Sunday afternoon saw the Seattle Seahawks crawling out of the NFC West basement by (finally) winning a game, toppling the Dallas Cowboys 24-13 at CenturyLink Field. On the face of it, an 11-point win at home, with a 100-yard rusher and a +3 turnover differential might make you think that the team has officially turned the corner. I’m here to pour a tiny bit of cold water on that notion.
Even Pete Carroll couldn’t help himself post-game when he talked about playing the game they wanted to, particularly with running the ball and controlling field position via the punting game. The thing is, though...
The running game was bad, it was inefficient, wasteful at times and ill-advised.
Using data from Warren Sharp’s Sharp Box Score, we see that the Seahawks ran a whopping 17 times on 1st down alone for a grand total of 39 yards, which comes out to 2.3YPC and 41% Success Rate. Both of those metrics, YPC and Success Rate were below league averages of 4.2 YPC and 44% respectively in 2017. While running on 1st down is generally inefficient, the Seahawks were more inefficient than usual and yet committed to doing so on a horrifying 68% of their first downs. It’s one thing to commit to a philosophy, it’s another to stick to a philosophy that regularly puts you behind the sticks when you know you’re either bad at it or doing it far too often.
The Seahawks are again being far too conservative on 4th down.
Right after intercepting Dak Prescott (and having a huge return wiped off the board), the Seahawks had a three-play drive for six yards ending with a drop by Brandon Marshall. The ball was on the Dallas 45-yard line, the Dallas defense hadn’t exactly looked great to that point, and the Seahawks defense has looked shaky for the previous two weeks. Rather than go for it on 4th down, the Seahawks punted 38 yards (dragging Michael Dickson’s average punt yardage down). Assuming even a league-average chance of making the 1st down, the Seahawks stood to benefit more by going for it than had they punted. Work done ages ago by Brian Burke and Kevin Quealy shows how NFL coaches continued to leave points on the field by being too conservative on 4th down.
The pass rush finally showed up
The defense got pressure on Sunday in ways they didn’t over the previous two weeks, with 10 QB hits of Dak Prescott, 5 of which were sacks, and a pair of interceptions courtesy of Earl Thomas (Tongue in cheek: “Pay the man!”). The reason for cautious optimism here is three-fold. First, the Dallas receivers are legitimately bad, generating little separation at the line of scrimmage or late in routes. Secondly, the offense has been described as remedial in some circles, even garnering stinging criticism from former Cowboy WR Dez Bryant and is the butt of a great many jokes on Twitter. Most importantly however is the situation on their offensive line. Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick is out indefinitely with Guillain-Barré syndrome, rookie second-rounder Connor Williams has been struggling mightily at guard, and La’el Collins is doing his best Germain Ifedi impression at right tackle. With those things in mind it’s hard to get too excited by the performance. We’ll have to wait until the Los Angeles Rams home game in two weeks before we can draw any solid conclusions about their effectiveness, or lack thereof.
After reading this, you might be thinking that I’m completely down on the Seahawks, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. I like Chris Carson as a player even if I think the Seahawks are using him poorly (give him the ball in the air).
Hot damn... Carson is good— Andre Forbes (@andref1989) September 23, 2018
I happen to think that Russell Wilson, when he’s on his game, is a great player and he showed some of that on Sunday with a number of decisive throws into really tight coverage, including the TD to Tyler Lockett.
Mostly though it comes down to schedule. The Arizona Cardinals are bad, the San Francisco 49ers just lost their franchise QB Jimmy Garoppolo for the season and the Oakland Raiders are a dumpster fire, courtesy of Jon Gruden. That makes for five very winnable games this season, even if everything else is a complete toss-up.
There are definite bright spots looking forward but it’s still impossible to say if they’re a mirage or the real deal.