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Identity Shift: All the Seahawks’ negative narratives awaken at once

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Jacksonville Jaguars
2017’d
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re a fan of the most incredible and maddening team playing football right now, all of its eyesores and all of its attractiveness showed up in Week 14. All of them. All at once.

Porous offensive line? Slow start on offense? Critical drops? Undisciplined play? Bad injury luck? Bad officiating luck? Questionable choices on last-minute drive? Check, check, check; check, check and totally check.

But also, “they’re never out of any game, even down three scores in the fourth quarter”? Check. Almost check-mate. What would have been another epic comeback was foiled by on the final drive, you guessed it — a drop, a questionable choice, a bad sack and a pretty egregious no-call. All in sequence, all in the space of four plays.

If you want to tell the story of the 2017 Seattle Seahawks, the fourth quarter of the Jacksonville Jaguars game is as good a spot as any to start. Or finish.

Speaking of finishing. The Seahawks will finish 2017 as one of the following:

  • Division champs
  • The wild-card team nobody wants to face
  • The first Russell Wilson-led team to miss the playoffs
  • Victims of a cruel health-related practical joke perpetrated by the sport itself
  • The deepest team in the league

I suppose they could easily check off two, or three of the boxes above. We already know their injury list reads like a... well, listen to how Jacson puts it.

I’m of the mind that if you consider yourself a Super Bowl contender, you must have depth. But name a squad that can lose two All-Pro defensive backs, a Pro Bowl pass rusher, two of its two three picks in the draft (both on the defensive line), both its linebackers, including the one playing at a DPOY level, and still compete with the best teams in the league. While you’re at it, afflict the remaining players with things like plantar fascia and heel trouble.

Such is the situation with the Seahawks. Back in 2016, when Earl Thomas was rehabbing from a bone-shattering collision with Kam Chancellor, football analysts played the game of “who is more valuable to the defense, Thomas, Chancellor, Richard Sherman, or either of the stud defensive ends?

It wasn’t common for anyone to name Bobby Wagner as indispensable.

Well, Wagner left Sunday’s game in Jacksonville in the third quarter. On the next three offensive plays, the Jaguars scored touchdowns.

Jacksonville turned the first 32 plays of the game into three offensive points. The next three plays became 21 offensive points.

If Wagner The Indispensable doesn’t play in the division-race-altering Week 15 matchup with the Rams, the Seattle Russell Wilsons are going to have to produce four fourth quarters’ worth of scoring. And not one of their all-too-common slow starts.

Because...

1. The Seahawks are a second-half offense

Narrative status, last week: Holding True

Narrative status, this week: Definite Identity Match

No points in the first half for the Seahawks; 24 in the second. Seattle is now 25th in the league in first-half scoring and 2nd in second-half scoring. There can be little doubt left that this team flips a switch of some sort after halftime.

What’s interesting, though, is that the 2016 Seahawks were a better first-half offense, with 12.4 first-half points on average and 9.6 after halftime. Make up your mind, franchise people, or don’t. Just score points. That’s good too.

Breaking it down further, as usual:

Qtr 1: 19th, 3.8 ppq

Qtr 2: 27th, 4.8 ppq

Qtr 3: 6th, 6.0 ppq

Qtr 4: 1st, 9.6 ppq

The Seahawks have scored more points in the fourth quarter alone than in the entire first half. Read that sentence on loop.

2. Explosive plays are breaking the wrong way — narrative retired

Without much interesting data this season poining toward explosive plays and a correlation to winning or losing, this line of analysis is going to hit a dead end. We’ll find another narrative to follow for the last couple weeks.

Seattle’s got a smaller lead than usual in explosives. But still a lead. And their record is not up to the 2012-2014 standards. But still a winning record.

3. Penalties called against Seattle are excessive

TrendCon, last week: 3 (medium concern)

TrendCon, this week: 3

Through ten games, the Seahawks had committed 103 penalties. You’d have expected them, at that rate, to hit 134 after 13 games. But they sit at just 120. Their terrifyingly torrid pace finally slowed, and thank goodness.

The bad look of the endgame in Jacksonville might sour a few folks’ view of the Seahawks’ discipline, but the flags thrown Seattle’s way are trending lower. Lower than historically high. Hey, nobody said you had to be excited about it.

Net penalties (last week’s ranking)

5. Cincinnati, 13 (still 5th)

4. Kansas City, 19 (still 4th)

3. Denver, 27 (still 3rd)

2. San Francisco, 28 (still 2nd)

1. Seattle, 32 (still 1st)

Net yardage lost via penalties (last week’s ranking)

5. Los Angeles Rams, 136 (unranked)

4. Cincinnati, 174 (3rd)

3. Kansas City, 195 (4th)

2. San Francisco, 202 (2nd)

1. Seattle, 287 (1st)

Three NFC West teams, on very different paths in 2017, all present in the top 5. That’s bizarre.

4. The Seahawks are now a passing team

Narrative status, last week: Holding True

Narrative status, this week: Definite Identity Match

You are what your record says you are, according to the Bill Parcells aphorism. Parcells might tell the Seahawks they are what their play selection says they are.

Through Week 8: 59.5 percent passing

Through Week 9: 60.0

Through Week 10: 60.1

Through Week 11: 60.8

Through Week 12: 60.1

Through Week 13: 59.9

Through Week 14: 59.8

It’s remarkable how consistent the Seahawks are at pass-run balance, if you define balance as a 60-40 split. And I mean consistent since the “retirement” of Marshawn Lynch. 59.8 this year and 59.4 last year in his absence. Check out the pass play percentage history:

With Lynch, 2012: 45.8

Still Beasting, 2013: 47.3

Bout that action, 2014: 48.6

Lynch on and off, 2015: 53.3

Retired Marshawn, 2016: 59.4

Raiders have Lynch, 2017: 59.8

Part of the increase in passing percentage has to be explained by Pete Carroll and the coaching staff entrusting more plays to Wilson. But the 2012-13-14 teams were respectively 32nd, 32nd and 31st in passing plays called.

The Seahawks are a passing team. Whether that’s by necessity, or design, or both — it’s almost always some of both — matters little if the question is about their offensive identity.

5. Pass protection issues

TrendCon level, last week: 4 (second-least worrisome)

TrendCon level, this week: 3

Duane Brown is good and his goodness means the offensive line has more pass pro goodness.

But the Seahawks were hashtag-bad again for Wilson’s sake last Sunday. The quarterback was under pressure on 47 percent of snaps; Ethan Pocic was the worst offender, with seven hurries allowed.

Inconsistency continues to be the defining feature of the Seahawks pass protection unit; after five straight games earlier with a pressure rate above 40 percent, they turned in five straight under 40. Then the Jaguars had a lot of fun storming the castle last Sunday.

Seattle’s 5.9 sack rate this season is a 1.2 percentage points improvement from last season and is good enough for 15th best this year. The trend is positive, in the long term. You’d still like to see the QB hits decrease — Wilson is hit the fifth-most — but things are getting better overall, not worse.

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

Narrative status, last week: Worth Monitoring

Narrative status, this week: Worth Monitoring

Mike Davis’ 15-66 line doesn’t figure to inspire any long-term confidence, not with him exiting the game due to a rib injury. But if he does return and receives more than half the carries, after posting a 16-64 against the Eagles as well, then the Seahawks will have found their lead back with all of two games left in the season.

If Davis is out, or suffers another injury, any one of the four other runners with more than 30 carries and more than 129 yards could take back over as a member of the Seattle Subcommittee On Rushing The Football (no politics).

Wilson still leads the Seahawks with 482 yards on the ground, or 26 more than the sum total of Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls and J.D. McKissic, incidentally but not coincidentally the only backs who’ve stayed healthy for more than half the season.

Oh, and RW accumulated those yards on less than half the carries it took Lacy, Rawls and McKissic.

7. The defense’s return to dominance

Narrative status, last week: Holding True

Narrative status, this week: Worth Monitoring

Without Wagner and Wright in the linebacker row, blowing up screens, making every tackle and even blitzing with virtuosity —

— is this even the same defense? (No. It is not. Please play Sunday, Bobby. Please don’t miss any time, K.J.)

Defensive rankings

Points allowed: 19.4 (8th, no change)

Passing yards allowed: 226.3 (16th, down two spots)

Yards/attempt against: 6.4 (13th, down five spots)

Passer rating against: 82.4 (9th, down three spots)

Rushing yards allowed: 102.8 (8th, down one spot)

Yards/carry against: 3.9 (8th, down one spot)

Sacks: 2.5 (T-13th, down four spots)

Takeaways: 1.5 (T-9th, no change)

Turnover margin: +5 (does not count stops on downs or safeties)

Playing Blake Bortles really caused the Seahawks to fall two spots in passing yards allowed, five spots in Y/A against and three spots in passer rating against? Go home 2017, you’re stoned.

The Seahawks are above average in all the basic categories above. (Don’t worry, in the offseason I’ll also look at the advanced stats put out by footballoutsiders.com and the like.) But not elite in any one. Maybe that’s what missing Sherman, Chancellor, Avril and assorted other All-Pros/Pro Bowlers on and off will do for you in a given season.