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2017 Identity Shift: Tracking Seahawks team trends as they appear and disappear

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In order to separate good narratives from bad ones

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Seattle Seahawks
seahawks > chiefs therefore seahawks > patriots
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Syllabus

In this weekly course (fall semester only) you will assist the author in identifying and discarding legitimate trends about the 2017 Seattle Seahawks, as said trends develop and mutate in real time throughout the season. Your feedback will be employed as part of a concerted group effort to check, contain, confirm, rebuff, bolster, validate and/or destroy any narratives that envelop one of the favorites to win Super Bowl LII.


You know, since it’s back-to-school time and everything, might as well make the most of it. The real truth is: every Seahawks season has an identity, until it abruptly doesn’t anymore.

not being tom cruise > being tom cruise
  • 2012 was the season of “keep every game close while Russell Wilson learns how to play the position of quarterback” until it became “now we steamroll everyone.”
  • 2013 was the season of “you can’t stop us with Percy Harvin” until he missed virtually all of the games, with a couple important exceptions. Defensively, it was also the season of “your ball is our ball” from beginning to end.
  • 2014 was the season of “can’t buy a break” until the team caught every break in the second half of the season and the playoffs, minus one pretty crucial one at the finish line.
  • 2015 was the season of “Super Bowl Hangover,” until the Seahawks won a playoff game. Also known as the season of “no pass protection whatsoever,” until the offense figured out how to work around that and caught fire in historic fashion. Wilson went from Dead Mode to God Mode.
  • 2016 was one weird-ass season the likes of which we may never see again, which is fine. Was there even an overarching narrative besides the sheen of indestructibility being wiped off the franchise’s top performers?

How this new column works is exactly how the joke syllabus above says. I name a few trends, write about those that are likely to emerge, you chime in with ideas of trends to follow, and as some real defining characteristics actually DO emerge, we identify them and analyze them. But — and here’s the much more interesting part -- we track how the trends develop from week to week. If their arc is ascending or staying level, they become legit. If they die out quickly, we forget about them, and instead of sticking with a deceased impression of the team, we find a new colorful characteristic to celebrate.

As in: if the Seahawks run all over their first four opponents and average 180 yards on the ground, we see if it holds. If they play 75 percent nickel in Weeks 1 and 2, we compare the numbers to Weeks 3 and 4, to see if it holds. If they are super awesome on kick coverage and returns early on, we see how long it holds, and provide updates on progression/regression through Week 17 and the playoffs. There will be playoffs. The Seattle Seahawks are not counting on a 40-year-old quarterback and karma forgetting they exist — they are counting on old-fashioned talent, elite talent on both sides of the ball. (Holy shit you guys, Sheldon Richardson.)

Look. If the offensive line plays poorly in September, we document it. We hold them accountable. But then if they’re almost decent in October and then actually kind of good in November, we don’t stick with “the OL sucks” story simply because it was true once upon a time. A new trend emerges, the happy-ending one where the linemen grow together into a unit from which we can count on seeing as much good play as poor.

What are 2017’s early themes and possible trends, then? In the comment section below, please suggest a few. Some candidates have emerged from the recycling bin of history, the incestuous hive mind of league analysts, the fount of common sense, and even via preseason clues.

The sack surplus

Seattle finished the preseason with more sacks generated than allowed: 10-7. Should that trend magically continue into the games that matter, it would reverse some years of sack-related deficits.

2016: 42 sacks generated, 42 allowed. Margin: 0

2015: 37 sacks generated, 46 allowed. Margin: -9

2014: 37 sacks generated, 42 allowed. Margin: -5

2013: 44 sacks generated, 44 allowed. Again with the margin: 0

2012 was the last time the Seahawks defense out-sacked its opponents, 36-33. With the CARBs* on the loose, 2017 could signal a new age of pass rushing.

(*Clark-Avril-Richardson-Bennett)

Special teams numbers

All-around statistically, it’s hard to argue that the Seahawks have recently outclassed their opponents in the third phase (Pete Carroll’s favorite phase, shhh, don’t tell) of the game. Either in this preseason, or the recent past.

Neither kicker used the fake games to show the kind of numerical brilliance that would sway the special teams pendulum to the Seahawks. Blair Walsh made 81.8 percent of his kicks, under last year’s league average of 83.7.

Jon Ryan checks in with a nondescript 41.1 net average, a number that would’ve also placed him one notch below average last year, tied for 17th in fact.

Team-wise, 7.3 on punt returns and 18.9 on kickoff returns doesn’t inspire a lot of explosive confidence. In the somewhat likely event that Tyler Lockett does not return kicks this season, there is little reason to expect brilliance out of the special teams unit. The trend at this time appears to be toward mediocrity.

And not because of one offseason. Look at what’s happened in terms of weighted DVOA since the high point of four seasons ago:

2013: 5th

2014: 19th

2015: 15th

2016: 21st

It’s not just your imagination. Seattle’s special teams have recently been middling. Average. Common. Sorta fine but sorta not. The long-term trend is toward special teams not hurting a lot, but also not helping a lot.

You know what would help a lot?

Turnover margin

A sad trend awaits us again in terms of turnover differential.

2013: +20

2014: +10

2015: +7

2016: +1

At this rate, the 2017 team will finish in the negative, right? Especially because the Green Bay Packers and their weird knack for weird interceptions against Wilson —

— loom in the nearest future possible. Barring another natural disaster, this time in Wisconsin, the Seahawks will find themselves at Lambeau Field, scene of their worst loss of the Wilson Era. If they can escape from the thawed tundra having won the turnover battle, maybe we’ll be on to something in 2017.

The primary back is...

...the question everyone’s been asking since Eddie Lacy joined the fold. Lacy carried the ball 14 times in August, to Thomas Rawls’ two. Resolving nothing whatsoever.

The real star of the preseason, Chris Carson, finished fake game action with a line of 24-102-2, which would win you some fantasy matchups this upcoming weekend if you weren’t smart enough to pick up Kareem Hunt, but Carson’s not getting double-digit carries on Sunday unless something goes wrong.

Will there even be an overarching trend in 2017 with the loaded backfield Seattle presents? Or will the trend be that there is no trend? That’s also a possible answer.

Run-pass ratio

In my opinion, this is where much of the analytical action is hottest in 2017, because to hearken back to the Super Bowl year once more:

2013: Seattle passed on 47.7% of plays

2014: 48.6%

2015: 51.7%

2016: 60.2% (!!!)

There were, naturally, multiple circumstances that shaped this evolution, and not all of them point to “NOW WE PASS MORE BECAUSE RW.”

In 2013 and 2014, the team won more games, won more games going away, therefore rushing more late in games, and employed Marshawn Lynch, who was a pretty decent option out of the backfield.

In 2015, the passing offense went nutso in the second half.

In 2016, the running back situation was fluid, Wilson’s legs were one bad tackle away from being amputated by team doctors in the locker room, and the run-blocking was generally thought to be inferior. That’s partially why the Seahawks went from running the ball more than 500 times every season to only 403 attempts last year.

I think the trend reverses, starting Sunday.

History suggests Earl Thomas should suit up

In all games since, again, 2013, teams have a hard time scoring 30 points against the Seahawks. They’ve managed it just 10 times in 75 games.

But look at the difference with and without Earl.

Times giving up 30+, with Earl on the field: 7-68, or 10.3 percent

Times giving up 30+, with Earl out of the game: 3-7, or 42.9 percent

With “old” number 29 active, the offense has to do less, the defense works better, the team wins more often. He’s the biggest reason the Legion has its name; he’s one of the biggest reasons Seattle is one more title away from being called a dynasty.

Now, should the unthinkable happen, and teams continue to score more than 30 points a game against the Thomas-led Seahawks, then we have more sad trends to explore.

Conclusion: not totally kidding about the syllabus part

When the games begin to count -- in two days’ time, can you believe it -- that’s when real trends will begin to reveal themselves. When you something that looks suspiciously like a potential trend, well,

This column is the authorities. It’ll listen.