We here at Field Gulls are big fans of Football Outsiders, and we’ve long used their DVOA metric on this site (along with other advanced stats). DVOA holds a special place in the hearts of Seattle Seahawks fans, as from 2012-2015 the team was at the top of the league in overall DVOA, and not coincidentally those were by some distance the best Seahawks teams under Pete Carroll.
It’s safe to say the 2022 Seahawks will not finish #1 in DVOA and will struggle to finish in the top-10 again like they did last year. Having read the Seahawks chapter of the newly released Football Outsiders Almanac 2022, the view is pretty grim. With that in mind, SB Nation has partnered with FO both to promote the almanac, as well as get some in-depth answers about the Seahawks as it pertains to last year’s disappointment and a little preview of this year’s squad. Answering Field Gulls’ questions on the Seahawks is FO’s Vincent Verhei.
1.) The Seahawks ranked 11th in points allowed last season, but just 21st in defensive DVOA. There’s been a lot of debate about how good the Seahawks defense actually was in 2021, so can you expand a bit on the low ranking?
Vincent: A lot of credit for that 11th-place ranking in points allowed goes to the offense and special teams—with a league-low 13 turnovers and a lot of kick returns downed or tackled inside the 20, Seattle’s defense started its average drive at the opponents’ 25.3-yard line, the best starting field position for any defense in the league. And then they gave most of that yardage right back, finishing 27th in yards allowed per drive and next to last in plays allowed per drive. They didn’t give up many explosive plays, and they were excellent in the red zone—opponents only scored a touchdown on 51% of their red zone drives, the fourth-best rate in the NFL. But they gave up too many yards and generated too few turnovers to be thought of as anything more than a middle-of-the-pack defense.
2.) Russell Wilson to Geno Smith or Drew Lock is going to be a downgrade, no doubt about it. Which portions of the Seahawks passing game (or perhaps, which receivers) figure to be impacted the most with this QB change?
Vincent: One of the most surprising things I learned while writing the Seattle chapter was that DK Metcalf had much better numbers on throws from Geno Smith (77% catch rate, 12.0 yards per target) than he did from Russell Wilson, either before Wilson’s finger injury (63%, 9.4) or after (49%, 5.3). That’s partly due to a tiny sample size (only 21 targets from Smith), and it’s not as if Metcalf had trouble catching passes from Wilson in the past, but for whatever reason the Wilson-Metcalf connection severely underachieved in 2021, considering the talent level of both men. So Metcalf could be the one guy whose numbers benefit from a quarterback switch in 2022. If Lock beats out Smith, on the other hand, we can expect Seattle’s sack numbers to drop, as evading sacks was about the only thing Lock was good at in Denver. Otherwise, no matter who’s taking snaps, we can expect everything to get worse—more interceptions, more incompletions, fewer completions, fewer yards. I know some people are hopeful that Seattle’s tight ends may get more targets, but considering who will be throwing the ball, I don’t know if they’ll get any more accurate targets.
3.) We’re well aware of Pete Carroll’s conservative nature on 4th downs and how he’s different from the era of coaching aggressiveness. Schematically speaking, what are some of the strategic tendencies of the Seahawks that stray from league-wide trends?
Vincent: Oh, lord, where to begin? While the rest of the league has joined the 2020s, Carroll is stuck in a time loop like Loki, trying to coach football the way it was played in 2012. Most defenses are building from the outside in, trying to win with cornerbacks and edge rushers, but the Seahawks have invested most of their resources in linebackers and safeties. Most teams consider the nickelbacks as starters and build their rosters accordingly. Seattle just sticks backup safety Ugo Amadi in the slot on third-and-10 and calls it good. That’s on the rare occasions they even bother with a nickel—in the last four years, they have ranked first, second, first, and fifth in usage of base defense (either a 4-3 or a 3-4 front).
It’s a similar story on offense—Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are a very good one-two punch at wideout, but their third wide receiver, Freddie Swain, had fewer catches for fewer yards than Christian McCaffrey, a running back on a terrible offense who missed 10 games. A normal team would have added another wideout to compete with Swain and Dee Eskridge. Seattle drafted another running back instead. The entire notion that you can win in the modern NFL with running and defense is totally outdated. Twelve of last year’s 14 playoff teams ranked 15th or higher in passing yards. Only two (Tennessee and Philadelphia) were below average, and neither of them actually won a playoff game. Meanwhile, the top five teams in rushing yards were the Eagles, Colts, Ravens, Browns, and Titans—three teams that missed the playoffs and two that went one-and-done.
4.) Jamal Adams didn’t have a sack to his name after recording 9.5 in his first season with the Seahawks. What were some of the root causes of that and how effective was he in coverage?
Vincent: There were a couple of reasons. He did miss five games, but he also missed four in 2020. More importantly, the element of surprise was gone. According to Sports Info Solutions, most of his sacks in 2020 were marked as “rusher untouched,” “failed scramble,” or “blitz/overall pressure”—it’s not as if he was winning one-on-one matchups against left tackles. When teams were prepared for the blitz, Adams struggled to beat blockers, which he hadn’t often needed to do the year before. Finally, Adams didn’t get as many opportunities to blitz because the Seahawks couldn’t risk exposing their shaky corners in one-on-one situations. Seattle used man coverage a league-low 15% of the time, and their total number of DB blitzes fell from a league-high 140 to a middle-of-the-pack 74. In theory, the switch to a 3-4 base will mean more blitz opportunities for everyone, Adams included.
5.) Only two starters from the 2021 Seahawks offensive line remain on the 2022 unit: Gabe Jackson and Damien Lewis. Without giving too much away, the Almanac is unkind to Seattle’s OL. What in particular were they bad at, and was there a dropoff in 2021 performance from either Jackson or Lewis compared to 2020?
Vincent: In total, they were bad at almost everything—they finished 28th in blown block rate on both runs and passes. But there were some highlights, and Jackson was one of them. He was charged with one blown block every 54.3 snaps, putting him in the top 10 among right guards and a big upgrade from 2020, when he ranked 27th. Lewis also improved in 2021, though that was an improvement from “horrible” (37th among left guards in 2020) to “below average” (26th in 2021). The real problems were at center and right tackle, but the new names there (Austin Blythe in the middle, the winner of a Jake Curhan/Stone Forsythe/Abraham Lucas camp battle on the edge) are not certain to be upgrades.
Thanks again to Vincent for answering our questions! The Football Outsiders Almanac 2022 is on sale now! You can get it from FootballOutsiders.com in electronic form or you can buy it on Amazon.com in print.