Russell Wilson's Return Makes the Seahawks Playoff Sleepers

Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson
Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 10 - Russell Wilson is back. And the Seattle Seahawks still have a 44.3% chance of reaching the playoffs. Do you know what that could make them?

(Dramatic pause)

The Team No One Wants to Face in the Playoffs.

(Trumpet fanfare)

Let's head straight to the segments, shall we?

Coming off the Bye: Seattle Seahawks

Occasionally throughout the midseason, Walkthrough will spotlight a team coming out of its bye week. But you probably figured that out from reading the header.

The Seahawks Story So Far: The Seahawks were an enigma prior to Wilson's case of mallet finger. They ranked ninth in DVOA despite a 2-3 record when Wilson went down. Most Seahawks fans thought they were stinky-poo, particularly on defense. Walkthrough was inclined to agree with the fans.

Wilson's injury rendered all analytics debates irrelevant. Geno Smith led the Seahawks to a 1-2 record as a starter in three winnable games. But a 3-5 record is not enough to keep a team down in the NFC, where at least one and possibly two playoff slots will be awarded to objectively below-average teams.

What's Going Right? Besides Wilson's quick return? Let's see…

  • The Bears are both terrible and not catching any breaks.
  • The Vikings have descended from keeping every game close in recent years to losing every close game this year.
  • Kyle Shanahan is essentially trolling 49ers fans.
  • With Jameis Winston gone, the Saints offense is taking the rest of the season off.
  • You get the picture: the Seahawks don't have to be very good to be better than the wild-card pack.
  • As for the Seahawks themselves, DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett rank fifth and 11th in DYAR despite 3.5 games of Geno.
  • The Seahawks have committed just four turnovers, again despite 3.5 games with a backup quarterback under center.
  • The Seahawks defense ranks 11th in DVOA against the run.

What's Going Wrong? Some simple things, some complicated ones.

  • The Seahawks defense ranks 30th in DVOA against short passes. As has been the case since the Legion of Boom days, the Seahawks want to play variations on Cover-3 with at least two linebackers on the field in situations where most teams switch to dime personnel. Unlike the Legion of Boom days, defenders such as Jordyn Brooks and Jamal Adams aren't really the best personnel for that strategy.
  • The Seahawks rank 32nd in offensive time of possession per drive. Even when Wilson was healthy, their offense had a habit of either scoring or punting too quickly and handing the ball right back to their defense. The time-of-possession issue likely contributed to the Titans loss: the Seahawks defense appeared to buckle late in that game.
  • Not to harp on Geno, but even Cooper Rush-level backup play would have been enough to defeat both the Steelers and the Saints. That low turnover rate was a double-edged sword, as the Seahawks refused to take even minimal risks late in what became an overtime loss to the Steelers.

Where They Stand in the Playoff Picture: As mentioned earlier, they have a 44.3% chance of reaching the playoffs, with a middle-of-the-pack schedule that mixes tough matchups against contenders (this week's game, Cardinals twice, Rams) with potential gimmes (Texans, Lions). At least one 8-9 or worse team will make the playoffs, and it might as well be the one with the Hall of Fame quarterback. (Any Falcons fan who pipes up in the comments will be shamed.)

And of course, the title of Team No One Wants to Face is always bequeathed on a perennial contender with a famous quarterback that got hot in the second half of the season. If the Seahawks really were a strong team with a weak record when Wilson was healthy (as opposed to a poor team waiting for DVOA to catch up to them), the Seahawks could cause headaches as some division-winner's first-round opponent.

What's Next: The Seahawks visit Lambeau Field, where His Martyred Majesty Aaron Rodgers is also likely to be back, with a chip on his shoulder and veterinary pharmaceuticals coursing through his veins.

Leaderboard of the Week: YAC

Every Thursday, Walkthrough examines a random (and usually obscure) leaderboard from Football Outsiders, Sports Info Solutions, or elsewhere on the analytics Interwebs in search of deep truths and wisdom.

Blame Deebo Samuel.

If you are a 49ers fan weary of Jimmy Garoppolo, if you wish Trey Lance had the chance to slowly improve on the job the way Justin Fields has, and if you are wondering why Kyle Shanahan still thinks his offense is semi-viable, then the NFL's Yards After Catch King is the fellow you have issues with.

Here are the YAC leaders among wide receivers, based on Sports Info Solution data. We'll start with pure, unfiltered YAC, then drill down to issues such as depth of target as we discuss individual players:

Player Team Rec YAC
Deebo Samuel SF 49 482
Cooper Kupp LAR 74 453
Chris Godwin TB 50 376
Ja'Marr Chase CIN 44 337
Rondale Moore ARI 34 316

Samuel's 9.8 YAC per reception is the highest figure in the NFL among receivers with 50 or more targets. His average depth of target is a low but respectable 7.9 yards, so Deebo isn't exclusively feasting on glorified handoffs. But Deebo has 238 YAC on passes at or behind the line of scrimmage, second only to Rondale Moore. He's almost single-handedly keeping the 49ers passing game from flatlining with plays like this:

And this:

Samuel also leads the league with nine dropped passes, two of them during Lance's lone start. He's both the cause of and solution to all of the 49ers' offensive problems!

Let's skip down to Moore since he kept popping up in Deebo's splits. If we lowered the target threshold to 40, Moore would lead the NFL in YAC per reception at 9.3. Moore's average depth of target of 2.3 yards would also be the lowest in the league, by far, among wide receivers (Cole Beasley is second at 5.6). Moore is having a unique season: gadget specialists who run almost nothing but misdirection-type plays rarely get five offensive touches per game. Moore will probably develop into either a more traditional slot receiver or all-purpose running back over the next few years, but anything is possible if Kliff Kingsbury remains successful and becomes influential.

Kupp and Chase rank second and third in the NFL in YAC on passes of 15-plus air yards with 129 and 91 yards, respectively. Those figures do not include Chase's long touchdown against the Ravens; that throw traveled around 12 yards in the air. It does include lots of YAC collected when jogging into the end zone after catching bombs.

Deebo actually leads the NFL in YAC on 15-plus-yard throws with 183 yards on 14 catches. Not only is he making the 49ers short passing game dynamic, but he is also keeping their deep passing game on life support.

Kupp and Godwin have each caught 16 passes behind the line of scrimmage, Kupp for 196 yards and Godwin for 179 yards. The Rams use so many empty-backfield sets that screens to Kupp often operate as handoffs. The Buccaneers face tons of "off" coverage, and Godwin is Tom Brady's favorite target on quick smoke routes when Brady sees cornerbacks giving up too much ground and wants some easy yards and/or the defenders to creep back toward the line of scrimmage.

The presence of so many wide receivers from playoff-caliber teams with excellent offenses on the "catches behind the line of scrimmage" list indicates just how prevalent and commonplace receiver screens have become: it's nearly impossible to crack the top of the list without a bunch of them. Yet receiver screens were sneered upon as a collegiate tactic as recently as about 15 years ago. Now, Brady tosses a few of them per game.

Let's check out the running backs:

Player Team Rec YAC
D'Andre Swift DET 47 434
Jonathan Taylor IND 23 326
Austin Ekeler LAR 36 325
J.D. McKissic WAS 33 314
Alvin Kamara NO 32 308

Swift has 13 receptions of 10-plus yards, including 83- and 43-yard touchdowns. Swift isn't really an all-purpose back such as Kamara; the Lions simply have no one else to throw to and have been forced to manufacture a passing game out of screens and swing passes. The main takeaway here is that Swift is a fine, fun-to-watch player, and we hope he has something left in his tank when the Lions are competitive again.

Taylor is the Deebo Samuel of the Colts. Carson Wentz will be able to play until he is 40 as long as he can rack up 76-yard touchdowns like this:

Taylor's Moneyline for Offensive Player of the Year dove from +6500 when we mentioned him in Walkthrough on Sunday to +2000 on Wednesday. Walkthrough gave in and played it before the general public realizes that Taylor may end up with both the rushing title and the best scrimmage yardage total.

Ekeler is a solid player in a fine offense. McKissic has been a fill-in for Antonio Gibson in a weak offense. McKissic has caught 27 passes when Washington is trailing; there are always a few backs who generate lots of YAC and PPR value by being the guy who catches the shallow crosses in meaningless final drives. Kamara is one of the best all-around running backs in the NFL but is playing in a non-offense. The fact that the Saints have reached 5-3 without Kamara having some sort of Derrick-Henry-but-Catches year remains a mystery beyond Walkthrough's understanding.

Did someone ask for tight ends?

Player Team Rec YAC
Travis Kelce KC 54 309
Dalton Schultz DAL 37 209
David Njoku CLE 21 198
Dallas Goedert PHI 35 197
Tyler Higbee LAR 27 194

George Kittle ranks sixth with 142 YAC on 25 passes.

Kelce's 5.7 yards after catch per reception ranks 11th among tight ends with 20-plus targets. Njoku leads the league in YAC per reception among tight ends with 9.7; Jonnu Smith of the Patriots is second with 8.1. Smith and Higbee are tied for the league lead among tight ends with 10 passes at or behind the line of scrimmage. The Patriots are protecting Mac Jones with concepts like tight end screens, while the Rams use them as a counterpunch.

Dalton Schultz is thriving in his traditional role as the Cowboys tight end Jerry Jones doesn't like as much as Blake Jarwin. Jarwin is now injured, but rest assured that he will be penciled in as the Cowboys starter at the start of 2022 minicamp.

It's traditional to end Leaderboard of the Week with a dig at the Jets. But it turns out that the Bears have the lowest team YAC in the league with a pathetic figure of 537. Yes, Deebo only has 49 fewer yards after the catch than the entire Bears offense combined, and D'Andre Swift is catching up to them on a last-place team.

Poor Justin Fields. He could really use his own Deebo Samuel.

Thursday Night Sportsbook: Baltimore Ravens -7.5 at Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins rank a respectable 13th in first-quarter offensive DVOA and a surprising ninth in first-quarter defensive DVOA. The Ravens rank 21st and 22nd, respectively. So you better believe Walkthrough likes the Dolphins +2.5 in the first quarter (though we would like the chance of a +3 push even better). If Tua Tagovailoa starts, that first-quarter line is in the bag, because Tua is the master of the crisp opening drive full of RPOs (followed by 45 minutes of cheese dip).

As for the game itself, Tua's uncertainty, the Dolphins' overall mediocrity-without-putrescence, and the Ravens' ability to get in their own way has Walkthrough skittish about laying a touchdown. The Ravens, after all are 3-5 against the spread this season. The over of 46.5 also feels overpriced, especially with a Jacoby Brissett sighting likely.

For the sake of content creation, we're going to assume Brissett starts because of Brian Flores' compulsive need to self-destructively shame Tua Tua's injury and take the Ravens Moneyline AND the under at +150. But we recommend you wait until warm-ups: Tua may not push the Dolphins past the Ravens, but he could push the final score past the number.


11 comments, Last at 16 Nov 2021, 9:51am

1 I know this isn't quite the…

I know this isn't quite the right spot for it, but there wasn't separate post about it, so...

I really love the addition of upcoming matchups at the top of the page, and the individual matchup pages are really nice, too!

It does not detract from my happiness about seeing those on a desktop browser, but I do want to mention that the "matchup bar" unfortunately does not render properly for me in Chrome on my mobile device (Pixel 3a). There's a blank white bar where the matchups would be displayed.

2 DVOA Matchups & Schedule

Glad you are loving the new DVOA Schedule Matchup features! Be sure to tune into FO during the games to get the LIVE experience as well.

Mobile optimizations are coming soon! Thanks for your feedback.

3 TE table

Something is wrong with Njoku's YAC total, and maybe Schultz's as well.

Otherwise, nice article.

4 There were minor issues with…

In reply to by Joseph

There were minor issues with several of the numbers, but the top three rankings were the same, and Goedert and Higbee just flip-flopped in fourth and fifth place. Thanks for pointing that out.

5 Reversion?

What's Going Right?

  • The Seahawks have committed just four turnovers, again despite 3.5 games with a backup quarterback under center.

Isn't an average turnover rate more likely than a continuation of outlier performance?

7 If ATL makes the playoffs…

If ATL makes the playoffs with say an 8-9 record continuing to play the way they are now, would they be the worst playoff team ever by DVOA?

8 Russell Wilson

That 7th seed does change things from prior years.  In the NFC we have the sure 5, GB, despite DVOA, is making the playoffs and part of the sure 5.

So I ll select NO with their 5-3 record, despite Marcus Semien going forward and SEA.

Other choices include ATL, forbidden by DVOA, despite being 7 seed now, CAR, using a QB that they think and likely rightly so, is worse than Sam Darnold, a non Dallas NFC East team, Chicago and SF.  

SF is my next in line.

I guess this is what the NFL had in mind by adding the 7th seed.  Only DET is done at the halfway point.  No one else is more than a game and a half behind except WFT, maybe Fitzmagic comes back and does his thing, lead team to too few wins to make playoffs, but too many wins to draft a QB better than himself.

The value of a backup QB may be underrated by teams with star QB’s.  The fact that Geno Smith got SEA even one win, that so easy win that even Buffalo could not pull off, may make the difference.  As the article says, who would want to play Russell Wilson in the playoffs?


9 The value of a backup QB may be underrated by teams with star QB

In reply to by jheidelberg

Eh. The fact that Geno beat a lowly Jags team that might affect their playoff chances probably doesn't matter in the end because does anyone actually think they'll win it all? They got a lot more problems. And having a backup costs money in a salary cap world. And star QBs aren't usually cheap (and when they are, you pay Zeke anyway).