Perception is a funny thing. It can mess with you and make you believe in your heart of hearts that something which is not true, is so entirely true. The first problem possibly being that you have multiple hearts and that those hearts have their own beating lifeforce within them.
I perceived that Howard the Duck was a good movie when I was five.
I perceived that Pauly Shore was funny when I was twelve.
I perceived that I could get drafted into the military when I was sixteen when they make you register.
But as we get older, we realize that these thoughts were quite silly and that you're always dumber than you were yesterday.
Through five games of the 2011 season, I perceived that the Seahawks had markedly improved from anything that they did last year. Despite the fact that we were 3-2 after five games in 2010, and 2-3 this season, it still seems pretty obvious to me that we are better.
Russell Okung missed the first three games of last season, and was limited when he returned. Marshawn Lynch had only made his Seahawks debut in game five against Chicago. We didn't have James Carpenter, John Moffitt, Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, Zach Miller or KJ Wright last season. Earl Thomas was just a rookie and Kam Chancellor didn't start a single game.
This year the players were starting to gel, becoming more experienced, getting better, and they have been healthier. We've got a new offensive coordinator, who couldn't possibly be worse than Jeremy Bates, and Pete Carroll and his staff are now in year two of a rebuilding process that is surely going to take the Seahawks back to the Super Bowl.
I believe in the coach, the philosophy, and John Schneider. I like the moves we've made and I like the fact that we've managed to stay relatively healthy. Last season sucked, and we were one of the worst teams in the league. The offense was terrible, it was hard to watch, and the division opened a door for us that should not have been open. This season I've been full of hope, and while I didn't think we'd make the playoffs, I at least have been under the impression that we are better. Both on paper and statistically.
Well, you can definitely make the argument that we are better on paper and that the roster has improved, but five games into the season how much different are they statistically than the first five games of 2010?
Here are the numbers:
The first question that I would ask myself is "How do the levels of competition compare?" because it wouldn't be fair to compare results without comparing who the results came against. If you play five terrible teams one season and five great teams the next, then of course the results are going to be lobsided.
The five opponents these results came from in 2010 are: San Francisco, Denver, @ San Diego, @ St Louis, @ Chicago.
Last season the Niners lost their first five games and the Seahawks blew them out 31-6, though the 49ers actually outgained them 263-242 and both teams had 14 first downs.
The Seahawks lost to the Broncos, a team that ended up 4-12, 31-14 and were outgained 369-339.
Seattle then beat San Diego 27-20 and again were outgained on yardage by a whopping 518-271, but Leon Washington won the game with two kickoff returns for touchdowns. The Chargers ended up 9-7, but finished first in the NFL in total offense and total defense.
Then the Seahawks lost to St Louis 20-3 and were outgained 349-257. The Rams finished 26th in total offense and 19th in total defense.
Finally, the team went to Chicago after a bye week and won 23-20 and for the first time all year outgained an opponents yardage total: 353-307. The Bears were amongst the worst in the NFL in offense, but were 9th in total defense and 4th in scoring defense and finished 11-5.
You could say that last year the competition was stiff against San Diego and Chicago, and yet ironically we won both of those games. The Seahawks special teams and run defense really carried the load on the way to a 3-2 record.
Eventually injuries along the offensive and defensive line crippled the team on both sides of the ball and the mirage of a 4-2 start was exposed by a 3-7 finish. We all knew that the Seahawks were bad, despite the fact that Seattle won the division and was headed to the playoffs. We weren't fools and outsiders that made fun of us for making the playoffs at 7-9 didn't seem to realize that we were in on the joke.
The biggest single roster difference between 2010 and 2011 would of course be any change at the quarterback position. Matt Hasselbecks final year in Seattle versus Tarvaris Jacksons first. Though in the grand scheme of things, comparing the two to a Seattleite would be like comparing Jimi Hendrix's guitar to Tiny Tim's ukulele. But in this stage of their careers, how much of a difference were we really expecting between an aging Hasselbeck in the twilight of his career, and a younger, albeit less-talented, Jackson?
Not a huge difference as it turns out.
Last year Hasselbeck completed 61.4% of his throws for 1056 yards, 5 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 6.36 yards per attempt, and a 74.8 passer rating through five games.
This season Tarvaris is completing 63.1% of his throws for 1,012 yards, 6 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 6.4 yards per attempt, and a passer rating of 81.
Again, the perception should turn out to be true that the Seahawks are at least as good as 2010 if they haven't lost (and even gained a little bit) at the quarterback position, while our offensive line is healthier, are wide receiver corps are significantly more talented, and our defensive line is healthy.
How is it possible that of all the areas we have improved at, it's passing defense that's been better?
Is it that teams are passing on us fewer times because they find it easier to run on the defense? This year teams have attempted 171 pass attempts against the Hawks, compared to 213 pass attempts against in 2010. Keep in mind that total passing defense includes a subtraction of yardage lost from sack totals. In 2010 the Seahawks had 17 sacks for 112 yards lost. If you ignored sacks, then the passing defense allowed 313.2 yards per game last year.
This season, the Seahawks are amongst the worst in the league at getting to the quarterback and have 8 sacks for 59 yards lost. So just their raw passing defense numbers would be 280 yards per game.
They are allowing less yards in the air, but on far fewer attempts. The team is allowing 7.8 yards per pass attempt, good for 25th in the NFL, and 8.2 yards per pass attempt when not including sacks.
The funniest number of all from this year is our rushing defense, the unit of our team that I have the most confidence in. Last season when the Seahawks defensive line was healthy, they weren't afraid of any opposing backs. Seattle shut down Frank Gore, Knowshon Moreno, Mike Tolbert, Steven Jackson, and Matt Forte. They held Forte to a season-low 11 yards on 8 carries.
Injuries to Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane helped create a total collapse of the unit, however.
But those players are back and we've added Alan Branch, who has played very well. There hasn't been a significant injury on that side of the trench, so why are we allowing more yards per game? That's the really interesting part about this season.
The Seahawks still rank amongst the leaders in the NFL in rushing yards allowed, but not quite as dominating as it looked through five games last season. Are they playing worse? Not really. The Seahawks are seeing the fourth most carries per game against in the league, but lead the NFL in yards per carry allowed at 3.1.
Gore rushed 22 times for 59 yards. Rashard Mendenhall ran 19 times for 66. Alfonso Smith ran 17 times for 54. Michael Turner had 26 for 70. Ahmad Bradshaw carried it 17 times and only got 58 yards.
The Seahawks run defense is just as good, if not better, than it was through five games last season. For whatever reason, teams like to test us, and even more puzzling is that Arizona gave the ball to Alfonso Smith 17 times when they were without Beanie Wells.
I would have understood if it was Alfonso Ribeiro
When you look at the defense as a whole, and don't do any digging, it would appear that our pass defense has improved while our run defense has taken a step back. Look deeper and you'll see that its the opposite. Look again and you'll see that the pass defense was actually pretty solid statistically until Eli Manning threw for 395 yards against the Hawks.
Before New York, the Seahawks hadn't allowed a team to go over 300 yards of total passing offense. Of course, some of those yards against the Giants (specifically 68 of them to Victor Cruz) were purely a product of luck. Not that we can't account for times when the Seahawks should have given up yards on passes that were dropped by opposing wide receivers.
Somewhere it all evens out.
Then there's the whole aspect of special teams.
Last season the Seahawks won a game against the Chargers because of two return touchdowns. This season the Seahawks were on the opposite end, losing a game in great part because of two return touchdowns from Ted Ginn, Jr.
The Hawks made the playoffs last year in great part because of their special teams units. Coaches always talk about the importance of special teams, and our first thought is always "Yeah whatever man. You and I know both you're just doing coach speak right now because you have to. Just shut the hell up man. I'm hungry." Those are your thoughts too, right?
But I guess it might really be important.
The NFL moved kickoffs up this year and everybody complained about how that would make the game less exciting because we'd have too many touchbacks, but the Hawks like to give the people what they want. They have nine touchbacks in five games and allowing an average of 32.3 yards per return, third worst in the NFL.
On kick returns, the Seahawks have run 16 kicks back for an average of 21.7 yards per return. Basically, the team is losing the field position battle this year. For an offense as weak as this one has been, those are the little things that will keep Seattle in a playoff race.
Now I feel like I'm writing a paper for school, but what does it all mean?
I felt that the team had improved but when I looked at the numbers through five games I came away disappointed. It didn't make a lot of sense to me that we weren't better than we were last year because we were healthier, signed key free agents, and in year two under Pete Carroll.
Of course, Robert Gallery hasn't played, and I'm pretty sure Zach Miller hasn't played either. Sidney Rice missed the first two games of the year, and Aaron Curry was disappointing for the third and final time. Carpenter and Moffitt are understandably still getting used to the NFL, and had a short training camp. There are reasons to see why it's still too early to judge Carroll and Schneider this season for the roster moves they made this year.
The team has scored fewer and given up more points, but then consider how special teams played a part. If you subtract two touchdowns this season because of Ted Ginn and add two from Leon Washington (as if this were an alternate universe where our special teams numbers hadn't changed from year to year) then the team is scoring 21.6 ppg and allowing 21.6. Offensively and defensively, the year to year change isn't much different.
Still, you can't help but be a little disappointed in lack of improvement, even if the team is mostly the same. You have to weigh results versus cost in order to obtain value and I'd argue that this team is still less valuable than it was to start last season.
Will Marshawn Lynch ever fully get it? Will Robert Gallery play the last 11 games? Will the rookies and sophomores on the offensive line get better and remain healthy? Will Rice stay healthy? Who will step up in the secondary in the absence of Marcus Trufant?
It's scary to entertain the notion that our worst passing defense of the season came without Trufant, and now we know we will be without him for the last eleven.
The team has to answer all of these questions and also identify who they are this season. What was once a terrible division last year now appears to have a real team in the form of the 49ers. San Francisco is now 7th in the NFL in scoring offense, 2nd in the NFL in scoring defense, 3rd in the NFL in turnover differential, and they're absolutely dominating in the run game on both offense and defense. The Niners are a Tony Romo comeback from being 6-0 and are already 3-0 on the road.
The gap between San Francisco and the rest of the NFC West appears to be huge, and I would argue that the gap between Seattle and Arizona/St. Louis is also significant. Are the Seahawks going to be able to make a playoff run as a 10-6 wild card team?
As the season continues to shake out and we know our opponents better, we have to find eight beatable teams. Cleveland, Cincinnati, St Louis twice, Washington, Arizona make six. That means Philly at home and San Francisco at home would need to bridge the gap, or Chicago on the road as we did last year. But that doesn't change the fact that we wouldn't need to just get lucky, we'd have to be better.
So far, we haven't been. We've been just the same.
And honestly, I still think In the Army Now and Jury Duty are good movies.
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