I'm not going to pretend that every statistic tells an entire picture. I won't sit here and tell you that just because Seattle was better in the second half of the season, that it means that they'll win twelve games next year. I am not going to make much of an argument for anything one way or the other, I'm just going to give you some numbers. How does that sound?
The Seahawks were a 7-9 team in 2011 and if "you are what your record says you are" then there's no reason to believe that Seattle was any better than their 7-9 record. Over the course of the year, for better or worse, that's what the Hawks were: a 7-9 football team.
Important personnel changes happened during the year that certainly had some effect on Seattle's final record. Aaron Curry was gone after five games and K.J. Wright had officially taken over his starting spot in the middle of the first half of 2011. Marcus Trufant similarly was gone after four games and replaced by Richard Sherman, a player that even as a 5th round rookie looked superior to the veteran.
Robert Gallery played in 12 games, Sidney Rice played in nine, Mike Williams played in 12, Paul McQuistan ended up starting 10 games at various positions. Russell Okung ended up starting 12 games and James Carpenter had 9 starts himself. All of these different movements, injuries, and ineffective play will positively or negatively effect how Seattle played during the year, and has to be taken into account when seeing that the team played poorly or well.
Still, I'm not going to wipe it from the record when I look at the massive improvements that Seattle showed in the second half of the year, improvements that conveniently began in their week 10 win over the Baltimore Ravens. I took just a little bit of time to break down some of the numbers from their 2-6 start and 5-3 finish and you'll see that the most significant improvement wasn't in terms of yards gained, yards allowed, or even Marshawn Lynch.
All of those things helped and one shouldn't doubt that the Hawks were carried by Lynch in several games, but the biggest difference is a familiar mantra and perhaps one that's still not emphasized enough: protecting the football.
Here are the numbers as I found them. If I made a mistake, blame my third grade teacher like I do.
|Category||1st Half||2nd Half|
|Points per Game||15.25||24.88|
|Points Allowed per Game||23.12||16.25|
|Yards per Game||296.12||311.5|
|Yards Allowed per Game||353||311.6|
|Pass Yards per Game||207.87||180.25|
|Rush Yards per Game||88.25||131.25|
|Passing Yards Allowed||1939||1579|
|Pass Yards Allowed per Game||242.37||197.38|
|Rushing Yards Allowed||885||914|
|Rush Yards Allowed per Game||110.63||114.25|
It's funny that Seattle was actually outgained by a single yard in the second half of the year, but ended up going from a point differential of -7.87 to +8.63. How could that be?
Well, the additional 43 yards per game of rushing certainly helps. When Lynch got on his hot streak, the Hawks were a much better team on offense, even though Seattle actually passed for fewer yards in the non-Charlie half of the season than they did in the Whitehurst half of the year, when Charlie totaled 69 yards against Cleveland.
Clearly, Seattle was also improved during the year when Richard Sherman became a full-time starter and the young secondary matured together during the year and became a force. Of course, one can't ignore the opponents:
First half quarterbacks: Alex Smith, Ben Roethlisberger, Kevin Kolb, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, Colt McCoy, Andy Dalton, Tony Romo. Second half quarterbacks: Joe Flacco, Sam Bradford twice, Rex Grossman, Vince Young, Caleb Hanie, John Skelton and Smith again.
The Hawks hardly ever faced a "murderers row" of QBs but certainly the best of that bunch is Roethlisberger, Ryan, Manning, and Romo. The next best being Flacco, Dalton, and Smith as "efficient" QBs. I am still a Bradford supporter, I think he's a good QB, but the Rams offense as a whole was an absolute joke and the Hawks faced them twice in the second half.
Seattle lucked into some pretty bad backup QBs on their second half schedule, even if Skelton was probably better than Kolb. Neither is someone that scares you.
How about the primary running backs faced?
I don't think that the Hawks were nearly as efficient against the run game as they should have been. Players like Kendall Hunter and Stephens-Howling put in good work against them in the second half. I think this is where the Jason Jones signing will be entirely more important that it might look at first and why Seattle is still on the market for two starting linebackers: They need to improve against the run game.
No matter the case of the "How," it's important to remember just how major it is to win the turnover battle. Seattle got lucky when their date with the Bears in Chicago became a date against Caleb Hanie and Josh McCown, which lead to five turnovers forced. Or when their date against Michael Vick turned into one against Vince Young, perhaps the most turnover-happy QB in the league last season and Seattle benefited from four of them.
The "How" of it all shows that Seattle got lucky when their dates stood them up and replaced them with The Bachelor rejects. But the +13 TO margin in the second half led to a 5-3 record and a significant amount of improvement in points allowed and points scored. When we talk about "Game Manager" QBs, we talk about guys that can take a team like the 2011 Seahawks and get them to the playoffs, because if Seattle had turned it over only seven times during the seasons first eight games they would have almost certainly come away with a winning record this year, if not been a team similar to the 49ers that nearly made the Super Bowl.
When people blast me for saying "This team could win with the good version of Tarvaris Jackson," I don't think that they understand that I'm not expecting Jackson to be a Pro Bowl QB. I'm expecting him to be something like the version of Alex Smith that was good enough to lead the 49ers to within a hair of the Super Bowl but couldn't sniff the market as a free agent despite that. Seattle was 3-6 when Jackson threw an interception and 4-2 when he didn't. He only threw a single interception over his last five games, so yeah... I think that as the season went on, he was getting closer to be that kind of QB.
That's why I think that there really is a QB competition, even though I still expect Matt Flynn to win it. Because even if Flynn looks like a gunslinger in camp and pre-season, the kind of guy that can throw for 350 yards while Jackson might only throw for 200, it won't matter if those 350 yards come with 3 interceptions. Not that I believe that Flynn will be that prone to turnovers (truthfully, I still have no idea after two starts) but I do believe that if Jackson proves to be efficient and Flynn doesn't, then Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell will take that into consideration.
The Lions won their last four games of 2010 and then had one of their best seasons ever last year. Of course, the Lions looked like they were loaded with talent going into the year, but the point is that end-of-season momentum does matter.
The Hawks will bring back much of the team that went 5-3 in the second half (and those three losses were by a total of eleven points) and they'll add Flynn, Jason Jones, and a few rookies to the mix. They just need to keep that momentum going, win the turnover battle every week, and it'll be a legitimate return to being a playoff team. Just hold onto that football.
Follow me on Twitter