How the Seahawks Measure Up: 2013 Week Two Edition

This just in: the Seahawks are pretty damned good this year.  Headed into the season, they were considered to be one of the top three teams in the NFL, with the 49ers and Broncos rounding out the top three.  And seeing as how the Hawks just throttled the 49ers last week by a 26 point margin of victory, it’s safe to say that they are now considered the top team in the NFC, if not the NFL (although I’m sure Manning and his Denver teammates might have a few objections to that last assertion).

Which reminds me, does anyone remember the screeching a couple years ago when the Seahawks won the NFC West and made the postseason with a 7-9 record?  Remember how that somehow proved that the NFL’s playoff system was horribly broken and could only be fixed by abolishing divisions altogether?  Do you think those same blowhards would admit how terribly, laughably wrong they were now that the NFC West is arguably the strongest division in the league?  As I said at the time, all the evidence taken from 78 years of league divisional play pointed to that year being an extreme outlier – one season does not a trend make.

And for the most part, it’s those exact same blowhards who decide the power rankings that every football site in existence likes to churn out every week.  I mean, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel kinda awesome to see the Hawks slotted in as the number one team in the league on so many lists this week, but 1) consider the source, and 2) list articles are one of the lowest forms of sports journalism and I’m not going to start putting any stock in them just because I like the result for once.

So yeah, the Seahawks rock, but I’ve never been satisfied with just knowing that in general terms – if they rock, I want to know how hard and in what specific ways they are proving their ability to rock harder than everyone else.  What can I say, it’s a compulsion I have (one of many).  And just like last year, I plan on doing that by gauging the Seahawks’ performance through the use of plenty of delicious, nutritious stats.  I’ll go over the reasoning behind some of the less well-known metrics as we go along, but I’ll still be avoiding the use of advanced stats – I’ll let me from last season explain:

Unlike baseball, where advanced statistical methods like sabermetrics are much easier to implement because the game can mostly be broken down into neat one-on-one matchups – pitcher v. batter, baseman v. runner, etc. – football involves a much more complicated and dynamic interplay of twenty-two moving parts.  The success of a passing play, for example, doesn’t just depend on whether or not a quarterback can beat a given defensive back; among other things, you also have to factor in the blocking of the offensive linemen (both individually and as a group), how well the offensive play call matches up against the defensive play call, the ability of the receivers to recognize the coverage and adjust accordingly, the communication between members of the secondary, the willingness of a given receiver to secure a catch even though it means taking a big hit, and the list goes on.

Because of all those varying factors, I tend to distrust stats that rely on endlessly complex, proprietary formulas that massage stats to within an inch of their life like ESPN’s QBR or measurements that replace the actual stats with a point grading system like Football Outsiders’ DVOA.  That isn’t to say that there’s no value in newer metrics like those, because there is.  I’m glad that there are people out there pouring so much time and effort into examining the game in new and exciting ways, but there’s a big difference between me acknowledging that sabermetrics-style statistical models could potentially be used to examine football and being convinced that one of the above stats is the one to finally do it.  No one’s done it to my satisfaction yet, and until they do I’ll be sticking with stats that I can work out on my own using nothing more advanced than a legal pad, a spreadsheet, a play-by-play printout, and a fistful of pens and highlighters.

Anyway, on to the stats (Note: green highlights denote notably positive stats — think top ten material, where applicable — while orange highlights mark notably negative stats):

Rushing Averages
 

Game Yards/Rush Attempt Yards/Game  

Yards/Rush Attempt Allowed

Yards/Game Allowed

1 (CAR)

2.69 70  

5.15

134
2 (SF) 3.66 172   5.00 100
Total

3.32 (21st)

121 (8th)   5.09 (28th) 117 (22nd)


At first glance, the stats on this table look pretty bad, in large part because the stats versus Carolina really are as bad as they appear to be.  Neither quarterback attempted many scrambles upfield, but when they did the results were starkly different; both had 5 carries in the game, but Wilson averaged just 1.4 ypc to Cam Newton's 7.6.  The same pattern holds for the workhorse backs as well, as DeAngelo Williams' yards per carry average was exactly double that of Lynch's (5.06 versus 2.53, respectively, both on 17 carries).

Credit where it's due, Carolina really does have a spectacular front seven.  If they can coax a stronger showing from their secondary then the Panthers will absolutely deserve to be talked about as a top five NFL defense.

The offense improved somewhat on the ground versus the 49ers, although the combination of a high total yardage and a rather ordinary ypc average indicates that this improvement is due more to an increase in quantity than quality.  The defense's 5.00 ypc allowed, however, isn't as bad as it looks.    Much of that average is inflated by the 9.67 ypc Colin Kaepernick earned on his 9 scrambles, while Frank Gore was held to 1.78 ypc on his 9 attempts.  To put that number in perspective, of the 118 regular season games Gore has played, last Sunday's game ranks as his fifth worst ypc average ever.  Not bad for a banged-up d-line, eh?

(To continue reading, please click on "Read More" below.)

Passing Averages
 

Offense
Game Yards/Passing Attempt Yards/ Pass Completion

Net Passing Yards/Game

Completion % TD % Int %
1 (CAR) 9.70 12.80 300 75.76 3.03 0.00
2 (SF) 7.47 17.75 118 42.11 5.26 5.26
Total 8.88 (5th) 14.00 (4th) 209 (24th) 63.46 (15th) 3.85 (18th) 1.92 (14th)
Defense
Game Yards/Pass Attempt Yards/ Pass Completion Net Passing Yards/Game Completion % TD % Int %
1 (CAR) 5.43 7.81 119 69.57 4.35 0.00
2 (SF) 4.54 9.77 107 46.43 0.00 10.71
Total 4.94 (1st) 8.69 (3rd) 113 (1st) 56.86 (11th) 1.96 (3rd) 5.88 (1st)


There are some things to like about the way the offense has been able to move the ball through the air so far this year, but there's no denying that this isn't the same passing attack that we watched obliterate defenses late last season.  Some of that is due to the quality of both defensive lines the team has faced, but there's been a regression in the pass blocking of the interior o-line, particularly from Max Unger (I'm starting to think he might be playing hurt), and Wilson and Rice don't appear to be connecting as well as they should.  Watching Russell getting hounded and pounded by the 49ers last week, I couldn't help but wonder what the outcome of those plays would have been if Percy Harvin had been available to play.  Oh well, I suppose that gives us something to look forward to later this season.

Also, if you're hoping for the Seahawks to use their matchup against the Jaguars to get their passing game on track, you might end up being disappointed.  As of this writing, Jacksonville's defense ranks 2nd in yards allowed per passing attempt, 1st in yards allowed per completion, and 2nd in yards allowed per game.  It looks like Gus Bradley's defensive acumen is already starting to have a positive effect on his new charges (in 2012 they ranked 22nd, 15th, and 22nd in those same categories, respectively).

Meanwhile, the defense is kicking ass and taking names wherever there are passes being thrown.  The Seahawks' secondary is no longer a top five unit, it's the top unit in the NFL, period, and they stand to get even scarier if Brandon Browner is able to return from injury this week.  I'm greatly enjoying the aggressiveness of Dan Quinn's playcalls — the man loves to call a ton of man-press coverage, and his DBs are responding in kind.
 

Game

Sacks (%)

Sacks Allowed (%)

Sack Differential

QB Hits

QB Hits Allowed

Sack & QB Hit Diff.

Sacks & QB Hits %

Sacks & QB Hits Allowed %

1 (CAR) 1 (4.17%) 2 (5.71%) -1 1 1 -1 8.33 8.57
2 (SF) 3 (9.68%) 4 (17.39%) -1 5 6 0 25.81 43.48
Total 4 (7.27%) 6 (10.34%) -2 6 7 -1 18.18 22.41%


(Note: I completely forgot to fill this section in when I posted the article earlier — sorry about that.)

When I was watching the Panthers game, it felt like Wilson was getting pressured and forced to scramble an awful lot, so I was surprised to see that he was only hit once by Carolina's d-line.  The stats from the 49ers game, on the other hand, do a good job of expressing exactly how harried Wilson looked out there.  Like Fran Tarkenton before him, Russell's scrambling can only make up for so many poor blocks, and his interior o-line in particular has not been doing him any favors.  And now that Okung has been placed on the IR list (albeit with the new designation to return tacked on), we can expect his protection to get worse before it gets better.  Jacksonville isn't known for its pass rush, but through two weeks they have the exact same totals for sacks (4) and QB hits (6) as Seattle's defense.  With McQuistan apparently filling in at left tackle in his absence, we can only hope that Bevell is planning on calling lots of rollouts and bootlegs this week to give Wilson some breathing room.

That said, after a middling performance in week one, the Seahawks' pass rush took a huge step forward versus the 49ers, and a lot of that credit goes to the return of one of the team's marquee signings this offseason, Cliff Avril.  His pressure off the edge (1 sack, 1 QB hit) also helped take some attention away from Michael Bennett, who took full advantage with a sack and two QB hits.  This week, the team has indicated that star Leo end Chris Clemons will finally be suiting up, and in two weeks from now they'll get Bruce Irvin back, too.  In other words, the Seahawks are poised to eat quarterbacks alive this season, and just typing those words has put a big smile on my face.

Special Teams Averages

I have a few tweaks and additions I'm working on for this section, so for now it's under construction.  It should be back next week, though.


Run-Pass & Turnover Differential
 

Game Run-Pass Differential Turnover Differential Result
1 (CAR)

+9

+1 Win
2 (SF) +22 +3 Win


For a lengthier explanation of this metric you can read my article on it by clicking here, but in short this one is helpful in gauging the quality of a win.  Teams who end games with postive run-pass differentials (found by adding together your team's rush attempts and pass completions, then subracting those of your opponent) tend to be the winners roughly 75% of the time, while teams who end games with positive turnover differentials (your takeaways – your turnovers) end up winning close to 80% of the time.  Combine those two, and it becomes even more predictive: teams who finish games positive in both differentials end up winning about 94% of the time.

End up winning with positive stats in both differentials and the odds are good that you very much deserved to win.  However, win games with negative stats in one or both differentials, and chances are you were just really lucky that day — or conversely, if you're positive in both but lose, then you can rest assured that the outcome was probably a fluke.  As you can see, the Seahawks are doing just fine on this front — they're 2-0, and both wins were high quality.  In short, the stuff they're doing to win these games is very much sustainable, and we can count on them adding plenty more Ws as the season progresses.

Toxic Differential
 

Game Explosive Plays (Run/Pass)

Explosive Plays Allowed (Run/Pass)

Explosive Play Differential Take- aways Turn- overs Turn- over Diff. Toxic Diff.
1 (CAR) 8 (2/6) 2 (1/1) +6 2 1 +1 +7
2 (SF) 7 (4/3) 6 (4/2) +1 4 1 +3 +4
Total 15 8 +7 4 (2nd) 2 (4th-T) +4 +11

 

The NFL's definition of explosive plays is one that gains 20 yards or more.  However, in his book Developing and Offensive Game Plan, Brian Billick defines them differently, saying that "A more detailed analysis shows a more valid measure being runs of 12 yards or more and passes of 16 yards or more.  These levels of production proved to be more significant as to what is needed to constitute and gain the effects of an 'explosion.'" For those of you who aren't familiar with his work prior to becoming head coach of the Ravens (1999 – 2007), Billick was a red-hot offensive coordinator for the Vikings.  Among other things, the 1998 Vikings set the NFL record for most points scored in a single season, and he did it through meticulous statistical analysis (he was a big proponent of using computers as coaching aids).  So, when it comes to which definition to use, I trust Billick's judgement on the matter.

Understanding the importance of explosive plays is pretty much common sense: you want to get plenty of them yourself while at the same time preventing your opponent from doing the same, and the explosive play differential is an indicator of how well you were able to pull that off.  Additionally, when you add your team's turnover differential and explosive play differential together, you end up with another stat I've taken from Billick, the Toxic Differential (TOXic = TurnOvers + eXplosive plays).From year to year, the toxic differential has proven to be a consistently strong indicator of how likely a team is to make the postseason.  The higher the differential, the more likely they'll be playoff bound.

As you can see, the Seahawks are doing just fine in both explosive play and turnover differentials — so much so that their toxic differential is already in the double digits after two games.  Of course, two games is not nearly a big enough sample size for us to draw any meaningful conclusions, but it's more than enough to justify a little extra excitement for Seahawks fans.

Down Efficiency

I'll add these stats in a week or two, as they don't tend to get terribly interesting or useful until there's several games' worth of data to examine.

Expanded Red Zone Efficiency

Tracking red zone stats, if I recall correctly, came from Joe Gibbs back when he was coaching the Redskins the first time around.  The idea is that when your offense gets inside your opponent's 20 yard line, you need to come away with something to show for it — a touchdown, preferably, but a field goal is good, too.  If you're getting in that zone but not scoring points (or just not getting in the zone much at all), then you know something's wrong with your offense.  On the other side of the ball, the goal is twofold: keep your opponent out of the red zone, and failing that keep them from scoring.

However, in the years since then NFL kickers have steadily improved in range and accuracy over the years to the point that it makes more sense to chart a team’s scoring efficiency on drives inside an opponent’s 35 yard line rather than waiting for them to get to the 20.  (Some other football analysts have been calling this range the orange zone, but that name sounds dumb.  Until something better comes along, I’m sticking with expanded red zone, or ERZ for short.)

Game Total ERZ Trips ERZ Trips w/ score ERZ Trips w/o score   Total ERZ Trips Allowed ERZ Trips w/ score allowed ERZ Trips w/o score allowed
1 (CAR) 4 2 (50.00%) 2 (50.00%)   2 1 (50.00%) 1 (50.00%)
2 (SF) 6 4 (66.67%) 2 (33.33%)   3 1 (33.33%) 2 (66.67%)
Total 10 6 (60.00%) 4 (40.00%)   5 2 (40.00%) 3 (60.00%)

In 2012, the Seahawks scored points when they entered their opponent's red zone 84% of the time, and at first glance it would appear that they've suffered a 24% drop in efficiency this year.  That sort of wild swing happens a lot when the sample size is this small, and in this case I wouldn't read too much into it.  Of the two failed ERZ trips versus the Panthers, one was the result of a turnover, and the second happened at the end of the game — when Wilson started taking knees to run out the clock, they just so happened to be inside Carolina's 35 yard line. 

Likewise, against the 49ers the Seahawks first scoreless ERZ trip happened when they got to their opponent's 28 yard line early in the second quarter, then were pushed back outside of it by San Francisco's defense and were forced to punt.  The second "failed" ERZ trip occurred at the end of the game when Wilson started taking knees at the 49ers' 9 yard line.  If you disregard those two kneeldown ERZ trips, the Seahawks' scoring percentage jumps up to 75%.  So yeah, there's no reason to panic just yet.

On the other side of the ball, there are no caveats or mitigating factors for the defense's stats, they just happen to be doing a kickass job so far of dismantling offenses.  They're limiting trips into the ERZ, and once there they're keeping offenses from scoring — what more can you ask for?


Penalties
 

Game Offense Penalized Defense Penalized Special Teams Penalized Penalties/Game
1 (ARI) 5 3 1 9
2 (DAL) 9 1 0 10
Total 14 4 1 9.5 (28th)


Unfortunately, penalties seem to be once again a major problem for the Seahawks.  Granted, they haven't prevented them from winning, but in a close game an ill-timed penalty is often the difference between driving down the field for the winning score and being forced to punt the game away.  And as with last year, the offense (more specifically, the offensive line) is the main culprit.  On the bright side, Giacomini isn't the penalty machine he was last year, and the Seahawks are ranked just 28th in the league in penalties instead of 32nd.  That's progress, right?  Maybe?

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