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Long balls Pete: Seahawks emphasis on the long ball on offense could be as important as their prevention of it on defense

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Seattle allowed the fewest explosive passing plays in the NFL last season, but could they move closer to the top of that category on offense this year?

Jamie Squire

We like the balls

The balls that go Boom

I'm Kenneth and Arthur

And I like the Boom

Set sexual innuendo aside for a moment and focus on football innuendo (of which there may be no difference) and remember that the Seahawks were vastly superior to every other team last year (I believe I had the mantra "Everybody sucks but us") largely due to the fact that they limited explosive plays on defense and were fairly average at it on offense.

Here's a bit from earlier in the year, when Danny summarized Pete's philosophy on eliminating "big plays" as a key component to winning football games:

Carroll believes that giving up big plays -- in either the run game or the pass game - will ultimately cost you the game. While every scheme, man, zone, or a combination of both, has weak points, Carroll is most concerned about protecting the deep middle of the field against the explosive pass. That's the first thing he will teach to new safeties, and it's a statistic that Carroll and his staff monitors closely. It's a specific focus in their program.

If we know that Carroll emphasizes eliminating big plays on defense, we can easily surmise that he believes just as strongly in gaining big plays on offense. Here are some breakdowns from last season (all of these are PASSING plays only):

Week 1 at Carolina

Plays over 20 yards: Seahawks 4, Panthers 1

Plays over 30 yards: Seahawks 1, Panthers 0

Week 2 vs San Francisco

Plays over 20 yards: Seahawks 2, 49ers 0

Plays over 30 yards: Seahawks 2, 49ers 0

Week 3 vs Jacksonville

Plays over 20 yards: Seahawks 5, Jaguars 2

Plays over 30 yards: Seahawks 3, Jaguars 1

Week 4 at Houston

Plays over 20 yards: Texans 3, Seahawks 2

Plays over 30 yards: Texans 2, Seahawks 0

Week 5 at Indy

Plays over 20 yards: Seahawks 4, Colts 2

Plays over 30 yards: Colts 1, Seahawks 0

Week 6 vs Tennessee

Plays over 20 yards: Seahawks 3, Titans 1

Plays over 30 yards: Seahawks 1, Titans 0

Week 7 at Arizona

Plays over 20 yards: Seahawks 4, Cardinals 0

Plays over 30 yards: Seahawks 2, Cardinals 0

Week 8 at St. Louis

Plays over 20 yards: Rams 3, Seahawks 1

Plays over 30 yards: Seahawks 1, Rams 0

Week 9 vs TB

Plays over 20 yards: Seahawks 3, Bucs 2

Plays over 30 yards: Seahawks 0, Bucs 0

Week 10 at Atlanta

Plays over 20 yards: Seahawks 6, Falcons 2

Plays over 30 yards: Seahawks 4, Falcons 1

Week 11 vs Minnesota

Plays over 20 yards: Seahawks 4, Vikings 4

Plays over 30 yards: Seahawks 2, Vikings 2

Week 13 vs New Orleans

Plays over 20 yards: Seahawks 4, Saints 1

Plays over 30 yards: Seahawks 3, Saints 0

Week 14 at San Francisco

Plays over 20 yards: Seahawks 3, 49ers 2

Plays over 30 yards: Seahawks 1, 49ers 0

Week 15 at New York G

Plays over 20 yards: Seahawks 3, Giants 1

Plays over 30 yards: Seahawks 1, Giants 0

Week 16 vs Arizona

Plays over 20 yards: Cardinals 2, Seahawks 1

Plays over 30 yards: Cardinals 2, Seahawks 0

Week 17 vs St. Louis

Plays over 20 yards: Seahawks 1, Rams 1

Plays over 30 yards: Seahawks 1, Rams 0

Division vs New Orleans

Plays over 20 yards: Saints 3, Seahawks 2

Plays over 30 yards: Saints 1, Seahawks 0

NFC Champ vs San Fran

Plays over 20 yards: Seahawks 4, 49ers 2

Plays over 30 yards: Seahawks 2, 49ers 0

Super Bowl vs Denver

Plays over 20 yards: Seahawks 3, Broncos 2

Plays over 30 yards: Seahawks 1, Broncos 0

Of course, Michael Sawyer detailed "explosive plays" throughout the season and emphasized how important they were to Seattle's success. I've just done it my own way, a little simpler for me to compile, and you'll see that they won or tied the battle in 15 of 17 games. The two real exceptions are their Week 4 near-loss to the Texans and their Week 16 absolute-loss to the Cardinals.

Despite shooting Denver into the oblivion in the Super Bowl, the plays over 20 and 30 yards weren't as vastly different as the 43-8 final score would have you believe. However, "shit plays" were all over the Broncos offense that day, due to the fact that against the Seahawks defense, teams move forward on the field like a Weeble Wobble storming the beach at Normandy. Even though Demaryius Thomas finished with 13 catches for 118 yards that day, here are his yardage totals for each reception:

2, 6, 3, 7, 1, 9, 19, 4, 3, 10, 23 (fumble lost, recovered by Malcolm Smith), 14 (TD), 17.

Seattle allowed Thomas to catch 11 of 13 short targets, but stopped him on three of five targets past 15 yards. By that time, the game was well out of hand.

There were a few (only a few) receivers that got the better of the Seahawks defense last year, but not even Thomas was one of them, really. Allowing over 100 yards is fine if the player only goes further than 10 yards four times out of 18 targets (22%) and then one of those is fumbled and two of them are late in a blowout playing softer defense.

There are over 1,000 defensive plays a season, and really, the Seattle defense screwed up in a minuscule percentage of those, allowing the likes of Cecil Shorts, TY Hilton, and Jarius Wright to get the better of them on rare occasion.

I recently went around the league, receiver by receiver, and started to detail the length of each of their receptions. If a player has a higher percentage of his total yards on a single play, then it's fair to question their overall value. If a player like Devery Henderson comes around and is solely on the roster for those few "difference making" plays a season, then fine. But if you're supposed to be a starter at the X or Z spot, even the slot, you probably shouldn't have 15% of your yards come on a single play. The truly elite players maintain maybe 4-6% of their yards on the biggest play of their season. Others, show more worrisome trends.

Tavon Austin had 418 yards as a rookie with the Rams last season. Not great, but he's a work in progress. However, is he even more of a work in progress than 418 yards suggest? Austin had 19.3% of those yards on a single 81-yard play, meaning that otherwise he had 8.6 yards per catch which would be just awful.

The upside is that Austin has the upside of a player who can develop 81 yard plays, but the downside is that St. Louis could be relying on a guy for that two-or-three-times-a-season-if-you're-lucky play to be valuable. Austin had 31 receptions go for less than 10 yards, while he had just four catches that went from 10-19 yards. Meanwhile Josh Gordon in Cleveland had 14 plays for for 30 or more yards, nine plays go for 40 or more, and three plays for go 50 or more.

How did the Seahawks do when measuring their longest reception of the season against their final totals?

Longest receiving play of 2013:

Name Yards %of total rec yards Game result
Marshawn Lynch 55 17.4% SEA 20, TEN 13
Golden Tate 80 8.9% SEA 14, STL 9
Doug Baldwin 52 6.6% SEA 34, NO 7
Zach Miller 60 15.5% SEA 34, NO 7
Jermaine Kearse 43 12.4%

SEA 12, CAR 7

SEA 33, ATL 10

Luke Willson 39 14.3% SF 19, SEA 17
Sidney Rice 31 13.4% SEA 34, ARI 22

Tate was often seen as "the big play guy" for Seattle and it's true that he led the team with six plays of at least 30 yards, tied for 22nd in the NFL (per Michael Sawyer.) However, Baldwin and Tate both had three plays eclipse 40 yards, and Baldwin had one more play over 50 yards than Tate did. Just 6.6% of Baldwin's yards came on his 52-yard play, compared to 8.9% for Tate. And while Tate was a very valuable member of the offense and special teams units, the Seahawks have added a decent player to take his place on offense.

Percy "mothafuckin" Harvin.

Harvin catches a lot of passes short of the first down marker, but his agility, athleticism, and speed are what scare defenses once he gets the ball in his hands.

Percy-harvin-nasty-td-10-7-121

via usatthebiglead.files.wordpress.com

In other words, "Harvin is good feet man."

During his MVP half-season with the Vikings in 2012, Harvin had six plays between 20-29 yards and two plays over 30 yards. Remember, this is with Christian "motherfucker" Ponder at quarterback. If Harvin has 12 plays go for 20-29 yards this year, that would be more than what players like Alshon Jeffery, Vincent Jackson, Michael Floyd, Keenan Allen, Demaryius Thomas, Jordy Nelson had last season.

In addition to Harvin, I think Paul Richardson is a guy drafted with the expectation that as a rookie he may have more receptions go for over 30 yards than he has go for 10-19. He's a big play option that will probably have a lot of "failed experiments" where receptions go for -2 to 9 yards, but it's just that one play that gets you over the hump and helps a team score points where they wouldn't have before without that player being able to do that. The loss of Tate isn't insignificant, but it's less significant perhaps than the additions of Harvin and Richardson.

With Harvin, Baldwin, Richardson, Willson, Miller, Kearse and Marshawn, the offense could go boom as much as the defense this season.