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The 2018 Seahawks offense was simply not good enough against the top defenses

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks finished 9th in offensive DVOA this season, its highest ranking since the memorable 2015 second-half surge put them all the way to the top spot. Unfortunately, when matched up against the #9 defense by DVOA last Saturday, they could not break down the Dallas Cowboys until it was too late. Or rather, they did break down the Cowboys defense through the air, they just waited too long to realize that was working better than the stagnant rushing attack.

Whatever the case, that loss was a familiar sight for the Seahawks offense in 2018. Even though DVOA takes into account strength of opponent, if you look at the end-of-season rankings, Seattle was just 2-4 against teams that boasted top-10 defenses, and six of their bottom eight performances in terms of Expected Points Added (EPA) were against those teams.

L at Denver Broncos (5th) - 24 points
L at Chicago Bears (1st) - 17 points
W at Dallas Cowboys (9th) - 24 points
L vs. Los Angeles Chargers (8th) - 17 points
W vs. Minnesota Vikings (4th) - 21 points (but only 14 points on offense)
L at Dallas Cowboys (9th) - 22 points

Now you may be thinking that averaging 20.8 pts per game against quality defenses isn’t that bad, but I argue it’s deceiving.

Seattle’s EPA was -7.72 versus the Broncos. 14 of their 24 points came off of turnovers that only required them to go a combined 56 yards for their touchdowns. Overall, 8 of their 15 drives ended in a three-and-out or a turnover.

Against the Bears, their final touchdown to make it 24-17 dropped Chicago’s win probability to 99.8%. They went three-and-out on 5 of 12 drives and didn’t eclipse 200 yards of total offense until the aforementioned consolation TD. Seattle’s EPA was a season-worst -11.46, with the pick-six certainly not helping matters. And yes, in both Denver and Chicago there were six sacks taken by Russell Wilson.

They fared well against the Cowboys in the first matchup, particularly on third-down conversions (7/16), but even in that game they went three-and-out on half of their 12 possessions (subtracting the kneeldown at the end of the game). We’d probably be looking at that game a tad differently if not for three turnovers by the Cowboys, two of which were deep in Seattle territory. Nevertheless, the 17-point second quarter is their singular best 15 minutes of football against a top-10 defense all season.

The Chargers game had its share of blown opportunities with a missed field goal, bad passes (and a pick-6) by Russell Wilson, questionable officiating, but they were stuck on 10 points until after the two-minute warning, by which point the win probability for the Chargers was at 98.8% on Nick Vannett’s TD that cut it to 25-17. Even on the game’s final snap, Los Angeles’ WP had dropped to 84.4%.

Against the Vikings, the defense did the work. Yes, the rushing attack gashed Minnesota for 214 yards, but Seattle was held to 6 points until Chris Carson’s score with 2:53 to go. The Seahawks defense got a fumble return touchdown to make it 21 points on an evening when Seattle’s offense had a -0.04 EPA.

Then we come to the Cowboys rematch. The EPA was a positive 3.19, but another six three-and-outs on 12 drives combined with a 2/13 third-down conversion rate is not optimal offense. For some reason the win probability chart went haywire and is showing 77.7% WP for Dallas after they recovered the uh... “onside kick.” It does list Dallas at 99.8% a couple of plays prior to JD McKissic’s touchdown, which is good enough for me to say this game was effectively out of reach once it got to 24-14, much like the Bears game at 24-10.

If you subtract what was close to garbage time against Chicago and Dallas — the low rate of onside kick success in 2018-19 only strengthens my argument — the Seahawks only averaged 16.5 points on offense against these teams in meaningful action. Also glaring? They were only 23/80 on third-down conversions in these six games. And these were at various points of the season, with and without Doug Baldwin, with and without a stronger commitment to the running game, with DJ Fluker/without DJ Fluker, etc.

Unsurprisingly, their best offensive performances came against very bad defenses like the Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers (home), Carolina Panthers, Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders, and the very overrated Rams defense twice over. That’s a good thing that this offense is conclusively strong enough to be efficient against the bottom of the barrel. Truly elite offenses have to be able to be more successful against stronger defenses than what we saw from the 2018 Seahawks, and that’s on Pete Carroll and Brian Schottenheimer to figure out entering 2019.