passes was an impressive 73.33%), it stands to reason that Bevell isn't de-emphasizing his starting TE on deep routes by choice.  Rather, Miller has been battling leg injuries most of this season, and running those deep routes is murder on sore hamstrings.  As his health improves, however, I would expect to see him become a factor as a downfield threat once again.

In other tight end news, Miller's two backups have been making the most of their limited opportunities.  Granted, Kellen Davis has only been targeted four times this year, which isn't really a large enough sample size from which to draw any meaningful conclusions, but in Luke Willson's case we can see that the rookie has some definite promise as a receiving option in the short zones.

Among the wide receivers, Doug Baldwin reigns supreme.  As a slot guy, I expected to see him do well in the short passing game, but surprisingly enough he's also quietly become the team's most reliable deep ball target.  Seriously, how the hell did he go undrafted in 2011?

The next best two guys, Golden Tate and Jermaine Kearse, are a bit more one-dimensional (speaking purely in terms of passing zones, I mean).  Tate is clearly Wilson's go-to guy in the short zones, but his stats on deep passes kinda blow, which is in keeping with what we saw from him last year (80% short target catch rate, 40.91% deep). Kearse, on the other hand, is sort of the opposite: so-so on short routes, but strong as a deep threat.

Harvin looks awesome, but one catch isn't enough data to go on, and Lockette hasn't seen enough action to make a judgement on him, either. 

When you get right down to it, Rice is really the lone disappointment here (Williams doesn't count — he cratered when he was with the Cardinals, too).  Yes, he made some spectacular catches here and there, but compared to his 2012 stats (2nd most targeted player on the team, 62.50% catch rate on both long and short passes), his 45% rate on short passses and 40% deep looks even more abysmal than it already did.  I still think the Seahawks were right to take the risk when they signed him to that big money contract in 2011, but you also can't keep paying a guy $8.5 million a year to catch less than half the passes thrown his way.  I'm not sure he'll be back next year unless he's willing to take a pay cut to stay.

There isn't much to say about the running backs in the passing game other than hell yes.  Lynch has a bigger role in the passing attack this year (he's averaging 2.73 targets per game, up from 1.88 per game in 2012), Turbin is still reasonably sure-handed, and Coleman displayed some great hands and awareness when he had the opportunity to start earlier in the year (I'm hopeful that he'll stick around as Robinson's replacement-in-waiting). 

Finally, below you'll find some tables that break down these stats down further still into the six zone categories used in the NFL's play-by-play data.  There are some interesting nuggets to be found therein (for instance, Tate is money in the short left & right zones but weak in the short mid), but rather than bore you with my endless commentary I'm going to just present them as-is. 

The only other thing I'll mention here is that the Seahawks have not been credited with a single throw to the deep middle zone in the play-by-play data all year long (they had 26 targeted throws to that zone in 2012).  Part of that is probably due to all the throwing Wilson has done on rollouts and scrambles (if you're running to the right, chances are you're going to throw to a receiver on the right side, too), but after browsing through some other game stats, it looks like for whatever reason the NFL's play-by-play guys are hardly identifying any passes at all as having been throw to the deep middle.  Go figure.

 

Short Left Zone
Name Pass Targets Receptions Catch %
Derrick Coleman 3 3 100%
Percy Harvin 1 1 100%
Luke Willson 7 6 85.71%
Marshawn Lynch 6 5 83.33%
Golden Tate 19 15 78.95%
Dough Baldwin 18 12 66.67%
Robert Turbin 2 1 50.00%
Zach Miller 3 1 33.33%
Sidney Rice (IR) 3 1 33.33%
Jermaine Kearse 2 0 0.00%
Stephen Williams (cut) 1 0 0.00%
Kellen Davis 0 0 -
Ricardo Lockette 0 0 -
Michael Robinson 0 0 -
       
All RBs 11 9 81.82%
All TEs 10 7 70.00%
All WRs 44 29 65.91%
       
Tarvaris Jackson* 1 1 100%
Russell Wilson* 64 44 68.75%

 

Short Mid Zone
Name Pass Targets Receptions Catch %
Kellen Davis 1 1 100%
Luke Willson 1 1 100%
Zach Miller 13 11 84.62%
Marshawn Lynch 10 8 80.00%
Doug Baldwin 5 3 60.00%
Sidney Rice (IR) 5 3 60.00%
Jermaine Kearse 3 1 33.33%
Golden Tate 8 2 25.00%
Robert Turbin 1 0 0.00%
Derrick Coleman 0 0 -
Percy Harvin 0 0 -
Ricardo Lockette 0 0 -
Michael Robinson 0 0 -
Stephen Williams (cut) 0 0 -
       
All TEs 15 13 86.67%
All RBs 11 8 72.73%
All WRs 21 9 42.86%
       
Russell Wilson* 43 28 65.12%
Tarvaris Jackson* 4 2 50.00%

 

Short Right Zone
Name Pass Targets Receptions Catch %
Derrick Coleman 3 3 100%
Ricardo Lockette 1 1 100%
Michael Robinson 1 1 100%
Jermaine Kearse 7 6 85.71%
Robert Turbin 7 6 85.71%
Golden Tate 23 19 82.61%
Marshawn Lynch 13 10 76.92%
Doug Baldwin 14 10 71.43%
Luke Willson 8 5 62.50%
Zach Miller 13 7 53.85%
Kellen Davis 2 1 50.00%
Sidney Rice (IR) 12 5 41.67%
Percy Harvin 0 0 -
Stephen Williams (cut) 0 0 -
       
All RBs 24 20 83.33%
All WRs 57 41 71.93%
All TEs 23 13 56.52%
       
Tarvaris Jackson* 3 3 100%
Russell Wilson* 101 71 70.30%

 

Deep Left Zone
Name Pass Targets Receptions Catch %
Marshawn Lynch 1 1 100%
Doug Baldwin 7 6 85.71%
Jermaine Kearse 6 5 83.33%
Golden Tate 9 4 44.44%
Zach Miller 3 1 33.33%
Sidney Rice (IR) 7 2 28.57%
Ricardo Lockette 1 0 0.00%
Derrick Coleman 0 0 -
Kellen Davis 0 0 -
Percy Harvin 0 0 -
Michael Robinson 0 0 -
Robert Turbin 0 0 -
Stephen Williams (cut) 0 0 -
Luke Willson 0 0 -
       
All RBs 1 1 100%
All WRs 30 17 56.67%
All TEs 3 1 33.33%
       
Russell Wilson* 34 19 55.88%
Tarvaris Jackson* 0 0 -

 

Deep Mid Zone
N/A – no Seahawks QB credited with a pass to the deep mid zone in 2013

 

Deep Right Zone
Name Pass Targets Receptions Catch %
Kellen Davis 1 1 100%
Ricardo Lockette 1 1 100%
Zach Miller 2 2 100%
Doug Baldwin 6 5 83.33%
Jermaine Kearse 2 1 50.00%
Sidney Rice (IR) 8 4 50.00%
Golden Tate 8 2 25.00%
Stephen Williams (cut) 1 0 0.00%
Luke Willson 2 0 0.00%
Derrick Coleman 0 0 -
Percy Harvin 0 0 -
Marshawn Lynch 0 0 -
Michael Robinson 0 0 -
Robert Turbin 0 0 -
       
All RBs 0 0 -
All TEs 5 3 60.00%
All WRs 26 13 50.00%
       
Tarvaris Jackson* 3 2 66.67%
Russell Wilson* 28 14 50.00%

 

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