Fixing the Pass Rush, Part Three: Winning

We must establish the run. We must control the clock. We must force turnovers. We must pressure with our front four. We must disrupt the quarterback's timing.

Seattle didn't always use its best personnel. It worried too much about rush defense and sacrificed vital pass rush for stouter men in the middle. Seattle schemed its secondary ..weirdly. It dropped zones that seemed committed to playing the ball even at the expense of allowing receptions. Seattle's pass rush evaporated against better opponents. It was overpowered, players quit, players didn't show up; The Seahawks could pile on weaker opponents, but disappeared against contenders. The defense was walked over.

Coaches preach the former. Fans complain about the latter. And yet, are coaches preaching, are fans bemoaning, the cause of winning or the effect?

The final and most important part of fixing the Seahawks pass rush is building an offense that can put the Seahawks defense in position to attack. Seattle played far too much on the defensive, played a staggering amount of their minutes with less than 25% chance of winning. Maybe the missing rush wasn't the cause but the symptom. I endeavored to find out, or at least explore the idea, and so strapped on the headphones and began tabulating every Seahawk sack and the game situation it happened in.

  • Seattle had six sacks in situations where it had a 1-25% chance of winning.
  • It had 10 sacks in situations where it had a 26-50% chance of winning.
  • It had three sacks in situations where it had a 51-75% chance of winning.
  • And nine in situations where it had a 76-100% of winning.

To determine the significance of that, I approximated the minutes it spent in each game state.

  • 151 minutes between 76-100%
  • 211 51-75%
  • 209 26-50%
  • And a discouraging 337 minutes between 1-25%.

Counting off ANS win probability charts is not exacting, and 52 minutes were "contested" between zones, but it's evident that Seattle was able to pass rush better during blowouts than when blown out.

It averaged one sack for every 16:46 minutes of game clock when its win probability was above 76% and one sack for every 56:10 minutes of game clock when its win probability was below 25%. Sacks vanished as teams had less incentive to attempt risky passes and appeared again when opponents traded sacks for any chance of victory.

Nearly half of Seattle's season took place during non-competitive snaps. It could pile on opponents it achieved an early lead on, but much more often, it could fall so far behind early that the pass rush was neutralized through irrelevance. Against the Texans, Seattle spent 59 minutes of game clock with less than 25% chance of winning. The pass rush was shut out.

The Seahawks offense is not barren, but its lacking vital pieces and because of that, its among the worst performing offenses in the NFL. The ultimate and perhaps most important step towards repairing the pass rush is repairing the offense. When Seattle can generate pressure on the scoreboard, its talented, young and underestimated corps of pass rushers -Darryl Tapp, Aaron Curry, Brandon Mebane, Lawrence Jackson, Leroy Hill, David Hawthorne and Josh Wilson- will seemingly grow before our eyes. That split second cushion excised from opposing quarterbacks, and where empty rush was, sacks will be.

Seahawks Sacks Ordered by Win Probability

1-25

Hawthorne: 1

Kerney: 10

Kerney: 11

Jackson: 15

Terrill: 19

Jackson: 22

26-50

Kerney: 30

Tapp: 30

Kerney: 33

Redding: 39

Hawthorne: 42

Kerney: 43

Babs and Bane: 46

Tapp and Jackson: 47

Tapp: 47

Curry: 49

51-75

Hawthorne: 61

Redding: 68

Kerney: 73

76-100

Tatupu: 76

Hill: 81

Tapp: 88

Curry: 93

Wilson: 97

Jackson: 98

Jackson: 98

Reed: 99

Mebane: 99

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