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Identity Shift: Seahawks’ most familiar weaknesses exploited by Packers

Meet the new narratives, much the same as the old narratives -- for now

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers
didn’t count because reasons
Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

A Seattle Seahawks fan who wanted the season opener at Green Bay to quench his or her months-long jones for good football — out of luck.

A fan who sought confirmation of the team’s worst trends of 2016 — got their wish.

Not all the news was horrible coming out of Beast Mode’s Roped Ride Field. The defense balled out for a long time, the cornerback depth had a chance to shine (how’s that for a silver lining eh), and the kicking game looked precise. And how good was it to see this again:

Good time for an explanation of the methodology behind the new “Identity Shift” column.

Negative trends will be evaluated on a 1-5 scale, with 1 being the state of utmost emergency and fret level, aka TrendCon 1, and 5 being “nah let’s not worry about this one too much right now” — TrendCon 5. (Rejected names: DefHawk, Fret Level, Seamergency Broadcast System.)

Other developing narratives will be also judged on a five-tier scale of validity, like so:

Definite Identity Match > Holding Pretty True > Worth Monitoring > Dubious For Now > Total Bunk

At first, many 2017 trends will fall within the “Worth Monitoring” category because the season isn’t quite complete just yet. There still remain some victories to be plucked from a schedule that looks far less forbidding with the Packers game in the wastebasket/rear view mirror.

1. Pass protection has problems

On Sunday vs. the San Francisco 49ers, a Seahawks OL that is below average at pass protection will confirm its disappointing trend, or begin to reverse it.

Probably the play of the game above, if one accepts the flags on Nazair Jones’ pick six as legitimate. But why would one do so?

Overall, Russell Wilson was pressured on 39.4 percent of snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. 37 dropbacks, 13 pressures. In past seasons, Wilson’s taken up residence in the 40-45 percent range, and that’s been good/bad enough to rank near the bottom of the league.

While PFF grades are good for a few laughs and nothing more, their signature stats and counting stats are a fine resource. Pass Blocking Efficiency is a metric they created to evaluate offensive lines. Turns out the Seahawks posted the third-worst PBE (68.2) on Sunday. Matches the eye test, at least.

If you want to watch every dropback, because you have issues, FG writer Ben Baldwin put together a cutup. Make your own evaluations.

TrendCon level: 1 on a historical level, 1 or 2 on a 2017 level

2. Rushing attack -- is it by committee?

Y’all will surely remember the infamous Darrell Bevell “committee” quote from the offseason between Super Bowl appearances.

“We are going to be running back by committee," he blurted out at a well-publicized Seahawks Town Hall in June of ‘14. “We really like what Christine Michael is doing right now. ... He has breakaway speed and power behind his pads.”

The past future played out differently, but now our present future is playing out quite a bit more committee-oriented.

The official record will show 18 carries for 90 yards, but only because the bubble screen to Doug Baldwin on the second offensive play was technically a backwards pass. 17-87-0 is the line the Seahawks ground attack will carry forward.

Of those 17 carries, 6 went to Chris Carson, 5 to Eddie Lacy, 4 to C.J. Prosise. The very definition of a job share.

Throw in two Russell Wilson scrambles and the story of the run game is one of few open spaces, few explosive plays (two), and few clues as to who the primary back is going forward. If there even is one. Remember Thomas Rawls was inactive Week 1, but is likely to join the backfield this Sunday or next. And then whatever established trend exists will be put to the test again.

Developing Narrative: Worth Monitoring

3. Red zone woes

Last Sunday, the Packers got touchdowns and the Seahawks got field goals. For all the officiating issues —

— the fact remains that if the red zone circumstances are reversed, with the Packers stalling and the Seahawks finishing their drives, we’re looking back on a gritty Seattle road win. Even in the face of all the calls that happened to go the wrong way.

But it isn’t like red zone issues are a new hurdle for the Seahawks. They haven’t been particularly good at turning advantageous field position into touchdowns, for a while now.

2014: 51.5 percent, 20th place

2015: 55.6 percent, 16th place

2016: 47.6 percent, 25th place

2017: Started 0-2, not ideal for climbing to the top of the league.

TrendCon level: 3 on a historical level, holding steady at 3 on a 2017 level

Pass rush getting home

The Seahawks have typically had an easy time generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks but a hard time accumulating enough sacks to offset the ones they give up. Over the last four seasons, they’ve run a -14 sack deficit, never once out-sacking the opposition over the course of an entire year.

It’s not an earth-shattering revelation. See 1., after all. But amidst all the legitimate hand-wringing, amidst the 60-minute barbarian siege upon Wilson at Lambeau, something unusual occurred — the Seahawks dropped Aaron Rodgers four times to Wilson’s three. A one-sack surplus? We’ll see how long that lasts.

Developing Narrative Status: Worth Monitoring

The shiny new cornerback is going to play a major role

Nice to see Shaquill Griffin looking competent and active in his first-ever NFL live game. Against a decent quarterback having a decent career, at that.

Pretty soon Rodgers will have to start targeting the right side of the field again?

Griffin played 67 out of a possible 72 defensive snaps. Jeremy Lane’s absence probably played into the heavy usage of an untested rookie — but it’s not like Griffin gave Pete Carroll a reason to take him out of the game.

Griffin was targeted nine times and gave up 1.11 yards per coverage snap. For reference, Chris Harris is the top performer in that category since 2012, with 0.79 yards per snap.

It was Quill’s first game. Ever.

Developing Narrative Status: Worth Monitoring, so much Worth Monitoring

Defense returning to dominance

Points allowed: 17

Yards allowed: 370

Yards/carry against: 3.0

Passer rating against: 86.5 (sample size of Rodgers!)

Sacks: 4

Takeaways: 1

Turnover margin: even

The defense did its job. If 17 points allowed at Lambeau is any indication of the future, there will be many Sundays this season when the Seahawks offense just needs to reach 14 points to emerge victorious.

Developing narrative status: Worth Monitoring with strong lean toward “Definite Identity Match” because of past performance. With Earl Thomas healthy. That’s the perpetual disclaimer.

Effectiveness of hurry up vs. deliberate pace

The end-of-half hurry-up drill culminated in Seattle’s first points of the game last week. During that time, it might have felt like the Seahawks had finally unlocked the secret to moving the ball in the right direction.

First 20 offensive plays: 25 yards gained. 1.25 yards per play.

Seven plays on quick drive: 74 yards gained. 10.57 yards per play.

The sample size for 2017 is the smallest. And there’s a counterpoint within the game itself: when the Seahawks drove down the field again in the third quarter, the time between plays on their 71-yard march, excluding plays that ended in penalty, was 39 seconds. Still, the end of the first half seems to have left an impression on Wilson, leading him to say:

“We’ve always moved really well when we’re going up-tempo. That has been something we’re trying to focus on all offseason and I think that’s something that’s advantageous to us.”

You always suspected tempo was on his and Carroll’s and Darrell Bevell’s collective minds. Now you know.

Developing narrative status: Worth Monitoring

Yes, your input still counts

Which of the above nascent trends will survive the season? Which new one will emerge to take their place? Is the outstanding special teams showing for real? Is it sustainable?

Is Jon Ryan going to keep serving spectacularly precise footstuffs, on platters such as this?

Or we could touch on the usage of Jimmy Graham, Sheldon Richardson, the aforementioned Jones, or even the emergence of a mythical third linebacker. Or anything, really. If the transition to a passing offense becomes permanent, you can bet all your Gullbux that’s going to get tracked.

Starting after the Niners game, one of the trends most on my mind is “Where did the Jermaine Kearse targets go?” Number 15 was aimed at 89 times last season. In the long run, who is the beneficiary of all the extra throws? Paul Richardson? Tyler Lockett? Jimmy Graham? Or will Baldwin go ahead and

those too?

The unknown identity of a still-new season is one of its most attractive features. So chime in with trends you’d like to see followed, or at least considered.