Fans of the Seattle Seahawks were happy to believe that the offensive line took a step forward in 2018, with Russell Wilson appearing to be better protected. Earlier this offseason I’ve taken a look at how the line performed in various metrics in 2018 compared to years past, and on Tuesday ProFootballFocus.com weighed in on social media sharing how the Seahawks line did in 2018 based on PFF’s proprietary Pass Blocking Efficiency metric.
From weeks 1-9 last season, the #Seahawks' offensive line ranked 7th in pass-blocking efficiency, allowing just 53 total pressures on 252 passing snaps.— PFF SEA Seahawks (@PFF_Seahawks) June 4, 2019
From weeks 10-17, they ranked 28th in PBE, with 79 total pressures allowed on 250 passing snaps.
(Author’s note: For those fans who are unfamiliar with PBE, it is a metric that analyzes every pass dropback for an offensive line and grades the unit based on the outcome of the play. If the quarterback is not pressured, the line gets a 100%. If the quarterback is sacked, hit or pressured, the line gets a lower grade for the play. Then all the grades are added together and divided by the number of pass blocking snaps in order to generate an overall grade.)
Fans and observers on Twitter were quick to propose theories or ideas behind what could have caused the decline. There were ideas thrown out there about potentially injuries playing a part in the decline, play calling, the opponent or some other reason. However, one key fact sticks out when looking at this - specifically every single member of the Hawks offensive line with at least 100 pass blocking snaps during both of the samples posted a lower individual PBE during Weeks 10-17.
That seems to be an indication that the issue wasn’t personnel, and that it was situational. In particular, the fact that the offense was so predictable, as was seen in the article published by former Field Gulls contributor Sean Clement back in March, made it easier for defenses to know when to rush the passer. Specifically, as another former Field Gulls contributor noted on Twitter last month, sack rates are higher on third down compared to earlier downs.
Josh looked at completion % by air yards and didn't find any differences across downs. The only real difference is sack rates are higher on 3rd down— Ben Baldwin (@benbbaldwin) May 2, 2019
What does that have to do with the Seahawks? Well, let’s take a look at the breakdown of the offensive plays called by the Hawks offense in 2018 in order to understand why third down sack rates are important to the question at hand.
That’s not a difficult table to understand. On first and second down the Seattle offense is much more likely to run the ball. On third down the offense is far more likely to pass the ball. Pressure and sacks are far more likely to occur on third downs, and so on nearly every third down the defense could simply load up to rush the passer with a Nascar package, and the defensive front four could pin their ears back and go.
Add in the trouble that the Seahawks had handling stunts in 2018, and it’s at least one plausible reason behind the slip in PBE from the first half of 2018 to the second half of 2018.
The #Seahawks' offensive line faced 159 stunts last season and allowed 75 pressures on those plays, which equals out to the 5th-worst pressure percentage allowed on stunts (47.2%).— PFF SEA Seahawks (@PFF_Seahawks) May 11, 2019
In short, the Seahawks allowed a pressure rate of nearly 50% on stunts during 2018, and defenses are far more likely to stunt when they are certain a defense is going to be passing the ball. Basically, the predictability of the Seattle offense may have allowed defensive coordinators to call stunts on third down in order to create the best opportunity for generating pressure or a sack.
Thus, the question becomes what will change heading into the 2019 season, because if the offense continues to be predictable, allowing defenses to tee off on third down, it could create problems for Seattle. Specifically, getting back to the fact that PBE the Hawks posted in the second half of the 2018 season was 28th in the NFL, the offensive line under Tom Cable finished the 2017 season 26th with Rees Odhiambo starting at left tackle for half the year, including 21st in Weeks 10 through 17.
Basically, while fans and the team have high hopes for the offensive line this season, the unit may face significant risks if the offense is as predictable as it was last season.