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The Stathawk: Betwixt Weeks 1 and 2

A new weekly column in which I forcibly select two unwilling statistics and see how they apply to the previous and coming games.

31 is a magic number, yes it is
31 is a magic number, yes it is
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

There's just something about numbers.

I love stats. All of them. I love them all. I love them complicated and simple, traditional and advanced. I love to rescue them from anonymity, to pluck them from the dank catacombs of a dusty, forgotten box score. I love to trumpet them to a world that may or may not give a damn.

So in this new weekly column (thanks Danny), I'll look at two stats each week, connecting them to the game just played and the one around the bend. I'll consider all flavors of statistic, from wDVOA to total yards, because when deployed properly, any stat, even a deeply flawed one, can tell a story worth relating. Well, except QBR. That kind of shit is what shit calls shit.

To the numbers party!

STAT ONE: Yards Per Completion

Out of the passing family of stats, non-stupid football analysts love Yards Per Attempt. The simple and straightforward Y/A is a great short-cut stat, easy to calculate, easy to handle, and a better gauge of quarterbacking skill than passer rating.

Y/C, on the other hand, has the potential to be misleading in a one-game context. But in the context of a whole season, its leaders are the teams who go for the explosive play. So let's start there: please hop in my pro-football-reference-hot-tub-dot-com-time-machine and look at this table of Super Bowl winners. It's tall, but it's worth it. For context.

Year League Y/C average SB champ, Y/C
1980 12.5 Raiders, 14.0
1981 12.9 Niners, 11.5 (last place)
1982 12.4 Skins, 12.8
1983 12.6 Raiders, 13.0
time passes
1993 11.6 Cowboys, 11.4
1994 11.7 Niners 12.2
more time passes
2007 11.2 (!!!) Giants 11.2
2008 11.4 Steeler 11.9
2009 11.5 Saints 11.9
2010 11.5 Packers 12.4
2012 11.6 Ravens 12.0
2013 11.6 Seahawks 13.1

(Caveat: I will admit here and now that the 2011 New York Giants season is one giant outlier and for the purposes of the amateur analysis contained herein, it has been scrubbed from the record. Carry on.)

What we're seeing here, in broad strokes, is that the league, and its champions, have long been trending away from the deep passing game and more toward the West Coast offensive tactics of high-percentage, low-risk, low-reward, move-the-chains passing.

So when the 2013 Seattle Seahawks averaged 13.1 yards per completion and also happened to collect the Lombardi trophy, they posted the third-highest Y/C of any champion of the salary-cap era. The only higher performers in that category were the original Greatest Show on Turf, that Kurt Warner-led scoring machine that came within one yard of Super Defeat, and the edition of the Steelers which totally legitimately authentically indisputably won Super Bowl XL.

Anyway, teams won Super Bowls with careful and sometimes anemic offenses in the past 30 years. There were the three straight Super Bowl champions who tallied less than 11 yards per completion: the Ravens, Patriots and Bucs of 2000-2002. Trent Dilfer, Young Tommy Brady, and Brad "Who?" Johnson won titles in three consecutive years.

Now, the new overlords are a horde of ascending Seahawks. Speaking of ascending:

Year Hawks' team Y/C League rank
2010 10.9 24
2011 11.5 21
2012 12.5 5
2013 13.1 3

And also of non-ascending:

Years Rivers' Y/C Chargers' W-L
2008-2010 13.1 30-18
2011-2013 11.7 24-24
2014 11.3 0-1

One of these teams is trending in the right direction for wins, titles, and explosiveness. The other is not. The other spends its somewhat successful seasons dinkin-n-dunkin with spectacular statistical surety. But we've seen what Seattle does to those who would "attack" it with a short, methodical, patient passing offense.

Opposing QB Context Y/C Result
Rodgers Week 1, 2014 7.3 Hawks win
Manning XLVIII 8.2 Hawks win
Kaepernick 2013 NFCCG 10.9 Hawks win

Those guys all are high-percentage passers who rely on tons of small completions to complete long scoring drives. Rivers is in their peer group. Maybe he can expect almost as much success as they "enjoyed." At least the game isn't in Seattle this time?

STAT 2: Penalties

It will come as no surprise to ardent Twelves that the Hawks are among the NFL's most penalized teams.

Well, not just "among."

2012 Penalties

Hawks Bad Guys
NFL rank 7th most 23rd most
Penalties/game 6.67 6.00
Yards penalized/game 53.06 51.56
Yardage differential/game -1.50 +1.50

2013 Penalties

Hawks Bad Guys/non-champs
NFL rank Mostest 15th most
Penalties/game 8.00 6.21
Yards penalized/game 74.47 55.89
Yardage differential/game -18.58 +18.58

CheatHawks gonna cheathawk, amirite?

But back to the non-denial version of reality. The Hawks' flag-collecting trend continued into the 2014 preseason, which could mean nothing. Or it maybe could mean a little teeny tiny something when you're trying to make a larger point.

2014 preseason penalties: Seattle 39-334, opposition 38-268. Although the Seahawks have been avoiding flags in the secondary in 2014, they still have been out-flagging their opponents, as is their habit.

Then, Week 1, 2014, and something kind of clean happened. I'm aware that small sample sizes invite mockery. (I usually like to be the mocker!) But what are ya gonna do -- in a one-game season, the sample size is, um, one. And it reads: Seattle 4-69, opposition 8-65.

That includes a 44-yard penalty for P.I. by middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, who probably saved a touchdown by shadowing, then tackling Randall Cobb half a football field away from Aaron Rodgers. Worth it. (Drive ended in a FG instead of six.) Still, including that flag, the Hawks were penalized half as often as the Packers.

Looking back, it makes plenty of sense for Seattle have incurred more penalties than its foes in the past. Pete Carroll preaches competitiveness until the whistle. He embraces the penalty risk that comes with being ultra-aggressive.

But looking forward, Week 1 could could could be the start of a trend in which the Hawks start being called for way fewer penalties than their opponents. If such a trend materializes -- and I'm not saying it will, just that you might consider watching for it -- then there is a giant chuck of hidden yardage another that the Hawks could gain, compared with their 2013 campaign. And again, devoted Twelves will know how much Pete values hidden yards.

Signing off.

Numerically Yours, Fellow Twelves.