Before we get into today’s piece, check out the latest podcast below as Robbie and I preview the Dallas game, discuss the advanced stats and talk about my trade pitch for Ryan Kerrigan.
Stats don’t tell the whole story but they can give you a better idea of what’s going on.
So here we go. We’ll start with the defense and end with the offense. The defensive numbers are, unsurprisingly, very concerning. However, I do offer a silver lining.
— The Seahawks are blitzing 36% of the time, sixth most in the league after two games. That’s more than Gregg Williams and Todd Bowles in New York and Tampa Bay respectively. This isn’t a minor tweak. This is a sea change. They are being more aggressive than they’ve ever been under Pete Carroll to make up for the struggling pass rush.
— In comparison, they blitzed 26.9% of the time last season and 18.4% in 2018. Basically they’re blitzing twice as much as they previously did in this scheme.
— This increase has resulted in just three sacks, two of which are credited to Jamal Adams (and one was in pursuit of Cam Newton on a scramble and should probably be considered a TFL).
— Seattle’s pressure percentage is 22.3% which is middle of the pack and they are credited with 23 pressures which is among the NFL’s top-10. However — this is manufactured pressure as we can see from the blitz percentage. For example, Jamal Adams leads the team in pressures.
— It sounds positive — top-10 for pressures — but if you’re getting those numbers by rushing six or seven against five blockers, you should expect this. Pressure percentage is a useful statistic for individual defensive linemen as it indicates how often they win. For teams, you probably have to contextualise it with the frequency of blitzing and who is creating the pressure.
— Adams has blitzed 21 times so far, the third most by any player. The only two players who have blitzed more are Pittsburgh duo T.J. Watt (25) and Bud Dupree (24) and they are rush linebackers. Maybe this is linked — Adams is giving up 20.8 yards per reception allowed, that’s the eighth highest among players after two games. His yards per target is at 15.6. He’s also missed three tackles and his yards conceded is 187 — second most in the league behind only Quinton Dunbar (212).
— If the Seahawks continue to blitz at this pace we’ll probably see decent numbers in terms of pressure percentage for the rest of the season and I suspect some people in the media will present this as evidence that the pass rush isn’t that bad after all. However, this is a red herring. As I said, when you blitz a lot you will manufacture pressure. It’s a pure numbers game. The key is getting home. If you don’t get home, you expose your secondary. You can be credited with a ‘pressure’ and still get torched on a blitz. You can send Jamal Adams off the edge and have Bobby Wagner attack up the middle. They could get close to the QB and gain a pressure. If the quarterback gets that throw off to, say, Julian Edelman on a hot route, the pressure doesn’t mean anything. If you sack the quarterback in that scenario, it means everything. This is why, in the context of the Seahawks, 23 pressures is not the important statistic to focus on. It’s the three sacks (two from a safety), the 3% sack percentage (among the leagues lowest) and the 36% blitz percentage (among the leagues highest) working to create a perfect storm of a struggling four-man rush, the compensatory risk involved with increased blitzing and the low number of sacks per play.
– If you need further evidence of this being an issue, just look at the passing yards and explosive plays conceded by the Seahawks. They’ve given up 831 cumulative passing yards. Their 8.2 net yards conceded per pass attempt is the third highest in the league behind only the Falcons and Dolphins. They’ve given up 45 passing first downs, the most in the NFL and nine more than second placed Cleveland (36). You can make a case that Atlanta and New England were both chasing deficits in the second half and that could’ve inflated the numbers. It’s also worth noting that both teams moved the ball with ease in those situations. The Patriots nearly won the game in week two, so you can’t put this down to garbage time. Contrary to popular opinion, the Falcons actually had the ball at midfield with seven minutes to go driving to make it a one-score game in week one.
– When Seattle had the best defense in the NFL in 2013, they gave up a league low 2752 yards for the season. That was 350 fewer than the second best team. After two games this season, they’ve already given up 970 yards — a third of their entire 2013 total. Nobody expects the 2020 defense to perform anything like the LOB but it helps illustrate how poorly Seattle’s pass defense is performing currently.
– The most striking statistic involves explosive plays. The Seahawks have allowed a league-high 47 plays of +10 yards. Considering they’ve only defended 147 plays in total, that means 31.9% of Seattle’s defensive snaps so far have resulted in them giving up an explosive play. That is an incredible stat. The Seahawks are 2-0 but how sustainable is it when a third of your defensive snaps result in an explosive play for the opposition?
– For what it’s worth, the Dallas Cowboys lead the NFL with 41 offensive plays of +10 yards. They visit Seattle on Sunday.
What’s the answer?
I want to offer a silver lining and some hope for the future moving forward. I genuinely believe they just need one player who can win 1v1 to be able to get through this.
Just look at the way, in 2018, they were able to blitz half as much as they currently are because they had a player in Frank Clark who recorded 13 sacks (36% blitzing in 2020 vs 18.4% in 2018).
The Seahawks were league average for yards conceded in the passing game (#16) in 2018. Their sack percentage was 7.3% — more than twice as much as it is now and just outside the NFL’s top-10 (#11). They had the fourth highest pressure percentage (28.5%) despite having the fifth lowest blitz percentage.
Nobody would’ve called Seattle’s 2018 D-line a top unit. Yet because they had one player capable of producing sacks off the edge and threatening opponents in 1v1 situations, they were able to create pressure without blitzing.
The Seahawks badly miss a player like Clark.
However, what it tells us is they really only need one player to rectify this problem. If they can acquire someone who can deliver pressure off the edge — just as Clark did — they can reduce how often they blitz, they can increase their sack percentage and the chances are they will drastically lower how many yards they’re giving up and how many explosive plays they are conceding.
One new player won’t create a top performing defense. They might have a league average unit though — capable of not undermining the efforts of Russell Wilson and the offense.
Benson Mayowa is not good enough to be the premier rusher. Losing Bruce Irvin, who they were counting on to contribute 6-8 sacks, is another big loss.
It really is as simple as this. The Seahawks can still salvage their defensive output by adding a dynamic edge rusher. Fail to do so and the numbers above will have a consequence eventually. It’s just not sustainable to be this bad in the passing game, while being this aggressive. As good as Wilson has played in the first two weeks, it’s unrealistic to expect him to deliver 16 perfect games to compensate for this glaring weakness.
The Seahawks only really have one asset left as a bargaining chip — their 2021 second rounder. Somehow, they’ve got to find someone who can come in and provide a spark. They should be prepared to give up that high pick.
If there’s a pass rush equivalent of Quandre Diggs or Quinton Dunbar out there for a day three selection — great. It’s hard to imagine who that could be, though.
For me it’s worth being aggressive. The Seahawks need a solution to this. It’s the one thing holding them back from being a legitimate, serious Super Bowl contender.
I noted yesterday that Ryan Kerrigan might be the best bet. He has two sacks already this season, so he’s started well. He wanted to return to Washington this season to break the franchise sacks record and he’s done that now. Ron Rivera is rebuilding that team and they have two first round picks (Chase Young & Montez Sweat) at defensive end and two others at defensive tackle (Jonathan Allen & Daron Payne).
Kerrigan is a free agent at the end of the season and could be departing anyway in a matter of months.
He could be the 2020 answer to Duane Brown. When they saw a massive glaring weakness in 2017 (Rees Odhiambo starting at left tackle) they aggressively solved that problem with a big trade. Kerrigan, like Brown, isn’t a long term fix. However — if he comes in and gets you 10 sacks between now and the end of the season, that could be a game changer for the Seahawks.
That, for me, is worth a second round pick. Especially because you can negotiate an extension with him at any point to make sure you secure him for an extra year or two. Like Brown, Kerrigan is a solid pro with a good attitude.
Ultimately what’s more important? Giving yourself the best chance to win this year in what could easily be the best season of Russell Wilson’s career? Or having a late second round pick next April and hoping the current pass rush isn’t going to waste a season of prime Wilson?
Reviewing the offensive advanced stats
— The drop percentage is only 1.6%, the fifth best overall. Two teams (Baltimore, Las Vegas) are yet to drop a pass. At the other end of the scale, Detroit has an 11% drop percentage after two games.
— Russell Wilson ranks joint first for the least number of ‘bad’ or ‘poor’ throws with five (level with Ryan Tannehill). His bad throw percentage is 8.2%, marginally higher than Tannehill’s (8.1%).
— Wilson’s percentage of ‘on-target’ throws is #1 in the NFL at 88.5%. Garden Minshew is second (85.9%) and Tannehill is third (85.5%).
— Seattle ranks ninth in the league for yards after the catch (247) with an average of 4.8 yards after completion.
— The offensive line has given up 24 pressures, the third most. They’re also conceding the highest pressure percentage in the NFL (32.9%). Wilson has been hit 11 times, second most in the league. It’s hard to say how much of this was down to a pretty horrible first half in Atlanta but the numbers could do with improving in the coming weeks.
— The Seahawks have only run one RPO so far which is surprising. Arizona, Kansas City, Philadelphia and Buffalo lead the league with 13. Dallas are second with 12.
— Seattle has 170 rushing yards before contact, seventh most. Yet they only have 68 yards after contact which is surprising. That’s the third lowest number and they only average 1.4 yards after contact so far. Seahawks running backs are only credited with one broken tackle in the first two games.
— Wilson’s passer rating when targeting D.K. Metcalf is 141.4 — 15th highest in the league. It’s a perfect 158.3 when targeting David Moore (admittedly it’s early). It’s 128.9 when targeting Tyler Lockett and 143.7 when looking for Chris Carson.
— Metcalf ranks second in the league for yards before catch per reception (17.3). The player leading the NFL is Dallas’ Michael Gallup (17.6).
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