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A statistical analysis of Kam Chancellor's holdout

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Barring surprise arrival via zipline, or the late Gorilla Monsoon appearing in the Seahawks locker room prior to game time only to unzip his enormous fat suit and reveal himself to be Kam Chancellor, the man named Bam Bam will not play for Seattle in Week 1. Recognizing sport is entertainment and remembering that Chancellor is my favorite enforcer in football, renowned for his brutal but not brain-scrambling tackles, I am bummed. How bummed? Let us enumerate our collective bummer.

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Bamm Bamm was the worst character in the Flintstones

Few alive today remember that Bamm Bamm, the strong, childish and often violent adopted son of Barney and Betty Rubble was first conceived as sly satire of shoe-banging Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev. Few remember because that's an absolute lie. As might be the following statistical analysis.

Kam Chancellor has extended his holdout into the regular season. This sucks. But how much it sucks is very hard to pin down. That is, statistically speaking.

Analysis and anecdote indicate one non-quarterback player is not that valuable. Analysis and anecdote indicate one non-quarterback player is vital. Bobby Wagner is among the current exemplars of the latter belief, whereas the former must depend on little but overwhelming statistical evidence.

But statistical analysis has a blind spot, and that blind spot is the netherworld of small samples. Football all but lives in this netherworld. Making a transformational addition, like Wagner's, or a hugely debilitating loss, like (and if you remember this far back) the loss of Marcus Tubbs, both obvious and impossible to prove. Last season the Seahawks defense really did improve markedly after Wagner rejoined the team but such turnarounds happen in the absence of any major personnel changes.

Such turnarounds happen for any number of reasons: changing opponent, home field advantage, changing matchups and dumb luck to name a few.

What follows is an attempt to quantify how costly the loss of Bam Bam is to Seattle. Who is by default the worst member of the Legion of Boom, because there're no makeup days when living your dream.

Tight Ends and Receiving Backs

It is impossible to fully separate the contributions of Chancellor from those of Seattle's linebacker corps. There is entirely too much overlap in responsibilities. In particular, Kam, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright all specialize in neutralizing underneath passes to tight ends and backs. What's worse--from an analysis point of view, anyway--is that the two games Chancellor missed last season, Wagner missed too. Meaning there was a likely a cascade effect.

What did this nightmarish cascade of weaknesses look like? Not good but not that damaging either, it turns out.

Last season Seattle was overall pretty mediocre at defending receptions by backs and tight ends. In terms of volume of receptions and total yardage, Seattle ranked 16th and 18th against back and ends, respectively.

Specifically and courtesy the indispensable Football Outsiders:

vs. TE: 6.3 receptions for 41.4 yards.

vs. RB 8.1 receptions for 43.9 yards.

Week 9 against the Oakland Raiders, Seattle allowed eight receptions for 82 yards to the Raiders running backs. The targets are similar but the yardage has almost doubled. Seattle also allowed eight receptions by tight end Mychal Rivera and for 38 yards. That doesn't sound meaningfully out of whack, until you factor in that two of those receptions were for touchdowns. Rivera had all of four touchdowns all season. A touchdown is worth roughly 20 yards, and so go ahead and tack that on to Rivera's total.

The worst team in the NFL at defending passes to backs in 2014, the New Orleans Saints, averaged only 53.6 yards allowed a game. Their brothers in bad but against tight ends, Arizona (!), averaged 66.2 yards allowed per game.

A week later Seattle faired a bit better against the Giants. How much better though requires a little context to understand. First off: Eli Manning was able to complete five passes to the loathsome receiving trio of Andre Williams, Michael Cox and Peyton Hillis, but for a mere 19 yards. That's pretty much cash money until you realize Cox and Hillis are out of football, and those five receptions represent a full one-sixth of their receptions for the entire season. Nevertheless 19 yards is 19 yards.

Giants tight ends notched five receptions for 38 yards--which is a good transition to the next point: when Seattle was hobbled and therefore presumably weak at defending backs and tights ends, it happened to face weak competition, overall, that specifically could not much attack the Seahawks weaknesses.

When Kam's Holdout Becomes Problematic

When I say Williams and his two former teammates now pensioners are "loathsome" I mean as receivers. Cox caught two passes all season, and throughout his career, Eli Manning has excelled throwing to his wide receivers. The competition was not there to expose Seattle's weakness. It is not immediately clear if that will again be the case in 2015.

Right away Seattle faces a very good receiving back in Benny Cunningham. Last season Cunningham rated sixth in the NFL in receiving DYAR among backs. That Wagner and Wright are around and healthy mean Seattle could weather that without too much trouble, but that in turn could free up tight end Jared Cook or H-back Lance Kendricks. St. Louis typically starts all three, and that means Dion Bailey is likely to be tested right away. None of the Rams three is game-breaking by any stretch, and Cook particularly has been a high volume / low value receiver, but performance is experienced as contrast. If Bailey gets lost in the bright lights ...

He may nevertheless survive the next week, too. Eddie Lacy rated fourth in football in receiving DYAR. But Andrew Quarless just is. Richard Rodgers is known to be a favorite of Aaron Rodgers, but if praise mattered bloggers would be millionaires. It could be Richard is nearing a breakout. He overtook Quarless on the depth chart, and if you're a fan of such endeavors, watching how he performs against the Bears might tell us a bit about how screwed we all are. I'd guess: not that screwed.

But even if Seattle is not that screwed by Richard Rodgers and Eddie Lacy, the schedule gets considerably more daunting from there to the bye: Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett; Tim Wright, Eric Ebron, Brandon Pettigrew, Joique Bell, Theo Reddick and Ameer Abdullah; Tyler Eifert and Giovanni Bernard; Greg Olsen and nobody; Carlos Hyde, Reggie Bush and Vernon Davis; Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden and Jason Witten; these are not fearsome names, mostly, but they are competent or good players, some maybe even more than that. If Bailey is struggling, he will be found and his assignment could very well play like a star.

Seattle's Boom is occupied by two potential busts, and if Cary Williams or Dion Bailey struggle to hold coverage, it won't matter a great deal how good Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas are. Opposing quarterbacks will avoid Seattle's All-Pros and find plenty of places to pass.

If Kam's holdout becomes problematic in Week 1, by Week 8 Seattle may have an honest to God crisis on its hands.

Or ...

Matchups are exceedingly hard to predict. I have done this sort of rigmarole way too many times to have any sort of confidence in my predictive ability. But for two beautiful seasons, Seattle's secondary excelled in part because there simply wasn't a weak link anywhere in its starting four. Depending on your opinion of Brandon Browner, you could maybe extend that to four seasons.

Last season Chancellor ranked 30th in extra points added among all safeties. He ranked 11th in 2013, 36th in 2012 and first overall in 2011. That stat puts a premium on run stops and is reasonably blind to coverage skills. By that cleverly produced but naive metric Seattle didn't have a single great member of its secondary. It instead had a great secondary.

There is a perception that Chancellor lacks leverage. It may that Pete Carroll and John Schneider will take this battle to the mattresses, and for the sake of future cap solvency and holding the line, will hide away no matter the blood bath. It also may be that even a player of Kam's caliber simply doesn't move the needle that much.

But there is no linear progression of one-on-one's in football, no place to hide a bad starter, and Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor have been the three complementary and irreplaceable pieces of the Legion of Boom since that infernal nickname was coined. It's not possible to say exactly how much Chancellor's loss will hurt Seattle's secondary. But it's possible to say how it might hurt Seattle's defense and therefore its title hopes.

Benny Cunningham, Jared Cook, Lance Kendricks--together a little below average, but how Bailey handles these three could tell us quite a bit how bad the rupture and how badly Seattle needs Kam Chancellor.