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Russell Wilson turnovers drove 2020 Seahawks’ record

Seahawks were especially helped when protecting the ball and especially hurt when not. How typical is that?

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks
next time don’t throw it to the guys in white jerseys ok
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest predictors of success and failure for the 2020 Seattle Seahawks was Russell Wilson’s ball control performance.

That news won’t exactly stop the presses. If presses still printed things. Haha! That’s a journalism-is-dying joke. The laughs! When will they stop, I ask you. Who needs a free press anyway?

No politics. When Wilson turned the ball over once or not at all, the Seahawks went 12-0 in the regular season. That’s great! When he gave it away twice or more, they did not win any games, and whimpered to an 0-4 record. That’s not great! The dichotomy is one all of us who watched the season could’ve seen coming. Turnovers are bad. It’s all about the ball. Pete Carroll is still right about some things, even as he approaches centenarianhood. Take care of the ball = win. Don’t = don’t win. It’s a differential equation as old as football itself, like from back when it was still rugby and shit.

But that whole 12-0 / 0-4 business, that’s uncommon, right? It can’t be like that with every team, right?

Everyone is glad you asked, because the content appearing below depends on your extremely feline curiosity.

The NFC West

NFCW records, 2020

0 or 1 QB turnovers 2 or more QB turnovers
0 or 1 QB turnovers 2 or more QB turnovers
12-0 0-4
9-4 1-2
7-6 1-2
5-2 1-8

One main insight presents itself loud and clear: you don’t want your QB to commit multiple turnovers. The Seahawks went 0-4 and the rest of the division went 3-12 when that happened. NFC West teams won at a .158 rate collectively in a double-giveaway situation.

A secondary inference begs to sneak into the spotlight as well — the other divisional teams do not live and die with their quarterback nearly as much. A clean-playing Kyler Murray still saw his team go 7-6. The Rams still lost four times when Jared Goff took care of the ball. Kliff Kingsbury, Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay don’t depend on their quarterback as much as Carroll does. (More on that later, because it sounds so weird.)

I mean, the whole division “only” went 21-12 in the left column. That’s not comparable to 12-0. The Seahawks were in a class by themselves. It’s good to avoid giveaways. It was just... especially good for the last iteration of the Seahawks in a way that didn’t translate for their division rivals. Does that point to a more complete team in Los Angeles than in Seattle? Does it mean the 49ers were better than their record? Because they got some real stinkers out of Nick Mullens in 2020 — six times he gave it away twice and six times they lost — and he won’t be starting a lot of games for them this year.

By the way, Mullens was Wilson’s evil twin last season, guiding the Niners to a 3-1 mark when he didn’t turn it over twice and an 0-6 tailspin when he did. And by the wayer, nobody had more multi-turnover games from their QB than the Niners. Real shame.

While we, ahem, mull the ramifications of the data above, how about we expand things to the league at large? Did the collection of teams mirror the Seahawks’ trend, that of the other NFC West teams, or land somewhere in between?

Entire NFL grid

The AFC first? Sure. The AFC first.

American Football Conference records

Team 0 or 1 QB turnovers 2 or more QB turnovers
Team 0 or 1 QB turnovers 2 or more QB turnovers
Bills 10-1 3-2
Dolphins 9-3 1-3
Patriots 6-6 1-3
Jets 2-9 0-5
Steelers 11-2 1-2
Ravens 11-3 0-2
Browns 10-3 1-2
Bengals 4-6 and 1 0-5
Titans 10-4 1-1
Colts 11-2 0-3
Texans 3-11 1-1
Jaguars 1-9 0-6
Chiefs 13-2 1-0
Raiders 7-5 1-3
Chargers 7-6 0-3
Broncos 5-6 2-5
Entire AFC 120-78 and 1 13-46
Top 8 teams 85-20 8-15

Before we get to the NFC, a quick note about the AFC’s 13-46 record when quarterbacks commit multiple turnovers. Three of those wins are against the Jets. It’s good to play the Jets. Also feel free to notice no team besides the Bills had more than two wins in such situations. If you’re looking for a reason Buffalo will fall back to earth beside Josh Allen having a surprise career year, there you go. It’s virtually impossible to go over .500 in sloppy QB games, yet the Bills pulled it off.

If you narrow the field to the top 8 AFC teams, they went 85-20 with clean QB play. The bottom eight went 35-58-1. It’s only helpful to cut back on turnovers if your quarterback or your defense is good to begin with. Otherwise it’s futile, you were probably going to lose anyway.

NFC teams

National Football Conference records

Team 0 or 1 turnovers 2 or more turnovers
Team 0 or 1 turnovers 2 or more turnovers
Packers 13-1 0-2
Bears 6-6 2-2
Vikings 6-5 1-4
Lions 5-9 0-2
Saints 11-3 1-1
Buccaneers 10-1 1-4
Panthers 3-8 2-3
Falcons 4-10 0-2
WFT 6-4 1-5
Giants 5-4 1-6
Cowboys 5-6 1-4
Eagles 3-5 1-6 and 1
Seahawks 12-0 0-4
Rams 9-4 1-2
Cardinals 7-6 1-2
49ers 5-2 1-8
Entire NFC 110-74 14-57-1
Top 8 teams 74-25 7-22

We found the closest doppelgangers to our Seahawks, and they are the Packers and the Bucs, who were 24-2 and 1-6 in the two scenarios.

We found the closest doppelgangers to our Seahawks, and they are the teams led by Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.

We found the closest doppelgangers to our Seahawks, and they are quarterbacked by the two GOATs.

Huh. Isn’t that something. Carroll came into the job preaching the value of keeping games close with a ferocious defense and a physical run game, only to end up, by decade’s end, in the kind of quarterback-dependent roster you see surrounding the greatest to ever play the game. Maybe pro football has a way of asserting itself no matter your stated team-building philosophy.

Can I point out one final statistical oddity? Plenty of teams went winless in the two-turnover situation. But no team was perfect in the zero-to-one turnover range. Just Seattle. Not Brady, not Rodgers, not Mahomes, not Allen. I wouldn’t extrapolate too much from it, but what a cool stat.

Adding everything up, you get a league where teams won 61 percent of their games in the favorable column and only 21 percent in the favorable column. Not quite a 100-0 gap, but a big one for so substantial a sample size. Two turnovers is usually fatal no matter how good your quarterback is. But it still takes an elite quarterback to turn the clean games into wins. If you feel us marching toward an obvious, but powerful conclusion, you’re paying attention. Have a cookie.

The Early Carroll Years

It would be silly to go through this whole exercise and not cross-check it against the Carroll teams that foolishly forgot to have Wilson on their roster. When Matt Hasselbeck, Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst were under center, how did the Seahawks fare?

Seahawks before Russell

Team 0 or 1 QB turnovers 2 or more QB turnovers
Team 0 or 1 QB turnovers 2 or more QB turnovers
2010 Seahawks 6-3 1-6
2011 Seahawks 6-6 1-3

There’s your difference in between having an elite quarterback and not. When the Seahawks were middling around with old Hass, beat-up T-Jack and Clipboard Jesus, throwing darts at the quarterback board until they hit the bulls-eye, it was no guarantee they’d win on the quarterback’s better days. 12-9 record only, very pedestrian indeed. And it was a virtual guarantee they’d lose on his worse outings.

The pre-RW Seahawks were essentially the 2020 Giants, if you care to refer back to the big chart.

And that’s the trend we see across the league. Turnovers will neuter even the best QBs. But protect the ball and your superior talent at the most important position in sports has a chance to come through.

With Wilson’s off days, the Seahawks will still lose most of the time. But when he doesn’t screw up too much — as instructed by a coach who values caution as much as making the explosive play! — they’re really, really hard to stop. Here’s to more of the same in 2021? As long as we get a baker’s dozen Good Wilsons, that is.