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Identity Shift: Seahawks survive a shootout, explore competency in pass protection

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NFL: Houston Texans at Seattle Seahawks
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Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Narratives are funny things. A single momentous game can cause one to undergo a profound re-thinking of what one knows about the Seattle Seahawks. But sometimes a game is just a game; not a whole story to itself, but a chapter among many.

Take points scored and allowed, for example. There’s talk about the Seattle defense being broken, vulnerable, troubled, or exposed. They did just give up 38 points at home.

Well...

Points allowed, last three games: 18.3

Points allowed, previous three games: 20.0

To flip the coin, Seattle’s offense gets a ton of credit for coming to life last Sunday.

You know where this is going, already...

Points scored, last three games: 27.0

Points scored, previous three games: 28.3

For sure, the endpoints are arbitrary. That’s a valid criticism of the exercise conducted above. But it’s probably more intellectually dishonest to pronounce anything definitive on the basis of a singular game. Sixty minutes is a short time. You might as well say Richard Sherman is an annual 32-interception cornerback.

So in Identity Shift, we let things play out. We let trends get confirmed in time, or denied as the sample expands. The halfway point of the season approaches, marking a good time to start to get definitive. We’ll do so in a couple of categories -- like the Shaquill Griffin one -- but not in others. There are still nine games to be played. The anemic rushing offense could rebound. The sacks could come in bunches, or disappear. The defense could go either way, depending on health and the fanciful bounces of a eccentrically-shaped ball. The offensive line could figure some things out, or regress.

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: Holding True

Narrative status, this week: Holding True

Put it this way: the Seahawks are 23rd in the league in first-half scoring at 8.6 points. They are tops in second-half scoring at 16.4 points.

They’re almost twice as good at putting points on the board in the second half. This comes after a game in which they tried to even things out by hanging 21 on the Texans before halftime, then 20 after.

Consider their output by quarters, relative to the rest of the league:

Qtr 1: 22nd

Qtr 2: 25th

Qtr 3: 4th

Qtr 4: 2nd

Russell Wilson’s passer rating offers an insane type of split, the kind you’d expect from the engine of an offense that sputters, then roars. It’s a mortal 88.2 in the first half, and an immortal 112.5 after intermission.

In the final four minutes of the game, 2017 Wilson is 16-22-275-6-1. You’re correct to calculate that that’s good for 12.5 Y/A. Immortal, again.

Another lousy first half and explosive second half would be enough to confirm the team’s identity as a late bloomer. (That doesn’t mean you have to follow the script every week, Seahawks.)

2. NEW: The Seahawks are now a passing team

Narrative status, last week: Worth Monitoring

Narrative status, this week: Holding True

I’ll begin by updating a little list that appeared here last week. Passing percentage, by season:

2012: 46.7

2013: 47.3

2014: 48.6

2016: 59.4

2017: 59.5 and rising

Wilson’s not afraid to go to different receivers in different situations. Spreading the ball around to multiple targets, like so --

-- is only going to make the passing game harder to defend.

Not in the graphic above? The suddenly relevant Paul Richardson, who only leads the team in touchdown receptions, with five. Not only is Seattle a passing team right now, it’s a multi-faceted one.

3. Pass protection issues

TrendCon level, last week: 2 verging on 3

TrendCon level, this week: 3 but you could talk me into 2

While the Seattle OL’s run-blocking is a topic worth devoting some concern to, the pass protection is getting... better as the season rolls along.

The line is still allowing too many QB hits (5th in the league, 56) but is middle-of-the-road in sacks allowed (15th overall, 2.3 per game). In sack percentage, they’re 12th best. Not worst. Not 12th-worst. But 12th-best.

Wilson is getting more than enough time to throw on average -- it’s 3.01 seconds, which ranks 29th, or fourth-most if you prefer it phrased that way. How much of said time is him buying it via scrambles, as opposed the line providing it, is a question for the brilliant film people, who exist but are not me.

Concurrently, the trend is moving in the right direction in terms of pressure — Wilson has been harassed on less than 40 percent of dropbacks for the last two games.

The addition of Duane Brown, who allowed zero sacks last season, can hardly make the situation worse in the long run.

If Tom Cable coaches the Seahawks OL to a top-half finish in most pass protection metrics, some criticisms of him will begin to look ridiculous. Now, about their run-blocking ability...

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

Narrative status, last week: Definite Identity Match (highest possible)

Narrative status, this week: Definite Identity Match

Pete Carroll announced this week that Eddie Lacy will be the starter against Washington in Week 9. That makes sense. He had one more yard than Thomas Rawls last week, and one more carry than Rawls in Weeks 6-7-8. He’s earned it.

Carries, last three weeks: Lacy 26, Rawls 25, Others 25 combined (Wilson, C.J. Prosise, J.D. McKissic, Tyler Lockett).

Yards, last three weeks: Wilson 56, Rawls 55, Lacy 53, Others 36 combined.

I challenge you to find a committeer committee on any team in the National Football League.

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

Narrative status, last week: Holding True

Narrative status, this week: Definite Identity Match

Look no farther than Griffin’s standing among other rookie corners.

Quarterbacks are picking on Griffin somewhat — the Seahawks’ overall passer rating against is 75.2. But only somewhat. He’s not a weak link in the sense of “easily exploitable.” And he’s only getting better. Remember he’s appeared in all of seven NFL games.

The team already thinks enough of Griffin to have pulled the trigger on a Jeremy Lane trade. Even with Lane returning to the team after his failed physical in Houston, I wouldn’t imagine Griffin gives up the outside starting job. Ever again. Not with a 429-158 lead on Lane in 2017 snaps, plus the cost-controlled labor he brings to the table now and in the future. Seattle’s commitment to the new guy seems clear. And warranted.

6. The defense’s return to dominance

Narrative status, last week: Holding True

Narrative status, this week: Worth Monitoring

Seven points allowed on the road in Week 7, 38 points at home in Week 8. In describing their recent performance, the term “mercurial” would be an understatement. Confounding? Unpredictable? Exactly as vulnerable as invulnerable?

I choose to believe that the Seahawks defense is built to devour stationary quarterbacks and instructed to gamble against mobile ones -- in the hopes that any gambling will pay off in the end, by forcing just enough errors. That would explain the Jared Goff and Eli Manning games, the many turnovers forced against Jacoby Brissett and DeShaun Watson, the many points surrendered to Watson and Marcus Mariota.

Also, the theory that they will eat pocket passers alive clears a path to 7-2, with a home game against Kirk Cousins’ R*dskins and a trip to Drew Stanton’s Cardinals. Any theory that clears a path to 7-2 is fine by me.

There’s some debate as to the extent of Cousins’ mobility. He only has 321 rushing yards on 97 career attempts. But check this out:

Cousins’ first 43 games: 159 yards on the ground;

Cousins’ last 10 games: 162 yards on the ground, suddenly.

Enough about the bad guys. Here is a defender who is #good.

Michael Bennett and Sheldon Richardson deserve mad props (like you would’ve said in 1998) for their clutch tackles on the Texans’ next-to-last drive, when a third-down conversion would’ve iced the game.

But Frank Clark is on another level right now. Yes, that’s his name above Von Miller. No, those aren’t PFF grades. What do you take me for?

Defensive rankings

Points allowed: 18.9 (7th, down six spots)

Passing yards allowed: 216.0 (12th, down four spots)

Yards/attempt against: 6.1 (10th, down eight spots)

Passer rating against: 75.2 (4th, down two spots)

Rushing yards allowed: 117.7 (20th, down three spots)

Yards/carry against: 4.6 (26th, no change)

Sacks: 2.4 (14th, up seven spots)

Takeaways: 1.9 (5th, down five spots)

Turnover margin: +6

From last week:

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 Drew 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.

You did get your wish. Five sacks and three interceptions against the Fightin’ Watsons. Including one pick-six in a game where you needed a defensive score to keep pace.

About the rankings above: a closer look will show that the Seahawks fell in league rankings in the first five categories. Sometimes the tumble was large, as in points allwoed and yards/attempt allowed.

But they more than made up for the statistical misstep with three takeaways. Here’s to more of that this coming Sunday.