The Seattle Seahawks are 7-2 and yet there are still skeptics who think this team is not a Super Bowl contender. ESPN’s Domonique Foxworth actually believes that Seattle will miss the playoffs outright on the basis of all the narrow wins they’ve managed against mostly bad opposition.
Legendary head coach Bill Parcells famously said, “You are what your record says you are.” Analytics would disagree, at which point Bill would look at you funny for saying “analytics” and proceed to have your college degree re-examined. We have all sorts of new numbers and statistical measurements that show that records can be deceiving.
Unfortunately, in the case of the Seahawks, I don’t think the concern is unfounded. Football Outsiders’ DVOA has been our friend for the longest while, ranking Seattle at #1 from 2012-2015. The good ol’ “eye test” would back that up, seeing as Seattle made the Super Bowl twice, won it outright once, and got to the divisional round in 2012 and 2015 with road wins in the wild card.
But this year’s team is being carried almost exclusively by its amazing offense. Russell Wilson is having an MVP caliber season, while Chris Carson has been very good since his otherwise slow, fumble-heavy start to the year.
The Seahawks sit at 9th in overall DVOA, but if you break it down further, there is reason to be concerned.
Offense - 3rd
Pass - 1st
Rush - 10th
Defense - 27th
Pass - 21st
Rush - 22nd
Special Teams - 29th
FG/XP - 25th
Kickoff coverage - 26th
Kickoff returns - 24th
Punt coverage - 23rd
Punt returns - 22nd
On the surface, there is absolutely nothing the Seahawks do at even an average level except throw and run the ball. I cannot believe we are saying this about a Pete Carroll team, considering he has long preached balance — hence, we have witnessed those amazing DVOA rankings from yesteryear.
But now there’s a total imbalance. If Seattle’s offense was closer to league-average than the very top of the NFL, we’d probably be speculating about draft positioning at the moment. As an aside, I can just use this article as my entire reasoning for giving Wilson the lead in the MVP race over everyone else, but this isn’t a column about that.
If we peeled back the onion a bit on the Seahawks defense, it gets even uglier. They rank 29th in punts per drive, and the only thing they do well on a per-drive basis is force turnovers, which is about as high-variance a statistic as you can get. Adjusted sack rate puts the Seahawks at 31st, only better than Dan Quinn’s Atlanta Falcons. In a rare moment of positivity, the defensive line does have a good “stuffed” rate and they also fare equally well (7th) in power success.
Going back to overall team efficiency, a team similar to the Seahawks would be the also 7-2 Green Bay Packers. They have the #6 offense by DVOA but are 20th in defense and special teams. Unlike the Seahawks, the Packers at least have a slightly above-average pass defense (13th), but are undone by poor run defense (26th). Next up would be the Dallas Cowboys, whom at 5-3 have the #1 offense (!) but have average defense (17th) and below-average ST (25th). The worst team with a winning record is the 6-2 Buffalo Bills, who have a poor offense (26th), average defense (15th), and bad special teams (24th).
To put a spin on the doom and gloom of how the Seahawks do a lot of “bad football team” things, it is still early-ish in the season and DVOA will continue to adjust for opponent as the sample size gets larger. We also have to consider the possibility that the defense and/or special teams can both improve significantly from the otherwise awful starts they’ve put together. Prior to 2019, one of the gold standards for Seahawks offense was the 2015 team, and at the halfway mark of the season they were 15th in team offense and 21st in passing. That often gets left out of the story when we discuss Russell Wilson’s historic second-half tear-up of the league. Can history repeat itself for the defense and special teams? With this roster, I don’t know.
What I do know is that the current form of Seahawks football is totally unsustainable. It’s a one-way ticket to collapsing out of a playoff spot, or making the playoffs and getting bounced quickly like the 2010 Indianapolis Colts, 2013 Philadelphia Eagles, and 2018 Chicago Bears. If they’re lucky, the Seahawks can aspire to be the 2016 Green Bay Packers, who made it to the NFC Championship Game with a top-five offense but a bottom-half defense and special teams unit.
So we can shout “7-2!” from the rooftops all we want, but if the Seahawks are to maneuver this vaunted end-of-season schedule, the onus cannot be this heavily on the offense to overcome consistently awful play from the other two groups. Hell, the defense doesn’t have a single game this season with positive EPA. If it doesn’t change for the better, then yes, Foxworth’s bold prediction can absolutely come true. If it does? Watch out, NFL.