The Seahawks Need to Start Faster
Nov 17, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) stands on the sideline during the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Sitting at 10-1 the Seattle Seahawks are on their way to a very special season. It’s well within the realm of possibility that this team puts up a franchise best record of 14-2 or 15-1, although ultimately the 2013 Seahawks will be judged on their playoff performance. Technically this team could lose out and fail to make the playoffs but that is such an unlikely scenario that it barely warrants mention. Regardless of how successful or effective this team is it will have two stiff tests in its next two games coming off the bye.
First up is the 8-2, probably soon to be 9-2 given that they are facing the Falcons this week, Saints. That matchup is a crucial one with massive playoff seeding implications. The following week the Seahawks will travel to San Francisco for what figures to be a very tough game where they’ll be looking to bury the 49ers as challengers in the NFC West. Both of these games will be difficult and even though the Seahawks have looked good the last couple of weeks there are some things this team stands to improve on if they want to beat quality opponents like the Saints and 49ers.
Today, I’m speaking specifically about starting games strong. The 2013 Seahawks have done a great job of coming from behind at times (the game against the Buccaneers is a good example of that) but the reason they’ve had to do so is because they are digging holes from themselves. This team has often looked flat in the 1st quarter offensively and the numbers bear that observation out. The following chart shows the Seahawks yards per play by quarter:
Yards per Play
Although there isn’t much difference between the first and fourth quarter here the Seahawks are often ahead in the 4th so that number is a bit skewed by kneel downs and predictable, clock killling run plays. The discrepancy between Seattle’s offensive performances in the first quarter and the other quarters gets much more significant when we focus in on the passing attack.
This team has actually run the ball very well in the first quarter (5.9 yards per carry) but they have not been able to get Russell Wilson going. One number that stands out here is the very low yards per attempt. Although part of that has to do with Wilson’s lower completion percentage, it could also be indicative of conservative short passing. Offensive coordinators tend to like to take a shot or two early to keep defenses honest. Either the Seahawks aren’t taking those shots, or they aren’t landing them. Only 34.2% of the Wilson’s first quarter completions this year have gone for more than 10 yards. Getting bigger chunks of yardage through the air is obviously easier said than done. Howevever, this team is built to protect leads with its secondary and running game and they might get a few more of those with a more wide open first quarter passing attack.
The only reason his issue hasn’t been exposed further is the way the Seahawks defense has stepped up in the first quarter and kept games from getting away. On a yards per play basis it has been their best quarter, but when you dig deeper it appears that they have rendered offense completely ineffective at the beginning of games. The following chart shows how the Seahawks defense has stopped the run in first quarters this year:
Yards Per Attempt
Given that this team has struggled against the run these numbers are pretty impressive. This unit has been even more impressive against the pass in the opening quarter:
This team dominates against the pass in general, but the first quarter has been their best.
The numbers are both comforting and disturbing. It is great to know that the Seahawks defense can get this offense out of trouble but it’s unfortunate that the offense has been sputtering out of the gate. When the Saints come to town they will be a team that will put up points no matter how good the Seahawks defense is. If the offense doesn’t show up early this team could be in a sizable hole in the hurry. The Seahawks don’t want to play catch-up with the Saints. That’s a tough way to win. The 2013 Seattle Seahawks are a team designed to play with a lead, if they want to beat the Saints and force the road to the Super Bowl to go through Seattle, they need to learn how to seize one.