We certainly felt like a better team in 2011 than we did in 2010, didn't we? Despite playoffs and Beastquake, we knew in our hearts that the 2010 Seattle Seahawks weren't a very good football team, which is understandable in the first year of a GM and head coach that are trying to rebuild the foundation to their liking.
In 2010, the Hawks were 7-9 and they looked pretty crappy. We felt crappy about them. They couldn't score, they couldn't keep opponents from scoring, they lost seven of their last ten games. In weeks eight and nine against the Raiders and Giants, Seattle was outscored 74-10.
In 2011, the Hawks were again 7-9, but they didn't look as crappy and we didn't feel as crappy about them. On the surface, some people might say that all that matters is W/L and if you don't improve, you didn't improve. That if Pete Carroll goes 7-9 or 8-8 this season, his job could be on the line for not improving through three seasons. Except that those of that have watched the last two seasons in total know that the Hawks have improved a lot from year one to year two, we just couldn't show it in win-loss record.
But I can show it to you in Pythagoreon W/L record!
For those unfamiliar with Pyhtagorean W/L, it was first produced by Bill James, the baseball sabermetric great that's responsible for many stat movements of the last twenty years. Pro-Football-Reference uses a similar metric and explains it in more detail on their blog. In baseball terms:
To be more precise, he found that one can predict future win/loss records more accurately using only past runs scored and runs allowed than using only past wins and losses. To put it another way, if a team had a record of 82-80, but their runs scored and allowed totals were more in line with those of a 76-86 team, then that team should be treated as a 76-86 team for the purposes of predicting next year's record.
A similar formula was created for football:
PF^2.37 Expected record =~ ----------------- PF^2.37 + PA^2.37
While one could argue for any number of reasons against the exact formula or the precise value of Pythagorean Theorem's application to football (strength of schedule not taken into account, running up a score), one should at least see some of it's value. The Hawks were blown out in a few games of 2010 and they looked crappy. They didn't look nearly as crappy in 2011 and they really improved on defense. Exactly how big of a difference was 2010 to 2011 according to this theorem?
2010 Expected W/L: 5.5-10.5
2011 Expected W/L: 8.2-7.8
Nearly three wins is a pretty remarkable improvement and one that would not be ignored if the Seahawks had actually gone from 5-11 to 8-8, rather than going from 7-9 to 7-9.
The Hawks only scored 11 more points in 2011 (321 compared to 310) but they gave up 407 points in 2010 compared to 315 points last season. So despite losing their final two games, Seattle still outscored opponents by a slight margin and a major difference in the reason why was going from 27th in Takeaway/Giveaway Differential in 2010 to 5th in that category last season.
But even more telling would be to look at the schedule and see who the Hawks beat and lost to, year over year:
2010 Wins Over:
6-10 San Francisco
9-7 San Diego
5-11 Arizona (2x)
7-9 St. Louis
2010 Losses To:
6-10 San Francisco
7-9 St. Louis
10-6 New York Giants
11-5 New Orleans
10-6 Kansas City
10-6 Tampa Bay
(Then of course I could go into the Pythag Expected W/L of all of those teams, but I fear my head will explode.)
As Seattle struggled to win games after their 4-2 start, it is interesting that five of their final six losses came against teams with double-digit victories, the lone exception being a 40-21 road loss to San Francisco. However, they didn't just lose to those teams, they got blown out. If it wasn't for the fact that they beat Arizona 36-18 and Carolina 31-14, their Pythag would be even worse.
Let's compare that to 2011.
2011 Wins Over:
9-7 New York Giants
12-4 Baltimore Ravens
2-14 St. Louis Rams (2x)
8-8 Chicago Bears
2011 Losses To:
13-3 San Francisco (2x)
Those wins would be a lot more impressive if Seattle had beaten the Eagles with Michael Vick and the Bears with Jay Cutler. The losses to the Browns and Redskins were embarrassing and should not have happened. But wins over the champion Giants and the Ravens (a team that New York nearly met in the Super Bowl) are still impressive, especially considering that the Giants win came in the morning on the road. If there was a single game I had to mark as a "Loss" pre-season, it would have probably been that one.
We know that Seattle's defense got better when the secondary started to look elite. We know that the running game improved as the year went on and Marshawn Lynch began to look like the best bruising running back in the NFL. The Hawks got near-identical production at quarterback (yes they did, if not better) in 2011, but were improved as a football team, even if the passing game was still stagnant at times.
I also know that I'm happier that we have Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin as opposed to 2010, when after Mike Williams the leading receivers were Ben Obomanu, Deon Butler, and Brandon Stokley. Just the fact that we can have Rice, Baldwin, Williams, Obo, and Butler all at the same time is fantastic, pushing the lesser-quality talent to the back-end. (Not to mention Ricardo Lockette, Golden Tate's healthy hand, and the rest.)
The Seahawks offensive numbers didn't improve by much but I like to think that part of that was that Seattle played some tough defenses. They put up 17 points in both games against the 49ers, maybe the top defense in the NFL. They put up 0 points against the Steelers, ranked as the number one defense in the NFL. They put up 22 on the Ravens, again, maybe the top defense in the NFL. They put up three on the Browns without their QB, TE, WR, and RB. The Bengals, Cowboys, Redskins, and Cardinals were all good on defense, especially when Arizona was rollin' by week 17.
Seattle was not a team you felt proud of in 2010. They got blown out a lot. But they were a team you could start to get behind and start to feel the energy of last season and it wasn't just because of their schedule, but how close they came to winning some games. Blowouts? There were a couple. But the Hawks lost to the Falcons by two, the Redskins by six (which still hurts), the 49ers by two, and the Cardinals by three in OT.
I wasn't embarrassed last season, were you?
The record may be the same, but the feeling around this team last season was different. There were a few games where it seemed like Seattle was outmatched, but they also surprised some teams and nearly came out with a 9-7 or 10-6 record when they started to get hot in the second half of the year. The actual record didn't show that, but the margins of victory or loss show how far the team actually did come in 2011.
The 2012 schedule won't be a gimme, but I expect improvement again next season. And I expect to see it on the actual W's and L's, not just on a Theorem.