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Identity Shift: Seahawks defense falters, Lacy and Rawls relegated

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Seattle Seahawks
seems like a year ago
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes, a team’s identity might appear to shift in the middle of a game. But trying to conduct half-baked half-based analysis on a team like the Seattle Seahawks is much like failing to see the nest for the eggs.

(Eh. 5/10. You try writing avian-specific imagery.)

Are the Seahawks the team that held Aaron Rodgers scoreless at Lambeau for 30 minutes, kept the 49ers out of the end zone all game, and forced four straight three-and-outs to the Titans in Nashville? Technically, yes.

At the same exact time, they’re also the team whose run defense is, let’s say, flagging in the second halves of games -- also doubles as a refereeing joke. 18 penalties were called on Seattle last week. Not all were accepted. But: 18 flags. One game.

Offensively speaking? There is only one early-season clue: up-tempo suits them. Everything else they try fits like your 9th-grade prom tux: looks good and works good in theory, but take it out for a spin, and you end up looking awkwarder than an armadillo crossed with a daddy-long-legs, and that’s before you start dancing.

(Perhaps I’ve divulged too much about my early teenage years.)

As always, trends are assigned a 1-5 TrendCon level of worry, with 1 as the most worrisome and 5 as the least. It’s vaguely miltary-ish. As always, narratives are assigned one of: Definite Match/Holding True/Worth Monitoring/Mostly Dubious/Total Bunk.

1. Pass protection woes

TrendCon level (last week): 2

TrendCon level (this week): 2

The only reason this one isn’t a 1 is because of the season context. We’re through three weeks, and the pass protection has time to improve because the players themselves have time to improve. But you could talk me into a 1 with minimal effort.

Seattle was starting the youngest offensive line in the NFL for Week 2. According to people with math skills.

(Sidenote: Los Angeles Rams sighting!) While it gets extremely tiresome to be told to wait for OL growth season after season after season, the coaches’ strategy in 2017 appears to be one of developing youngsters. For this year, but especially 2018 and beyond. If it sounds like I’m sugarcoating the situation, maybe start this paragraph again and focus on the first clause.

Ben Baldwin, who you follow on Twitter (@guga31bb) if you’ve any sense at all, provides this humorous-but-not-funny snapshot of Wilson’s protection on one play. The snap was fumbled, so overall, everyone’s timing is off.

But that’s hardly an excuse for what Ben aptly calls a “war zone.” Five Seahawks are hugging the turf, surely because of snipers somewhere; meanwhile, six Titans are upright and you can practically smell the malice in their eyes. This? This is the mental picture you have during your sports nightmare in which you are tasked with getting that clutch base hit, winning the Wimbledon final, or running a route to the end zone as time expires, while woefully unprepared for any of it. Like you didn’t wear your pads, or your helmet, or your cup, or even any underwear. This is literally the “I’m the lead role in this play but I didn’t learn any of my lines” bad dream scenario, come to life, happening to a real person in real time, with real 300-pound linemen thrown in.

Statistically, the rationale for a worrisome TrendCon level is airtight. Wilson has been pressured on more than 40 percent of his dropbacks this year. 37 percent Week 1, 47 percent Week 2, and 44 percent Week 3. Only through his special brand of sorcery has he kept the sack number at seven.

His average time to throw of 2.95 seconds is 28th in the league. There is really nothing good to say about the pass protection yet.

2. Running back by committee? Is that happening?

Narrative Status (last week): Worth Monitoring

Narrative Status (this week): Mostly Dubious

After three weeks, there can be no debating the current rushing identity of the 2017 Seahawks: It is heavy doses of Chris Carson, with the briefest of cameos by Thomas Rawls and Eddie Lacy, third-down contributions by C.J. Prosise, and Wilson cast as the supporting actor/deus ex machina.

It won’t take fancy stats to show you.

RB Offensive snaps percentage: Carson 57.4, Prosise 29.4, Rawls 8.3, Lacy 3.4

RB Touches: Carson 41, Prosise 14, Rawls 5, Lacy 5

RB Rushing Yards: Carson 166, Prosise 20, Rawls 4, Lacy 3

RB Scores: Carson 1, everyone else combined 0

Chris Carson has definitely seized the day, and with Prosise out on Sunday (ankle), we’re not going to talk about Alex Collins’ 7.8 YPC until next week, or ever. So we can rush to the next trend, let me quote... me:

Not sure why the trend toward Carson would reverse itself now, except that it’s a long season and shit happens. ~this column, Sept. 21

3. Red zone woes continue

TrendCon Level (last week): 3

TrendCon Level (this week): 4

The Seahawks were 1 for 5 in the red zone coming in, went 3 for 4, and lost. Sure, the RZ stats are fun to track, and fun to argue about, and fun to complain about, but red zone performance appears to be losing any relevancy to the team’s larger identity. Victories and defeats are depending on far more important statistical measures.

A TD rate of 44.4 percent would have ranked 31st last season. So some field goals still need to swapped out for touchdowns. But if the rate rises to about 50 percent, it won’t really be worth the column space.

Red zone success is pretty, either way. Note the high degree of difficulty as Wilson threads multiple needles to get the ball to Paul Richardson here.

4. Sack surplus

Narrative Status (last week): Worth Monitoring

Narrative Status: (this week): Worth Monitoring

A one-sack advantage after Week 1 has cartwheeled into a one-sack disadvantage (7-6) after Week 3. At shallow glance, the Seattle OL isn’t making life too hard on the Seattle DL, which ought to be able to keep pace with 2.3 sacks per game.

Except the pressure brought upon Marcus Mariota Sunday was a couple degrees of magnitude below acceptable. Two hurries in 37 dropbacks. For a line that employs Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Frank Clark and Sheldon Richardson, the lack of pass rush is mystifying.

After two home games and two road games, it’ll be more fair to pass judgment on the sack situation. Check back here in a week.

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

Narrative Status (last week): Worth Monitoring

Narrative Status: (this week): Holding True

Three interesting aspects to the cornerback situation. First, Richard Sherman continues to play every snap. He’s been on the field for all 204. If you weren’t aware of the Seahawks’ substitution patterns, rest assured, for the LOB mainstays, the pattern is a simple one to grasp: no subs. Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas and Sherman have all been in on 100 percent of defensive snaps. As have Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright.

Jeremy Lane and Griffin are are neck-and-neck in defensive snaps, with 129 and 127 respectively. Justin Coleman trails with 42, Neiko Thorpe filled in for two snaps — and that’s it. Illuminating aspects two and three: the Seahawks are still playing plenty of nickel, and the depth chart definitely includes Griffin.

Griffin is also seventh in special teams snaps, with 35. The coaching staff is getting him seasoned on kick coverage. Much as they did with the future Hall of Famers in 2010 and 2011.

Quill Griffin is gonna be good, you guys.

6. Overall, is the defense still dominant?

Narrative Status (last week): Dubious

Narrative Status: (this week): Dubious

The Titans didn’t help, if we were looking for confirmation that the Seahawks are back to their dominant defensive ways.

Points allowed: 19.7 (8th)

Passing yards allowed: 200.0 (8th)

Yards/attempt against: 6.3 (8th again)

Passer rating against: ...

Rushing yards allowed: 146.0 (30th)

Yards/carry against: 5.3 (32nd)

Sacks: 6 (T-21st)

Takeaways: 2 (T-23rd)

Turnover margin: +1

The run defense is what stings. While the Legion of Boom stole all the headlines from 2013 through 2016, Seattle’s front seven did a better than good job bottling up opponents on the ground.

YPC allowed

2013: 3.9

2014: 3.4

2015: 3.6

2016: 3.4

This present season has seen them fall prey to two giant plays — the Week 2 Carlos Hyde 61-yard scamper and the DeMarco Murray 75-yard score last week -- and so they sit uncomfortably at 5.3 yards per rush, worst in the league. With all the same names back there as before, plus Richardson, the rush defense ought to regress back to its mean of excellence, especially if they don’t give up more Hyde-Murray plays.

IF they don’t give up those plays. Thirteen weeks is a long time to hold off the explosives. But then again, the Rams’ current rushing average is 3.3 and the Arizona Cardinals’ is 2.8, so there will perhaps be opportunities to get well within the division.

7. Effectiveness of the hurry-up

Narrative Status (last week): Worth Monitoring

Narrative Status: (this week): Incomplete

We were at 3.1 yards per play in the conventional offense and 14.2 yards per play in the uptempo offense through two games. After four games, I’ll update the numbers and we’ll be able to more certainly ascertain if Pete Carroll is leaving points on the table with this crew taking their time.

The suspense might not be killing you, but maybe it kicked you in the shins a little.

8. Jermaine Kearse’s snaps going mainly to Jimmy Graham, Richardson, Amara Darboh, Tanner McEvoy

Narrative Status (last week): Worth Monitoring

Narrative Status (this week): Holding True

Richardson’s up 53 snaps and 11 targets from last year at this time. That’s the magic of staying healthy.

Graham’s up 32 and 10. You read that right. Graham is being played more and targeted more compared last year, when he set franchise tight end records for receptions and yards.

Darboh is getting his feet wet, with 29 snaps and three targets. Tanner McEvoy isn’t moving the needle that much from 2016 — 25 more snaps and two more targets. But it’s something.

It looks like Graham and Richardson are the main beneficiaries of Kearse’s absence. Of course, the ex-Seahawk has almost many touchdowns (two) as all Seahawk wide receivers combined this season (three).

That’s not holding true another week. Right?