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A look at the Seahawks’ third and fourth down defense against the Falcons

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Seahawks lost the battle of converting third downs on Sunday. Atlanta converted 7 of 14 third downs. Seattle converted just 3 of 9. On fourth down, the Seahawks were 1 for 1 while the Falcons failed to convert all 4 of their attempts. That’s enough to change the math significantly.

Money Down conversion:

Seahawks: 40%

Falcons: 38.9%

It’s worth noting too that better than converting third or fourth down is not needing to convert third or fourth down.

I wanted to look at how Seattle’s defense performed on third and fourth down during the highly contested part of the game. For the purposes of this post, I am classifying that as every play before the Seahawks went up 9 in the third quarter. At that point, Seattle’s win probability reached 80.5%. It never fell below that for the rest of the game.

A team with a big enough lead can employ a kind of Fabian strategy in which play-to-play victory is less important than winning a slow battle of attrition. Which is just an excessively pedantic way of saying I don’t really give a damn if the defense allowed easy conversions when the outcome of the game was all but determined.

Let us go forthwith!

3RD & 11 AT ATL 44(13:05)

(13:05) M.Ryan pass deep left to C.Ridley ran ob at SEA 37 for 19 yards (Q.Dunbar).

EPA: 2.56

What happens: No meaningful pass rush. Matt Ryan completes a pass through a very small window on the right sideline. Quinton Dunbar is pretty well beat. The pass is a little too close to the sideline but it doesn’t matter.

3RD & 16 AT SEA 43(11:54)

(11:54) M.Ryan pass short left to J.Jones to SEA 31 for 12 yards (M.Blair; B.Wagner).

EPA: 0.28

What happens: Only Jarran Reed gets pressure, and it’s a strict bull rush. He never separates from his blocker. Seahawks are playing zone. Julio Jones finds a soft spot between Bobby Wagner playing in the middle and Marquise Blair playing the flat. Blair is a little slow to close.

3RD & 1 AT SEA 38(02:54)

(2:54) M.Gono reported in as eligible. B.Hill right guard to SEA 40 for -2 yards (B.Wagner, J.Adams).

EPA: -1.82

What happens: Try running into this.

Left tackle Jake Matthews attempts to combo L.J. Collier before peeling off to block Wagner. He fails. Poona Ford defeats the block attempt by James Carpenter. Wagner and Ford combine for the tackle. Jamal Adams arrives late but doesn’t meaningfully impact the play.

4TH & 3 AT SEA 40(02:14)

(2:14) (Shotgun) M.Ryan pass incomplete short right to T.Gurley (B.Mayowa).

EPA: -2.19

What happens: Five man rush. Benson Mayowa is unblocked off the right edge. He jumps and bats down Ryan’s pass. Wagner appears to completely blow coverage on Todd Gurley.

3RD & 1 AT SEA 1(11:30)

(11:30) M.Gono reported in as eligible. T.Gurley left guard for 1 yard, TOUCHDOWN.

EPA: 1.83

What happens: Bruce Irvin gets smashed inside by Matt Gono. Blair goes low on fullback Keith Smith creating a pileup which eventually takes out Cody Barton. K.J. Wright initially stymies Gurley’s leap, but before Wagner can fully force him back, Gurley extends just enough to break the plane.

3RD & 6 AT ATL 29(09:06)

(9:06) (Shotgun) M.Ryan pass short left to R.Gage to ATL 40 for 11 yards (T.Flowers).

EPA: 1.70

What happens: Six man rush—Wagner gets modest interior pressure but not enough to affect the throw. Six blockers; man coverage single high safety (The all-22 is still not out at the moment I am writing this, but I’m pretty certain I am right.) Blair is covering Julio Jones. Tre Flowers is assigned to Russell Gage, but begins the snap deep, is very slow to react, and in an attempt to close, runs into Jones/Blair thereby creating a new dance move. Gage is wide open.

3RD & 6 AT ATL 44(07:45)

(7:45) (Shotgun) M.Ryan sacked at ATL 37 for -7 yards (J.Adams).

EPA: -1.80

What happens: President Adams, aka The Abolitionist, rushes untouched off right end for an easy sack. Atlanta seems to have some line read problems. Wagner also rushes. This draws the entirely ineffective block of Gurley, totally freeing Adams. Ford has another quietly good play containing Ryan and keeping him from escaping left. No route is even close to being open.

It’s so damn obvious Adams is blitzing. One wonders what the Falcons thought would happen.

3RD & 11 AT ATL 10(03:20)

(3:20) (Shotgun) M.Ryan pass short left to J.Jones to ATL 15 for 5 yards (J.Adams).

EPA: -0.9

What happens: Four man rush with Wagner green doggin’ it. Mayowa beats the block of KD McCarrot. Excuse me, I had my English to Ronde translator on. Benson beats Kaleb McGary. Which, with Irvin flying around the left edge, creates functional two-level pass rush. Ryan targets Jones running a shallow crosser. Shaquill Griffin is beat. Adams dive bombs staggering Jones but initially missing the tackle. Griffin rallies, but Adams, from his damn knees, tackles Jones to end the Falcons drive.

3RD & 10 AT SEA 40(00:17)

(:17) (Shotgun) M.Ryan pass short middle to R.Gage to SEA 30 for 10 yards (J.Adams).

EPA: 1.9

What happens: Hayden Hurst gets away with an OPI on Marquise Blair. It’s two yards down the field, negating the possibility of it being a legal rub. And it’s not a rub and ay, there’s the rub. Hurst bends his knees, squares his shoulders, and pops Blair. It’s so obvious that really all I can tell Seahawks fans is that forgiveness is a virtue. Like the rest of us, sometimes refs bet the over.

The play was flagged, Schlereth described Hurst’s block as “basically destroying the defensive back” to the entirely too generous laughter of Adam Amin, but Shawn Hochuli is apparently one of those saps who thinks something costing $1.99 really costs $1.00.

Your wildly flailing arms of disbelief are all of our wildly flailing arms of disbelief, Marquise Blair.

And that’s it. The rest of the game for Seattle’s defense occurred in some form of garbage time.

How did Seattle perform in what I have obnoxiously deemed Money Downs?

Net EPA: 1.56

EPA per play: 0.173

Projected over 79 plays: 13.7 EPA

The answer is … not good. But that answer hinges entirely on the penalty calling discretion of Hochuli the Younger. Erase that play and the Seahawks defense performed a bit above average: allowing -3.37 EPA per 79 plays. We’re really rolling the tube of travel toothpaste of small sample sizes here, of course, but this isn’t meant to be predictive only descriptive. Seattle didn’t win because of a few high leverage plays, it won big because of a few high leverage plays.