There’s no doubt that the Seattle Seahawks defense essentially won last week’s game over the Los Angeles Rams. The defense forced four of the five Rams turnovers (which the offense turned into a measly 3 points), and against a vastly improved Rams offense, they held one of the top-scoring teams in the league to just 10 points.
That doesn’t mean the performance was flawless, though.
The Rams finished the game 8-of-15 on third-down conversions, but what was really bothersome was the number of first-downs Los Angeles managed when “behind schedule.” Seattle gave up a 27-yard touchdown run to Tavon Austin on 3rd and 11, a 22-yard run to Jared Goff on 3rd and 10, an 13-yard reception to Malcolm Brown on 3rd and 11, and Frank Clark committed a silly penalty on 3rd and 12 to hand the Rams an automatic first late in the final quarter.
This is not a one-off for a Kris Richard defense. When faced with 3rd and 10+, that logically means the offense has gained no ground or lost yardage on the previous two plays, and the conversion rate when faced with double-digit yards to gain is extremely low. And yet, the Seahawks continue to struggle defending these plays effectively.
As of week 5, Seattle has given up more 3rd and 10+ first downs than any other team, and ranks second-worst in the NFL in terms of conversion rate, trailing only the Houston Texans, who are comically bad at this.
2017 third-and-long defense rankings (Pass or Rush)
Opposing teams have run the ball six times against Seattle in these situations, and have converted four times, including twice off quarterback runs.
As you can see in the table, the pass-run ratio on 3rd and 10+ is about 85-15, so if you want to write off the successful rushing conversions as a bit of an oddity, we can refocus our scope on the pass defense. The 2016 Seahawks were among the worst in the NFL, allowing just about 25% of third-and-long passing plays to go for first-downs.
2016 third-and-long defense rankings (Passing only)
Looking at these numbers brings back bad memories of the 2012 season, in which Gus Bradley’s defense was responsible for several squandered fourth quarter leads. You want to know how bad they were at defending 3rd and 10+ passing plays? Try this on for size.
2012 third-and-long defense rankings (Passing only)
When Dan Quinn took over as Seattle’s defensive coordinator, the 2013 Seahawks were #1 in the league at preventing 3rd and 10+ passing conversions, allowing only 4 of 47 to go for first downs. There was a slight dropoff in 2014, but it was still good for a #4 ranking. When Kris Richard took over in 2015, they finished just outside the top-10, although that squad battled with the 2012-esque fourth quarter collapses that were a major reason for Seattle’s 4-5 start.
Your guess is as good as mine as to why 2016 and the first part of 2017 have been so poor. It may very well be the roster turnover/key players aging the Seahawks have dealt with over the years, different schemes and tactical mistakes made by Kris Richard, a combination of both, the inconsistent pass rush, or just pure randomness off a small sample size. Considering how well Denver has done since 2015, I don’t think it’s randomness. The fact of the matter is, Seattle’s defense commands the majority of the salary cap and they have to be better at getting themselves off the field when the down and distance is heavily in their favor. What we’ve seen from them so far is not only a continuation of 2016, it’s on course to be even worse.
(Tables courtesy of Pro Football Reference)