Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

07 Nov 2017

Any Given Sunday: Washington Over Seattle

by Rivers McCown

When I'm drawing up this column, I think about it like we're handing out the secret Death Star plans you need to defeat a team. The only problem with that line of thinking is that, for the most part, teams don't actually change that much. The Death Star plans are common knowledge. All you need to do is know how to exploit the weakness.

I wrote about the Seahawks losing to the Buccaneers last year. Let's see how much changed since then.

Yes, friends, just as we covered Kansas City's Andy Reid clock foibles last week, we can go back to a familiar problem trope for the Seahawks this week: a bad offensive line.

With center Justin Britt out, the Seahawks were a complete and utter sieve up front, back to early-season form. Russell Wilson took six sacks, and Tampa was credited with 11 total quarterback hits.

And while Wilson was under pressure, it has to be said that even beyond the pressure, Wilson looked uncomfortable and out of sorts when he actually did get throws off.

Washington only sacked Wilson twice and hit him five times, but he was definitely under plenty of pressure early in this game, routinely scrambling to lead the team in rushing yards. When Wilson did have time to throw, he did look uncomfortable, nailing just 1-of-9 throws deeper than 20 yards. Wilson had less than 100 yards at halftime before snapping out of his funk later in the game.

Last year, Seattle's leader in carries, Thomas Rawls, had -2 DYAR. C.J. Prosise led all of their backs in DYAR with 38. (Christine Michael was waived, but combined for 52 DYAR between his two teams.) This year, no Seahawks running back had enough carries through Week 8 to qualify on the leaderboard, but only the injured Chris Carson has actually posted a positive DYAR. Rawls and Eddie Lacy have been empirically bad, and Lacy's slow-developing running style looks like a poor fit for a team that can't block to save its life. How bad is it? Nine carries for 39 yards for Rawls felt like a sign of life.

I'm sure that to fans of worse teams it feels silly to lodge complaints about the direction of this offense. After all, the Seahawks are a perennial contender with an established franchise quarterback. But the fact that they have those boxes checked almost makes it more maddening that there appears to be zero urgency to actually make the offense run right. Between the offensive line scouting talents of Tom Cable and the pointlessly bland offense of Darrell Bevell, this team has a chance to shoot itself in the foot in any game where Wilson gets off to a slow start. This shouldn't have even been that night, because the defense played well even without Earl Thomas, and yet...

The blueprint remains the same as it has been for a while now. If you can rattle Wilson early, this offense won't change the game plan fast enough to drop 30 on anybody. The Seahawks, despite the Duane Brown trade, remain flawed because they trust too much in Cable's projects and ask Wilson to make up the difference. While he does it most of the time, most of the time is not all of the time.

By the VOA

DVOA OFF DEF ST TOT
WAS -16.5% 4.5% -7.3% -28.3%
SEA 12.8% -17.7% -17.3% 13.2%
VOA OFF DEF ST TOT
WAS -23.8% 10.0% -7.3% -41.1%
SEA 5.3% -12.7% -17.3% 0.7%

Minnesota Blair Walsh hive, assemble! You all knew that there was no way Shanksy McSeahawksWin here was gonna get rejuvenated, right? Washington gets no credit for these misses, which is part of why DVOA decided that they played worse in this game.

There's also, of course, the matter of getting outrushed 148-51 on pure yardage, as well as watching Kirk Cousins take six sacks.

Questionable Coaching Decision of the Game

Blair Walsh is gonna ruin this for us.

So, normally I'd be livid about the Seahawks punting on fourth-and-7 from the 39 on their second drive of the game, but ... obviously, kicking a field goal wouldn't have helped. They had a read that their kicker was garbage, and it was a correct read.

Normally I'd be mad that Doug Baldwin didn't fall down before getting into the end zone with the Seahawks down two points and with less than two minutes left in the game. But, even if they were on the 1, after three misses, how confident could you be that Walsh would hit the field goal?

Man, Blair Walsh ruins everything.

The end of the D'Angelo Hall Era

Washington hasn't finished higher than 21st in defensive DVOA since Robert Griffin was a promising rookie quarterback and London Fletcher was the grizzled captain. They'll enter Week 10 at 12th in DVOA.

A lot of this is in the hands of a pass rush that has been fearsome. Between Preston Smith, Ryan Kerrigan, Ryan Anderson, and Junior Gallette, Washington is extremely deep on the edge. Matt Ioannidis has had a tremendous breakthrough season inside, and Jonathan Allen was showing exactly why he was regarded as a steal at 18th overall before he was lost for the season. Through Week 8, the unit has the second-highest pressure percentage in the NFL. They destroyed the vaunted Oakland line. It wasn't really a surprise that they were able to do some damage against Seattle.

But another place to recognize development? The secondary. We expect Josh Norman to kill it and be the guy who raises the tide for the rest of the unit, but the youngsters have really stepped it up this year. Per Sports Info Solutions, Washington has the best play-action pass defense in the league, actually allowing fewer yards per play on play-action than they do on regular passes.

Quinton Dunbar has a 60 percent success rate per Sports Info Solutions' charting through Week 8, good for 15th among qualifying corners. Norman, Bashaud Breeland, and even the much-maligned Kendall Fuller have put together extremely impressive small-sample size numbers while rotating through the lineup.

The expectations at the beginning of the season were that the offense would take a step back. While that was the case in this game, the Skins have been able to cobble together enough receivers without DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, and Jordan Reed to be intermittently effective. Certainly, for a team where the head coach literally didn't know who started, they held their own against a top-of-the-line defense.

But it's Washington's defense, the one that has played the toughest schedule per DVOA of any team in the NFL so far, that has held them in the playoff race. Call it Scot McCloughlan's parting gift. This unit can get after the quarterback and present a lot of problems for an opposing pass offense.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 07 Nov 2017

6 comments, Last at 08 Nov 2017, 8:32am by BJR

Comments

1
by RickD :: Tue, 11/07/2017 - 2:29pm

The DVOA numbers bear out what my eyes saw: the Redskins had no business winning this game. They were consistently outplayed by the Seahawks on both sides of the ball. And yet...their defense did enough to force FG attempts, which Blair Walsh graciously missed. And the pass rush was enough to rattle Wilson, who then made a few ill-advised passes that led to two picks. Still, I figured the Seahawks would stop shooting themselves in the foot(feet?) enough to get the lead at the end. And sure enough, they got the led with just over a minute and a half left in the game.

And somehow the Redskins had an instant TD drive and won.

There's a lesson here about putting away an inferior team. The Redskins aren't a bad team, but they should not have won this game. Makes me wonder if Pete Carroll will ever get the team playing at an elite level again. The Seahawks are experiencing the kind of gradual decline I remember seeing in New England when he took over from Parcells. The discipline doesn't quite seem to be there.

Oh yeah, and the O-line is terrible. That's not Carroll's fault (well, not primarily) but it will keep them out of the Super Bowl for the forseeable future. They are wasting Russell Wilson and the Legion of Boom.

3
by gomer_rs :: Tue, 11/07/2017 - 2:41pm

They only needed to hit 1 of those 3 FGs and in all likelihood the WAS TD at the end is insufficient to come back.
_______

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

6
by BJR :: Wed, 11/08/2017 - 8:32am

You forgot to mention the 16 penalties for 140 yards that Seattle committed. This was a truly self-inflicted defeat.

2
by Raiderfan :: Tue, 11/07/2017 - 2:39pm

Disappointing article. Very little analysis, no GIFs of key plays, did not even address the Redskins were missing almost the entire offensive line, and I could go on. Is the problem that the writer is a SEA fan and can't stand writing about their loss?

4
by jacklaughing :: Tue, 11/07/2017 - 3:13pm

Agree, this isn't the kind of critique I expect from FO.

How did Seattle know their kicker was trash on the 2nd drive of the game? They punted on the first drive, Walsh didn't miss a FG until the 3rd drive. He only had missed one FG leading up this on 13 attempts. Seattle doesn't just fold in the second half either. Wilson has been an assassin in the 4th quarter this season, outscoring opponents 65-16.

I could go on but what is the point? McCown obviously had his mind made up before he bothered to scribble out this PFT comment.

5
by t.d. :: Tue, 11/07/2017 - 4:44pm

Yeah, McClouglan set them up nice. That defense is pretty good. Losses to the Eagles, Chiefs, and Cowboys are all pretty forgivable. The Cowboy fan in me is thrilled they fired the guy who put this team together (and alienated Cousins, and got rid of Kyle Shanahan when they fired dad). On the other side, every year they give Cable scraps, and every year they're passable by the end of the season. Now that Russel Wilson's making franchise quarterback money, they've got to go cheap somewhere. Anybody who thought signing Luke Joeckle was a good idea never saw him play (and, unlike a lot of guys who bust at tackle, he's not suited to move inside to guard and be serviceable). Also, they knew better than anyone it's risky to depend on Blair Walsh, another curious move (also seemed like a recipe for locker room discord drafting Sherman's replacement when their holes were elsewhere- i'd be interested in what Seattle watchers think of the young guys on D- for a team that added Richardson and Dwight Freeney to an already fearsome unit, not sure they actually seem quite as good as in recent years)