FanPost

Maximizing the 'Explosive Play'

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

If I could only pick one thing I enjoy most about Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, it would have to be simplicity of his football principles. Granted, I love his energy and passion as well as how he schemes defensively. However, one aspect is more of who Carroll is as a person and the other who he is as a tactician. Both have merit, but I really love how the way he wants to play football is so simple. It applies not only to his defense, but to his offense.

Davis Hsu has an excellent primer on Carroll's defensive principles from his time at USC. In short, they are:

1) Eliminate the big play

2) Out-hit the opponent on all plays

3) Get the ball

Eliminating the big play is listed as priority number one and for good reason. Carroll and his staff define an explosive play as follows: a run play which gains 12 or more yards or a pass play which gains 16 or more yards. From the presentation quoted by Davis:

"Give up either an explosive run or pass play in any given drive and the opposition will score over 75% of the time for the period studied. Conversely, if the defense limits the opposition to 3 big plays in the game or less, the offense will only generate 8.6 points per game on average."

For the defense, this means limiting the big play. For the offense, this means generating big plays. For the team as a whole, it means maximizing the big play and using it as a critical tool. So, how are the 2013 Seahawks doing in this regard?

Generating the Big Play on Offense

Week

Opponent


Ex. Run

Ex. Pass

Total

1

at CAR

2

7

9

2

vs. SF

4

3

7

3

vs. JAX

1

9

10

4

at HOU

5

2

7

5

at IND

6

5

11

6

vs. TEN

5

4

9

7

at ARZ

2

7

9

8

at STL

1

2

3

9

vs. TB

7

7

14

Season Totals

33

46

79

Avg. per game

3.67

5.11

8.78

The above chart illustrates the number of explosive plays the Seahawks have made on offense this season. To my knowledge, there isn't much of a repository for 12+ yard runs and 16+ yard passes, while 20+ yard plays give us an incomplete picture. So, I went through the play-by-play of each Seahawks game this season and charted the explosive plays.

So far, the ‘Hawks are good for almost 9 explosive plays per game, or about 4 explosive runs and 5 explosive passes.

How does that translate into points? One way to look at this is to see the results of each drive during which an explosive play occurred. I call these drives explosive drives (for lack of a better term). Below is a chart of the number of explosive drives this season, the points generated from each explosive drive and the average points scored per explosive drive. I prefer the points per drive number mostly because a team could happen to limit their explosive plays to single drive, with only 7 points from 5 explosive plays. With points per drive, we can see if they are maximizing the opportunities they generate for themselves.

Week

Opponent


Ex. Drives

Drive Points

Pts/Ex. Drv

1

at CAR

6

12

2

2

vs. SF

5

17

3.4

3

vs. JAX

8

45

5.63

4

at HOU

4

7

1.75

5

at IND

8

23

2.88

6

vs. TEN

6

20

3.33

7

at ARZ

4

20

5

8

at STL

3

14

4.67

9

vs. TB

6

24

4

Season Totals

50

182

3.64

Avg. per game

5.56

For a little perspective, the Seahawks have 106 total offensive drives and have scored 232 total points on the season. 47% of their drives this season have had at least one explosive play, while points from explosive drives consist 78.4% of their total points. Take a minute to think about that: over three-quarters of the Seahawks points this season have come from just under half of their total opportunities.

That's the power of the explosive play.

The presentation quoted above stated that teams score 75% of the time they generate an explosive play on offense*. Are the Seahawks meeting that number? In short, not yet:

Result

Number

Touchdown

21

Field Goal

12

Turnover

9

Punt

7

End of Half

1

Total

50

Score Rate

66%

With a score rate of 66%, the Seahawks aren't quite at the 75% rate. Personally, I find their turnover number a little high, with 18% of explosive drives ending with a turnover. I define a turnover as a fumble, interception, a turnover on downs or blocked field goal/punt. If the Seahawks could have scored on only 5 of those turnover or punt drives, they would be at that 75% number.

Limiting the Big Play on Defense

We know that preventing the big play on defense is priority #1 for this team. The Seahawks love to "slog it out" and force teams into the low-probability situations that come with long, extended drives. Here are the explosive play numbers for the defense:

Week

Opponent


Ex. Run Alwd

Ex. Pass Alwd

Total

1

at CAR

2

1

3

2

vs. SF

4

2

6

3

vs. JAX

0

4

4

4

at HOU

4

9

13

5

at IND

2

4

6

6

vs. TEN

0

2

2

7

at ARZ

0

3

3

8

at STL

6

4

10

9

vs. TB

4

3

7

Season Totals

22

32

54

Avg. per game

2.44

3.56

6.00

The Seahawks have given up 25 fewer explosive plays than they've generated, which is almost a +3 explosive play per game differential. They are definitely limiting the big play. Are they keeping teams from making their explosive plays count?

Week

Opponent


Ex. Drives Alwd

Drive Pts Alwd

Pts/Ex. Drive

1

at CAR

2

7

3.5

2

vs. SF

3

3

1

3

vs. JAX

3

10

3.33

4

at HOU

7

17

2.43

5

at IND

6

28

4.67

6

vs. TEN

2

3

1.5

7

at ARZ

2

7

3.5

8

at STL

6

6

1

9

vs. TB

5

24

4.8

Season Totals

36

105

2.92

Avg. per game

4.00

Absolutely. The Seahawks are yielding 14 fewer explosive drives than they're generating and 77 fewer points from explosive drives than they are scoring from their own explosive drives. Opponents on average this season can barely muster a field goal against the Seahawks when they generate an explosive drive.

Part of the explosive drive equation is how much teams are scoring on their drives. The other part is how often they score with explosive drives. Remember, the historic league average is 75%.

Result

Number

Touchdown

11

Field Goal

9

Turnover

8

Punt

7

End of Half

1

Season Total

36

Score Rate

56%

Opponents have only been finishing explosive drives with scores a little more than half the time. These numbers are pretty remarkable and paint a pretty nice picture.

Firstly, the Seahawks don't give up too many explosive plays at six per game. Secondly, when they do give up the big play on a drive, opponents are only able to score a little more than half the time. Thirdly, when opponents do get an explosive play on a drive, they are barely able to average a field goal per explosive drive. The Seahawks defense is limiting both the occurrences of their opponent's big plays as well as the value of those big plays. Even when teams can get chunks of yards, they can't make them count.

The numbers show that this season, the Seahawks are taking Pete Carroll's big play mantra to heart. On offense, they not only generate big plays, they make them count by finishing drives with high-value scores (read: touchdowns). On defense, Seattle limits big plays and doesn't let opponents take advantage when they get them. The Seattle Seahawks are maximizing the explosive play and making the explosive play an important part of their success on offense and defense.

*This rate is from the league average over a length of time not given. I'm guessing (shot in the dark) it's over a three-season time period.

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