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Identity Shift: Seahawks lay an egg but remain a Wilson-centric offense, tough defense

NFL: Washington Redskins at Seattle Seahawks
no you have to throw the ball to first base now doug not hang on to it
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Last week the headline in this space was “Seahawks survive a shootout, explore competency in pass protection.”

/gears grind as driver shifts abruptly into reverse

It’s a mystery to me how a team can look so different from one week to the next. Probably the reason bad analysis rests upon the pillar of small sample size, of assigning too much importance to a single play, a single quarter, a single game. Bigger-picture trends tell us more.

Anyway, the home loss stung. And yet, with just one of the following:

  • fewer penalties
  • better than 0/3 on field goals
  • better ball control
  • better third-down performance
  • a sharper Russell Wilson

the game is probably won and the Seahawks sit at 6-2, extending their rightful reign atop the NFC West.

We say this every year, but the margin for error in the NFL is thinner than ever. Every team can make plays, every team has good players, and if one team makes plays against itself all game, or at the wrong time, then the inferior team can win.

So how about an update on our six current Seahawks narratives, and then can we please stop thinking about that ugly game and get about the business of scraping out a win in Arizona? Yes. Permission fucking granted.

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: Definite Identity Match

Narrative status, this week: Definite Identity Match

I want to keep updating this score-by-quarters list, because it’s so striking:

Qtr 1: 23nd, 3.1 ppq

Qtr 2: 26th, 4.6 ppq

Qtr 3: 7th, 6.0 ppq

Qtr 4: 2nd, 9.9 ppq

Why don’t they build the whole game out of the fourth quarter?

2. The Seahawks are now a passing team

Narrative status, last week: Holding True

Narrative status, this week: Holding True

45 throws, 28 runs against Washington. Coming in, Seattle was electing to pass the ball 59.5 percent of the time this season, their highest percentage under Pete Carroll. Officially it rose to 60.0 percent.

With the appearance of Tyler Lockett (shoulder), Jimmy Graham (ankle), Paul Richardson (groin) on the injury report, coupled with the return of C.J. Prosise, it’s not inconceivable that the Seahawks could reverse course in Arizona and hand it off more than they sling it.

The trend doesn’t lie, however: we’re now at a season and a half of 60 percent passing plays, if you factor in the 59.4 percent from last season too. Whether the move away from a balanced offense is out of necessity or design doesn’t change the fact it is who the Seahawks are. Right now at least.

Even many of Seattle’s runs are called pass plays that result in a Russell Wilson run, usually for badly needed yardage. (Wilson remains the team leader in yards on the ground, and the only Seahawk with a rush attempt in every game.)

3. Pass protection issues

TrendCon level, last week: 3 but trending toward 2

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

Week 9 marked the third consecutive game in which the Seattle OL held pressures under the 40 percent threshold. In 2013-2016, the pressure rate was above 40 percent every season. Surely the addition of left tackle Duane Brown (just three pressures in 54 pass pro snaps) helps.

Wilson has been sacked the 12th lowest amount of times. But he’s been hit the fourth-most. The adjusted sack rate, as calculated by Football Outsiders, places the Seahawks 16th. The trend we’re seeing so far this season is that Wilson continues to be highly adept at avoiding sacks but takes more hits than you’d like, behind a line that continues to be more and more competent at pass protection.

It would be folly to call the Seahawks OL the worst pass-blocking team in the league. Now if you want to talk about the running troubles, keep reading.

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

Narrative status, last week: Definite Identity Match

Narrative status, this week: Worth Monitoring

With Eddie Lacy doubtful for Thursday and Prosise returning to action, presumably for more than a play or two, Thomas Rawls is poised to claim the mantle of lead back, if that role still exists on this team. Which -- it doesn’t.

Carries, last four weeks: Rawls 34, Lacy 32, Others 38 (Wilson, Prosise, J.D. McKissic, Lockett).

Yards, last four weeks: Wilson 133, Rawls 94, Lacy 73, Others 48.

We’re still in committee mode. Wilson has 271 yards rushing and the rest of the active backs on Thursday have a combined 184, should Lacy sit out. Hell, even if Lacy plays, the four backs combined only lead Wilson 312-271, with a touchdown for each side.

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.)

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

Narrative status, last week: Definite Identity Match

Narrative status, this week: Definite Identity Match

Yes, he was to blame on Washington’s next-to-last snap, the win-probability-swinger that stunned all in attendance and caused many remotes to make a more intimate acquantaince with the screen of their television mate.

Griffin owned up in the postgame:

“The mistake that I made, I feel like I almost got relaxed on that play. I was looking for it. I couldn’t find it, you know. That was the mistake that I made. That’s something I’ve got to move on from. You know, he made a hell of a catch. It was a hell of a throw.

“And it sucks to see the ball game go end like that. I’m definitely prideful when it comes to stuff like that. That’s stuff I try to work on because that’s something I never want to go through again, or put my team through. So, that’s something I won’t let happen again.”

It seems hard to imagine that a rookie cornerback most analysts have pegged as a future star, who earned a job through sustained competition, and whose play prompted the team to trade a veteran outside corner, and is seventh in defensive snaps plays on the team with 446, would proceed to lose his starting job.

Lots of things seem hard to imagine with the Seahawks. And yet, after 7.5 seasons of Carroll and John Schneider at the helm, we’ve seen a lot of unimaginable things.

6. The defense’s return to dominance

Narrative status, last week: Worth Monitoring

Narrative status, this week: Worth Monitoring

If not for two absurdly precise completions by Kirk Cousins in the face of healthy pressure —

then we’re talking about a 6-2 Seahawks team again. Washington was held to 174 yards in the first 58 minutes of the game. 174 yards total. The visitors were overmatched. For 58 minutes.

Ah, but the final three-play (!), 70-yard drive counts. In the win-loss column, in the stats, in the heart.

Defensive rankings

Points allowed: 18.6 (5th, up two spots)

Passing yards allowed: 213.1 (13th, down one spot)

Yards/attempt against: 6.2 (9th, up one spot)

Passer rating against: 77.0 (6th, down two spots)

Rushing yards allowed: 109.4 (15th, up five spots)

Yards/carry against: 4.3 (24th, up two spots)

Sacks: 2.9 (9th, up five spots)

Takeaways: 1.8 (6th, down one spot)

Turnover margin: +5

A) Dwight Freeney, you guys. In 23 pass rush snaps.

B) Seattle was 23rd in rushing yards allowed two weeks into the season. Now the ranking has risen to 15th. Progress. Same in yards/carry; a ranking of 29th has ameliorated to 24th. There’s still a lot of season left, but we’re seeing the good kind of regression at work here already -- the kind that indicates the Seahawks are playing their brand of defensive ball after a couple of outlier games early on.

One thing people forget when lauding the Legion Of Boom is that the Seahawks’ defensive line and linebackers are elite run-stoppers, or have been for several seasons now.

Yards/carry allowed

2013: 4.0

2014: 3.6

2015: 3.5

2016: 3.4

With Adrian Peterson having just posted a 37-159-0 against the 49ers, Thursday would be a good time for the Seahawks to continue re-asserting their usual dominance in run defense. Well, or else.