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What we know, what we don't know and what we'll find out

This is the last big post before the Hawks take on the Pack in the divisional round. It will be periodically updated throughout the day.

What We Know

Update 1: It took some finger work, and I had to track back through ESPN's play by play a game at a time, and some games lacked play by play, but I can now say, unfortunately, that I see no evidence that Ryan Grant has fumble problems. I found only 2 fumbles through the 2003-2004 seasons. Dang.

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Update 3: We're about 21 hours from kickoff, and given that short window, can be pretty sure about tomorrow's weather. A site called "Weather Underground" (a name which I find hilarious) says that it will be between 24 and 31 in Green Bay, w/ a 30% chance of snow. The Pro Football Reference blog recently posted a chart that compared how much advantage home playoff teams have in the divisional round, and found a correlation between the extent of a home team's advantage, and the difference in it and its opponents average January temperature. Warm weather teams traveling to cold weather venues face the worst disadvantage in the divisional round. It's nice to know, then, that Lambeau should be within 15 degrees of Seattle's average January temperature. PFR estimates home teams facing opponents from climates within 15 degrees of their own average temp only benefit from 2.7 points of home field advantage. A mere Josh Brown field goal from the lead.

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I have met the enemy and he's bucktoothed and gregarious. This (early) morning I worked with a talkative, rather incompetent, fellow with pronounced buckteeth and the kind of looks that make you feel bad for him before you forget and look again. Ugh. At some point while I was doing both our jobs and he was talking, he mentioned that he's a Packers fan. Green Bay, your emissaries leave something to be desired. Like that they shut up. He mentioned that he was looking forward to Green Bay "Kicking Seattle's ass." As if it was a foregone conclusion.

The Hawks are definite underdogs, and should this game get ugly, it will likely get ugly in favor of the Pack. An early lead can be salted away by a steady dose of big-boom rusher Ryan Grant. For the season the matchup is rather close, but the Packers are healthy, playing at home and rested. To put the odds into perspective, Green Bay's weighted DVOA is 17.5%, the Hawks 14.2. That's close, but then comes the home field advantage. Home field is estimated as adding 15% to a team's DVOA. Yep. That turns a close matchup into a one-sided affair. Seattle has been particularly strong at home, or weak on the road, depending how you look at it. So the advantage is only magnified. Smithers might say "people like dogs, sir", but, no, very few people will be rooting for Seattle. That's rooting against Brett Favre, and truth, and babies, after all. So the Hawks will have to content themselves with facts and theories, rather than rah-rahs. Here's my best explanation as to why Seattle still has a shot.

  1. The Packers offense has benefited from an obscene number of long passes. Favre's 16 passes of 40 or more yards is twice what he produced last season and 7 more than Peyton Manning. Last season Drew Brees had an out of the blue spike of long receptions, 18, that fell back to 8 this season. The long reception is perhaps the least predictable quality of an offense. It often involves a lot of luck, too. The Hawks, for their part, are particularly good at defending the long pass. If Green Bay's deep passing attack doesn't show up on Sunday, their overall offense will be significantly worse.

    Update 2: As a follow-up to what I said about long receptions and their effect on an offense, I decided to take the top 20 quarterbacks of 2004, and the top 20 quarterbacks of 2005 and see how their DVOA change corresponded with their percentage of passes that went 40+ yards. I wrote down all quarterbacks who had 200+ attempts both seasons, and whose DVOA improved 10 or more % or declined 10 or more %. I know that’s not a properly large sample, but I’m crazy busy. The idea was to take all the quarterbacks from 2004 to 2007 that had their DVOA drop or rise 10 or more %, but duty calls and this is all had time for. I would like to pursue this further on some rainy day, and I advise people to take this with a small grain of salt, but I think the theory is valid. Anyhow. That produced a sample of 14 quarterbacks. Of the quarterbacks who improved 10 or more DVOA %, their ratio of passes of 40 or more yards to all attempts went from 1 in every 72.33 to 1 in every 65.2. This is the more suspect group, because it includes Kurt Warner, who’s ratio of pass attempts to completions of 40+ yards increased, but whose DVOA improved. The answer to why that happened is pretty obvious: Sacks. In 2005, Warner was sacked once every 16 pass attempts. In 2004, Warner was sacked once every 7 pass attempts. Wow. The more remarkable group, the group that declined 10 or more % in DVOA (A veritable who’s who of top quarterbacks: Manning, Brady, Brees, Favre, Bulger and Culpepper -when he was good) saw their attempts per 40+ yard completion rise from 1 in every 43.29 attempts to 1 in every 83.65 attempts. The point, long receptions have a ton to do with the production of a passing offense, but are not consistent year to year, or, I’d guess, even game to game.

    . . .

  2. Seattle bests the Packers in net drive success by yards 4.74 to 3.76.
  3. The Hawks special teams is better than DVOA represents it as. Aaron Schatz notes that: "Seattle's punt and field goal numbers both dived during the period when Boone Stutz was the long-snapper." If Plackemeier is again at his best, it will take a significant bite out of what looks like a punt (-11.6), punt return (12.6) mismatch.
  4. The Hawks are healthier than the Packers.

What We Don't Know

Will Carroll describes Matt Hasselbeck as "polypained". Noting that he has a thigh injury, a strained oblique and bruised ribs. Beck is notorious for letting little aches and pains affect his play, as last week's poor showing against the Redskins attests. Matt Hasselbeck must be near 100% for Seattle to take advantage of its best mismatch against the Pack, its 3 and 4 wide receiver sets.

Speaking of those sets, we may finally get to see how good the Hawks passing offense could have/can be. The closest comparison to the kind of talent Seattle puts on the field when they go 4 wide is the New England Patriots. The Hawks have no Randy Moss, but, otherwise, are similarly capable of forcing a mismatch on every pass. It's not impossible, if Beck can keep his head, and the pass pro is there, that Seattle's passing offense may explode, have an outing unlike any its shown all season.

Will Mike Holmgren use Morris and Weaver or ride his ghost into the sun? Riding into the sun is a poetic metaphor for a cowboy, but the way it would in fact burn the rider and horse alive is a better metaphor for Seattle's running game. It's not a reach to say if Shaun Alexander had been IRed pre-season, and Seattle been forced to rely on Morris and Weaver to carry the load, that the Hawks might be the team hosting this contest after enjoying a healing bye. That's long past relevant, but what still matters, like it has never mattered before, is if Holmgren, Stump Mitchell and the Hawks whole offensive coaching staff are willing to understand that Alexander's time has passed, and that Morris, Weaver and Alexander run as a committee gives Seattle its best chance to win. It would be cheap for me to say, if Morris gets 15+ carries I guarantee a Hawks' victory, because we all know that if Morris is getting that many carries, the Hawks must be up multiple scores. But I will say, that without any ambiguity, if Holmgren allows Alexander to get the majority of touches, including passes, like he did against the Redskins, he will be actively hurting his team's chances of winning.

What We'll Find Out

Though being this pragmatic at a time when all should be about emotion, all should be about victory, is tantamount to sin, it must be said: The Hawks have virtually no chance, should they make it that far, of beating the New England Patriots. What then, can we take from Seattle's effort, this week, next week, in the Super Bowl, win, lose or draw? A sense of who this team will be next season. Seattle was worse on 3rd down offensively than they were on 1st or 2nd downs, that's a good indication that a team has a very good shot of improving, perhaps markedly as Seattle did from 2004 to 2005, the next season. The Hawks have great young talent in the D, talent in the offensive line and only a handful of players who can be expected to decline next season. It's 2008, and how Seattle plays for the rest of the playoffs shall gives us a tentative definition on how good this team can be next season. It will provide us an idea of Burleson's growth, the potential of the 4 WR offense. If Seattle should spend a high pick on a tight end, or stick with the 3 and 4 WR sets they've rode into the playoffs. How has Darryl Tapp progressed, I expect him to show up big on Sunday. Like every other major player on the roster, Seattle needs him to. Can Kelly Jennings begin to develop the ball skills that would turn him from a good, but not feared cover corner, into among the best #2 CBs in football. Can Kerney play through aches and pains? As he gets older, he'll have to.