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Seahawks offense isn’t much better than 2019 by DVOA, but here’s how they’re scoring more

Minnesota Vikings v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks have the #1 scoring offense in the NFL and they are the number one reason why this team is 6-2 and leading the NFC West, with a chance to become the #1 overall seed. Why would I try and nitpick the strength of the team when without them this team would be screwed?

Well firstly, I think you’ve gotten the point that this defense is terrible. I can’t write about that every day. Secondly, last week’s game against the Buffalo Bills was a fairly deceptive 34-point showing. The game was effectively over at 41-20 and there was zero functional difference in the outcome when DK Metcalf caught the final touchdown. With a -4 turnover differential, a season-low in rush yards and yards per carry, a 25% 3rd down conversion rate, and a second-lowest season total of 9.12 expected points added, that was one of Seattle’s worst offensive displays all year. I’d say the Minnesota Vikings game was the worst one because they were terrible for all but about two minutes of the third quarter and the game-winning drive.

Anyway, we’re at the halfway point of the season and when I flicked over to Football Outsiders to check the Seahawks’ DVOA, something surprised me: Seattle’s offense is currently not that much better than last year’s “Pete and Schotty are holding Russ back” offense. In fact the passing offense is actually worse.

There are still eight games to go (and DVOA will have 100% opponent adjustment strength after Week 10) but here’s what we have:

Seahawks Offensive DVOA comparison - 2019 (full season) vs. 2020 (half season)

Year Overall Rank Overall DVOA Pass Rank Pass DVOA Rush Rank Rush DVOA
Year Overall Rank Overall DVOA Pass Rank Pass DVOA Rush Rank Rush DVOA
2020 4th 18.10% 4th 38% 8th -2.10%
2019 5th 17.70% 3rd 46.80% 12th -3.80%

If you want to use a nearly direct comparison point, Seattle was 3rd overall, 2nd in pass DVOA, and 10th in rush DVOA at the midway mark of 2019. I say it’s “nearly direct” because FO updated its DVOA formula during the offseason. For example, quarterback scrambles no longer count towards run DVOA. Incidentally I don’t recommend looking at the 2017 Seahawks offense now that they’ve retroactively tweaked previous full seasons.

Anyway, the 2020 Seahawks offense is statistically about as strong as last year’s but the process is different (and surely to the liking of Seahawks Twitter) and they’re scoring way more. What’s up with that? Well let’s dive into areas where they’ve thrived and where they continue to struggle.

Improved: Red zone offense

There’s no evidence to suggest that red zone offense holds up from year to year with any sort of consistency. It’s a much smaller sample size than third down offense, because you sure as hell have a much tougher time avoiding third down than not even making it to the red zone.

Seattle was 10th in touchdowns per red zone trip last year at a rate of about 63%. Pretty good. Prettayyyy prettaaaaaaaaay pretttay good. This year it’s a whopping 86% and the best in the league by six percentage points. That’s not just hot, it’s record-breaking hot. If regression doesn’t hit then the 2020 Seahawks will be the greatest red zone offense the NFL has ever seen. Think about how amazing this success has been and then consider that Russell Wilson has thrown three red zone interceptions and they’re still comfortably #1.

Improved: Early down success rate

A rightful gripe about the Seahawks offense in years past is how much they ran the ball on early downs and forced themselves into shitty third down situations. This year they are the most pass-heavy team in neutral game script situations on first and second down. They lead the NFL in yards per play on early downs as well as first down percentage. It’s great to see Schottenheimer not play for third down and instead up the aggression sooner. Not coincidentally, the Seahawks have scored 28 of their 36 touchdowns on early downs, and actually have more TDs on fourth down (5) than third down (3). Speaking of third down...

Worse: Third down offense

I’ve touched on this already and I have to address this again. After a brief reprieve against the San Francisco 49ers, Wilson was a mess again on third down versus Buffalo. Russell Wilson’s third down passer rating is only better than Sam Darnold among qualified quarterbacks. Passer rating may be a mostly useless stat, but “only better than Sam Darnold” is a meaningful line. His EPA/play on third downs is in the neighborhood of Drew Lock and a substantial distance away from fellow MVP candidates Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes.

And no, the running game isn’t helping, either. Twice they got stuffed on 3rd and 1 last week and famously lost the Cardinals game with a failed 3rd and 2 run. Their entire offense is putrid on third down.

Worse: Turnovers

I never thought I’d say this, but Seattle is not taking very good care of the ball (by their standards) for a second straight season. Last year’s fumble-fest by Chris Carson and DK Metcalf has been replaced by the unthinkable fact that Russell Wilson is fourth in the NFL in interceptions thrown. Overall, Seattle has given it up 11 times and are on pace for the most turnovers of the Wilson era. The Seahawks are 23rd in turnover rate, down from 16th last season. Believe it or not, opposing teams have only scored 29 points off those turnovers, and one of the two touchdowns allowed was a pick-six. So the defense has actually done a great job of minimizing the damage, instead opting to maximize the damage elsewhere.

Other Factors

Good: Points off turnovers

On the flip side, the Seahawks defense and special teams have created 14 takeaways and are among the league’s best at getting the ball back. The offense has turned those opportunities into 11 touchdowns, 2 game-ending kneeldowns, and 1 epic chasedown. Essentially, the Budda Baker interception is the only time the Seahawks have made an attempt to score off of a turnover and failed to do so. Last year they only put up 7 touchdowns off 24 takeaways.

Good: Favorable field position

The Seahawks have benefited greatly from not repeatedly being backed up to start drives. Their average starting field position is their own 31-yard line, which is 7th best in the NFL and also means they’re only 69 yards from the end zone. Nice.

Seattle already has nine touchdowns on drives starting from enemy territory. The other two drives ended in the aforementioned Baker INT and end of game kneeldown. For reference, they had seven touchdowns all of last season. When the end zone is within reach it’s certainly easier to come away with points. This is why they pay me all of that sweet, sweet Vox money to make such astute observations.

It should be noted that even with less than ideal field position, the Seahawks have the second-best touchdown percentage when starting from inside their own 25 or worse.

Fortunate: Easy opposition

Consider this a word of caution. The Seahawks’ strength of schedule of opposing defenses by DVOA ranks 26th as of Week 9. This offense has been cooking against a pretty soft slate of defenses, with six of their eight games coming against teams currently ranked no higher than 14th. While they do have the luxury of playing the Giants and Jets, every other team left on their schedule has a defense ranked 12th or better. Believe it or not, the Washington Football Team is the highest ranked defense left at 6th. We’re going to learn a lot more about this Seahawks offense now that they aren’t playing the Cowboys, Patriots, or Falcons anymore.

The obvious candidates for regression are points off turnovers and red zone touchdown rate. There’s no doubt in my mind that while the offense as a whole has been excellent, those two sensationally hot stats are not going to last forever. A positive regression candidate is Seattle’s third down offense. The splits are absolutely comical and puzzling and I still don’t really understand it, because Wilson has never been this bad on this particular down. If this improves significantly then defenses won’t know what to do other than assume the fetal position.

Now to be just a bit of a downer, I would not be shocked if the Seahawks cooled off on offense starting with this Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams. The warning signs have actually been there since the Vikings game, but there are still some other variables in play here — the lack of healthy running backs (it’s fair to say that Chris Carson is way better than Deejay Dallas and Travis Homer), the likelihood of bad weather, and injuries or COVID cases affecting Seattle’s offense and/or their opponents’ defense. What’s worrying is that if the defense doesn’t get any better and the offense is bogged down more often, then Seattle’s postseason may be as short-lived as its previous four trips.

But you wouldn’t dare doubt Russell Wilson, would you?