Seahawks’ Time of Possession Troubles and the 13 Play Drive Effect

This wasn't the play, but the 49ers capped off a backbreaking 15 play, 9:01 drive in the fourth quarter to make it 19-10, and put the 33-17 loss ultimately out of reach. Seattle's highest time of possession mark of the year resulted in a loss.

After the Steelers held the ball for nearly 39 minutes in Week 2, Seattle's time of possession per game (ToP) is a statistic I have followed closely. The 2-3 Seahawks are currently 31st in the league, holding the ball an average of 25:23 per game. There are obviously more factors than just ToP in deciding a game, but the fact that Seattle is 0-5 in the ToP battle was puzzling to me. Given the extra time afforded by the bye week, I decided to take a closer look.

Seattle is 5th in the league in third down conversion percentage allowed. Seattle's two best ToP efforts occurred when they held the opponent to a very low third down conversion rate. Both New York and San Francisco were 1/12 on third down, Seattle went 1-1 in those games. Arizona went 3/14 on third down, a Seattle win and their third best ToP performance. By contrast, Seattle let Atlanta and Pittsburgh go a combined 17/31 on third down, 0-2 in those games. Seattle's defensive performance on third down appears to make a difference. Makes sense. 

Seattle is 2-0 in games they have won the turnover margin and 0-3 in games where they have tied or lost. Their second and third best ToP efforts came in their two wins (Arizona, at New York), suggesting positive turnover margin certainly helps win the game, and maybe has a positive effect on ToP.

Special teams has been a factor at times. In Week 1 the 49ers had two return touchdowns late, resulting in Seattle's best ToP effort of the year.  Seattle's longest kick and punt returns of the year came in Week 4 when the Falcons held the ball for over 40 minutes, Seattle's worst ToP effort.

One major factor is the effect of the no huddle offense. The first success with the no huddle was during the 14 play touchdown drive in Week 3, with more use in the second half of Week 4 and then the majority of Week 5. Combine the up-tempo of the no huddle and the fact that Seattle has played from behind a lot this season, you get a recipe for not possessing the ball.

Some examples: Seattle's longest drive in the three touchdown second half versus Atlanta was 3:39. Apart from their 5:54, 13 play drive that led to a Michael Robinson fumble, Seattle didn't have a drive over three minutes in Week 5 against the Giants. Even though Seattle jumped out to an early 14-7 lead and had their best rushing performance of the year, they ultimately lost the battle by about two and a half minutes.

Through analyzing these numbers, my goal was to find a logical reason for why the Seahawks are having trouble possessing the football.

I think inconsistent third down efficiency on defense and the no huddle offense are two major factors, the loss to Atlanta being a prime example. The Seahawks allowed Atlanta to convert more than 50% of the time on third down. Though Seattle converted 55% on third down, they had the ball for less than 20 minutes.

Another factor is the inconsistent running game; they are ranked last in attempts per game and 24th in yards per carry. If they become more consistent in the running game, the ToP discrepancy should even out. And given Pete Carroll's desire to control the clock and create balance with a strong rushing attack--not to mention the desire to protect the football--more time with the ball is theoretically a change that will come soon. 

Is the Seahawks' lack of possession concerning? Yes. Does not winning the ToP battle on a game to game basis mean they will lose? No, but we already knew that based on Seattle's 2-3 record. Would I like to see them win the ToP battle and win the game? Hell yes. Unfortunately, still no definitive answers as to how ToP and win/loss are related.

However, I did find two trends that, to this point, reflect wins and losses. And they have nothing to do with time of possession.  

A little background information. The Seahawks have run more offensive plays than their opponent in two games (San Francisco, New York) owning a 1-1 record; Seattle had 12 and 9 more plays, respectively. They are 1-2 in games when they have run less plays than their opponent. Arizona was only a five play difference, but Atlanta and Pittsburgh were a 20-plus play difference...Yuck. 

1. The Seahawks are 2-0 this season when they don't allow opponents to have two or more scoring drives of nine-plus plays. The Cardinals and Giants both had touchdown drives of eight plays or less and kicked a field goal after a 10 play drive. In Seattle's three losses; San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Atlanta each had two or more scoring drives of nine-plus plays, and another touchdown drive of six plays or less.

2A. The Seahawks are 0-3 when an opponent has a scoring drive of 13 plays or more. Atlanta, Pittsburgh and San Francisco all kicked field goals after methodical, 13-plus play drives--two of the drives were in the fourth quarter and ultimately put the game out of reach. When opposing offenses chip away at the defense, move the sticks and simply convert for points, it's thus far impossible for Seattle to win.

2B. The final stat complements the second; the Seahawks are 2-0 if they have a 13-plus play drive and their opponent does not--Seattle did not have a 13 play drive in any of their losses.  When the offense finds a rhythm and the defense prevents the long drive, they've won games. 

Cleveland has registered a 13-plus play scoring drive in each of their last three games, though they are 1-2 in those games. A quirky statistic yes, but so far the 13 play drive has mattered on a weekly basis for Seattle. Will the two-sided relationship with the historically volatile number continue against Cleveland?

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