The Seahawks are not ending the 2013 season as decisively as we'd all hoped they would. December has been especially rough on them; after going 10-1 through the first part of the season, the Hawks have posted a 2-2 record in the final month with one game to go. Of course, we can't go in for too much handwringing here — after all, this is still a team that's tied for the best record in the NFL at 12-3, and they're still just one win away from securing both the divison crown and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. Still, the margin for error is now down to zero; if they slump their way to yet another loss tomorrow, not only will they likely be handing the NFC West to the 49ers on a silver platter, they will also probably be tumbling all the way from the number one seed all the way down to a lowly wild card berth. They'll still be in the playoffs even if they lose to the Rams, but it'd be damned hard not to see that as a crushingly disappointing end to an otherwise spectacular regular season.
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If you want to know what went wrong in last week's loss to the Cardinals, look no further than the Seahawks' offense. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, a team's passer rating differential is a remarkably consistent indicator of team success, and, well, take a look:
|Game||Opponent||Result||Offensive Passer Rating||Defensive Passer Rating||Passer Rating Differential|
As you can see, the defense did its job, holding Carson Palmer and his receivers to a sub-50 passer rating, but Wilson et al performed almost as poorly as their opponents did. In the interest of giving credit where it's due, Arizona did a phenomenal job throughout the game of blanketing Seattle's receiving options and still had enough defenders left over to put a spy on him for most of the game so they could nail him the second he stepped outside the pocket.
That said, the Cardinals were able to commit so many defenders to stopping the pass because the Seahawks' run game wasn't much of a threat throughout the game. As much as I love watching Marshawn Lynch run, it's hard to ignore how pedestrian he's been over the last several weeks. Lynch's rushing average over the last five games is a barely adequate 3.32 yds/att, over a yard per carry less than the 4.56 yds/att he averaged through the first ten games of the year. That's bad news for a Seattle offense that relies heavily on its run game. No running threat means no play-action pass, and that's the backbone of the Hawks' passing attack.
If there's any good news here, it's that the problem is a correctable one. After rewatching some game film, the problem doesn't appear to be entirely Lynch's fauilt, nor would I blame it entirely on the blocking of the offensive line. Both need to greatly improve their performance tomorrow, but there also just seems to be a disconnect between how the line is blocking and how Lynch is reading the play. Bottom line, I don't think the problem is so insurmountable that it couldn't be cured by a few solid practices and some group study in the film room.
Provided the run game can be reinvigorated, this is still an offense that is capable of scoring at will against any defense in the league, and I don't make that assertion lightly. Take a look at how completely they're dominating the NFL in passer rating differential:
|Rank||Team||Offensive Passer Rating||Defensive Passer Rating||Passer Rating Differential|
That 39.12 mark isn't just good, it's historically good. The 2013 Seahawks' passer rating differential would be in the top ten since 1978 (known in some circles as the Live Ball Era), and would rank in the top 20 since 1960. Late season stumbles aside, this is still a team capable of taking home a Lombardi.
On another note, be sure to take a look at the Rams' stat line in the above table. Despite a brilliant season up front by DE Robert Quinn (18 sacks, 31 QB Hits, 7 Forced Fumbles), his performance has largely been wasted by weak play on the back end of the defense — that 94.35 ranks as the 10th worst passer rating allowed in the NFL. When the two teams played in week 9, that flaw in their scheme allowed Wilson to make things happen when the team needed it most; thanks to Quinn and fellow DE Chris Long, Wilson was only completed 10 passes for a net total of 91 yards, but two of those completions resulted in touchdowns and not a single one of his 18 passing attempts was intercepted.
Still, some better protection from the o-line would go a long way toward securing a victory to close out the regular season.
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The Pro Bowl votes have been tallied, and no less than six Seahawks will be making the trip to Hawaii this year: QB Russell Wilson, RB Marshawn Lynch, C Max Unger, CB Richard Sherman, FS Earl Thomas, and SS Kam Chancellor. Three additional Hawks were named as Pro Bowl alternates: K Steven Hauschka, WR Golden Tate (as a punt returner), and LT Russell Okung. Congratulations, guys!
I still put far more stock in the All-Pro list than I do in the Pro Bowl lineup (mainly because it's less of a popularity contest), but it's still nice to see Seahawks players getting some attention for their on-field efforts. Holmgren was right, individual accolades are a direct result of success as a team.
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Speaking of historically great statistical performances, you owe it to yourself to bask for a few minutes in the glory that is the 2013 Seahawks' toxic differential:
|Game||Opponent||Result||Turnover Differential||Explosive Play Differential*||Toxic Differential|
(* – As always, I count explosive plays using Brian Billick's definition, i.e. passing plays of 16+ yards and running plays of 12+ yards.)
I've talked a lot about the significance of toxic differential in many other articles, so I won't belabor the point by doing it again here. Mainly, I just want to point out how inhumanly awesome that +61 mark is. Let me put it this way, most NFL head coaches would sell their eye teeth, their left nut, and their firstborn son all at once just to have their team finish a season with a toxic differential just half that good. +61 is the sort of stat line you'd expect after finishing a season of Madden's franchise mode on easy, and by "easy" I mean setting the opponent difficulty to "comatose, quadriplegic five year old."
That number rocks so goddamn hard it hurts. I'm also pretty sure these last few lines mean that my daily intake of holiday booze has finally kicked in, so I'll just end this piece here. Go Seahawks!