The Seattle Seahawks got swept by the Los Angeles Rams this season and now I want to cry. So come join my pity party and bask in the bleakness that is 2021 football in the PNW. Take a deep breath. Then another one, and then as many more as you feel you need before re-watching the clip below. If you want. Or just simply skip ahead if you don’t feel like torturing yourself any more than is absolutely necessary.
Contato dentro das 5 jardas foi dado segurada... pic.twitter.com/tm93nrfs0g— Rapinas do Mar (Cortes) (@cortesrapinas) December 22, 2021
Honestly, I don’t have a huge problem with the call on this one. Not because it was the correct call, but because it is an example of a veteran receiver using his savvy route-running skills and next-level get off to create an illusion of holding at the line of scrimmage. We have seen Tyler Lockett do similar things time and time again, and it is simply part of the modern pass-heavy NFL. What I do have a problem with, however, is how the Seahawks let another drive that started with a phenomenal punt conclude with points for the other team. Because even though this penalty extended the drive, it was only a five yard holding penalty. The Rams still had to cover 85 yards, and they did so in six plays. You can put that one squarely on the defense.
Michael Dickson is incredible at what he does; he set a team record last night for punts inside the opponent’s twenty with 37 on the season and a handful of games left to play. Going into the game, he was tied with Jeff Feagles, Jon Ryan, and himself with 34 before tacking on three more in Los Angeles. And with all this punting prowess, you would assume that the Seahawks’ defense would be taking advantage of their opponents starting field position, right?
WRONG. According to Stathead, the Seattle Seahawks are currently 1st in the NFL in number of opponent drives that have started inside their own 20 following a punt. And yet, the defense is second worst in both average number of plays per drive (8 plays) and number of scoring drives allowed (10), while being bottom five in percentage of punts forced (30.8%). Now, with regards to scoring drives allowed, the Seahawks have actually been about middle-of-the-pack in opponent scoring percentage in these situations; however, this is definitely a situation where the absolute number means more to me than the percentage. Seattle’s 10 scoring drives allowed is tied with the Houston Texans, and only one better than the Jacksonville Jaguars. For reference, no other team in the NFL has allowed more than seven such drives. And any team that keeps company with organizations like the two mentioned above should do some deep soul-searching before proceeding with the status quo.
The fact of the matter is this: if the Seahawks are going to field one of the best punters in the league, putting forth anything worse than a league-average performance in the above metrics is exceptionally disappointing. But, surprisingly or unsurprisingly (most likely the latter), this is not a new issue for the Hawks. As Mookie wrote about in detail last season, the team struggled with many of the same issues. While Seattle’s offense looks quite a bit different under Shane Waldron, to say the least, their defense retains a fair amount of continuity, and in this continuity we can start to see the same failures pop up again and again.
And this issue is hardly limited to punting, even though that is the focus of this article. Much like Mookie pointed out last season, Seattle’s defense is under-performing mightily relative to starting field position across the board; according to Football Outsiders, the Seahawks have maintained the best average starting field position for opposing offenses, but have been patently league-worst in both opponents’ plays-per-drive and time-of-possession per drive. They are ahead of only the Detroit Lions in yards-per-drive allowed, with their only saving grace being that they are tenth in the league in points allowed per drive. This last stat is extremely important, no doubt, but again it does not measure up with how successful this team should be given the other circumstances; a team that is first overall in opponent starting field position should not be hanging their hats on ranking 10th in one (albeit critical) category while being basement dwellers in all others. And this last fact seems to be a microcosm of the Seattle Seahawks in 2021.
Sitting at 5-9 and all but eliminated from playoff contention, one thing that we know for certain is this: the Seahawks will have a losing record for the first time in the Russell Wilson era. And for a team that at one point seemed destined to reach the highest of highs, being able to simply say that they are good at a few things is no longer going to cut it. Yes, the Seahawks can pin opponents deep off the strength of their incredible punter. No, this is not going to win Seattle another Super Bowl or even a playoff berth. Having a roster full of talented players doesn’t really make much of a difference if the entire team is out of sync with itself and can’t capitalize on their own successes.