Many readers at Field Gulls already know about the Football Outsiders Almanac and probably many of you have already read it front to back. For those of you that don't know, for my money, you're not going to find a more complete and comprehensive NFL season preview than what the FO Almanac provides. They dig into their advanced statistics and projections systems for every team, talk about key pickups and losses, individual player performance and performance of different positional groups, and even delve into fantasy football outlooks for key skill position players. If you didn't have time to watch all 256 regular season games (plus the Playoffs) last year/this summer, I would wager reading the Football Outsiders Almanac is the next best way to get a finger on the pulse of the 2012 season and to have an idea of what to expect in 2013 from all 32 NFL teams.
The guys at FO were nice enough to make their authors available to SBN's team websites, so I opened up the forum to some of our writers to come up with some questions for Vince Verhei, the man behind the Seahawks' chapter this season. The following six questions were devised by Thomas Beekers, Jacob Stevens, Aaron Di Silvestro, and Kenneth Arthur. Big thanks goes to you guys for coming up with interesting angles, and of course a big 'thank you' to Mr. Verhei for expounding on some of our queries.
Questions below in italics, with Vince's answers to follow.
Q: The segment on the Seahawks really doesn't talk about injuries for the 2012 Seahawks, and how that affected the performance. Can you dig a bit into that and what we should expect for next season?
The Seahawks were one of the league's healthiest teams in 2012, ranking sixth in Adjusted Games Lost on both offense and defense. (AGL counts not only games that players actually missed, but also includes players listed on the injury report who played at less than 100 percent.) That's quite a change, especially on offense, where the Seahawks ranked 24th or worse each of the past four seasons. (They were dead last in 2008, Mike Holmgren's last season.)
Injuries tend to even out over time, and before the season has even begun, Seattle already has to worry about Percy Harvin's hip, Sidney Rice's knee, Chris Clemons' recovery from knee surgery, and Michael Bennett's shoulder. This is a brutal, violent game, and Seattle isn't likely to be as lucky with health as they were last season.
Q: You criticize the quality of the offensive line, particularly at guard. I would not necessarily disagree, but would you say the quality overall is a concern, considering how well it held up last season?
That is a fine, fine question, one that is hard to answer in a hundred words or so. The short version is this: Teamwork and cohesion are critical for offensive line play, far more so than anywhere else, probably even between quarterback and receiver. Individual physical athleticism counts, of course-if you weigh less than 250 pounds, you can't play offensive line in the NFL, no matter how well you communicate with your colleagues-but as a rule, a well-coordinated group of average linemen will outperform a group of studs who just met for the first time.
Last year's Seahawks are a good example-they had horrible individual numbers at several positions, but were fourth or better in most of our run-blocking metrics, and eighth in Open Field Yards (which measures long runs and has little to do with the offensive line anyway). Given that there were no departures, and the same crew is back and theoretically even more cohesive, no, I don't think this is a concern.
Q: You're clearly not high on Bruce Irvin becoming a net positive in the run game and that seems completely fair, but when you say that he did little else besides get eight sacks are you suggesting that his value against the pass is boom-bust/sack-or-nothing or do you see him providing positive value to the pass defense on snaps where he doesn't record an action?
To be honest, in hindsight, that sentence (which said Irvin "led all rookies with eight sacks and did very little else") should have been re-written. Irvin was 39th in hurries and tied for 12th in quarterback hits (plays where the QB went down, but got a pass away), and when you include his eight sacks, that's fine production for a part-time player. He was invisible on run plays (just six tackles all season), but it would be more accurate to say that he provided excellent pass rush and did very little else.
Q: The almanac did a great job looking at the Seahawks' individual moves along the defensive line and the challenges that will be facing the group due to suspensions and injuries next year. Given all of that do you think that the group will be better or worse in 2013?
I guess I expect them to get better, simply because they can't get much worse than they were by the end of the year. The dirty little secret of the 2012 Seahawks was how bad the run defense was in the second half of the season. From Week 10 on, we ranked them 26th in run defense, and then they got stampeded by Washington and Atlanta in the playoffs. If the Seahawks aren't better than that along the defensive line, than they'll have a hard time getting back to the postseason.
Q: The meter is so close between the 49ers and the Seahawks going into the year that the Michael Crabtree injury seems to have ever-so-slightly shifted the needle toward Seattle for now. For perspective, which player(s) for the Seahawks (besides Russell Wilson) would most closely match the Niners' loss of Crabtree for eight games or more?
Crabtree gained more than 30 percent of the 49ers' receiving yards last year. For comparison's sake, Sidney Rice, Seattle's leading wideout, only gained 23 percent of his team's yards. In other words, Crabtree is a huge, huge loss (although the notion that he was a bigger part of the San Francisco offense after Colin Kaepernick took over at quarterback is inaccurate).
Russell Okung, Max Unger, and Richard Sherman are all good answers here, but I'm going with Earl Thomas. His ability to play centerfield and cover to sideline-to-sideline has an impact that doesn't always show up in statistics or film study. And Seattle's depth at safety is scary - two undrafted players and a sixth-rounder, with zero NFL starts between them.
Q: Seattle's defense was much worse on 3rd downs in 2011 than in 2012. In 2012, with largely the same personnel, they improved overall, and were best on 3rd downs. The win projection outlook for Seattle is rosy, but how does defensive performance project compared to 2012?
We're projecting Seattle to be the ninth best defense this year. That's a decline from the second-ranked unit of 2012, mainly because we're expecting more injuries this year-and as we've already discussed, some of those injuries (or suspensions) have already struck.
Again, big thanks to Vince for getting us some answers on the Seahawks chapter. There should be Q&A sessions for different teams around the SBN network today, so make sure you peruse the different sites for those. Also, and I'm not being a corporate stooge when I tell you that I'd highly recommend heading over to Football Outsiders and getting yourself a copy of the FOA 2013 - it's only $12.50 in PDF format and you'll be a smarter fan for it.
If you missed this last year, the creator and founder of Football Outsiders, Aaron Schatz, joined Kenneth and Jacson to talk about their proprietary statistics, the 2012 season, the then-upcoming NFL playoffs, and the Seahawks' historically significant rating and their insane run in the 2nd half of the year. It's a great, great resource for learning about the history of FO and how they do their metrics, so I'd recommend giving it a watch.