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Seahawks’ issue in 2016 wasn’t number of turnovers, but context of when they gave the ball away

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers Post-Crescent-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks defense had a major problem with turnovers for the whole of the 2016 season, setting a franchise-low with just 19 takeaways. Those woes worsened following the season-ending injury to Earl Thomas, after which the Seahawks didn’t record a single interception for the final five games of the year.

While Seattle finished 22nd in takeaways, the offense finished in the exact same spot for total giveaways. Half of Seattle’s 18 turnovers came in the disastrous outings against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers. Pete Carroll has long emphasized taking care of the ball, and under Russell Wilson, the Seahawks have never had more than 19 giveaways in any single regular season.

What makes the 2016 team stand out compared to past seasons is not the number of turnovers, but how many points were scored off of them by Seahawks opponents. Seven opposition possessions went for touchdowns, while two resulted in field gulls field goals.

In total, Seattle allowed 56 points off of turnovers, which is the most under Russell Wilson and the most they’ve given up since allowing 86 in 2010. The previous high in the Wilson era was 49 in 2012, also off of 18 turnovers. It must be noted that 21 of the 56 points allowed by the Seahawks came in the Packers debacle, in which they committed an unfathomable six turnovers. For perspective, the Seahawks only allowed two touchdowns off turnovers for the whole of the 2015 regular season, and both were defensive scores.

This isn’t necessarily any reason for panic, as the Seahawks were 16th in the NFL in points allowed per giveaway in the regular season.

Points off giveaways (2016 NFL regular season only)

Team Giveaways Points Give/Pts
Team Giveaways Points Give/Pts
San Diego Chargers 35 105 3
New York Jets 34 110 3.23
Chicago Bears 31 93 3
Los Angeles Rams 29 126 4.34
Carolina Panthers 29 73 2.52
Jacksonville Jaguars 29 69 2.38
Arizona Cardinals 28 63 2.25
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27 81 3
New York Giants 27 59 2.18
San Francisco 49ers 25 107 4.28
Denver Broncos 25 71 2.84
Cleveland Browns 25 81 3.24
New Orleans Saints 24 85 3.54
Houston Texans 24 78 3.25
Baltimore Ravens 23 49 2.13
Miami Dolphins 23 41 1.78
Indianapolis Colts 22 82 3.73
Washington Redskins 21 76 3.62
Philadelphia Eagles 20 50 2.5
Tennessee Titans 18 57 3.17
Pittsburgh Steelers 18 58 3.22
Seattle Seahawks 18 56 3.11
Kansas City Chiefs 17 55 3.23
Green Bay Packers 17 30 1.76
Cincinnati Bengals 17 22 1.29
Minnesota Vikings 16 50 3.125
Detroit Lions 15 26 1.73
Dallas Cowboys 15 49 3.27
Oakland Raiders 14 48 3.43
Buffalo Bills 12 34 2.83
Atlanta Falcons 11 40 3.64
New England Patriots 11 34 3.09

While they were firmly middle-of-the-pack among all NFL teams in this category, the 2016 Seahawks were incredibly worse than the terrible 2010 team in terms of turnovers hurting them on the scoreboard.

Seahawks giveaways by season (2010-2016)

Year Seahawks Giveaways Total points off giveaways Points per giveaway
Year Seahawks Giveaways Total points off giveaways Points per giveaway
2010 31 86 2.77
2011 23 49 2.13
2012 18 45 2.5
2013 19 33 1.74
2014 14 38 2.71
2015 16 29 1.81
2016 18 56 3.11

Peeling back the onion even further, just over 60% (!!!) of Seattle’s turnovers last season led to their opponents starting their ensuing drives in Seahawks territory.

More Seahawks turnover statistics (2010-2016)

Year Total TDs allowed Defensive TDs allowed Offensive TDs allowed Giveaways leading to opp. starting in SEA territory % of giveaways leading to opp. starting in SEA territory
Year Total TDs allowed Defensive TDs allowed Offensive TDs allowed Giveaways leading to opp. starting in SEA territory % of giveaways leading to opp. starting in SEA territory
2010 10 2 8 13 0.419
2011 6 2 4 9 0.391
2012 5 2 3 7 0.389
2013 4 1 3 9 0.474
2014 5 0 5 7 0.5
2015 2 2 0 5 0.3125
2016 7 0 7 11 0.611

To summarize: Seattle didn’t turn the ball over very often. Yay! When they did give it away, it disproportionately led to short fields for the opposition. Bad! Those opponents scored a touchdown off of those short fields 7-of-11 times, the second-highest conversion rate behind the Atlanta Falcons (2-of-2). Also bad!

I’m willing to write off 2016’s numbers as anomalous and not a disturbing trend that should concern the team. They’ve consistently proven in previous seasons that they can take care of the ball and minimize the damage done when they do turn it over.

With that said, these are the little things (speaking of which, shameless plug for John Fraley’s great new offseason series) that change games, and for the Seahawks, they didn’t win these mini-battles nearly enough. Wilson’s second quarter interception against the Saints turned a 14-6 game into a 14-13 halftime scoreline. His forced pick on a 3rd and 19 against the Panthers led not only to Carolina’s only touchdown, but far more importantly Earl Thomas’ leg break just three plays later. The completely botched exchange between Wilson and Marcel Reece against the Cardinals gave them an early 7-0 lead, and forced Seattle to play from behind for the rest of the afternoon. Even for turnovers that didn’t lead to opposition points, all three of Seattle’s giveaways against the Buccaneers occurred inside Tampa Bay’s 30, which killed any chance of a comeback. Christine Michael’s fumble derailed a late comeback against the Rams in week 2. These are just some of the moments that proved to be critical in Seattle’s failure to get themselves a first-round bye.

(All stats compiled through Sporting Charts and Pro Football Reference)