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Seahawks vs Titans: Trends, tendencies... trendencies

Carroll, Wilson and Lynch may be the ultimate 3-headed monster of the NFL. But is there a reason that Seattle struggles on field goal attempts and in the red zone?

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Trending frustrating: Botched field goal attempt, opponent scores a touchdown

Re: the last play of the second half, snap judgments include, but are not limited to, subject to terms and conditions except where prohibited by law,

"Hauschka should stay out of the way on coverage."

"It's all Carroll's fault for trying the field goal."

"Maragos is an idiot who nearly cost us the game."

Each of these is a contributing factor, but in truth it took five things to cause that 10-point swing:

  • Placekicker Hauschka gets injured on a return.
  • Pete Carroll makes a decision to attempt a field goal with emergency replacements.
  • Chris Maragos botches the hold.
  • Maragos makes a poor decision to try to pass the ball.
  • The resulting fumble rolls a long ways toward the sideline, Tennessee recovers and has a clear path to the far end zone.
  • Psychologically, we see the single play as a tremendous disaster-- which it is. We want to fixate on one key action or decision and lay a heap of blame. But the causal relationship is no different than five unsuccessful, but ordinary-looking plays that cumulatively add up to a ten-point swing. No single element is really that bad.

    Sometimes, placekickers make important tackles in coverage.

    Maragos has (almost certainly) successfully held for placekicks. His decision to try to keep the play alive demonstrated competitiveness and a quick response, and would have been correct under other circumstances (such as a 3-point deficit with one minute to play). Whatever "football smarts" Maragos has are being applied to his role on special teams and second unit defense, so he wasn't mentally prepared for this split-second decision.

    Sometimes, emergency backups succeed in placekicks. Sometimes, a field goal decides a game. Had this been the case, we would be praising Carroll's decision.

    Another possible critique is that the Seahawks "should have practiced this situation and been ready for it". But should they? Think back a mere week to the blocked field goal against the Indianapolis Colts. Would you give up time devoted to the normal field goal unit's blockers in exchange for reps for the emergency holder, the emergency long-snapper, and the emergency 3rd-string quarterback?

    Maragos has to be ready for his normal duties on special teams (where he plays 81% of the snaps, highest on the team) and backing up the safety position. Other players have to work on learning play calls, not committing bad penalties, protecting the ball, making substitutions, getting the snap count right, etc. etc. etc. These are things that will be an issue every game, and which are forever short of perfection.

    Trending reliable: Russell Wilson's negative plays

    Wilson recorded his lowest sack yardage over the last two weeks, and Sunday was his first game of the season without a turnover.

    opponent sacks sack yds fumbles int
    Panthers 2 -20 1 0
    49ers 4 -24 1 1
    Jaguars 2 -15 1 1
    Texans 5 -32 0 1
    Colts 2 -5 1 1
    Titans 2 -4 0 0

    Injuries and a dedication to running the ball have restricted Wilson from putting up the gaudy numbers that we know he is capable of. But even when passing with a healthy offense, some production is going to be surrendered in the name of the Carrollian doctrine primum non nocere ("First, do no harm").

    For a perspective on this approach, look at the rookie seasons of Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning, both filled with turnovers, sacks, low efficiency, a high percentage of pass plays, and multiple 300-yard passing games. In both cases the Colts were trying to rebuild from the cellar and needed to develop the team's new centerpiece quarterback. The high-risk approach was appropriate for team's future success, even if it lost a few games.

    Which poses the question: Has Wilson been denied this high-impact, game-losing training regimen because Seattle is a contender that expects to win now?

    Do bees make honey because it's sweet, or is honey sweet because it's made by bees?

    The answer to the Wilson question, I'm sure, is "no". Carroll gave his stamp of approval to draft John Schneider's prize diamond because he thought that Wilson had the attitude and the intellect to handle this type of development; to build his repertoire one dance at a time, eliminate the mistakes, and take no backward steps.

    Trending Smart: Pete Carroll

    Speaking of the coach...

  • Brandon Browner gets a rest
  • On their second drive, the Titans went after Browner for gains of 32 and 11 yards en route to a field goal. Carroll benched his starting corner, put in Walter Thurmond, and returned Browner to the game in the second half after some rest and focus time (Thurmond finished with 35 snaps on defense, Browner with 37). Result? The defense gave up just 3 points on the next 7 drives. Other results-- locker room issues, bruised ego, discontent, air of uncertainty? Of course not.

  • Sidney Rice gets a pass
  • 12:07 3rd quarter, 1st & 10 SEA 43
    Pass complete to Sidney Rice for 11 yards; Sidney Rice fumbles...

    Rice has not been winning the hearts of Seattle fans this year. His production has waned, but the sample size is small-- Seattle's 27.7 pass attempts per game are 30th in the league. And several of Rice's better catches have been mitigated by subsequent mistakes, such as the aforementioned fumble. He might not be playing up to his contract value, but that's irrelevant once the season begins.

    More to the point, should Rice be knocked down the depth chart in favor of Doug Baldwin? In fact, there really isn't much movement to be done. Baldwin has played 259 offensive snaps this year compared to Rice's 267. Baldwin is being utilized, with some consideration to rest times and formation optimization, and with good results. If it ain't broke...
    8:06 4th quarter, 2nd & 5 TEN 27
    Pass complete to all 6'4" of Sidney Rice for 24 yards...

  • Because we need it
  • 1:12 2nd quarter, 3rd & 4 SEA 35 (Tennessee ball)
    Timeout #1 by Seattle Seahawks

    I cringe every time I see a quarterback call timeout with the play clock expiring on 2nd and 3. Like 4th down decisions, timeouts are often spent according to dogma. But in the above case, Tennessee was on the outskirts of field goal range, had moved the ball 30 yards, and has a track record on the season for end-of-half success. I don't know what Carroll saw in the defense that he didn't like, but he decided it was worth a timeout to fix it.

    1:12 2nd quarter, 3rd & 4 SEA 35 (Tennessee ball)
    False Start; 5-yard penalty.
    1:12 2nd quarter, 3rd & 9 SEA 35 (Tennessee ball)
    Ryan Fitzpatrick sacked by Michael Bennett for -8 yards

    If anything, the decision is more impressive because it comes a week after Seattle got itself into trouble by prematurely burning all three second-half timeouts against the Colts. Smart coaches can distinguish process from results.

  • Fourth down
  • 2:41 2nd quarter, 4th and 1, Tennessee 1
    Marshawn Lynch 1 yard TD

    The Seahawks were trailing by 3 at this point. The ANS win probability calculator provides the following WP scenarios:

    Touchdown success = 0.63
    Touchdown fail = 0.39
    Field goal success = 0.48

    The calculated break-even point for the 4th down attempt is 37.5% (i.e., it's a smart decision if the probability of getting a touchdown is at least 37.5%). Essentially a no-brainer, but-- again-- all the more impressive a decision considering that Seattle passed on a 2nd quarter field goal attempt versus Atlanta and proceeded to lose the game by just 2 points. Process over results.

  • Fourth down part deux
  • 4:27 3rd quarter, 4th and 1, Tenneessee 13
    Steven Hauschka 31 yard field goal good

    At this verge, the game is tied. The WP calculator offers the following:

    First down success (assuming 1 yard gained) = 0.72
    Turnover on downs = 0.50
    Field goal success = 0.62

    Despite being another 4th and 1, the situation here is different. A conversion is not a touchdown, just an opportunity. And failure leaves Tennessee at their 13-yard-line with room to punt and/or drop back and pass, instead of being pinned against the goal line. It is also later in the game, making the 3-point margin more valuable.

    The calculated break-even point here is 54.5%. Historical data suggests that 4th-and-1 conversions succeed at better than that rate, but given Seattle's struggles in short yardage there is no need to criticize Carroll's decision.

  • Rising with the Challenge
  • 7:33 4th quarter, 1st & 10, Tennessee 23
    Fitzpatrick fumbles, recovered by K.Wright, pushed OB at TEN 47 for 25 yards
    CHALLENGE by Seattle; play reversed, ruled an incomplete pass.

    After watching the play in real-time, I expected Carroll to lose this challenge. He did not. But even if he had, it was a good decision. Seattle finished the game with a challenge and a timeout still in the bucket.

    Trending All-pro: Marshawn Lynch

    Lynch is third in the league in rushing yards, and has three times as many touchdowns as the #2 back Arian Foster.

    What's really impressive is that he's succeeding despite the offensive line injuries. The Seahawks offense got on track in week 8 of 2012, scoring at least 20 points per game from there through the end of the season. Between week 8 of '12 and week 1 of 2013, with a healthy Russell Okung, Lynch ran the ball 221 times for 1159 yards, averaging 5.24 yards per carry. He ran the ball on 29.35% of all Seahawk offensive plays (221/753).

    Between week 2 and week 6 of 2013, with Okung (and others) injured, Lynch has ran the ball 100 times for 444 yards, averaging 4.44 ypc. That dropoff is notable, but it could be much worse.

    Lynch has also carried the ball more frequently in the last 5 weeks (30.5% of all offensive plays) and increased his receiving contribution dramatically. In the previous 12 games with Okung healthy, Lynch averaged 1.6 receptions for 14 yards. In the last five, Lynch has averaged 2.2 receptions for 33 yards (2.8 receptions and 41 yards if the Jacksonville game is excluded). His total production and efficiency are at least a wash despite the injuries.

    Trending utterly dominant: Running out the game clock

    Excluding blowouts with the 2nd-team offense in, or situations where Seattle only needed to take a knee, here's how leads have been protected by the Seahawk offense late in the 4th quarter over the past two seasons:

    opponent lead first downs time left time killed
    NY Jets 21 3 7:05 7:05
    Vikings 10 4 5:27 5:27
    Redskins 10 1 4:16 3:00
    Panthers 5 4 5:25 5:25
    49ers 26 1 4:15 4:15
    Titans 7 2 2:09 2:09

    Put another way, they had 16 situations needing a first down to keep running the clock, and succeeded 15 times. That's 94%, with the opposition (hypothetically) playing aggressive defense at the line.

    Trending explicable: red zone woes

    In the past three weeks, Seattle's offense has scored 5 touchdowns and made 11 field goal attempts.

    Why? This one's fairly easy to figure. Again, we'll use week 8 of 2012 as the "on track" benchmark for Seattle's offense. From that game through week 4 of 2013, Seattle has scored 27 touchdowns of 10 yards or less, broken down as follows:

    Lynch run = 8
    Wilson run = 2
    L Washington run = 1
    T Jackson run = 1

    Miller pass = 4
    M Robinson pass = 4
    A McCoy pass = 2
    Baldwin pass = 2
    Tate pass = 1
    Rice pass = 1
    Lynch pass = 1

    We'll throw out the Jackson and Washington runs, as they are not relevant to the performance of the first team offense. That leaves 10 rushing and 15 passing touchdowns. Ten of these (40%) were to a tight end or fullback. This comes as no surprise to NFL fans, who know that tight ends are money in the red zone.

    Anthony McCoy is on injured reserve for the season. Zach Miller is hurt and hasn't played the last two games. Michael Robinson was cut, and his replacement Derrick Colemen has just 5 receptions on the season.

    Colemen needs to step up and be a more viable target in the red zone. Luke Willson, the #2 tight end, has caught 9 passes on the season but no touchdowns. However, we need to consider that for a 2-tight end set at the goal line, Zach Miller's replacement is effectively #3 tight end Kellen Davis, who has just 2 receptions on the year (both against Jacksonville); and a 3-tight end set is not currently possible. So there's no evidence that Willson is a weak link; the Seahawks just need to get back Zach Miller (and the rest of the offensive line, of course).

    Trending odd: OTI

    "OTI" is the abbreviation that uses for the Tennessee Titans on their game charts.

    I assume it stands for "Oilers/Titans" so it can be used consistently on data which spans back many years.

    And that's all I have to say about that.