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Countdown to training camp: Seahawks defeat Cardinals in Week 17

NFL: DEC 30 Cardinals at Seahawks Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With just two and a half weeks to go until the Seattle Seahawks open training camp, I’ll be counting down the days until camp opens by working backwards through the 2018 season one game at a time. Sunday I looked at how the Dallas Cowboys defended the run game slightly different when Rashaad Penny was in the game compared to when Chris Carson was on the field in the Hawks loss in the Wild Card round. Today it’s a more pleasant outcome, as it’s a look at the win over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17.

The Hawks had a rough game against Arizona, but a game winning field goal by Sebastian Janikowski as time expired gave Seattle a 27-24 victory. The last second heroics were necessary because of how much the offensive line struggled to contain the pass rush of the Cardinals. With backups Ethan Pocic at left guard in place of Pro Bowl alternate J.R. Sweezy and George Fant at right tackle in place of Germain Ifedi, who had slid inside in place of the injured D.J. Fluker, the line allowed Russell Wilson to be under pressure on 13 of 28 (46.4%) of dropbacks. However, not all dropbacks are created equal, and specifically this configuration of the line had trouble protecting Russ on third downs.

To note, here is a look at how many pass plays and how many sacks the offensive line allowed by down.

Pass plays and sacks by down

Down Pass Attempts Sacks
Down Pass Attempts Sacks
First 8 0
Second 8 0
Third 10 6

Now, for those readers who recall the piece on third down predictability I authored back in early June, the Seahawks called a pass play 100% of the time on third down with 5 to 10 yards to go in 2018. One hundred percent. They were in that situation 49 times, and all 49 times they called a pass play.

The reason that is important is because let’s take a look at exactly when the Arizona pass rush was able to get to Russ and take him down.

As noted in the above table, the Cardinals did indeed record all six Week 17 sacks of Wilson on third down. Specifically, five of the six sacks came on third down with five to ten yards to go, when the pass rush could pin their ears back and rush with exactly zero worry about the threat of a run. So, here’s the table from above with sack rate by down added in.

Pass plays called and sack rate by down in Week 17

Down Pass Attempts Sacks Sack Rate
Down Pass Attempts Sacks Sack Rate
First 8 0 0.0%
Second 8 0 0.0%
Third 10 6 60.0%

Nope, that is not a misprint. The Seahawks offensive line allowed a sack rate of 62.5% on third down with five to ten yards to go in Week 17. One can attempt to write that off as simply a blip on the radar as a result of Pocic and Fant playing, with Ifedi playing out of position. However, that ignores the fact that after not having this issue during the first half of the season, taking sacks on third and long became a trend over the second half of the year.

Specifically, here’s how many sacks the team allowed on third and long in each 2018 game.

For those readers who don’t want to do the math themselves, that’s six sacks allowed on third and long over the first eight games and 16 sacks allowed on third and long over the final nine games. For those who are curious as to whether this was simply the result of throwing more on third and long in those situations, here is the sack rate by game for all seventeen 2018 contests.

The numbers above were from any third and long situation, so here’s what it looks like when only considering third down with five to ten yards to go.

Well, that’s certainly ugly over the second half of the season. After allowing just four sacks on third down with five to ten yards to go, the Hawks then allowed fourteen sacks in that same situation over the final nine games of the season. Here’s a look at how the Hawks sack rate in this situation crept up over the course of the 2018 season.

In short, it appears possible that as teams around the NFL studied the tendencies of the Seattle offense, they were able to discern that one of the best ways to stop the Seahawks offense was to wait until third down and five to ten yards to go, and then get pressure on Wilson. The sack rate in third and five to ten situations certainly shows an upward trend beginning with the Week 10 game against the Los Angeles Rams.

One might wish to place the blame for this on the Hawks facing defensive fronts that were better at rushing the passer down the stretch, but even that is not to blame. Specifically, here is a breakdown of where the sack rate ranked for opponents the Hawks played during the first half of the season and the second half of the season.

Basically, Seattle faced pass rushes that were just as good during the early part of the season as they did during the latter part of the season, and yet, the sack rate when the offense faced third down and five to ten yards to go skyrocketed.

Sack Rate on 3rd Down with 5-10 yards to go by half of season

Part of Season Sack Rate
Part of Season Sack Rate
Games 1-8 9.3%
Games 9-17 26.4%

And yet, in spite of this evidence, many fans will continue to argue that the Seattle offense is just fine, that it’s not predictable and that the fact the sack rate skyrocketed in hand with offensive production slowing greatly in the latter part of the year is purely coincidence. It has nothing to do with predictability. Nothing to do with the team failing situational football. And nothing to worry about as the team heads into 2019.