Film Room
Analysis beyond the numbers

Film Room: Monday Night Preview

by Derrik Klassen

A football fan's offseason is spent building up hope for the upcoming year. Investing in top draft picks, rationalizing free agent signings, playing down overall team weaknesses -- you know the song and dance by now. The NFL is a cruel and fickle league, however, and all those months spent scraping around for optimism can be put on the line two weeks into the season.

According to Justis Mosqueda of Optimum Scouting, just six of the 77 teams to start the season 0-2 since 2009 have found a way to make the playoffs. In other words, roughly 90 percent of teams who begin the season 0-2 will fail to make the postseason. There is only room for one such team to crawl their way back into the playoffs each year, and even that is no guarantee. 0-2 may not sound like the end of your season, but the past decade suggests it is an unlikely hole to climb out of.

That brings us to the Week 2 Monday Night Football showdown in which the Seattle Seahawks will visit the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Both teams are coming off of Week 1 losses. The Seahawks fell to the Denver Broncos at Mile High, which is not uncommon for even the best teams early in the season. Playing in Denver early in the season is a conditioning nightmare due to the altitude. The Bears, on the other hand, suffered a catastrophic fourth-quarter meltdown at the hands of a one-legged Aaron Rodgers.

Despite allowing 21 points to the Packers in the fourth quarter, the Bears are positioned well to effectively knock the Seahawks out of the playoffs. For starters, not only do the Bears have home-field advantage, but the Seahawks are on back-to-back road games. More than home-field advantage, though, the Bears have a defense designed to dismantle the Seahawks offense, not unlike the Broncos did last week.

The Seahawks offensive line is still a monstrosity and will get no reprieve as they go from blocking Von Miller and Shaquille Barrett to Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks. Versus Denver, Seattle's offensive line allowed six sacks, eight total tackles for loss, and 11 quarterback hits. Chicago's defensive front racked up four sacks, five total tackles for loss, and seven quarterback hits versus a significantly better Green Bay offensive line and a generally quick passing attack. To be fair, two of those sacks were on DeShone Kizer when Rodgers was temporarily off the field due to injury, but the Bears' front still had a night.

Seattle's offensive line is particularly poor at picking up stunts and twists. Denver ran a number of twists, stunts, and even wide-9 techniques for which Seattle simply had no answers . The sheer talent of guys like Miller shined through in straight up 1-vs.-1 situations as well, leaving Russell Wilson to fend for himself far too often. Chicago has the horses up front and a plenty creative defensive coordinator in Vic Fangio to mimic Denver's success versus Seattle's pass protectors.

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Here is one of many tools in Fangio's arsenal. Fangio isolates the Packers' three interior linemen and dupes them with a tackle-tackle twist. Edge rushers Mack (right) and Leonard Floyd (left) are playing wide techniques, while tackles Eddie Goldman (right) and Roy Robertson-Harris (left) both align at 3-technique. At the snap, Robertson-Harris shoots inside to the next gap over and occupies both the center and left guard. Goldman initially steps toward the right-side A-gap, but tosses the center aside as soon as Robertson-Harris collides with him and proceeds to loop back to the rush lane that Robertson-Harris vacated. Packers left guard Lane Taylor actually did a fantastic job to catch Goldman on the loop, but Robertson-Harris was sprung free as the center and right guard collided, giving him a free run at Rodgers.

What is worse is that Seattle does not have consistent pass blocking out of the backfield to help counteract their offensive line issues. Chris Carson is a respectable pass-blocker for a running back, but rookie Rashad Penny has a ways to go before he can be trusted to protect Wilson.

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Denver is clearly ready to send one or multiple blitzers through the A-gaps on this play. Penny, already aligned a yard ahead of the quarterback to serve as more immediate protection, should be ready to find the first A-gap threat and pop him back. As the ball is snapped and the blitzers declare, Penny does good to identify a blitzer through the left A-gap. However, Penny takes no initiative in blocking the blitzer and instead lets him get 5 yards deep without touching him. By then, Penny no longer has the angle to cut him off and the blitzer can muscle through his left shoulder to generate pressure on Wilson. As result of the pressure, Wilson can not get off a comfortable throw and the ball sails wide, sending the Seahawks offense off the field.

Though not as important as the pass game, it is also worth noting that the Bears' front stymied the Packers' rushing attack. For a Seahawks team that already struggles to find success on the ground, going up against Mack, Hicks, Danny Trevathan, and so on does not bode well. As per usual the past few years, the game will be put almost solely on the shoulders of Wilson.

Relying exclusively on Wilson is a double-edged sword. Wilson is talented and confident enough to carry the offense to functionality, but it would be a stretch to say Wilson is a consistent player in doing so. The highs are high, but Wilson's lows are ugly and often perplexing. For a number of reasons, Wilson has become more volatile than in years past.

Take this play versus Denver, for example. Denver came out in a one-high shell with eight men stacked on the line of scrimmage. To Wilson, that signaled a Cover-3 zone blitz of some sort.

However, Denver rolled to a Cover-2 shell with cornerback Adam Jones (24) rotating up toward the hash just before the snap.

Wilson caught the rotation upon receiving the snap, but did not process all of the information correctly. With Jones vacating the area, Wilson assumed he could find his wide receiver toward the left sideline that Jones was running away from. Wilson did not account for any one of Denver's box defenders fanning out to play the flat, though, and ended up tossing up a free interception to a defender he did not see poaching underneath his intended receiver.

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That is a careless mistake that Wilson can not afford to make. With a defensive genius like Fangio calling the opposing defense on Monday night, Wilson is going to have to be sharper than he was against Denver.

Though Wilson had bouts of inaccuracy and poor decision-making versus Denver, his arm talent and peak ball placement showed up often enough to keep Seattle in the game. Explosive plays make or break offenses in the NFL and, despite his recent inconsistency, Wilson is still plenty capable of generating explosive plays with the best of 'em.

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Arm talent is less about pure arm strength and more about how to manipulate arm strength. In both of the passes above, Wilson throws on a rope while carefully controlling the arc and placement of the ball. The first throw, for example, required Wilson to throw with enough touch to put the ball just past the trailing cornerback without putting so much juice on the throw that his receiver runs out the back of the end zone. Conversely, the second throw required Wilson to lead his receiver away from the deep safety and leave enough air under the ball for the receiver to track it with ease. Wilson drops both throws right in the receivers' breadbaskets for easy touchdowns.

How well Wilson can balance the good and evil within his own skill set will determine the Seahawks' fate throughout the season. After an extremely volatile showing in Denver, it is plausible, or even likely, that Wilson has a comparable performance versus a similar defense in Chicago.

The Seahawks are a three-point underdog heading into their Monday night matchup against the Bears. Three points is not a death sentence by any means, but it does reaffirm how close these two teams are despite Seattle's recent history of success and Chicago's lack thereof. It is a real possibility that the Seahawks lose this game and dig themselves into an 0-2 hole that will almost certainly bar them from the playoffs.

One year of missing the playoffs can be an aberration, but twice in a row is the beginning of a trend that no team wants to experience. It may only be a Week 2 game versus the Bears on the surface, but this will be one of the most important games the Seahawks have played in some time.


25 comments, Last at 15 Sep 2018, 9:35pm

1 Re: Film Room: Monday Night Preview

...just six of the 77 teams to start the season 0-2 since 2009 have found a way to make the playoffs...

It is always suspect when a football analyst uses weird cutoff dates like this one. Why go back 9 seasons? I'd get some multiple of five or ten, or something related to a historical change such as the last expansion. But 9 seasons? Sounds like it could be cherry picking.

Sure enough, each of the last five seasons have had at least one playoff team that started 0-2. The 2008 season they avoided by stopping at 2009 had three of them. But the 2009-12 seasons had no such teams. If you go back to the expansion in 2002 through 2007, you'd find one season with 2, 3 seasons with 1, and 2 seasons with 0 such teams. It works out to an average of a little less than one such team per season from 2002 to last season. Hard to do, but not all that rare.

Starting 0-2 puts you in a hole AND may indicate that you are a bad team. That much is true. But there's no need to cherry pick to make it look more hopeless than it already is.

2 Re: Film Room: Monday Night Preview

2009 isn't an entirely arbitrary cutoff; one of the reasons 2008 affects the results so much is that there were 11 0-2 teams in 2008. There's obviously the same amount of playoff teams every season, so when there are a bunch of 0-2 teams, the odds are higher that more 0-2 teams will make the playoffs. There's a definite correlation between there.

On average, only 8 teams start out the year 0-2, and from 2009-2017, all but one year falls between 7-9 teams in that range. The exception is 2012, when only six teams started 0-2.

That being said, you do have a point. The 2009-12 era had no 0-2 teams make the playoffs. Not only is that four-season stretch the longest since the playoffs expanded in 1990, only five other seasons have saw ~no~ other 0-2 teams make the playoffs. It was odd, and it doesn't really line up with any obvious scheduling changes the league made. It may be one of those "splits happen" sort of things, and since then, things have gone more or less back to historical norms.

Since 1990 (when the current playoff format was introduced), 12.1% of teams that started 0-2 made the playoffs.
Since 2002 (when the current divisional format was introduced), 10.5% of teams that started 0-2 made the playoffs.
Since 2009 (the start of the era of 0-2 drought), 8.5% of teams that started 0-2 made the playoffs.
Since 2013 (the end of the era of 0-2 drought), 14.6% of teams that started 0-2 made the playoffs.

4 Re: Film Room: Monday Night Preview

Thanks for the thoughtful reply. It looks like 10-12% is about the yield to expect. That's still dire, although not quite the death knell the 2009-17 numbers would suggest.

If your team goes 0-2, but is still a playoff quality team, then it's bad but you are by no means out of the running. But if you're 0-2 because you stink, then smear on some butter or mashed avocado. You're toast.

6 Re: Film Room: Monday Night Preview

..just six of the 77 teams to start the season 0-2 since 2009 have found a way to make the playoffs...

I'm curious what's so special about the first two games. How do teams fare who have 0-2 runs at any point in the season? Teams who go 0-2 in games two and three, or games 10 and 11, are they doing better than the teams with 0-2 in games one and two?

7 Re: Film Room: Monday Night Preview

What's special about the first two games is that it comprises 100% of our knowledge after Week 2. If we see a team lose back-to-back games in November, we can judge from their performance over the first two months of the season the odds of that being a fluke. While we have projections and last year's results and we can use logic to determine which teams might be better than one another, getting actual data is huge! That's why those games are special; the first two games gives us a larger proportion of our knowledge to that point than two games later in the season.

To your other point, though, no, going 0-2 in te first couple games is not statistically different from going 0-2 in any other set of games. Since 1990, teams that go 0-2 in games X-Y are make the playoffs Z% of the time:

1-2 12.1%
2-3 11.5%
3-4 12.2%
4-5 15.1%
5-6 12.7%
6-7 11.8%
7-8 15.7%
8-9 16.2%
9-10 11.1%
10-11 13.8%
11-12 15.6%
12-13 13.4%
13-14 12.1%
14-15 11.9%
15-16 13.2%

I'm fairly sure most of the peaks and valleys there are statistical noise an dnot, say, that weeks 8-9 don't matter.

10 Re: Film Room: Monday Night Preview

Surprisingly, even losing three in a row to open a season is not a sure elimination from the playoffs. Three times since the start of the modern playoff format, a team has lost its first three games and made the playoffs.

The Chargers lost their first FOUR games in 1992, yet still made the playoffs. Heck, they advanced in the playoffs, too. Go figure.

No one has lost their first five games and made the playoffs, which makes sense. But three teams have lost five in a row during the season, and still made the playoffs. Most recently, the 2015 KC Chiefs lost games 2 through 6, then won out to make the playoffs, won their wildcard game, and lost a competitive game with the Patriots.

Hats off to the 2014 Carolina Panthers!

Not only did they lose five in a row, they actually lost SIX straight games, made the playoffs, won their wildcard game, and lost to the Seahawks (who eventually lost a heart breaker in the very competitive Super Bowl.)

It's a strange league we follow.

14 Re: Film Room: Monday Night Preview

Thanks for the details. This stat has been a pet peeve of mine for years when radio/TV announcers touch on it and imply that there's something special about weeks 1 and 2 compared to the rest of the season. I have always suspected that the numbers would be similar if you picked another random pair of games, but had never bothered to check. It just makes intuitive sense that a lot of teams that start 0-2 would fail to make the playoffs because they happen to not be good teams, and that if they started 1-1 or 2-0 due to a couple of near-random occurrences like fumble recoveries or pivotal penalties, they would still likely have gone on to miss the playoffs. (And conversely, if a good team loses their first two games due largely to some bad luck, other than the negative impact of having those games in the loss column it probably doesn't mean that much to their future chances).

5 Re: Film Room: Monday Night Preview

Seattle's ongoing strategy of just assuming that Russell Wilson doesn't need actual linemen in front of him seems insane every year, but he is productive in spite of his line every year... so maybe they are on to something. I thought the 2006-2010 Colts were insane to fail to protect Peyton Manning, too, but they went to two Super Bowls in that time.

Seattle is a failing team. It's hard to keep great defenses great, because even if you are willing to pay defenders, you lose too many of them to career-damaging, if not career-ending, injuries over the course of time. Even if you do a great job drafting talent, you have to do a great job every year just to keep it going. Miss two years, and you're average because your all-Pro linebackers have bad backs and your all-Pro linemen have bad knees.

11 Re: Film Room: Monday Night Preview

The nature of the salary cap is that you simply cannot have stars at every single position. Every team has to pick their priorities, which means some position groups are going to have to be de-prioritized. Seattle's plan from the start of this era was to use an elusive QB and a tailback with exceptional tackle-breaking abilities (Lynch) to overcome a porous line. It worked for a while, but since they lost Lynch it's starting to catch up with them. I think losing Cable will be addition by subtraction, as they at least will try to stock the line with freaking LINEMEN, instead of Cable's bizarre defensive end and power forward conversion projects.

19 Re: Film Room: Monday Night Preview

I just seems strange that you'd have a QB as good as Wilson, and instead of trying to maximize him you say, we'll use his scrambling ability so we can scrimp the line and splurge on the secondary.

It's like having a Corvette and saying Hot Dog! With that kind of engine we don't need to buy tires! We can just run on our steel wheels and still make a pretty good MPH!

8 Trubisky?

Derrik -
Any further thoughts on Trubisky?

I recall that you were critical of his mechanics (during your 2017 draft capsule) particularly throwing to the left. Would be curious for an updated view.

Clearly didn’t see the field well, couldn’t process coverages, particularly the change from man to zone. Mechanics were ok, a couple of side arms, a bit of happy feet, but issues seemed more mental than physical.


24 Re: Trubisky?

Chip - check out this thread, Chip:

Derrick - I would love to read your thoughts on the Bears offense vs the Seahawks defense.

25 Re: Trubisky?

Hey Chip,

First off, thanks for reading!

Regarding Trubisky, he did not show in that game any mental progress. Dating back to UNC and his rookie year in Chicago, I was not one to trust Trubisky with 1) reading blitz, and 2) appropriately diagnosing underneath coverage consistently. Trubisky needs clear, defined reads on the outside (RPOs, speed outs, slant/flat, etc) and for intermediate/deep concepts to have limited options, preferably with play action. Trubisky's success comes far more from his physical talent than anything else and simpler reads should accentuate that, and it seemed like Matt Nagy had that figured out in the first drive of the Green Bay game. But, as you know, the rest of the game was lackluster from both Nagy and Trubisky: the play calling became too conservative, while it did not seem like Trubisky was fit to handle being given much more at the time. Trubisky did not seem mentally ready and he appeared more skittish around pressure than usual.

In fairness, it is just one game, so Trubisky may show progress as the season goes on. Carson Wentz did not truly blossom go on his MVP run until about Week 4 of last year (not that Trubisky will have that same path, but it is something to keep in mind). Hopefully he can progress, but that game vs Green Bay did him no favors.

9 Re: Film Room: Monday Night Preview

Speaking of mechanics, Wilson is He's got got incredibly nimble feet, great balance, and remarkable pocket presence even though he always keeps eyes downfield. At the same time, he can make an off-balance, one-legged throw with touch look easy. He's being doing things since he got into the league that Brady only acquired after years of off-season effort (but that's the key to Brady, who always tries to develop his game). Of course, Wilson also runs like a gazelle while Brady runs like Frankenstein.
I don't think I'm crazy to see a lot of Aaron Rodgers in Wilson's style. I did a quick player comparison of their first six years as starters and the numbers are not dissimilar (Pro-Football Reference, not much in the way of advanced stats). Rodgers are better across the board but not dramatically so; the one exception is rushing where Wilson has about twice as many yards. Over those six seasons, if memory serves, Rodgers usually had at least adequate protection. Wilson, on the other hand, has been playing on the freeway since Day One.
It's one more reason to wonder what Wilson would have done, and could do, if he had a decent OL. I'm sure he'd love to find out as well.
Maybe it's the whole 'Legion' narrative but it seems like the talking heads rarely mention Wilson as top five QB in the league. The whole plastic Christian zombie personae probably doesn't help. Looking at the numbers isn't enough in his case - you have to see the disadvantage that line gives him on almost every play.

12 Re: Film Room: Monday Night Preview

What's the plan for this column this year? Is Derrik going to pick whatever players/teams/matchups catch his eye on any given week? Or is this specifically going to be a weekly MNF preview as part of the ESPN partnership?

15 Re: Film Room: Monday Night Preview

I think it also matters if the 0-2 team has had a home game or two. I will give Seattle a pass if they lose 2 road games. Conversely if a team loses its first two games and both are at home I think you can stick a fork in them.

16 Re: Film Room: Monday Night Preview

Via a PFR query: In a single season, from 1990 to 2018, in the Regular Season, from team's 1st game to 2nd game, playing at home, team lost game, playoff teams only, sorted by most games in season matching criteria. (I only looked at count=2... that is, teams that lost 2 home games to start the season, yet made the playoffs)

I found just one team: the 2003 Eagles. That's as compared to 15 teams that lost two home games to start and then failed to make the playoffs.

17 Re: Film Room: Monday Night Preview

You guys make me feel so much better.

Over at the Seahawks Blog Field Gulls, the ongoing discussion is how bad Wilson is and how the Hawks need to move on from him before they give him a 3rd contract.

I have always argued, judgement of someone's offensive strategy who would hire a former Jeff Fisher OC, (after Cable, no less), is highly suspect.

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

22 Re: Film Room: Monday Night Preview

I wonder how Wilson feels about being dumped naked and bleeding among grizzly bears as a team-building strategy, especially in a league where quarterback play is paramount. You can argue that the unique qualities of the Seattle D in the Superbowl years made scrimping on the OL understandable (although...wouldn't merely competent be affordable?). Now? It's as if Carroll is telling Wilson, 'It's all about you back there. That's why your line is five runners-ups from a hot-dog eating contest. The greatest QB's made their marks when the chips were down. Well, you get to do that every, single, play. Think '12 Labors of Hercules.' That's why we didn't get a decent RB to replace Lynch. To show how much we love you.'
Glad the Field Gulls appreciate Wilson. Maybe they'll end up chasing him into the arms of a certain diabolical Massachusetts warlock who has an octogenarian cult-leader for a QB.