It’s interesting how we value any team effort in sports. We judge them based on the results of a single season rather than a collective effort over several years. This makes sense for a lot of reasons, like the fact that teams do build themselves mainly for that one year, and counting championships, but also consider how we judge participants in individual sports like golf or tennis.
We count how many titles they have in their careers, not in a single year. Unless you’re winning the grand slam, most fans couldn’t tell you how many titles Tiger Woods or Serena Williams won in the year two-thousand-and-whatever. Why not consider the efforts of an NFL team over the course of an era, rather than just the course of a single season?
In the case of the Seattle Seahawks, this might be the “Pete Carroll era” or the “Earl Thomas era” or the “Michael Bennett era” but how about the “Bobby Wagner era” since that’s most convenient to me being able to go back to the start of 2012. I guess more important than anything else it’s the “Russell Wilson era” which does help the defense because he throws so few interceptions and rarely puts them in a bad spot, but just check this stat out:
Since 2012, NE has allowed 2nd-fewest points. 302 pts separate them from 21st-fewest pts allowed. Seahawks have allowed 303 pts LESS than NE— Field Gulls (@FieldGulls) December 6, 2016
Over the last five seasons, the Seahawks have been so much better than the competition at not allowing points that it’s no wonder they’ve been to the playoffs each year, won a playoff game in all of those previous seasons, and made the Super Bowl twice with one of them being a dominating win over Peyton Manning and the historically-good-at-scoring Denver Broncos. Seattle’s defense will go down in history with the all-time greats not for what it did in 2013 or any single season, but for the fact that they are four solid efforts away from leading the NFL in scoring defense for five straight years.
But in the tradition of judging teams for what they do contained within a single season, let’s look at the 21 touchdowns allowed by the Seahawks in 2016.
Seattle has given up 194 points on the season, which is 13 points fewer than the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens. They’ve allowed 11 passing touchdowns, which is the second-fewest after Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos, who each have allowed 10. The Seahawks have allowed nine rushing touchdowns, which is tied for 11th with seven other teams. They also gave up whatever that offensive fumble return was against the New York Jets. Interestingly enough, Seattle is aided by the fact that the offense hasn’t given up a pick-six or fumble-six, and special teams hasn’t allowed a punt or kickoff return touchdown either.
How did these scores occur?
Week 1, 12-10 win vs the Miami Dolphins
Ryan Tannehill 2-yard rush
After holding the Dolphins without a touchdown on each of their first 10 drives, the Seahawks defense finally lets up and allows an 86-yard touchdown drive in which Tannehill goes 4-of-5 for 82 yards, concluding with a two-yard designed QB keeper up the middle on second down. This gave Miami a 10-6 lead, but Russell Wilson one-upped him by leading Seattle to their first touchdown of the day on a drive in which the Seahawks had to convert two fourth downs.
Week 2, 9-3 loss vs the LA Rams
No touchdowns allowed
Week 3, 37-18 win vs the San Francisco 49ers
Carlos Hyde, 8-yard rush
Carlos Hyde, 8-yard rush
Up 37-3 and 37-10, Seattle’s defense frustratingly allows Hyde to score twice. On the first drive, he broke off a 34-yard run to kick things off and get into Seahawks territory before chipping off small gains and eventually getting into the end zone.
To put things in perspective, Seattle’s following drive featured Trevone Boykin at QB and Terrence McGee, Alex Collins at RB, with Jermaine Kearse and Tanner McEvoy as the receivers. Boykin was intercepted at midfield with 3:40 left and the 49ers chipped away again, ending in an 8-yard touchdown by Hyde again.
Both Hyde touchdowns came out of the shotgun, zone read formation.
Week 4, 27-17 win vs the New York Jets
Brandon Marshall, 17-yard pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick
Charone Peak, 42-yard fumble recovery
The first time the Seahawks allowed a passing touchdown or first half touchdown came in Week 4 against the Jets. Marshall, a legit Hall of Fame candidate, makes a move on Richard Sherman and gets the step he needs for Ryan Fitzpatrick to find him in the end zone to end the second quarter with just seconds remaining on the clock.
The next score felt a lot less legitimate and was simply an insane turn of events in which Fitzpatrick was stripped by Cliff Avril, fumbled, and Peak was in the right place at the right time and picked it up, ran it in for a touchdown. It was a great defensive play that ended in a touchdown for the other team. Which I guess happens once in a while. Fitzpatrick was also intercepted three times.
Week 6, 26-24 win vs the Atlanta Falcons
Julio Jones, 36-yard pass from Matt Ryan
Mohamed Sanu, 10-yard pass from Matt Ryan
Levine Toilolo, 46-yard pass from Matt Ryan
The first time all season, and most of the last five seasons, that it just felt like the Seahawks defense was not good. Despite holding the Falcons to just a field goal in the first half, Ryan came out on fire in the third quarter, throwing three touchdown passes to three different players. The first is again just a Hall of Fame talent, this time catching a break against broken coverage, with Kelcie McCray starting in place of Kam Chancellor.
The next drive starts with two throws to Jones that go for 40 yards. A 10-yard to Sanu ends the drive with nobody really deciding to cover him.
More broken coverage against Toilolo, another case of Earl Thomas getting there a second too late near the goal line.
But Atlanta ran just 11 offensive plays in the fourth quarter, with Ryan going 3-for-8 for 32 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, and a sack. The Seahawks completely shut them down when the Falcons really only need a field goal at any point to make it their game to win.
Week 7, 6-6 tie vs Arizona Cardinals
No touchdowns allowed for five quarters.
Week 8, 25-20 loss vs New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees, 1-yard rush
Brandin Cooks, 2-yard pass from Drew Brees
It’s third-and-goal with seconds remaining in the first half again when Brees leaps over the defensive line for a touchdown. Look at it now and you see that through seven games, Seattle had allowed only two first half touchdowns, both came with under a minute remaining before the break, both against guys with significant Hall of Fame bids.
Not only that, but this drive started at the Seahawks 37 because of an interception thrown by Wilson. New Orleans had to run five plays inside Seattle’s six-yard line before scoring.
Early fourth quarter, Seahawks leading 17-16, Tim Hightower breaks off a 28-yard gain to get to the Seattle 10. Again, they were one down away from stopping the Saints on the goal line, but Cooks is open and scores to give New Orleans the lead. Was there some fishy stuff going on with pick plays in this loss? Absolutely. With or without, the Seahawks defense pitched a pretty good game against Brees on his homefield, giving up just two touchdowns, one right after a turnover, both requiring every bit of effort from New Orleans’ offense inside the 10.
Week 9, 31-25 win vs Buffalo Bills
Tyrod Taylor, 3-yard rush
Justin Hunter, 5-yard pass from Tyrod Taylor
Mike Gillislee, 1-yard rush
How about this for recollection on Seattle’s number one scoring defense: A three-yard touchdown drive. Panic sets in for many fans after the Seahawks had their first punt of the game blocked, setting the Bills up at the three. On the first play, Tyrod Taylor runs it in; this is the third QB keeper for a touchdown against Seattle on the year and in addition to the Hyde runs, the third on a zone read option. Except this time, the QB kept it.
On their next drive, this time starting at their own 25, Buffalo converts five third downs including the one for a touchdown. Similar play to the Cooks score, just really hard to stop, especially when he’s not being guarded. It seems to be another miscommunication and once again, McCray is there.
Seattle gave up eight touchdowns in the four games that Chancellor missed, compared to 13 in the eight games he hasn’t.
Finally, it’s Gillislee, another short-yardage touchdown run against the Seahawks. Speaking of which ....
Week 10, 31-24 win vs New England Patriots
LeGarrette Blount, 1-yard rush
LeGarrette Blount, 1-yard rush
LeGarrette Blount, 13-yard rush
After Kam is called for DPI against Rob Gronkowski in the end zone, Blount runs it in from one yard out. Barely. Do you call it bad defense? Overall, it wasn’t an ideal drive.
After the Seahawks take the lead, New England goes on another long drive (hey at least they didn’t convert any third downs, since there weren’t any) and then a defensive holding call on Cliff Avril gives the Pats first-and-goal from the one again. Blount powers it again, barely again. (Forward progress stopped, anyone?)
Third quarter, Seahawks leading by five, Blount gets tired of fighting at the one and decides to run it outside on the stretch from 13 yards out. His previous gain was from 10 out. But Tom Brady is held scoreless and Seattle pulls out the unlikely road win, in large thanks to how they closed the last three drives: sacking Brady at the 7 and forcing a field goal, Kam forcing a fumble on Julian Edelman, and the Seahawks holding the Pats out of the end zone on first-and-goal from the two, second-and-goal from the one, third-and-goal from the one, fourth-and-goal from the one.
Week 11, 26-15 win vs Philadelphia Eagles
Zach Ertz, 4-yard pass from Carson Wentz
Dorial Green-Beckham, 5-yard pass from Carson Wentz
At home against the Eagles, Philly takes a 7-6 lead early in the second quarter. It’s a bit difficult to remember that this game was ever close, but the replay clearly shows that Wentz did find Ertz on a comeback against Chancellor. Kam nearly made a great stop but Ertz stretches for what seems like two yards for the score.
But the Seahawks pull away and it’s 26-7 midway through the fourth quarter when Philly goes on a drive that includes a 4th-and-three conversion to Dorial Green-Beckham followed by that throw two plays later on the inexperienced DeAndre Elliott. Like the Hyde plays, this is also a meaningless score.
Week 12, 14-5 loss vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mike Evans, 3-yard pass from Jameis Winston
Mike Evans, 23-yard pass from Jameis Winston
Yet another short score inside the 10 here against Tampa Bay on their first drive. It’s a 15-play drive that eats 7:26 off the clock. The next drive goes for 62 yards. Then the Bucs didn’t have another drive all day that went 40 or more, including four punts, two turnovers, a safety, and a missed field goal. This is all without Earl Thomas.
It’s a pretty tough-to-defend throw from Winston to Evans on the first touchdown. Winston scrambles, he’s a few yards out, Evans is an All-Pro level receiver, the zone coverage loses sight of him as Elliott follows someone else and Terrell steps in after it’s too late.
Score two is a great throw by Winston and a nice target to have in Evans, though Sherman calls for OPI because Evans clearly holds him at bay by grabbing onto the front of his pads most of the way down the field.
Overall, an effort by the defense that will result in a win 95 times out of 100. This wasn’t one of those days.
Week 13, 40-7 win vs Carolina Panthers
Ted Ginn, 55-yard pass from Cam Newton?
And finally, there’s the touchdown that wasn’t.
On the very first play after Thomas breaks his leg, Cam Newton throws a prayer to Ted Ginn and it’s answered. Kind of. Replays clearly show that Ginn was down before the goal line.
How did this slip by the officials? We don’t know. Would it have mattered anyway? Seattle’s defense has shown us time and time again that first-and-goal from the one is not a gimme. Sure, a lot of these plays happened in those situations — Tannehill, Brees, Cooks, Gillislee, Taylor, Hunter, Blount, Ertz, Green-Beckham, Evans — but I’m sure the defense would have liked a shot to keep them to a field goal or a four-and-out.
Especially since they’ve only allowed 21 touchdowns all season long and more than a couple had extenuating circumstances.
11 of the touchdowns occurred within five yards. I mean, you would expect that a lot of touchdowns are close to the end zone, but I think this really pounds home Carroll’s philosophy to not allow explosive plays and long touchdowns. Teams really have to earn it vs the Seahawks.
How many of these touchdowns occurred in garbage time? Maybe just four, but that leaves only 17 touchdowns in 11 games that actually mattered. Less than two per game. A typical game is going to have about 10 or so drives in regulation, sometimes a few more, and any drive that isn’t a touchdown allowed is usually a win. The Cardinals got 13 drives against Seattle and none of them ended in a touchdown. (Nor did any of the Seahawks drives.)
How many came via great players or universally-accepted great players that I might disagree with? Marshall, Julio, Brees, Cooks, Evans, Cam. This type of defense is certainly what a team needs going up against Aaron Rodgers, as they are this week, or Carson Palmer again in two weeks, or perhaps Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott and Dez Bryant in the playoffs, potentially Matthew Stafford and Golden Tate, or a rematch with Winston and Evans.
How many of these touchdowns were weird-ass fumble returns, totally missed on replay, or occurred after a blocked punt to put it inside their own five?
It’s a good look into how the Seattle Seahawks have been the best scoring defense since 2012, not just in total, but in each season successively; whether you’re looking at the big picture or just in pieces. Play by play. It’s quite the body of work.
(Thank you to Jeff Collet for the clips!)