When we last left off, the Seahawks put an embarrassing beatdown on the Rams in the Edward Jones Dome, which has since been renamed the Osmosis Jones Dome on account of how disappointing the Rams were. Seattle has gotten off to a perfect 8-0 start behind the league's number one defense and number one rushing attack, and rumor has it that Percy Harvin will make his Seahawks debut.
All I know is that it's now November and I can't believe I shed this fat so quickly, obtained a six pack, and am dating Justine Batemen. (Justine Bateman? What is this, 1984?)
The Seaahwks head back to home sweet home to face a team with perhaps the biggest disparity between their 2012 performance and 2013 expectations: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Bucs finished 7-9 last year, but more importantly, the Bucs finished 7-9 after there was a moment when it looked like they had a good shot at a wild card when they were 6-4. Tampa was a team that scared me at the time, but they had a brutal schedule ahead of them in the final six games: Falcons, at Broncos, Eagles, at Saints, Rams, at Falcons.
They lost five in a row before beating Atlanta in the finale. When you look at that schedule you can understand why they faltered at the end of the year, but if you look at their six wins up to that point, you can see why they were still pretty flawed: Panthers, Chiefs, Vikings, Raiders, Chargers, Panthers.
The Bucs went 7-9 because they were a below average team (Football Outsiders had them 20th in DVOA) that's most difficult part of the schedule came in the home stretch. Josh Freeman's completion percentage plummeted, the special teams unit was really bad, the defense was below average. The team's leading sack-getter, Michael Bennett, plays for the good guys now. Ronde Barber finally retired and opened Ronde's Barber Shop (What? How many good jokes do you want from me per article? You get one. That's it!)
Tampa Bay was one of the worst pass defenses in the league, so they said "We're not gonna do, what everyone thinks we're gonna do, which is FLIP OUT!" and then proceeded to flip out. They traded their first round pick to the Jets in order to acquire cornerback Darrelle Revis (and then gave him $96 million), spent their second round pick on cornerback Johnthan Banks, and signed All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson to pair with 2012 first round safety Mark Barron.
On March 13, 2013, Goldson signed a five year, $41.25 million dollar contract, including $22 million guaranteed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He joins newly arrived cornerback Darrelle Revis and 43rd overall draft pick Johnthan Banks to form one of the best coverage units in the National Football League.
Tampa Bay hasn't played a game as of this writing (though I have the ability to predict the future, I'll let this one play out on it's own) and so it's a little early to proclaim that the Bucs now have one of the best coverage units in the NFL after they allowed the most passing yards in football last year. They were 23rd in points allowed, 29th in total defense, 32nd in passing yards allowed, 28th in passing touchdowns allowed, and 31st in net yards per pass attempt allowed.
Nobody had a more productive offseason in the secondary than Tampa, but as people keep telling Seattle fans, you ain't done shit yet. I mean, you don't see me out here predicting a perfect season or anything, do you?
What we've not yet discussed though is what the Bucs do well, and they stop the run very well. Tampa was 1st in rushing yards allowed, 1st in yards per carry allowed, and 3rd in run defense DVOA. Rookie Doug Martin ran for 1,454 yards with 11 touchdowns, plus 49 catches and 472 yards. Vincent Jackson had 1,384 yards, not-the-big Mike Williams had 996 yards, and Tampa was/is one of the youngest teams in the league.
The Bucs are a test and probably the second-toughest home game that Seattle faces. But no, they will not ruin my perfect seasonne. Here are some reasons why:
In Football Outsiders 2013 preview almanac, they point out that the 2012 Tampa Bay Buccaneers had one of the best run defenses that they have charted.... ever. According to FO, their Adjusted Line Yards of 2.96 is the fourth-best since 1995. How is it possible that a team with one of the best run defenses of the last 20 years could not only exist on a team that went 7-9, but on a team that went 7-9 with Doug Martin, and Josh Freeman, and Vincent Jackson?
The answer is more than twofold, but I'm going to make it twofold for the purposes of making a point:
- Because their pass defense was atrocious
- Pass defense is more important than run defense
It's sort of like working out only your biceps and completely ignoring your core, am I right fellas? Am I? Yes, I am, because I read it in a book once while eating a ham and cheese sandwich with donut bread outside of a gym once. The bi's are nice, but mostly a showoff muscle. The core is where it's at.
The Bucs had a weak core.
Without a pass rush and with a weak secondary made weaker by the suspension and subsequent trade of Aqib Talib and injury to Eric Wright, the Bucs finished 26th in pass defense DVOA and all those other bad pass defense numbers I mentioned before. And while a significant number of Super Bowl champions have had below-average run defenses (not that they won the Super Bowl, but look at the Seahawks one weakness last year: run defense) not very many have gotten away with giving up a lot of passing yards.
And while FO notes that most teams with this kind of pass/run defense disparity improve in pass defense the following year (because they almost have to) that didn't improve their overall quality by much.
One does not simply walk onto Revis Island. But it's also worth noting that as much as we want to believe that following the year that Adrian Peterson just had, that coming back from a torn ACL is "super easy now, dudes," that's quite the assumption to make.
Revis played in just two games last year and though he will have had time to shake rust off by Week 9, it also allows nine weeks for him to re-aggravate the injury. That's not what I am hoping for, the NFL is better with as many elite players as possible, it's certainly not something I would ignore as a Bucs fan. I would also not ignore that somebody has to play opposite of Revis.
The team said goodbye to Wright, Talib, and E.J. Biggers, and welcomed in Banks through the draft. They are likely now going to start the rookie, though that depends on his health too; Banks recently suffered a hamstring injury. Relying heavily on rookies is not even something that the Seahawks do too much of, with players like Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor not getting significant time until the second half of their rookie seasons and really not blossoming until their second seasons.
And finally, how often have we seen it go awry when secondary players are brought over from different teams in free agency and don't perform up to the levels that were expected of them after highly-successful careers elsewhere, whether it's because they're put out of position or they were only successful because of coaches or players around them on their old teams? (Several times.)
We are talking about one of the worst pass defenses from 2012 trying to be one of the best pass defenses in 2013, but that relies a lot on two players brought over from other teams, a second-year safety, and a rookie corner that's missing practice right now with an injury.
It also means that the team will have to rely on injury cases like Da'Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn, plus rookies William Gholston and Steven Means, for sacks. If the Bucs want sacks in 2013, they're either going to have to stay healthy and play better or they're going to need to sign Kenny G.
2. Peter Piper Picked Josh Freeman (and so will Richard Sherman)
One could look at Freeman's second season and think "25 touchdowns and 6 interceptions? For it is the rest of the seasons that are afoul!" but it would be a lot easier to note that he has averaged 19 interceptions per season in his other three seasons... one of which was only a ten game season.
Over the last two years, Freeman hath tossed 39 interceptions against 43 touchdowns. And while he might be nimble, I'd be hard pressed to call him "quick" with just 139 rushing yards last year and no touchdowns. Freeman is a pocket passer and he isn't the most accurate of pocket passers.
On the bright side for Bucs fans (Well, there's a lot to like about Josh Freeman. There's plenty of bright side to him.) he is only 25. Freeman entered the league at a young age, so you have a QB that has 56 career starts but is only 21 months older than Andrew Luck.
And so it comes to pass that Freeman must succeed against one of the best pass defenses in the league. That he must complete passes against Sherman, Brandon Browner, Walter Thurmond III, Antoine Winfield, amid a pass rush of Chris Clemons, Bruce Irvin, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril -- excuse me for a second...
*door close behind me*
*walks back up to the podium*
It's gonna be difficult. Is Doug Martin going to do more than enough to help the Bucs score points against this defense?
3. A "mystical, magical, fairy tale land of wondrous creatures and secret treasures" aka Special Teams
Whether it's a secret garden, an entire world behind your wardrobe, or even just an Indian in your cupboard, there's a shitload of hidden value in special teams. Or in the case of the Bucs, the hidden negative value that makes a team with Doug Martin and a historically-amazing run defense go 7-9.
According to Football Outsiders, the Bucs finished 28th overall in special teams last year. This included the 30th-ranked punting unit and a bottom-ten kick return unit, but at least Connor Barth is a pretty decent kicker, going 28-of-33 on field goals with six of 'em over 50 yards. With Barth, at least the field goal kicking and kickoffs will be pretty damn good.
Unfortunately, Barth's Achilles took a sixth month trip to Narnia and he won't be eating any Turkish Delights with the team this year. The one good thing about Tampa special teams won't be there. The Bucs currently have a competition going between Lawrence Tynes and Derek Dimke -- neither of whom possess real last names.
"What do they say?!"
There can't possibly be a saying about that, could there? Really, guys?
Tampa was also the benefit of 28.5 "Hidden Points" on special teams, per FO, the most in the NFL. Basically, the difference of nearly four touchdowns based on outcomes that were really a product of things outside of their control, like facing shitty punters, etc.
I probably keep repeating myself in this manner, but the Seahawks finished third in special teams last year.
Special teams results are more volatile than offense and defense, and they do not account for an equal share of the pie, but when you're facing a team with a good offense and a good defense, you're looking for any advantage you can get. And special teams can be a major shift in momentum in that respect.
'Playing on the road in Seattle'
^Not so cute^
The Seahawks weren't a very good team in 2010, but when they traveled to Tampa Bay that year they got their asses handed to them. Freeman had 237 yards, 5 touchdowns, 0 picks. LeGarrette Blount ran for 164 yards. Kellen Winslow Jr had 98 yards and two touchdowns. John Carlson's 27 yards led all Seattle receivers.
Traveling is hard. Traveling to the opposite side of the USA is even harder. Doing it after your Thursday night game (as the Bucs are doing) seems to really throw teams off, even if Seattle will be coming off of a Monday night game.
I think you've gotta begin every Seattle home game by spotting the opponent four or five points. It's that big of an advantage. The Seahawks are looking to eventually break the record for home-winning streak, and since we're gonna have a perfect seasonne, obviously that continues here.
5. Bucs, Da'Quanna have fun. Oh Bucs, Da'Quanna have fun.
The only issue is that they'll have a lot more fun if they can keep Russell on the run. That's going to require a huge change from how ineffective the pass rush was last season.
I mentioned it earlier in section one, but Da'Quan Bowers played in just ten games and recorded just three sacks. Adrian Clayborn played in just three games and recorded zero sacks. The most sacks from a returning defensive end are the four sacks of Daniel Te'o-Nesheim.
That's seven total sacks from defensive ends returning from 2012.
DT Gerald McCoy had five, linebackers Lavonte David and Mason Foster had two each, Ronde Barber and E.J. Biggers had one apiece. In total, they had 27 sacks, which is only a few more than J.J. Watt. A full third of their sacks came from Bennett.
They drafted William Gholston in the fourth and Steven Means in the fifth, but that's not going very far to improve a defense that's 76 sacks in the last three years is 32nd in the NFL. It's not a secret that pass rush is vitally important to any defense, with the likes of huge seasons recently from players like Watt, Aldon Smith, Clay Matthews, and Jason Pierre-Paul leading to playoff appearances and Super Bowls.
Who on this team is going to record 10 sacks? You Da'Quan? You Adrian? You Lt. Weinberg?
We play in a game that has walls and those walls are protected by men with trunks like Russell Okung and Max Unger. When Tampa is doing it's best to get at Wilson, let's be honest:
The Buc stops there.
And that's why the Hawks just improved to 9-0.