The Seattle Seahawks emerged victorious Sunday by defeating the Arizona Cardinals 27-10 to improve their record to 3-1. In the post-game press conference, head coach Pete Carroll extolled the team’s discovery of an offensive identity and noted that quarterback Russell Wilson and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer are developing an understanding of each other’s strengths. There is no question that Wilson has been outstanding for the Seahawks again this season with 1,141 passing yards, 8 TD passes, no interceptions, and a 5th ranked QBR of 68.7. But despite the record and Wilson’s excellence, are we sure the Seattle Seahawks are good?
To date, the Seahawks have three victories against opponents with a combined 1-10-1 record. In week one, the ‘Hawks squeaked out a 21-20 victory in the home opener against the now 0-4 Cincinnati Bengals. Week two, in what in years past would have been considered a good win, the Seahawks eked out a 28-26 win at Hines Field over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers finally captured their first win of the season against the lowly Bengals on Monday Night to improve to 1-3. Seattle’s third win came this past Sunday in Arizona against the now 0-3-1 Cardinals in a 27-10 decision.
The one loss came at the hands of the Drew Brees-less New Orleans Saints, 33-27 at home in week three. The game wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would suggest, with the Saints leading 27-7 after three quarters. Judging from the 12-10 win at home against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night, the Saints just might be good, even without Brees.
It’s not really a stretch to say that the Seahawks haven’t beaten any team of a consequence thus far.
According to Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), the Seahawks’ overall team efficiency ranks 11th in the NFL, or upper-third. Pretty good, right? The teams they have played rank 21st (Saints – a loss), 24th (Steelers), 30th (Cardinals), and 31st (Bengals) – all bottom-third of the league.
The isolated defensive DVOA for the Seahawks opponents is slightly better – 19th (Steelers), 24th (Saints), 25th (Cardinals), 30th (Bengals) – but, by no mean, impressive. The lackluster nature of the early competition is born out by the fact that Seattle’s offense has faced a schedule that ranks 29th in the NFL in DVOA.
On offense, the Seahawks have been extremely efficient, albeit against subpar defenses, ranking 5th in both offensive DVOA and in offensive DAVE, which weighs projections from the pre-season (or “expectation” – the E) and current performance to attempt to achieve a better early-season snapshot of efficiency. But, a closer examination of the individual offensive categories within the overall offensive DVOA calculation reveals a potential chink in the armor.
While Russell Wilson ranks 4th in DVOA (20.8% above average), 5th in DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement), or total contribution through the air and on the ground, and 5th in QBR, the run game ranks 18th in DVOA at -6.5%. The ‘Hawks number one RB, Chris Carson, ranks 31st in DVOA at negative 23.2% and 33rd in DYAR at minus 40. The team, including Wilson, ranks 18th in rushing DVOA. Their opponents’ run-stopping DVOA ranks 15th (Saints), 20th (Steelers), 22nd (Bengals), and 24th (Cardinals). Not exactly stiff competition.
The root of the rushing inefficiency is, as Seahawks fans have become accustomed to over the past several years, the offensive line. Seattle ranks 27th in line-adjusted yards, 21st in Power Success, the number of 3rd or 4th down runs with two or fewer yards to go that become first downs, and 27th in Stuffed Rank, the percentage of times the RB is tackled behind the line of scrimmage. For a team that wants to “establish the run” and fancies the run game as part of its “identity,” these numbers are a bit troubling.
A similar exercise in comparing performance to the quality of the schedule can be conducted on the other side of the ball. On defense, the Seahawks rank 17th in DVOA overall, 17th against the run, and 17th against the pass, with a strength of schedule which ranks 29th. Only the Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, and New England Patriots have faced more anemic offenses. So, until the D faces a quality opponent, fans may want to temper their expectation of the second coming of the Legion of Boom.
A 3-1 record in the NFL is a 3-1 record in the NFL. For the Seahawks, that likely means that a 7-5 record going forward should get them back into the playoffs. But that path includes two games against the defending NFC Champion, Los Angeles Rams (who have issues of their own), two games against the San Francisco 49ers who are currently 3-0, a game at the Cleveland Browns (yea that still looks weird in print), home games against the Baltimore Ravens, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Minnesota Vikings, an almost assuredly rough late season game in Philadelphia against the Eagles, and the annual ordeal of a trip to Carolina to play the Panthers.
The puff pastry part of the schedule is behind the Seahawks. The real tests are coming, starting tonight against the Rams on Thursday Night Football.