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Identity Shift: Seahawks defense rediscovers a familiar ferocity

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks at New York Giants
six foot four has its advantages
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

An afternoon when the Seattle Seahawks give up

  • 7 points
  • 14 first downs
  • 177 total yards

conjures up memory of the quarterbackivore 2013 defense, which laid waste to Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, both Manning brothers, Drew Brees twice, Carson Palmer twice, and Colin Kaepernick three times.

In the 11 games listed above, Seattle’s defense allowed a line of 223-371-2090-9-19.

Good for a 62.4 passer rating. In the loosest use of the terms “good” and “passer.” Not like there are any scrubs up there, either: three different NFL MVP’s, ten Super Bowl apperances between them all, and a bare minimum of two Hall of Famers listed.

In fact, our eventual Super Bowl champs held all QB’s collectively to a 63.4 rating. It was glorious, and a little bit dirty to watch. Nobody moved the ball for very long against them. The pass rush was as relentless as a telemarketer, the backfield as clinical as a neurosurgeon, the defensive line as impenetrable as a NORAD bunker (or, alternatively, as the mind of that hottie you crushed on in high school).

It’s too early. But the not-quite-yet Super Bowl champs of 2017 are up to the task of a comparison to their predecessors. Possibly the comparison will be unflattering. Possibly the commonalities will surprise you and me.

And we’ll get to that comparison. But first, we check in with a few of the other stories surrounding your Seahawks. As always, narratives are deemed, from highest to lowest, a “Definite Identity Match,” “Holding True,” “Worth Monitoring,” “Mostly Dubious,” and “Total Bunk.” Meanwhile, concerns are graded on five levels as well, from TrendCon 1 (most worrisome) to TrendCon 5 (relax everyone).

1. First-half vs. Second-half scoring

Narrative status, last week: Worth Monitoring/Holding True

Narrative status, this week: Holding True

In point differential, the Seahawks are -8 in the first half and +48 in the second. Probably because they’ve only scored 39 points before halftime and 95 thereafter.

There can be little doubt left: Seattle operates a second-half offense. Not just on the micro game-by-game level, but also for the whole season, usually. It is who they are. Skip watching the first half. Unless you like defense. Tip: start to like defense.

2. The offense is incorporating up-tempo components and it’s working

Narrative status, last week: Holding True

Narrative status, this week: Worth Monitoring

A comfortable 24-7 win in which the Seahawks led for the final quarter and a half doesn’t lend itself to much data for the up-tempo narrative. Houston is capable of putting up far more points than New York. So put this story on hiatus for a week. Could fall quickly from a “holding true” to a “mostly dubious.”

3. NEW: The Seahawks are now a passing team

Narrative status, last week: N/A

Narrative status, this week: Worth Monitoring

These are not your older brother’s Seahawks.

Percentage of pass plays (proof)

2012: 46.7

2013: 47.3

2014: 48.6

2016: 59.4

2017: 58.3

The 2012, 2013 and 2014 teams all ranked 31st or 32nd in the league in percentage of passing plays. The 2016 and 2017 teams are both middle-of-the-road. Some of that shift to the air will be explained by running back talent versus receiving talent, and some to game state. Seattle suffered some of its post lopsided losses in 2016 and 2017.

Therefore, a project for the halfway point of the season will be to see how often the Seahawks run in the first quarter, the second quarter, and when the score is within a touchdown either way. So in more neutral game states. That will no doubt tell us more than the simple percentages above. But for now, just wanted to get the ratio narrative on the radar.

4. Pass protection issues

TrendCon level, last week: 2

TrendCon level, this week: 2 but maaaaaaybe 3 soon

Observers have praised the Seattle OL all week for competency, with good pass blocking coming from unusual sources.

Oday Aboushi, Mark Glowinski, Rees Odhiambo and Ethan Pocic combined to allow two total pressures across their 234 collective snaps taken. Pro Football Focus rated Seattle’s pass-blocking efficiency 13th for the week. That’s upper half.

With Pocic... pocibly slated to receive more snaps in the absence of Luke Joeckel (out) and the Justin Britt (questionable), with Aboushi becoming more familiar in with the offense, and with Odhiambo gaining experience, the table is set for a second half of the season that outshines the first. Not saying it’s going to happen. Saying the table is set.

This week, in rolls Deshaun Watson, who actually has the honor of being the most pressured QB in the league (46.2 percent of the time!). Sunday’s game has become a test of two porous lines; the one who performs the least bad might well give its quarterback the most chances to make plays.

5. The RB job will be done by committee, right?

Narrative status, last week: Holding True

Narrative status, this week: Definite Identity Match

Yeah it’s a match on the overall season level, and most especially since Chris Carson exited the picture with an injury in Week 4.

Carries, last two weeks: Eddie Lacy 20, Thomas Rawls 19, Others 16 (Wilson, C.J. Prosise, J.D. McKissic, Tyler Lockett).

Carries, season: Lacy 36, Rawls 24, McKissic 9, Prosise 8. Of course, Wilson’s 32 carries have netted him 164 yards and he is the active leading rusher on the team. Of course. Naturally.

The Seahawks’ featured back changes from drive to drive, from series to series. His workload is interrupted by punts, by Wilson scrambles, by Lockett jet sweeps, by the irrepressible velocity of McKissic. This is what a football committee looks like, in every sense.

6. Shaquill Griffin’s role is large, especially for a rookie

Narrative status, last week: Worth Monitoring

Narrative status, this week: Holding True

For three consecutive weeks, since Jeremy Lane left the Colts game with an injury, Griffin’s been in on every defensive play, bar none. He leads Lane 315-134 in snaps taken. Quill’s the starter and has been for some time, right?

Maybe. Lane was the starter in Weeks 2 and 3, when healthy and available. Then, he got five snaps in, total, in Weeks 4-6. Due to a hip or groin injury, according to which report you read. He might have been Wally Pipp’d since:

(Side note: the Pipp story goes a little differently than legend has it. Click the link above, it’s fun.)

Last week’s column was bullish on Lane retaking his starting role once the injury subsided.

Griffin’s snaps depend on Lane’s injury status. That is not the sign of a rookie who has overtaken the veteran on the depth chart, but of a first-year player making the most of his opportunity through favorable circumstances. Which is something we like to see Seahawks do, but let’s not exaggerate Griffin’s role — a healthy Lane will probably be more on the field this coming Sunday.

Not so fast. More information about the future identity of this team arrives Sunday. If Griffin outplays Lane — or if the veteran is traded, to, say, Dallas — then the Seahawks might just have solved their RCB puzzle for a while.

PFF suggests likewise. Remember Griffin has only played six games as a pro.

7. The defense’s return to dominance

Narrative status, last week: Holding True

Narrative status, this week: Holding True

At last we get to compliment a defense that has looked better every quarter since halftime of the Colts game.

Points allowed: 15.7 (1st, up five spots)

Passing yards allowed: 190.8 (8th, up one spot)

Yards/attempt against: 5.6 (2nd, up three spots)

Passer rating against: 69.9 (2nd, up one spot)

Rushing yards allowed: 113.7 (17th, up nine spots)

Yards/carry against: 4.7 (26th, no change)

Sacks: 2.0 (23rd, down one spot)

Takeaways: 1.7 (10th, down two spots)

Turnover margin: +4

Remember how the 2013 team took out that Who’s Who list of QBs? Its passing stats are fun to compare to the present Seahawks.

Passing yards allowed were 172 then, now 190.8;

Y/A against were 5.8 then, now 5.6;

Passer rating against was 63.4 then, now 69.9;

Completion percentage was 59.0 then, now 55.6;

Interceptions per game were 1.8 then, now 0.8;

Sacks per game were 2.8 then, now 2.0.

So you’d like to see Seattle take the ball away more and boost the sack number, for sure. Maybe you get your wish. The next three games feature a rookie at the CLink, a veteran at the CLink, and Mike Stanton probably down in Arizona. If the pass rushers are going to make hay (shoutout to newest Seahawk Dwight Freeney and his 122.5 career sacks), it ought to be in the next three games.

One problem: that rookie who’s visiting Seattle for the first time — he does some familiar-looking shit when the pocket crumbles.

Maybe it’ll help that the Seahawk defenders see that in practice every single day? Maybe it’ll help that Watson hasn’t seen anything like the Legion, ever.