Per weighted DVOA, Seattle ranks fourth on special teams (6.5%) after eight games (and nine weeks). The ranking is down from first earlier in the season, and second just a couple weeks back. (New England has the top special teams rating to date, at 7.6%.) The Seahawks have played solidly across the board in every facet, except, oddly enough, punt coverage. And that, obviously, was before Ricardo Lockette's injury. Field-flipping plays have also eluded the Seahawks for several weeks now, and that cannot be sitting well with Pete Carroll. He emphasizes special teams about as much as any other coach.
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Consider this. Seattle is tenth in offensive plays and fifth in time of possession on a per drive basis. In other words, Seattle's dreadfully inconsistent offense has actually been better than you might think at stringing together plays. But, one reason it probably doesn't feels like that to you is that the team starts drives with their collective heels backed up against their own goal line. That's really only a mild bit of hyperbole. Seattle's average drive starts at just across the 25 yard line, good for 24th in the league. Meanwhile, at the other end of the field position spectrum, the Bengals lead the league with their average drive starting at the bloody 33 yard line. The second ranked Patriots start their average drive almost at the 33. Those offenses trot out onto the field out of commercial break already just a handful of plays from field goal range. They could flip the field with a decent punt if they do anything better than just fall on a knee three times.
Cincinnati and New England are 15th and 8th, respectively, in forced turnovers per drive, while Seattle is only 22nd. Short of forcing more turnovers on defense (yes, please), Seattle's kick and punt return units will need to supply a few more big plays.
So let's get under the hood to see what's going on with special teams, shall we?
1. Kicking -- FG/PAT
Not a lot to see here. Seattle is fourth on Football Outsiders' metric, behind only the Pats, Giants, and Broncos. Hauschka is having a career year, aside from hitting one low (even for him) in Dallas last week. The only thing I'd raise here has to do with going for a two-point conversion. Given the team's red zone struggles, the prospect of needing two late in a game fills me with dread.
2. Kickoff Return
Tyler Lockett averages a pedestrian 25.4 yards per return (31st overall, 14th among those with at least seven kick returns) yet Seattle still ranks fourth on FO's metric. The TD versus the Bears counts for a lot obviously, but it's hard to be a difference maker in that phase of the game these days. If the only problem with Seattle's kick return unit involved opposing kickers putting the ball in the stands there wouldn't be much to say. However, as you can see from this return versus the Panthers (video begins at :20) this unit is struggling a bit.
I don't mean to suggest that every kickoff has featured blown blocks, Tyler Lockett being confronted with free runners has been too frequent for Pete Carroll's liking. Mike Morgan's missed block meant this return had no chance whatsoever.
3. Punt/Punt Coverage
For all the (at times) justifiable grief 12s give the offensive line, the punt coverage team has had a bit of a pass. In the past couple seasons Seattle's punt coverage has gone from historically good to pedestrian-at-best. At the moment, a resolution to this problem seems to have eluded the staff. This punt coverage unit has given up some costly returns at St. Louis (Tavon Austin's okeedoke) and at Cincinnati (Adam Jones' huge 2nd half return).
I honestly don't know what, if anything, is at the root of this. Maybe it's just a random lull. It's the most obvious area for improvement with the least obvious means for resolving. But if this team is to get back in the race for the division, it will need to improve mightily in this area.
4. Punt Return
Lockett has been solid here, with occasionally explosive plays. I think you'd be hard-pressed to find an NFL coach who wouldn't take that combination, no questions asked. He is second in the league in number of punt returns (24), and apart from his hiccup during the Lions game he's been very sure-handed. (The video below starts at :13.)
This punt return against the Bengals really shows off Lockett's vision and ability to accelerate. He reminds me a good deal of Golden Tate, but with an extra gear.