It's all about the ball, explosive plays, & outhitting your opponent: Checking all the boxes

Steve Dykes

The Seattle Seahawks, as an NFL team, do some very unique things. These things can be seen through various different lenses. Tactically, they prefer to run a 4-3 defense with 3-4 personnel and employ a lot of single-high safety Cover-3 looks on defense. On offense, they run a zone blocking scheme that utilizes the run to set up explosive play-action passing. Philosophically, there is a commitment to competition, a single-week, narrowed focus to game preparation, a commitment to the health and welfare of players and an energetic, passionate approach to every aspect of the game.

Pete Carroll, and consequently the entire Seahawks organization, has another lens he views his football team through: one of football principles. As a quick reminder, these principles are:

- Maximize the explosive play

- Out-hit the opponent on every play

- Get to (or protect) the football

While these principles are only illustrated by Carroll's staff in the context of defensive play, we can see how these principles extend to the offensive side of the ball and to the entire team.

We know that Carroll and John Schneider track how the team performs in these three areas. They track the amount of explosive plays they generate and give up. They track the turnovers they force and allow. If Ken Norton Jr.'s reaction to KJ Wright's play against the Minnesota Vikings is any guide, we can also be sure they track the physicality of the team.

They want to make sure this team checks all the boxes every week.

When they generate more explosive plays than they allow, then Pete can check the "Explosive" box. When they impose their will and physicality on their opponent, Pete can check the "Out-hit" box. When they win the turnover battle, get out your pen and place an "X" next to the "Turnovers" box.

This "Check the Box" approach can help us track the Seahawks as fans. How do they perform with only one box checked? With two? With all three? When they lose, which boxes are empty and which are not?

Oh, you say you want a handy table to help you check the boxes?

Week

Opponent

Result

Explosives

Out-Hitting

Turnovers

1

@ Carolina

W 12 - 7

Yes 9 - 3

No 2/5

Yes 1 - 2

2

vs. San Francisco

W 29 - 3

Yes 7 - 6

Yes 5/5

Yes 1 - 5

3

vs. Jacksonville

W 45 - 17

Yes 10 - 4

Yes 5/5

Yes 2 - 3

4

@ Houston

W 23 - 20

No 7 - 13

Tied 3/5

Yes 2 - 3

5

@ Indianapolis

L 28 - 34

Yes 11 - 6

No 2/5

Tied 2 - 2

6

vs. Tennessee

W 20 - 13

Yes 9 - 2

Yes 4/5

Tied 2 - 2

7

@ Arizona

W 34 - 22

Yes 9 - 3

Yes 4/5

Tied 2 - 2

8

@ Saint Louis

W 14 - 9

No 3 - 10

No 1/5

Yes 0 - 2

9

vs. Tampa Bay

W 27 - 24

Yes 14 - 7

Yes 4/5

No 3 - 0

10

@ Atlanta

W 33 - 10

Yes 12 - 3

Yes 5/5

Yes 0 - 1

11

vs. Minnesota

W 41 - 20

Yes 9 - 7

Yes 4/5

Yes 0 - 4

Checking 3/3 boxes: 4-0 (W-L), 148 points for, 50 points against, +98 scoring differential.

Checking 2/3 boxes: 4-0 (W-L), 93 points for, 66 points against, +27 scoring differential.

Checking 1/3 boxes: 2-1 (W-L), 65 points for, 63 points against, +2 scoring differential.

Defining a "Checked Box"

So how did I come to these results? For the Explosive Play box, I compared the number of explosive plays the Seahawks had in the game against the amount of plays they allowed their opponents to generate. For our purposes, an explosive play is a run of 12 yards or more and a pass of 16 yards or more. Carroll and his staff define explosive plays this way and so will I. Only twice this season have the Seahawks been less explosive than their opposition: Week 4 in Houston and Week 8 in Saint Louis.

The Turnover box is much simpler. If the Seahawks forced more turnover than they allowed, the box is checked. If they allowed more turnovers or drew even on turnovers, the box is left unchecked.

The Out-Hitting box was toughest to define empirically. What stats could give you a clear picture of the physicality of a team? If you had to use different types of stats, how would they be weighted? Unfortunately, I had neither the time nor the resources to define a "physical play" for both offense and defense and chart them through game film. So, I decided to use a subjective "Never/Sometimes/Always" rating system of one through five to show the Seahawks physicality. The question I asked myself was: "How often were the Seahawks out-hitting their opponent throughout the course of the game?" If the Seahawks physically dominated their opponent, they got either a four or five and the box was checked. If I gave them a rating of three or less for the game, the box was left empty.*

Are the Boxes Checked?

In looking at the results, the Seahawks have yet to leave a game with every box empty. If they haven't been more explosive and physical, they at least won the turnover battle. If they weren't more physical and didn't have the turnover edge, they were at least more explosive.

The Seahawks are 2-1 this season in "One Box" games but only have outscored their opponents by 2 total points. I find this remarkable; the Seahawks are talented enough to still win games (albeit barely) even when not playing their best football. In "Two Box" games, they are much better, going 3-0 and outscoring their opposition by 27 total points. Some of these wins haven't been completely convincing, but the Seahawks were able to show themselves as the better team by the end of these games. When putting up a "Three Box" game, Seattle has been truly dominant, going 4-0 and outscoring teams by almost 100 total points. In these games, things click for the entire team and the opponent is run out of the building.

These "Three Box" games show what can happen when the team lives up to each of Pete Carroll's three principles. From this limited sample of results, one box isn't necessarily more important than the other; the Seahawks can still win a game without being solely reliant on being explosive or physical or protective of the football. The only thing we don't know is whether or not they can win without checking any box. Hopefully, we don't have to find out.

*I'd love to get your thoughts on my Out-Hitting methodology. Am I totally off base? Is there a better way to measure team physicality? Do you agree with my game ratings? Should I explain myself? I decided it was better to put an imperfect system out there to start the discussion and get us to a better system, so I need your help, ladies and gents!

More:

Maximizing the 'Explosive Play' - Field Gulls

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