Part 31 of my 32-part series breaking down every team’s performance in 2021. Check out part 30 here: San Francisco 49ers. Part 32 now available: Arizona Cardinals.
|Eff. Rating||Adj. Rating||Rank|
|Pass EPA||Rush EPA||Adj. Pass Rate|
If I’m a wide receiver who just beat my man, there is probably no quarterback in the league I’d rather have throw me the ball than Russell Wilson. He routinely throws accurate, easy-to-catch passes downfield when the opportunity is there. He takes chances in the right way and no down or distance is too tough for him to convert. He finished 2021 with the NFL’s highest average depth of target while maintaining a reasonable on-target percentage.
But his game has a lot of flaws as well, particularly looking back at 2021. Whether you blame the scheme or blame Wilson, he seemed unable to combat pressure with timing routes. Throughout his career he has invited a lot of pressure, with both good and bad offensive lines. His desire to make the big play pays off when Metcalf or Lockett get open. But when they are well-covered, he ends up sitting in the pocket for too long and often getting sacked. The Seahawks gave up the 5th-highest pressure rate on throws behind an offensive line that allowed middling running backs to finish 3rd in yards per carry. Perhaps the line was simply better at run blocking than pass blocking; but I think Wilson’s tendencies deserve a good part of the blame.
Throughout his career, Wilson has been sacked at a high rate just about every season. At 33 years old, his escapability and mobility have seen a slight downturn. Even on a per-game basis, his rushing yards in 2021 were – by a good margin – the lowest of his career. That was a major problem. Earlier in his career, he could get away with waiting in the pocket because if it didn’t work out he could evade the pressure and run for a first down. Either he wasn’t able or wasn’t willing to put his body on the line in the same way. So the Seahawks offense struggled relative to its best years with Wilson.
Even more than in previous years, this led to a big gap in success based on the quality of the opponent’s pass defense. He basically relied on Metcalf and Lockett winning, or getting enough time in the pocket to make a play. Good coverage and pressure impeded this offense far more than an offense built around anticipation and timing routes. Obviously teams will perform better against bad pass defenses in general. But even looking at the numbers relative to competition, the Seahawks were notably worse against good pass defenses. Chart A shows the Seahawks’ Adjusted Effectiveness (performance relative to quality of opponent defense) in each game by the opponent’s yards per pass play allowed on the season.
The Seahawks had well below average performances against every top-12 pass defense. Granted, that includes two games with Geno. But outside of a struggle against Washington, when Wilson was on the field, they abused bad pass defenses. Note that the down game against Pittsburgh was also a Geno game.
Now, I know that’s a lot of words to review the performance of an offense led by a quarterback who is no longer on the team. But this Team Study looks back – not forward – and can be helpful in several ways: (1) Understanding where the Seahawks are coming from as they transition to a new quarterback, (2) Predicting how Russell Wilson will fit in to and impact the Broncos’ offense, and (3) Identifying patterns and trends that can be applicable to other teams with similar tendencies.
I’m honestly not sure how to spin this transition for Seattle. The offense was markedly worse in the three games they played with Geno Smith. You can say what you want about Wilson’s tendencies, but he is one of the rare quarterbacks who can put the team on his back and make a play. Geno’s average depth of target was nearly three yards lower than Wilson’s. He wanted to lean on the ground game, which could be okay for a team that was actually very efficient on the ground. Drafting another running back tells me that’s the direction Seattle wants to go. But without a true downfield threat, the running game could really suffer as defenses could crowd the line of scrimmage. The floor is low for this offense with Geno.
If Drew Lock takes over, I think he will be a lot more like Russell Wilson. He likes to take shots downfield and will want his receivers to make plays. The problem is that he’s not nearly as accurate or mobile as Wilson. So that’s a problem. But he at least offers the upside that could keep their ground game successful. I would guess Pete Carroll goes with the safer option in Geno, but I think that’s the wrong call. Either way, this team should be in rebuilding mode following the Wilson trade. It’s not clear that it is.
|Eff. Rating||Adj. Rating||Rank|
|Pass EPA||Rush EPA||Blitz Rate||Pressure Rate|
I have much fewer words to say about the Seahawks’ defense than their offense. This is normal. Offenses tend to have a much stronger impact on a team’s season-long performance, whereas defenses can often depend heavily on the quality of competition. In Seattle’s case, for the second straight year, they pretty much played to the level of their opponent.
They don’t have the star power they once had on defense, but they weren’t terrible. For all his flaws as a head coach, Pete Carroll seems to get good performances out of his defense, particularly at home, where the crowd helps and opponents have had to travel. They were once again stronger against the run than the pass, especially against quarterbacks who took a long time to make decisions in the pocket. Chart B shows the Seahawks’ defensive Adj. Eff. Rating in each game ranked by the opponent’s average time in the pocket on the season.
The Seahawks played above-average football defensively (or close to it) against Carson Wentz, Jameis Winston, Taylor Heinicke, Nick Foles, Tim Boyle, and Trevor Lawrence. Not only are these underwhelming quarterbacks in general; they specifically are quarterbacks who did not process defenses quickly and, as a result, lingered in the pocket making decisions. The Seahawks did not have the type of high-pressure defense or elite cornerback play that helps a defense perform against the smartest, quickest quarterbacks by putting them in un-winnable situations. But they were good against these slower types.
Seattle’s offense is not the only unit that will look very different in 2022. New defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt is apparently transitioning to a 3-4 look that might shift some of these tendencies. With several new faces and a new scheme, it’s tough to project continuity and rely on 2021 angles. I will be watching this team closely to learn, and avoiding strong opinions early unless I have good reason. It’s important to have an open mind about evolving situations.
When to bet on the Seahawks: In that spirit, I’m not eager to back Seattle with much confidence early. My opinion will depend heavily on which quarterback they go with and how that quarterback matches up against the defenses they face.
When to fade the Seahawks: Similarly, I’m not looking to fade Seattle early without more evidence of who they are. It’s important when betting to understand the gaps in your handicapping approach, and my approach – which substantially relies on understanding past performance – has limited utility with teams that experience a lot of significant change.
Evaluating the off-season: Moving on from Russell Wilson was inevitable but has to put a damper on 2022. They made an effort to address the offensive line and re-form the defense after losing Bobby Wagner, which indicates they are likely in rebuilding mode. But with Pete Carroll at head coach, I’m not sure how a long-term rebuild makes sense. And drafting a running back in round two is truly puzzling. Ultimately I come away from this off-season confused as to where this team is heading.
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