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Narrative Check: Slow Starts

The truth -- and sometimes more -- is out there.

Example of one time a fast start would've helped
Example of one time a fast start would've helped

"Narrative Check" is the bland name bestowed on this offseason column, which takes commonly held beliefs about the Hawks and holds them up to a statistical microscope. The beliefs, not the Hawks. Those guys are huge! Have you ever tried holding one of them up?

I'll tackle topics like Jimmy Graham's output, late defensive breakdowns, schedule difficulty, if the Rams play better against the Hawks than other opponents, and Carroll's challenge flag... challenges.

Sometimes the narrative, or one of its strands, will survive examination. Mostly not, however. Because it sure seems like there are far more (sub)urban legends floatin' around about the Hawks than actual ironclad analysis.

Today? Slow starts.

The Narrative

The Seahawks are prone to starting slow on offense and digging themselves an early hole. This happens unintentionally, or possibly in part by design, as they feel out the opposing defensive game plan instead of attacking it right away. Much like a boxer might in the early rounds of a title bout.

The Parameters

I'll begin by confining my analysis to 2015 regular-season games, but add a P.S. that encompasses all RWE playoff games. Why not look at the last four seasons in entirety? Mostly because of personnel changes. There's no Zach Miller, Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, or even 100 percent Marshawn Lynch to be found in 2015. Little offensive line continuity exists. 2012 Doug Baldwin =/= 2015 Doug Baldwin. And what happened three seasons ago isn't likely to be as predictive going forward.

The Data

I assaulted the slow starts narrative by gathering:

  • Seattle's first-drive plays, yards gained, and points scored
  • Seattle's first-quarter scoring for and against
  • Seattle's overall drive stats for the entire season
  • The league's overall drive stats for the entire season
  • Opponent defensive strength, to check for correlation between slow starts and tough opponents
  • Then the same stats for all 10 playoff games under Carroll-Wilson.

To the charts! Stats are from our friends at Football Outsiders and our overlords at

Week 1st drive plays-yards-points Score after Q1 Opponent Opp. def. rank*
1 12-40-0 7-0 @ STL 13
2 3-(-5)-0 3-10 @ GB 12
3 3-6-0 3-0 vs CHI 20
4 8-26-0 0-0 vs DET 23
5 8-80-7 7-7 @ CIN 2
6 3-5-0 3-0 vs CAR 6
7 13-61-7 7-0 @ SF 18
8 12-72-3 3-3 @ DAL 16
At the bye 62-285-17 33-20 lots goodish
10 6-8-0 0-0 ARI 7
11 6-61-7 13-0 SF 18
12 6-25-0 0-3 PIT 11
13 4-19-0 7-0 @ MIN 5
14 11-80-7 7-0 @ BAL 24
15 14-69-7 7-7 CLE 29
16 3-(-3)-0 0-10 STL fuckers
17 12-88-7 10-0 @ ARI 7
Post-bye 62-347-28 44-20 lots above average
Raw totals 124-632-45 77-40 16 not easy
Average 7.75-39.5-2.8 4.8-2.5 N/A 14

(*ranked by scoring defense, the metric most pertinent to our narrative today)

It's that final line that ought to catch your attention. The one that shows our Hawks getting 2.8 points on average every first drive, and doubling their opponents' first-quarter scoring. Sounds like a good result that needs context. Then let's transport those digits into a better chart, to compare them with the league and the Hawks overall.

Plays Yards Points
Hawks on 1st drive, avg. 7.75 39.5 2.8
2015 Hawks avg. 6.25 34.2 2.3
2015 NFL avg. 5.85 31.6 1.9

No, you read that right.

The 2015 Seattle Seahawks run more plays, get more yards, and score more points on their first drive than they do in other game situations. And they destroy the league average in all three categories.

The Hawks also outscore the opponent on average 4.8-2.5. If they'd prevented points like that in all four quarters this season, they would've permitted just 160 all season. Just 160! As it is, they led the league by allowing only 277 points.

It's fair to say the Hawks do not start slow on offense, and they do not start slow on defense. They are better than usual early in the game. On both sides of the ball. The belief that Seattle's coaches use the first quarter merely to feel out the opposing defense is officially debunked by numbers.

Even if one is dishonest and removes the two games against the Niners, because those games were mismatches, the chart still goes a little like this:

Plays Yards Points
2015 Hawks minus SF games 7.5 36.4 2.2
2015 NFL avg. 5.85 31.6 1.9

And Seattle still enjoys a 57-40 scoring advantage through one quarter of play. Again, selectively removing legitimate data to bolster an argument is a douche move, but you can't even get away with it here.

The other thing that catches the eye is the list of defenses Seattle played. You can't even discount the Hawks' early accomplishments for reasons of opponent quality. Seven times, the Hawks faced an opposing defense in the top 12, as measured by scoring. Just three times, they faced a defense in the bottom 12.

Ten of their 16 games were against defenses in the top half of the league. Imagine what they'd have done with an easy schedule.

And yet.

And yet.

The promised playoff postscriptum throws a Gatorade bath of ice water on everything said to this point.

Under the direction of Carroll-Bevell-Wilson, the Seahawks have sucked at the start of playoff games. You don't need to be reminded of the early road debacles in D.C., Atlanta, Minneapolis or Charlotte. You saw those horror shows. Statistically, it's not pretty.

Playoff game 1st drive plays-yards-points Score after Q1 Opponent Opp. def. rank
2012 WC 3-(-2)-0 0-14 @ WAS 22
2012 Div. 3-(-1)-0 0-10 @ ATL 5
2013 Div. 6-20-3 6-0 vs NO 4
2013 NFCCG 1-(-5)-0 0-3 vs SF 3
XLVIII 9-51-3 8-0 vs DEN 22
2014 Div. 4-20-0 7-0 vs CAR 21
2014 NFCCG 3-3-0 0-13 vs GB 13
XLIX 3-8-0 0-0 vs NE 8
2015 WC 4-3-0 0-3 @ MIN 5
2015 Div. 2-(-3)-0 0-14 @ CAR 6
Raw Totals 38-94-6 21-57 hi darn good

Decidedly not what we saw earlier. Look at that 21-57 collective hole. Look at those 94 total -- total! -- yards. Look at those road goose eggs. Not a single first-quarter point earned in four road playoff games.

OK, context again, comparing to the rest of the league during that four-year span:

Plays Yards Points
Hawks on 1st playoff drive 3.8 9.4 0.6
2012-2015 NFL avg. 5.8 30.8 1.9

Seven times out of ten, the Hawks have failed to even get a first down on their opening playoff drive.

Particularly putrefying: the last two postseasons.

Plays Yards Points
Hawks on 1st playoff drive 3.2 6.2 0.0
2014-2015 NFL avg. 5.85 31.1 1.9

In their last two postseasons, the Seahawks' first drives have "produced" 16 total plays, 31 total yards, zero points. Last five first quarters saw the opponent rack up 30 points to Seattle's 7. Care to make it easy on us, AND YOURSELVES, sometime soon again, fellas? Try visiting the end zone, or maybe even kicking an early field goal or two. It's enough to make a guy ask if it's all right if we score some more points, coach.

So, the Verdicts

It's false to say that the most recent version of the team starts slow as a matter of habit. It is, however, fairly easy to see where the narrative is coming from: playoff performance.

There's a reason the Seahawks are 2-2 in their last four playoff games, with both wins coming after improbable plays went in their favor near the final whistle. They're not executing for all 60 minutes. The ability to seize control of a game early on -- typically a team strength in the regular season against tough competition -- suddenly vanishes in postseason play.

Whether that's due to small sample size or unfavorable conditions or travel or poor matchups or poor deployment of personnel or early uncharacteristic turnovers or even a confluence of events, the stats can't tell us.

So until the Hawks stop laying first-quarter eggs in do-or-die situations, the narrative is likely to survive. But it's not quite as widespread a problem as the recent high-profile failures would lead one to believe.