Football Outsiders describes their 2011 Almanac as "The essential guide to the 2011 season, the book that correctly predicted 9 of 12 playoff teams last year, fully updated with post-lockout free agency and trades." I simply describe it as a must-read for any NFL fan.
If you want to educate yourself on your team, your division, your schedule, your conference, or just sound smarter when talking about the NFL at a dinner party, I'd suggest going to Football Outsiders and ordering yourself a copy (PDF or hardcopy). The Almanac draws from FO's proven metrics and methods - DVOA, DYAR, the FO Game Charting Project, trends and splits, 5-year performance, strategic tendencies, and more.
Vince Verhei of Football Outsiders answered some questions we had on the Seahawks chapter of the Almanac.
DK: When talking about the Seahawks in the Football Outsiders Almanac, a lot went into the youth and inexperience of the offensive line and offense in general. From the Almanac:
Ah yes, the offensive line. Partly due to bad luck, partly by design, the Seahawks have put together a line in which no two starters have ever played a meaningful snap together. The Seahawks brought in three starters on the line, and they'll be joining two very inexperienced players.
Left tackle Russell Okung has played only one season in Seattle, while center Max Unger has played only two. Due to various injuries, though, they've never actually played together. Between them they've started only 27 games for the Seahawks. Seattle will be just the eleventh team since 1999 (not counting expansion teams) to field an offensive line with fewer than five combined seasons of tenure with that team.
Could you expand a little on the defensive line? Specifically, - Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Alan Branch. Also key backups Junior Siavii, Jimmy Wilkerson (questions were asked before Siavii was released and WIlkerson went on IR), Raheem Brock, etc. What kind of production would you expect from the Hawks defensive line in terms of stopping the run and getting pressure on the quarterback?
VV: In Jim Mora's last season as head coach, the heaviest starter on the defensive line was the 309-pound Brandon Mebane. This year, the Seahawks have four defensive linemen that big or heavier, and at least three of them (Alan Branch, Red Bryant, and Mebane) figure to see plenty of action. Last year, the Seahawks' run defense was awesome when all the linemen were healthy, but fell apart when Bryant and/or Colin Cole dropped out of the lineup. This year, with the added depth from Branch, Wilkerson, and Siavii, they should fare better if injuries take their toll again.
Pass rush is a different issue, and when you bring in that much beef on the defensive line, you're basically sacrificing the acceleration that it takes to get to the quarterback. Don't expect Raheem Brock to get nine sacks again - that was his career-high, and two of them came on literally the final two snaps of the regular season, when the Rams had already given up. The Seahawks will still need a steady dose of blitzes and stunts to get opposing quarterbacks on the ground.
DK: We would love to hear a bit more on the secondary -- Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas were talked about briefly in the Almanac, but what of Walter Thurmond, Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, and Josh Pinkard (again, asked prior to his release)? Should Seahawks fans expect to be in the bottom part of the NFL in pass yards given up again in 2011?
VV: We don't have much to say about Sherman, Browner, or Pinkard. We are not scouting experts, scouring minor leagues and college games, we're students of what happens on NFL fields. What we can do is compare these players to their predecessors, and there just aren't many fifth-round rookie corners, undrafted free agent safeties, and CFL refugees making impact plays in the NFL. It's possible the Seahawks have found the next Cameron Wake or Ryan Clark, but not likely.
Walter Thurmond was a pleasant surprise as a rookie in 2010. His Success Rate of 53 percent when he was the targeted defender on pass plays was about average for a starting corner, and was much better than either starter in Seattle, either Marcus Trufant (43 percent, 77 among ranked corners) or Kelly Jennings (48 percent, 61 ). The list of cornerbacks who played well as subs before failing as starters is long, but for now Thurmond's future looks bright.
DK: In the Football Outsiders Almanac, a lot of detail went into the drafts (and failings) of Tim Ruskell's front office. Thoughts and opinions on the new regime's roster rebuild, first from a macro point of view? -- Their two drafts, their moves free agency, and their complete overhaul (nearly 300 roster transactions)?
VV: Pete Carroll and Tod Lieweke clearly had no specific plan in 2010 - when you make hundreds of roster moves, you're not following a blueprint, you're throwing crap against a wall and seeing what sticks. The Seahawks deserve credit not for any brilliant personnel moves, but just for doing the gruntwork of collecting a lot of crap.
Under John Schneider, there seems to a long-term plan in mind, and that plan is, literally, go big or go home. Especially on defense, the emphasis is on size. In Jim Mora's last game, the Seahawks' starting defense averaged 235 pounds a man. Seventeen regular season games later, the projected starting defense goes 252 apiece. The difference is smaller on offense, but the average starter is still 2 inches taller and five pounds heavier than he was before Carroll arrived.
DK: From a micro point of view, which move(s) do you guys like the most? Which stands to have the biggest impact? -- Both in draft pick(s), and free agent pickup(s)?
VV: The best move of the John Schneider regime so far is one he didn't make - trading for a quarterback like Kevin Kolb or Carson Palmer would have been disastrous. The offensive line needed to be rebuilt before a franchise quarterback was asked to play behind it, and the Seahawks couldn't afford to get in a bidding war with anyone. Better to let Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst fight it out this year. If either of them succeeds, great. If not, oh well, at least you'll have the pieces in place that whichever quarterback you acquire in 2012 will have a fighting chance.
On that note, it's hard to say that anyone other than Russell Okung has been the best draft pick of the Carroll era so far. According to the Football Outsiders Game Charting Project, Okung had eight blown blocks leading to sacks in ten games in his rookie year. That prorates to about 13 sacks over a full season. That's not a good year for an NFL left tackle, but it's acceptable, and a hell of a lot better than whatever the Seahawks would have done without Okung. And remember, he was a rookie - he should improve his second season.
As for free agency, the best signings have been along the defensive line. Re-signing Mebane was critical; his statistics suggest a young Barry Cofield or Albert Haynesworth, and while he probably doesn't have Haynesworth's superstar potential, he does have the benefit of sanity. More likely he'll be the next Cofield, better than three-quarters of the starters at his position and a building block for the next half-decade. Adding depth in quality veterans like Wilkerson and Branch was icing on the cake.
Big thanks again to Football Outsiders for taking the time to answer some of our questions, much appreciated. Make sure you check out the Almanac and naturally the great articles at Football Outsiders.