You don’t always win the game in the first quarter (see: Texans, Houston), but you can also lose them in the first half.
When the Green Bay Packers took a 21-3 halftime lead against the Seattle Seahawks, it felt like an all too familiar story for fans of this team. Sure enough, the Seahawks waited until the 2nd half to score points and lost a close one.
For whatever reason, the Seahawks been consistently unable to get off to even decent starts in playoff games in the Pete Carroll/Russell Wilson era, and for the life of me I can’t understand how they haven’t come close to fixing this.
Seattle has played almost a full regular season’s worth of postseason football under Wilson, so I’m comfortable with this sample size. Through the first halves of 15 playoff games, the Seahawks have “accomplished” the following:
- Trailed at halftime nine times;
- Trailed by at least two possessions at some point seven times;
- Been shutout four times;
- Scored three combined points in two NFC Championship home games;
- Failed to score a touchdown seven times;
- Failed to score more than one touchdown 12 times;
- Failed to clear 10 points ten times.
Sucks pretty bad, doesn’t it? And needless to say, Russell Wilson’s 1st half/2nd half splits are significantly different too.
If you want some great first halves for the Seahawks, you have... basically two games. Super Bowl 48 saw Seattle lead 22-0 at the break, while they were 16-0 up over the New Orleans Saints before an uncharacteristically poor 2nd half made the game a little closer than it should’ve been. Those are the only times they’ve led by more than 7 at the half in postseason football with Russell freaking Wilson at quarterback. Common sense tells you that it’s actually bad to be trailing most of the time because it mathematically decreases your chances of winning.
Let me preface this by saying that we should be absolutely grateful that the Seahawks have played more playoff games than every other NFL team except the New England Patriots over the past eight seasons. I want you to now look at this table and be totally disheartened that they are dead last in 1st half point differential.
...But guess who’s first in 2nd half point differential by a country mile? The Seahawks!
Thanks to the 13 points they put up in the opening halves of the Eagles and Packers games, they actually drove their average down from 8.3 to about 8 points.
Before you even entertain the idea of saying Seattle always starts slowly in the 1st half, I will point you to this data table that shows the 2012, 2013, and 2015 Seahawks rank among the top-50 teams of the 2010s in regular season 1st half point differential. The 2nd half point differential actually lowered for the 2012 side and only rose by four points for the 2015 team. Seattle has often shown itself in its glory days to be really good in the opening 30 minutes, contrary to popular belief.
Getting back to the postseason, if we focus on offensive drives then the Seahawks have been a disaster. Out of 75 1st half possessions, they’ve only scored 10 touchdowns, for a shit-tastic rate of 13.3%. For the record, they have given us 16 three-and-outs, so your eyes aren’t deceiving you. On the road, that number drops to 7.5% (3 touchdowns on 40 possessions). I’m not even going to show the 2nd half stats because you intuitively know that they become gods of football and score like there’s no tomorrow, up until they lose and find out that there is no tomorrow.
I am specifically picking on the offense even though the defense is not totally blameless. You won’t win many games when the defense allows 21 to Green Bay, 20 and 19 to Atlanta in two different years, or 24 to Carolina (with an additional 7 coughed up on a pick-six to make it 31 points). With that said, the defense has more often than not been better than the offense under these circumstances, averaging 11.6 points allowed in opening halves and recording three shutouts along the way.
It’s evident that Pete Carroll loves “shortening the game,” but therein lies the problem. By “shortening the game” and limiting the number of possessions for both teams, these moderate-to-big holes they’ve created for themselves time and time again have left them with little margin for error. The Seahawks’ own lack of a quick-strike offense means that they burn up quite a bit of clock when making their comeback, as evidenced by the 16:15 of game time it took to get those three touchdowns against Green Bay. You then have to trust your defense to get timely stops and either force a turnover or get a quick punt, and the Seahawks only did that once to the Packers in the 2nd half.
Is “Peteball” to blame? Do the Seahawks become more conservative in the postseason because of an irrational fear of making mistakes? Are they just woefully unprepared for no particularly good reason year after year? This isn’t boxing where you can be trailing for eight out of twelve rounds and come up with a fight-winning KO punch like you’re Deontay Wilder. Carroll’s teams have instead opted to forgo half of the fight (body blows!) and then only have themselves to blame when they lose a close decision on the scorecards.
If the Seahawks want to make a deep playoff run again, they cannot continue to start as poorly as they have over the years, and that’s regardless of venue. You would think the lesson would’ve been learned by now, but I guess old habits die hard.