Remember when the Seattle Seahawks were popping champagne, confetti was flying from the sky like a gift from the football gods? I remember it vividly because I was lucky enough to be in New Jersey that abnormally warm winter night.
There was such euphoria in the air that night which spilled over to the next seven months until the 2014 regular season kicked off. I think if you are a Seahawks fan, you are hopeful that John Schneider and Pete Carroll (as well as the guys on the field) can get us back to feeling that way again.
I decided to look back at those days, not through the eyes of game film (which is easy to get if you are a season ticket holder like I am blessed to be), but through the eyes of data. Having earned a Master’s of Business Administration degree and having help run a very successful casino in my past life, I am able to look at some data trends to see where improvements can be made, what anomalies exist and to do some predictive analysis for 2017.
In reviewing the two seasons the Seahawks reached the Super Bowl (2013 and 2014) and comparing them to the last two seasons, we have enough data to see some trends. What you will see is not surprising and you can now see why Seahawks General Manager John Schneider signed certain guys and probably why they will draft the way they will in April’s draft.
Let’s take a look at what I found after gathering the data:
Looking at the regular season averages of some key performance indicators (KPI) of (2016/2015 v. 2014/2013):
Offensive yards per game were actually up the past two seasons versus the Super Bowl-caliber years by 10 yards per game. Although offensive yards per game were up, defensive yards allowed per game were also up by 38 yards per game.
Analysis: It’s good that the offensive yards per game are trending in the positive way, especially with the turnover of solid football players on the offensive line and running back. This is good news as well for Tom Cable, whom I have written that this is a make-or-break year for his tenure here at Seattle. Knowing that he’s a part of the success equation is important because we need young inexperienced offensive lineman to take to the coaching that he is doing as well as the two experienced lineman that was signed in free agency.
Defensive yards allowed per game is trending down or negative, albeit by only 38 yards per game, but if you look at the fact that those yards could come at crucial moments in the game, like a 3rd and 10, the past two seasons’ defense, as you’ll see in some more data points is definitely NOT the same defense that we had during the championship years. Schneider and company will do what they can to get that defense to trend towards that historically great defense.
Defensive points allowed per game went up by 2.3 points per game and offensive points per game was down by only 1 point per game.
Analysis: Again, we are comparing the past two seasons in which injuries and hold outs played a significant role the past two seasons vs. a championship defense that were young (which makes it a bit harder to be out because of significant injuries) and hungry. Are we seeing an aging defense? Is this year’s defense as hungry as they were during the championship seasons? Based on the data, it will be important that this year’s defense stays healthy, hungry and happy (no holdouts!).
Let’s get back to the offense and another big KPI, Red zone efficiency. In reviewing the two data sets, you should be happy to hear that the Seahawks’ offensive red zone percentage (touchdown scoring in the red zone) was down by only 1.1 percent versus the Super Bowl-caliber years.
Analysis: Not bad, not good, though neither. Since the defense is trending down, it would be nice to be able to get that red zone percentage up since scoring touchdowns is where all the money is made. You would also think that since the Seahawks gave away a 1st and Max Unger to get Jimmy Graham, that this number would be significantly up since the Seahawks did not have a big end zone target like Graham during the 2013-14 seasons. Seattle will not only look to get Graham the ball more in or near the end zone, I also think the addition of big back Eddie “the Panda Express” Lacy should generate more running touchdowns. I think Seattle will be drafting at least one more offensive lineman, which should generate more depth for that line down in the red zone.
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Red Zone percentage allowed by the defense was up by almost 3 percent (2.45 percent).
Analysis: This points to the fact again, that in some of the major areas of data, the defense is trending down. Don’t get me wrong, we are comparing the past two defenses versus a historically great one, but if you are management you are trying to see where you can improve and have that measuring stick to shoot for. We’re allowing more touchdowns in the red zone than our championship years and we want to at least get this number back to par with those years. Will Seattle’s defensive line get quicker when the moneyball is on the line? Will Seattle’s backside of the defense tighten up as well? Again, are they hungry like they were in the championship years? I hope they get the same swag they had when Sherm and cousin Earl were in their early years. It’s apart of our identity and spills over to the other parts of the team.
Penalties, as much as they are in the game, are a part of the game, so I looked into that. Penalties can be momentum crushers, as we saw in the final game of 2016, where Sanu was obviously holding Sherman allowing Julio to score easily. That touchdown increased the lead to 13 when in reality, the Falcons should have been marched backwards to a 1st and 20. That holding non-call probably leads to a field goal and the momentum is stalled. Looking at the penalties between the two data sets, the Seahawks were about par with the championship seasons.
Analysis: Most of the penalties that teams make are controllable, believe it or not. Penalties are normally because the player didn’t execute the correct way to tackle, block or cover a wide receiver. Removing penalties can be coached through game film and during practice. This number being par is a good number, which mostly can be attributed to Pete Carroll and his coaches doing a great job of being consistent year over year.
Takeaways are a huge part of winning mainly because it directly dictates momentum. I am a firm believer that the teams that have the most momentum throughout the game wins. Momentum is big because it either energizes a team to greatness or de-moralizes a team to average-ness. The Seahawks are trending DOWN and when I say down, I mean D-O-W-N, (-11) in takeaway/giveaway ratio.
Analysis: All the data points to the fact that since 2014, not only is the Seahawks defense has not been Seahawk-y, they are also giving the ball up more than their championship years. They are not only allowing more yards, allowing more touchdowns in the red zone, but this number points to the fact they are not taking the ball away nearly as much. They are also giving the ball up more than their championship teams, which I believe is a direct result of the coaches allowing Russell Wilson to open the playbook more often. Of course we can point to the low hanging fruit that in the past two seasons Seattle’s offensive line was average (at best) versus those Super Bowl-calber seasons. Having less time to throw the ball and running for your life is not Tom Brady-like. Either way, going forward, the Seahawks will have to figure out how to take the ball away via interception or fumble recovery and how to give Wilson more time to throw. Perhaps the Seahawks reduce the amount of zone defenses they run in lieu of more bump-and-runs. Perhaps they decide to put Wilson in more shotgun formations to give him that extra .5 seconds he may need to find a guy open. Perhaps the Seahawks need better route runners and more timing plays to allow him to get the ball out of his hands quicker? Either way, to get back to the 2013-14 performances, the data suggests that this number will have to trend significantly the other direction.
In order to win the game, a team must score more points than give up, it’s a simple matter of math. The Seahawks did a fantastic job these past two seasons of scoring versus the 2013-14 seasons. Even with the loss of Beastmode, a gimpy Wilson (for most of this year), losing Golden Tate and a few others to free agency, the past two seasons, the Seahawks are scoring only 1.1 points less than their Super Bowl-caliber years.
Analysis: Again, not bad and not good. Sure, only scoring 1 point less per game than 2013-14 is not bad, but since their defense the past two seasons is giving up more points than the Super Bowl-caliber seasons, it behooves management to figure out how do they score more points (in the red zone, especially)? Most fans point to offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell for his playcalling in the red zone. Most of us scream at the TV when he calls up those wide reciever bubble screen plays which go for a whopping 1.4 yards per catch. Then we see his genius when the play is designed for Graham and no defensive back or safety can match him man-for-man. I believe that this team will get back to its roots and feed the Panda more and more in 2017, especially in the red zone. I think Seattle will bring back Truk-a-fu on a minimum deal just before Training Camp and he will help Lacy get into the end zone over and over again. I think scoring more through the run game will only help this team retrieve it’s identity and put that fear back into opposing defenses when they had already lost before they had even stepped one foot on the field.
Summary: The data does not lie. The Seahawks will have to get back to their grit and toughness that they had back in 2013 and 2014. When they do that, no team can match them. When Carroll is over there hugging his guys as they trot off the field and he is throwing his headphones up in the air in jubilation, it was because his team played bigger, faster and they always competed. I am not saying these past two seasons the Seahawks have not as my next article will be about looking at the Seahawks in the postseason these last four years; that data has some very positive trends too.
Pound the ball. Take the ball away. Score more points than the other team. It is purely elementary, but as we have all witnessed these past few years, it is easier said than done.
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