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Seahawks played the fewest offensive snaps, most defensive snaps in the NFL... again

This can’t keep happening.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks were outsnapped 69-53 in their Week 18 win over the Arizona Cardinals. It’s a microcosm of not just the 2023 season, but the past several seasons of Seahawks football.

Seattle was not only dead last in offensive snaps played, it was the only offense in the league that didn’t even reach 1,000 snaps. The Seahawks ran just 995 plays, down from the 1,044 in the 2022 season.

On defense, the Seahawks stayed on the field. Forever. The defense faced a league-high 1,147 snaps, which marks the third time in four seasons that the Seahawks have led the league in snaps defended. In 2022, they didn’t lead the NFL in defensive snaps, but still finished with the third-most at 1,117.

This wide disparity is not always interconnected. The Indianapolis Colts had the 2nd most defensive snaps but ranked 12th in offensive snaps. The offensively-changed New York Jets were 22nd in offensive snaps and 13th in defensive snaps. However, you know who led the NFL in offensive snaps? The Cleveland Browns, who turned it over 37 times and started five quarterbacks. Their defense had the fewest snaps, but they also forced 28 turnovers and produced more three-and-outs than anyone else.

Seattle’s defense was 31st in rate of three-and-outs forced, 32nd in time of possession, 31st in rate of punts forced, and 22nd in rate of turnovers per drive. In other words, the Seahawks defense did almost nothing to get themselves off the field as soon as possible.

The Seahawks offense is not entirely blameless; they were 20th in three-and-out rate (per FTNFantasy) and were one of the worst teams in the NFL on 3rd down. However, they also committed just 17 turnovers and scored at least a field goal on 38% of their drives, which was 11th in the league. Seattle was not an offensive juggernaut, but this unit was not so inept that it was actively hurting the defense. The offense also had one of the fastest paces in terms of seconds between plays, so the Seahawks were not voluntarily slowing the game down and limiting possessions. Opposing offenses, however, were very happy to slow things down.

This is hardly the first time the Seahawks have had an uninspiring third-down offense under Pete Carroll—it’s the eighth consecutive year in which the offense has ranked no higher than 16th. The problem becomes exacerbated when the defense is ruinously bad, which in turn limits Seattle’s offensive possessions and chances to score. When the defense allows a league-high seven touchdowns on opening drives, that has nothing to do with being tired. The Seahawks’ approach to defense effectively invites the opponent to completely control the flow of the game.

We’ve seen this wide disparity repeatedly for four years running no matter how well the offense actually plays. What’s the big change? See if you can spot a pattern.

(All stats via Stathead)

Seahawks Defense - 3rd Down Conversion Ranking

2023: 30th
2022: 27th
2021: 14th
2020: 27th

Seahawks Defense - Early Down Conversion Ranking

2023: 25th:
2022: 14th
2021: 25th
2020: 12th

The 2020 and 2022 Seahawks defenses were decent at preventing first-downs on early downs (1st and 2nd down, of course) but bad on 3rd down. In 2021, the Seahawks defense gave up a ton of first-downs on early downs, but they weren’t that bad on 3rd down. The 2023 Seahawks defense opted to give up first-downs at a high clip on every down.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks offense has consistently struggled on 3rd down but they’ve ranked in the top-10 on early down first-downs for five straight seasons. While I’d like the Seahawks to significantly improve on 3rd down, the offense can also sustain drives without ever facing 3rd down. Generally speaking, you want to avoid 3rd downs on offense as much as possible. The defense can’t get off the field on early downs unless the clock runs out or they force a turnover, so the goal should be to get to 3rd down and make a stop. Seattle’s 2023 defense was astoundingly poor on both counts.

In the first two Russell Wilson seasons the Seahawks were similarly near the bottom in offensive snaps played, but they also had among the fewest defensive snaps. It doesn’t take a lot of thinking to figure out that this was exactly how Seattle wanted to play. That ain’t the case anymore.

The evidence is overwhelming that if the Seahawks ever want to prevent this from continuing, much of the onus is on the defense to get off the damn field, preferably without giving up points. It’s true that the offense has recurring issues with 3rd downs and three-and-outs that must be corrected, but they’re not the New York Jets. The defense’s collapse creates a comical imbalance and a smaller margin for error to win games.