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Identity Shift: Seahawks are down a few defenders, still struggling to manufacture explosives

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Defense continues to be elite but now faces a legion of injuries

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals
feel free to not be seriously hurt kam
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Two booms are in trouble.

One is a legion, ravaged by injuries. Kam Chancellor’s health is in doubt, Earl Thomas hasn’t played since the fourth quarter of Week 8, and Richard Sherman is down an Achilles.

The other is the sound of explosive plays! The boom in the Seattle Seahawks offense this season has yet to return to its usual levels.

The Pete Carroll Seahawks have always been about a few things, but crucially, on both sides of the ball, they’ve been about winning the explosive play battle. The 2012-2015 squads were exceptionally good at it.

Explosive play differential

2012: +40, 3rd in the league

2013: +48, 2nd

2014: +66 (!), 1st

2015: +42, 1st

Then came 2016, and the Seahawks tumbled all the way to +9, which also ranked them 9th.

This season? You’ll have to read on. (It’s not very far down the page.)

1. First-half vs. Second-half scoring

Narrative status, last week: Definite Identity Match

Narrative status, this week: Definite Identity Match

Every week the scoring is broken down for you by quarters, all nice and tidy, all nice and updated:

Qtr 1: 20th, 3.6 ppq

Qtr 2: 26th, 5.0 ppq

Qtr 3: 11th, 5.3 ppq

Qtr 4: 3rd, 9.6 ppq

Probably more accurate at this point to call the Seahawks a fourth-quarter team than a second-half team. More points in the fourth than in the first and second combined.

Lars Russell, of Field Gulls fame, points out a statistic that seems unbelievable, until you mentally run through all the fourth quarters of this season:

This is taking “can you win the game in the fourth quarter” to a bit of an extreme, no?

2. NEW: The explosive plays are breaking the wrong way?

TrendCon, last week: N/A

TrendCon, this week: 3

As mentioned upstream, 2016 was a bit of an outlier in the Russell Wilson era. After spending each season near the top in explosive play differential, the Seahawks fell to ninth overall.

2017 is seeing something of a regression to the mean. The good kind of regression, from our perspective. Through nine games Seattle has a +15 differential, on track for +27, which would typically rank in the top five league-wide for a full season.

Of that margin, however, nine positive points came from the Colts game. Those explosives count, because it makes no sense to remove a team’s best game. But it’s worth noting that in all other games, the Seahawks are only +6. Are they as good as they were in the Colts game, or as evenly matched with the rest of the league as the other eight games would suggest? (Hint: a little of both.)

3. The Seahawks are now a passing team

Narrative status, last week: Holding True

Narrative status, this week: Definite Identity Match

Last three weeks, Seattle’s play-calling mix has continued to accelerate toward passing.

Through Week 8: 59.5 percent passing

Through Week 9: 60.0

Through Week 10: 60.1

I feel like more than this upcoming tweet could be said, but what?

Wait, I found one thing. While the Seahawks have morphed from 50 percent pass, 50 percent run to a more “standard” 60-40 split, the New Orleans Saints ran the ball 24 consecutive times last Sunday. Twenty-four. And their two running backs are each on pace for more than 1,400 yards from scrimmage.

At current rates of production, Mark Ingram would finish with 1,535 total yards and 12 touchdowns; Alvin Kamara would rack up 1404 yards and 11 TDs.

At current rates of production, every Seattle running back combined would finish with 1024 yards and 2 touchdowns. That includes current IR residents Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise.

(Remember the Saints started the year with Adrian Peterson on the roster, then shipped him off to some inferior team.)

4. Pass protection issues

TrendCon level, last week: Can I go with 2.5? Please?

TrendCon level, this week: It’s 3 because of uncertainty re: injuries but I wouldn’t rule out 4 in the future

Week 10 saw the Seahawks offensive unit stay under the 40 percent threshold for pressures, for the fourth straight time. According to Pro Football Focus, just six pressures on 39 dropbacks vs. the Cardinals.

From last week’s column:

It would be folly to call the Seahawks OL the worst pass-blocking team in the league.

Time to find another narrative. If the line continues its pass-pro progression from subpar to... par, complaining will have to focus on run-blocking woes instead.

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

Narrative status, last week: Worth Monitoring

Narrative status, this week: Holding true

The Seahawks still run sometimes.

Carries, last five weeks: Thomas Rawls 44, Eddie Lacy 32, Others 46 (Wilson, Prosise, J.D. McKissic, Tyler Lockett). Lacy, of course, did not appear in the Cardinals game, due to a groin injury.

Yards, last four weeks: Wilson 152, Rawls 121, Lacy 73, Others 77.

Last week, you read, “So if we’re going to see a lead back emerge, it’s close to now or never for the 2017 Seahawks. Mike Davis anyone? (That’s a joke, maybe.)”

Or it is not a joke. Davis was promoted to the 53-man roster. Lacy remains questionable.

For your titillation, Carroll announced this week that Carson’s season is not necessarily over. When Prosise was placed on injured reserve, Carroll had this to say:

He will be racing--and I say this with all optimism--with Chris Carson to see who comes back first... We will see what happens down the road, with the thought that hopefully we have a chance to keep playing and we got some games left, and we will see what happens when we get there.”

Carson would immediately be in the “running” to take “back” the mantle of lead ball carrier. Or the committee would continue its collaborative work.

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

Narrative status, last week: Definite Identity Match

Narrative status, this week: Definite Identity Match

The final word on Griffin will come with his usage in Weeks 11 and 12. If newcomer/oldcomer Byron Maxwell displaces Griffin on the depth chart, then the rookie will be a nice footnote to 2017, a successful draft pick with plenty of promise.

But if he continues along the same path charted in the first 10 weeks, then the narrative will be fully confirmed: he’s a keeper for the long term, an unusual talent who started to make his mark earlier than most great corners.

Griffin allowed one completion on nine targets at Arizona. Granted, it was Mike Stanton delivering the passes, and the opposition this week is Matt Ryan. Sudden change in quality. (EDIT: actually Drew Stanton, not Mike, but the leap to Ryan is of similar magnitude.)

7. The defense’s return to dominance

Narrative status, last week: Worth Monitoring

Narrative status, this week: Worth Monitoring

Speaking of explosive plays earlier — the defense allowed no explosive passes (25+ yards) to Stanton’s and Adrian Peterson’s Cardinals in Week 10. That comes after just three explosives allowed against Washington. Although the timing of two of those three could have been better.

Arizona’s rushing attack managed all of 34 yards on 24 attempts. In the second and fourth quarters combined, Peterson rushed four times for minus four yards and was tackled for a safety.

Peterson had just run for 159 yards against the 49ers four days prior.

Defensive rankings

Points allowed: 18.3 (5th, no change)

Passing yards allowed: 217.9 (13th, no change)

Yards/attempt against: 6.1 (8th, up one spot)

Passer rating against: 76.9 (5th, up one spot)

Rushing yards allowed: 101.0 (9th, up six spots)

Yards/carry against: 4.0 (15th, up nine spots)

Sacks: 2.8 (10th, down one spot)

Takeaways: 1.8 (7th, down one spot)

Turnover margin: +5

The Seahawks were 20th in rushing yards allowed two weeks ago, and 26th in yards/carry against. Now they’re in the top half of the league in both categories. Well call that “normalizing.”

They are ranked no lower than 15th in any one category above. The defense is balanced. Good at everything.

Of course, should Chancellor miss time, should Thomas fail to return to the field in a timely manner, and should the cornerback depth underwhelm, a season of a dominant defense could fall by the seawayside.