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Seahawks first-half struggles against Indianapolis another false alarm

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Seattle only managed three offensive points before halftime on Sunday Night Football, but the balance of possession and first downs tell a misleading story about that side of the ball’s struggles early on

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Seattle Seahawks Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

If you play certain Beatles records backward, you can find evidence Paul McCartney is dead.

If you play Seattle Seahawks games backward, Tom Cable is a hero all over Puget Sound and Darrell Bevell is the franchise savior. The Seahawks crushed the Indianapolis Colts in the second half Sunday night, gaining 337 yards to Indianapolis’s 32. Seattle piled up 158 rushing yards after halftime, and dominated time of possession, 22 minutes to eight, despite having fewer drives than the Colts thanks to Bobby Wagner’s fumble-return touchdown.

Indeed, if you start from the end of the game, the Seahawks’ “first” drive was an 11 play, 84-yard touchdown march that took almost seven minutes off the clock, with no incompletions or sacks by Russell Wilson, no rushes for losses, none of the hazardous happenings that draw complaints so often in the early parts of games. Seattle also scored touchdowns on its “next” two drives, with the fumble-score in between, and again on the drive to start the third quarter for a dominating 36-3 second half.

The first half was a different story, with the Seahawks finding nearly every way to end drives except touchdowns: missed field goal, interception, punt, made field goal, safety. If this were A Tale of Two Cities, that half would be Tacoma. And there are all kinds of cause-effect order of operations-type reasons why the game got easier for the offense in the late going. But it seems worth remembering, and repeating, when fans are determined to call for assistant coaches’ ousters, for benching the star quarterback or even cutting the star tight end, that football games are not worth breaking down after just a quarter or so of action. It’s not a big enough sample size—shucks we’re taught in the statistical modeling world that whole games aren’t big enough slices of stats to draw meaningful predictions or conclusions—and more importantly gameplans and game scenarios aren’t organized around scuffling to win the early periods (unless you’re Chuck Pagano, and the goal is to be out of challenges as soon as possible).

Moaning about performance in the first half of a football game that’s still competitive is like getting mad during the first hour of Titanic that the ship hasn’t sunk yet.

And the truth is Seattle wasn’t even all that bad offensively in the first two quarters: Wilson at halftime was 8 for 9 passing for 113 yards; right on schedule. He took an ugly safety and also got robbed of a nifty scoop-toss that would have been his longest gainer—both thanks to a couple blades of field turf touching his knees. The sole incompletion was an underthrown ball deflected up into the air and eventually intercepted, that I thought was more on Wilson than Jimmy Graham. But it was still a good half overall. Wilson was also the most effective rusher in the game to that point.

The Seahawks running backs were less productive, with only 19 yards on seven carries. But the offensive numbers were depressed in part because Seattle cashed in a touchdown on Justin Coleman’s interception return that put the defense right back onto the field. The following drive Indianapolis held its own clock swallowing possession that cut the second quarter in half.

Considering those factors, the 205 to 140 yardage disparity in favor of the Colts at midgame was not that big a deal—especially since the Seahawks had been much more efficient, squeezing more than a yard per play better than Indy out of just 22 offensive snaps compared to the Colts’ 38. More meaningful was the difference in first downs—Indianapolis had an overpowering 13-5 edge in that category at the break, with two of Seattle’s conversions coming on its wasted end of half drive that led to Blair Walsh’s first miss of the season.

However, two of the Colts first downs came by penalty and at least one of them was on a very, very generous spot. On third downs, the Seahawks weren’t terrible in the first half, with a 3-for-6 rate comparable to Indianapolis’s 5-for-9. The difference again was the number of opportunities. When possession tilted back into Seattle’s favor later on, Bevell drew up seven conversions on the final nine third down tries. Like the rest of dimensions of the game, the Seahawks dominated first downs 17-3 after halftime.

Seattle has an opportunity to seize control of the NFC West and test itself against a (sigh) more challenging opponent when it visits the Los Angeles Rams next week. Jeff Fisher is gone but if the Seahawks again get off to a slow start against Wade Phillips’s defense, try to keep some perspective about what’s really going on behind the numbers and in the game situation before you start demanding the team leave key coordinators and strategists in Southern California. Seattle is going to need those coaches after the bye.