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We Were Wrong: Identity crisis

The 2016 Hawks look new and feel new. Sometimes newer isn't necessarily better.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks
In other seasons, this pick stands, probably
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

At midseason, we were wrong about some stuff regarding the 2016 Seattle Seahawks.

Six big things, to be incompletely exact.

There was the pass rush, which was perceived to be as ferocious as before, but instead laid eggs down the stretch;

There was the ruthless, ballhawkish Legion of Boom, which instead turned out more ballwormish down the stretch;

There was the explosive play differential, which was projected to follow patterns set in 2012-2015, but instead blew up in our own faces down the stretch;

There was the ground game, which was thought to be at least varied, if not outright deep, after multiple draft picks, but now, for various reasons, the team is instead trying out running backs down the stretch;

There was special teams play, which was consistent or even great for years, before instead setting a new course for Planet Hoonozewutnao down the stretch;

Finally, there was in-season improvement, which had been a Seahawks attribute one could set one’s clocks by — the December Hawks being superior to their September ancestors was a given, but instead, the opposite happened down the stretch.

If we’ve been walking away from another underwhelming win, or another nut-punching loss, thinking the 2016 Seattle Seahawks are a little off, we’ve been right. But only because we were so wrong going in.

More so than elite quarterback play, superior coaching, jaw-dropping receiver highlights, cheap talent, astute drafting, and other qualities, the Seattle Seahawks’ visit to greatness this decade had been defined by the six pillars above.

If one crumbled, the others held true. Now we know what happens when all six go to waste.

Pass rush: More like past rush amirite

This is the category where 2016 looked like business as usual, right up until the halfway point.

First four games: 12 sacks

Next four games: 15 sacks

At this point, the Hawks lead the league in QB abuse. Cliff Avril, Mike Bennett and Frank Clark are all in the top 12. All three of them!

Next four games: 4 sacks, welp

Final four games: 6 sacks and counting, do please keep counting

There are extenuating circumstances. Bennett had knee surgery. Avril had hold surgery on nearly every play (but that's always been true). Teams dumped the ball off quickly or coaches went into max protect. Yes, I mean you, Ron Rivera. Clark and Cassius Marsh did not step up after Week 9 and pick up the slack.

Circumstances or not, the results disappeared. And you know what looks better when the pass rush gets home? The coverage. You know what happens when pressure is steamy? Turnovers happen. Let’s talk about those.

Ballhawking: A quaint notion

The 2016 Seahawks are -1 on the season for turnover margin.

It seems hardly possible, on the edge of conceivability, typo-esque. They are 19th in the league in turnover margin, alongside the sub-.500 Cardinals and Panthers.

This, uh, wasn't always the case, you'll recall.

2012: +13, ranked 5th

2013: +20, ranked 1st

2014: +10, ranked 4th

2015: +7, ranked 5th

2016: hmmmmmmm

Many have theorized that with turnovers down league-wide and opponents taking fewer and fewer chances against Seattle, the minus-one makes sense on an analytical level. (Mookie just wrote about the phenomena, it’s a good read, let your mousey take you there.)

I’ll agree with the sentiments above, while adding that Russell Wilson also chose this season to set a new career high in picks, with 12. And that the defense hasn't enjoyed any fumble luck, with six recoveries in 16 forced fumbles.

In fact, opposing defenses have snatched more stray balls out of the air than the Hawks have, 12 to 11. Which bizarro version of RW are we seeing? Which mutated version of the LOB has come to play? And did they really both have to regress in the same season? Was that really necessary?

Explosive plays: When we only C-4 a game, that’s not enough

Toxic differential is a shortcut stat, nothing as good as DVOA or ANY/A+ or INT% or simple EPA. But it tells a story as well as any other quick-and-dirty metric.

The Hawks, historically under PCRW, have owned it like they've owned the league.

2012: +53, ranked 3rd

2013: +66, ranked 1st

2014: +76, ranked 1st

2015: +49, ranked 2nd

You know what’s coming, right?

2016: +7, ranked 12th

12th is somewhere between “not good” and “good.” It is not the usual address at which Seattle takes up residence.

It’ll be tempting to blame the drop-off on Earl Thomas’ absence. Except that with ET out at Tampa Bay with that nagging hammy, then out for good next week when Carolina visited, the Hawks out-explosived those foes 17-9. That’s Seattle’s entire positive margin for the whole season, encapsulated in two games where Thomas barely played.

Explosive plays are necessary. In Davis Hsu’s excellent 2012 series on Pete Carroll’s defensive priorities, this quote stands out:

“Give up either an explosive run or pass play in any given drive and the opposition will score over 75% of the time for the period studied.”

Running a surplus of explosives means more points, more wins, more trophies. Running them even means closer games, so more losses, because even a team that produces late-game magic like the Seahawks will run out of miracles. (Right, Lars? Yes. He is right.)

Ground game: A supercommittee that isn’t so super

The absence of one Marshawn Lynch was supposed to leave a void. You don’t replace a presence, an icon, a Beast like ‘Shawn. You move on, but nobody replaces him, nobody fills that man’s shoes. So the Hawks were supposed to reload via the draft and make do with many healthy, young, athletic bodies until workhorse Thomas Rawls returned to full choo-choo capacity.

The plan was well executed in the offseason.

C.J. Prosise drafted 3.90; Alex Collins taken with 5.171; Zac Brooks claimed at 7.247; Troymaine Pope brought in as a UDFA. Along with the returning and rewoke Christine Michael, the stable was thought to be... at least stable as we awaited rookie sensation Thomas “Rawlsin’ for a Brawlsin’.”

For reasons, which shall be distributed between the offensive line, the necessary abandonment of the read-option, injuries, and imperfect execution, the ground game floundered. The plan was not well executed in the season season.

  • Opponents have 14 rushing TD’s to the Hawks’ 12.
  • Opponents have also rushed more times than Seattle, 410-378.
  • Rawls leads all healthy and active Hawks with 335 yards and two teeders.
  • No active RB is above 4.0 yards per carry.
  • Prosise, Pope and Tyler Lockett combined have the production of Rawls (329 and 2), which is nice, but all three are injured, with the latter two on IR.
  • Michael will end up leading the team with 469 yards and 6 scores. He hasn’t been a Seahawk since before Week 10.

The run attack has been bad. It’s had its moments. But our team isn’t supposed to have “moments” on the ground. The Hawks are supposed to impose their will on the ground. Instead, too often, they’ve exposed their won’t.

Special teams: Neither special nor terrible

FO ranked Seattle’s special teams highly almost every year.

This year? Let you guess. It’s maybe not as bad as you expect, but still far from excellent.

2012: DVOA +6.0, ranked 3rd

2013: DVOA +4.7, ranked 5th

2014: DVOA -1.7, ranked 19th (the exception, two ST scores allowed)

2015: DVOA +4.2, ranked 3rd

2016: DVOA 1.2, ranked 9th.

This is the first year that the FG/XP portion of special teams DVOA is negative. Usually FO doesn’t grade Jon Ryan in the positive, and in 2013 they hated the Jermaine Kearse-Robert Turbin-Doug Baldwin-Jeremy Lane kickoff return experiment. Literally nobody could blame them.

In 2013 Stephen Hauschka made two game-winning field goals in overtime. In 2016 he missed one such chance and has misfired on five extra points. He’s not a villain, he’s not a goat, but another crucial miss would mean he gets to wear some of the blame for a weird 2016.

In-season improvement: Maybe next year

Seahawks’ W-L, by month, before this season:

September: 9-5, .643

October: 9-7, .563

November: 12-3, .800

December: 13-2, .867

We know when the Hawks are at their finest. In the second half. They’re probably best defined as a second-half team within games, and they’re typically a second-half team by wins within seasons.

2016 crapped all over that narrative.

September: 2-1

October: 2-1-1

November: 3-1

December: 2-2

The losses, for once, are all spread out, all nice and neat, throughout the year instead of at the beginning. In fact, when the Hawks went 2-2 this very month, it was the first time in RW’s pro career that his team did not finish above .500 in a November or December. The first time!

Sure, be wrong one last time, I dare you

Can the Hawks still advance in the postseason? Of course. With a little help, they could easily land the 2 seed and win a home game. From there, why can’t they reach Super Bowl 51 with another victory a week later, either here or in Dallas? On the Historical Playoff Cinderella Scale, their run through the NFC would rate about a 0.12 out of 10.

Hell, they could win the conference even if they slip up in Santa Franclarisco on Sunday.

But they wouldn't dare slip, would they?

(This is where you tell us, for the last time this season, how it's going to shake out, right or wrong. Mostly wrong. Against the puny Niners, who, it should be mentioned, won their divisional game last week, unlike some people.)