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02 Feb 2006

Second(ary) Look

by Bill Moore

One of our greatest challenges is evaluating a defensive player, and understanding why a defense works and why it doesn't. Other than tackles, interceptions, and sacks, there are very few public measures of the quality of individual defensive players. So, if the mountain won't come to Mohammad*, Mohammad will come to the mountain. Here at Football Outsiders, we began a project this season that charts each game to develop our own statistics. The data is unofficial, and unfortunately not every game is yet completely charted, but we have enough information to draw certain conclusions.

Pittsburgh offense vs. Seattle defense

Ben Roethlisberger rolled through 2004 as the third most efficient quarterback in the NFL. However, given his limited yardage per game and the dominance of Pittsburgh's running game, most viewed him as a game manager and not as part of the game's elite. Frankly, who can be blamed? The Steelers were ranked 32nd in attempts, and they played poorly in the playoffs when opposing teams made them win with the rookie's arm. However, hidden away was the little gem that their rookie quarterback was among the league leaders with 8.9 yards per attempt.

In 2005, once again, Pittsburgh ranked 32nd in pass attempts. Here we went again. "Big Ben is good, but once you force him to pass? Game over." But when the Steelers stepped onto the field in Indianapolis and Denver, Coach Bill Cowher and Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt not only were prepared to pass in they had to, they game-planned for it. Pittsburgh came out firing and shocked the Colts. Then the Steelers ripped it up against Denver in the AFC Championship game. Roethlisberger's stat line for that game: 21-of-27, 275 yards, 9.5 yards per attempt, and two touchdowns; he hit seven different receivers.

Stopping Roethlisberger is the task at hand for the unheralded Seattle Seahawks secondary, which is unheralded for a reason. The secondary is the weakest link of this Super Bowl-bound team. Seattle ranked 28th this year in receiving yards allowed. However, that doesn't tell the whole story: the Seahawks were fourth in number of passes thrown against them. In yards per pass attempt, they ranked middle of the pack. They were also 13th in opponent passer rating, although the list of quarterbacks who played against Seattle is more like a future episode of The Surreal Life than a current Pro Bowl roster.

Football Outsiders' main statistical metric, DVOA, ranks Seattle's defense 18th, in part because of the adjustments for strength of schedule. (DVOA is explained here.) However, stopping the run was the Seahawks' real strength. Seattle was ranked just 25th against the pass. When broken down on a game-by-game basis, the pass defense was highly erratic, with a mix of superb performances and absolute bombs. The unit excelled in two games against Kurt Warner and Arizona, a hobbled Philadelphia team, and Drew Bledsoe's Cowboys. Yet the Seahawks were torched by the likes of David Carr and Ken Dorsey. In the playoffs, the secondary had an average game against Mark Brunell, then ripped up Carolina by having the whole team cover Steve Smith -- simultaneously.

Left Cornerback

In the off-season, Seattle lost its starting right cornerback, Ken Lucas, to free agency, and the Seahawks hit the free agent market themselves, picking up left cornerback Andre Dyson at Tennessee's salary cap yard sale. They also moved third-year cornerback Marcus Trufant from the left side to the right.

Although Dyson was brought in to be a steady presence in the secondary, injuries made the left cornerback position a revolving door. Dyson started six regular season games, Kelly Herndon (who started opposite Champ Bailey in Denver last year) started six until he too went out with a strained MCL, and the inexperienced Jordan Babineaux started the final four games.

Herndon was picked on most by opposing quarterbacks. Herndon made a play (i.e. tackle, pass defensed, or interception) on 11 percent of passing plays, which ranked him third among the Seahawks. We dug further, using game tape in an attempt to identify who was responsible for coverage on each pass. Our game charters list Herndon as the responsible defender covering 17 percent of the passes against Seattle. That makes him the most common target on the Seattle defense, despite the fact that he played in only 12 games and was a starter in just six. In weeks when Herndon started, a quarter of all passes were directed his way. Receivers covered by Herndon caught 66 percent of these passes. Counting dropped passes as catches for the purposes of evaluating the defense, the completion rate rises to 71 percent. 38 percent of passes thrown against Herndon went for first downs or touchdowns, well above the league average of 30 percent. On third down he gave up first downs a whopping 55 percent of the time.

Herndon went down in Week 12 against the Giants, and Babineaux was no better. In fact, he was worse. Again, counting drops as complete passes, receivers covered by Babineaux had a ridiculously high 82 percent catch rate. Players that were listed as being uncovered only caught 75 percent of the passes thrown to them! A majority of throws against him were on shorter routes, potentially exploiting soft coverage: 61 percent were thrown under 10 yards, and 33 percent were five yards or less. Babineaux did make three interceptions on the year, but all were while playing in a backup role.

Not unexpectedly, Andre Dyson is clearly the left cornerback Seattle wants on the field. However, his biggest problem is staying on the field. He has been hurt not less than three times this season, missing six complete games and playing a reserve role for four. Nevertheless, receivers covered by Dyson have only a 50 percent completion percentage, and he has the highest percentage of passes defended (passes deemed incomplete due primarily to the actions of the defender). He knocked down Michael Vick's attempted pass to Brian Finneran in Week 2, ending Atlanta's comeback bid. He is not without flaws: like Herndon he allowed 38 percent of the passes against him to result in first downs or touchdowns.

Right Cornerback

If there was a revolving door on the left, there was a rock on the right. Following a second off-season with shoulder surgery, and after making the move from left to right, Seattle's former first round pick, Marcus Trufant started every game at right cornerback.

Deemed by coach Mike Holmgren early in 2004 to be part of a "shutdown corner" tandem, Trufant failed to live up to that billing as the year progressed. Trufant was providing receivers too much cushion, and receivers exploited holes and gaps.

The new season for Trufant didn't start much better. In fact, after the first game of the 2005 season, Holmgren publicly called out Trufant for not playing up to the talent level that caused Seattle to use the 11th overall selection on him three years ago. Six Jacksonville passes aimed at Trufant went for three first downs and a touchdown.

As the season went along, however, Trufant played respectably. The quarterbacks that the Seahawks faced may not have been Prime Time, but some of the receivers were. Trufant, playing a particular side of the field rather than a particular player, faced up against Larry Fitzgerald, Plaxico Burress, Anquan Boldin, Keyshawn Johnson, Torry Holt, and Santana Moss. Consequently, Trufant was tested deep. A third of the passes against Trufant went 16 yards or longer, yet receivers caught more than half of the passes thrown to them. 40 percent of the passes were converted into first downs or touchdowns. Although he is a good tackler and has good speed, when he makes mistakes it's usually in giving receivers too much space. In particular, Trufant has admitted having problems with 10- and 20-yard dig routes (routes where receiver quickly break to the inside) because he is protecting against the fly routes. That would explain the high completion percentage given the distances of the passes. Trufant may be playing too conservatively at times to avoid giving up a touchdown.


At the beginning of the season, Seattle's starting safeties were Michael Boulware and Ken Hamlin. That lasted through Week 6, when Hamlin suffered a fractured skull in an off-field incident after Seattle's victory over Houston.

Hamlin kept receivers in check with a low 42 percent completion rate. Hand in hand with a low completion rate, the yards per attempt were high, 18.5 yards. However, not all of Hamlin's incompletes were just a result of the distance of the throw. Hamlin was second on the team in percent of passes defended.

Losing Hamlin was a tough break for Seattle, not necessarily because of the quality of Hamlin, but rather the weaknesses of his replacement, Marquand Manuel. Manuel, who was a sixth round pick by the Bengals in 2002, doesn't have the same kind of cover skills. When Manuel covered them, receivers caught 73 percent of passes thrown to them, with an average per attempt of 14.6 yards. 67 percent of passes thrown his way resulted in first downs or touchdowns, including four of four on third down -- much higher than Hamlin's 16 percent.

College linebacker-turned-strong safety Michael Boulware started every game for the Seahawks this season. Considering it was his first full year at the position, it must be regarded as a success. Boulware can blitz (two sacks), cover (four interceptions) and play special teams (one field goal block). The tight ends, wide receivers, and occasional running back he covered had a modest 60 percent completion rate -- slightly below the all passing average. Boulware's third down conversation rate was the best in the secondary, but overall he allowed a first down or touchdown a team-high 43 percent of the time -- well above league average.

Expected Matchups on Sunday

Here's how DVOA grades Seattle against different types of receivers:

vs. #1 WR vs. #2 WR vs. Other WR vs. TE vs. RB
10.5% 19 0.9% 17 13.0% 23 14.4% 21 -13.4% 10

The one bright spot is coverage against running backs coming out of the backfield. However, Roethlisberger doesn't throw very often to his backs. Willie Parker is the only real receiving threat out of the backfield, and less than six percent of Big Ben's passes were thrown his way (Jerome Bettis was the intended receiver on three tosses).

He's not quite Steve Smith, but Hines Ward is clearly the most important cog in the Pittsburgh offense. The largest proportion of Roethlisberger's passes go to the right, and many of those go to Pittsburgh's number one receiver. Consequently, we should see a lot of matchups of Ward against Andre Dyson (note that throws right go towards the left cornerback). It will be a tough assignment for Dyson; it will be even tougher if Herndon has to come in for him.

The other side gives us a likely matchup between Antwaan Randle El and Marcus Trufant. Randle El is a less disciplined route runner, and the weakest of Pittsburgh's three primary receivers. Trufant will also probably have his crack at Cedrick Wilson, who will see his fair share of field time as Randle El moves into the slot.

A final matchup to watch will be Steelers tight end Heath Miller and Michael Boulware. Miller has been an excellent new outlet for Roethlisberger, ranking eighth in DPAR and fifth in DVOA. Roethlisberger has thrown almost 10 percent of his passes Miller's way, and Boulware will have his hands full covering him.


A month ago, I would have said Seattle has the advantage when Roethlisberger passes. Seattle's secondary, if not all-star caliber, is finally healthy. They have speed and quickness to stay with the Pittsburgh receivers. However, Roethlisberger is better and the offensive live line is giving him time. If I were in the Seattle secondary, I'd be worried.

Advantage: Steelers.

Seattle offense vs. Pittsburgh defense

"We'll take the ball, and we're gonna score." In the role of prodigal son returning to the tundra of Green Bay, the former backup quarterback to Brett Favre issued those words exactly one play before throwing a game ending interception. Unfortunately for Matt Hasselbeck, those few words are the only thing for which he is remembered by some football fans.

News flash for those subjected to the infamous East Coast bias: Matt Hasselbeck is pretty good. Four quarterbacks have made Football Outsiders' top 15 DPAR (Defense-adjusted Points Above Replacement) in each of the last four years: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Trent Green and Matt Hasselbeck. Shaun Alexander may have captured the MVP award, but Hasselbeck is most likely the MVP of this team. However, he won't be going up against the likes of San Francisco or Houston in the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh is the fifth-ranked passing defense in the league, and they get the job of stopping Hasselbeck and turning Seattle into a one-dimensional team.

The Pittsburgh Steelers' passing defense languished in mediocrity for much of the early part of the decade, culminating in their 18th-ranked DVOA in 2003. However, underneath that uncommon performance was the bubbling of a youth movement. Earlier in 2003, the Steelers had made an atypical move for them, trading up to draft USC safety Troy Polamalu. They also curiously used their fourth round pick in that draft on Louisiana-Lafayette walk-on cornerback Ike Taylor. The draft didn't pay immediate dividends, as it took a while for the rookies to make a mark, but the development had begun. The Steelers used their next two drafts to continue building youth in the secondary, drafting Ricardo Colclough in 2004 and Bryant McFadden in 2005. As a result, Pittsburgh may have compiled one of the best young secondaries in the league.

The Steelers defensive backs are a hard hitting, energetic bunch, and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau takes full advantage of that skill. Pittsburgh stacks the line with linebackers and safeties to disguise who is blitzing. However, such aggressiveness creates some apparent weaknesses, both real and imagined. For one, the Steelers don't make a lot of interceptions (just ask Pete Morelli). Despite being ranked 8th in the NFL in passing defense, the Steelers ranked just 18th in interceptions.

One would also expect a blitzing defense to be susceptible to the long ball. In fact, offensive coordinators did test the Steelers deep. Opponents threw almost eight percent of their passes against the Steelers longer than 30 yards (versus four percent against Seattle and six percent across the league). However, their completion rate on these long passes was less than 25 percent -- modestly below average. Additionally, the yards after catch on those receptions suggest that the Steelers were rarely burned. Only Marvin Harrison's touchdown catch on the first offensive play of the Steelers' regular season game against Indianapolis resulted in any significant yardage after the catch. Harrison's catch notwithstanding, the Steelers defense, as a whole, kept teams out of the end zone. They are tied for second in touchdowns given up with 18, three behind the Bears.

The aggressive defense that Pittsburgh employs requires a certain cohesiveness among the secondary. With the exception of an early battle for the starting left cornerback job, the secondary personnel has remained consistent. The following evaluates each position.

Left Cornerback

Ike Taylor is an interesting study that probably warrants its own article. Taylor attended Louisiana-Lafayette, where he was a junior walk-on as a running back and only moved to the defensive backfield for his senior year. At 6'1'' and 192 pounds, his athleticism alone caught the eye of the Steelers, who drafted him in the fourth round of the 2003 draft. Hardly surprising, his first two seasons in the league (only his second and third years ever playing the position) were a period of learning and adjustment. He was often criticized for lack of toughness and precision.

The criticism would mostly pass in 2005 as he became the full-time left corner. Taylor often matched up against the opponent's best receiver. The young defensive back drew praise from some opposing wide receivers, including Chad Johnson -- who is not known for praising opposing cornerbacks.

Whether quarterbacks were testing Taylor or just trying to get the ball to their favorite receivers is unknown, but receivers he covered accounted for 22 percent of all the passes we charted -- double that of right cornerback Deshea Townsend. Although he is praised as one on the best young cornerbacks in the game, Taylor is not exactly a shutdown corner. Receivers caught 63 percent of the balls thrown against him, and 42 percent went for a first down or a touchdown. Taylor can be beaten.

Taylor has played his best when it has mattered the most. Taylor played very respectively against Chad Johnson and Marvin Harrison, although each burned him for a single big play. He played Mushin Muhammad quite well in the first half of their meeting, only to let up when the Steelers were ahead by eighteen points. However, in that same game Taylor was beaten by Bernard Berrian for 43 yards. He virtually shut down the Cleveland and Jacksonville receivers that he faced, but was awful against New England. Patriots receivers caught 77 percent of the throws against him, culminating in 120 yards on 13 receptions, six of which were for first downs.

Taylor is unlikely to pull down an interception on Sunday. He is not exactly known for his hands. Although he only ended the season with one interception, he probably had a chance at more than ten if he could just catch the ball. He had numerous inexplicable drops -- "Koren Robinson playing defense" kind of drops. It may look familiar to the Seahawks.

Right Cornerback

Working the left side of the offense in his second year as a starter, Deshea Townsend is the greybeard of the group at the ripe old age of 30 years -- drafted one round after Hines Ward in 1998. Although he historically has struggled in supporting the run, Townsend is a solid cover man and may actually play the slot better than the corner. Once called the "slowest defensive back in all of football" by Football Outsiders' Michael David Smith, Townsend gave up very few long balls. In our new project, Football Outsiders has charted 75 percent of the passing plays against Pittsburgh. Not a single play where Townsend was listed as the defender went for a touchdown, despite the fact that close to 16 percent of passes against him were in the red zone.

Although he had his fair share of star-receiver matchups, Townsend was more often than not relegated to covering a team's number two and three receivers. Overall, slightly more than 11 percent of all passes against the Steelers were thrown his way. His coverage led to a 51 percent reception rate by those he was defending, and only 21 percent of passes thrown against him were for a first down. His conversion rate solely on third down was not as good, but respectable.

Also likely to see a bit of action at the right corner spot is rookie Bryant McFadden, who will play as the team's main nickel back as well. The Steelers went to the defensive back trough for a third year in a row when they picked up McFadden in 2005 draft. In three wide receiver sets, a formation we expect to see quite often from Seattle on Sunday, McFadden plays the outside receiver and Townsend moves into the slot.

During the regular season, McFadden's role was often limited to nickel and dime packages. That didn't stop him from getting playing time, and when he was on the field he may have been the best of the cornerbacks out there. Although his completion rate was even with the other backs, his percentage of balls defended (incompletes as a direct result of the action of the defensive back) was the highest on the team at 15 percent. Based on recent performance, including his play in the recent playoff game, many expect he will be the right cornerback of the future, swapping roles with Townsend.


Who doesn't know strong safety Troy Polamalu? He and his hair have graced the cover of many a magazine. He covers, blitzes, hits, plays the run, and has a serious nose for the ball. The third year former linebacker from USC seems to be everywhere on the field. Although almost everyone knows him, the person they should really know is free safety Chris Hope.

Hope is basically Polamalu's safety blanket, and his primary duty is to play centerfield and make a lot of the secondary calls. Slightly more than seven percent of Pittsburgh pass plays log Hope as the defender. Defending in the style of Brian Dawkins or Rodney Harrison, Hope is more of a hitter than a tackler. His style is not one of wrapping up but rather laying out the receiver (perhaps forcing him to "tap out"). Potentially as a result of this, Hope has one of the lowest average yards after catch on the team.

The completion rate of Hope's opponents was a low 48 percent, but more importantly, Hope has the lowest percentage of conversions for a first down or touchdown (29 percent). That is even more exaggerated on third down, when his conversion rate is only 17 percent. Despite being probably the most unheralded member of the secondary, Hope may be the best pure pass defender.

Meanwhile, Troy Polamalu is everywhere, even through his coverage skills are not the best on the field given his gambling style. His completion rate was 52 percent, and conversions to first downs were reasonable at 38 percent. However, on third down, 50 percent of passes against him were converted. Nevertheless, he is an all around package, and is integral to Pittsburgh's blitz schemes.

Expected Matchups on Sunday

Here's how DVOA grades Pittsburgh against different types of receivers:

vs. #1 WR vs. #2 WR vs. Other WR vs. TE vs. RB
-16.2% 3 -9.8% 10 -1.5% 15 -10.2% 11 15.5% 30

Seattle can test defenses early with its multifaceted attack. Hasselbeck can throw, and obviously league MVP Shaun Alexander can run. The Seahawks quite often run three- and four-wide receiver sets in order to spread the defense, and that's a good matchup for them because Pittsburgh ranks high against number one receivers and drops off against other wide receivers. The Steelers are also among the worst defenses against passes to running backs, as those pass-rushing outside linebackers leave big open holes in the flat. Fortunately for the Steelers and unfortunately for the Seahawks, Alexander is not much threat to catch the ball out of the backfield. Whether Seattle can exploit Pittsburgh's weakness with Maurice Morris or Mack Strong could be a key to the game.

Seattle's three main receivers are Darrell Jackson, Bobby Engram, and Joe Jurevicius -- all quality receivers. D.J. Hackett is also a respectable fourth receiver. Engram, who is a good possession receiver, will likely be covered by Taylor, and that should match up well for Taylor. It should be noted that Seattle's receivers move around. Engram is almost as likely to catch a pass on the right side of the field as he is the left. He could easily line up in the slot, and in such cases would likely match up against Townsend. That matchup is not as favorable to the Steelers. Unless the Steelers choose to follow coverage, Seattle may be able to create the matchups to its advantage.

The responsibility for Darrell Jackson will likely fall initially on Townsend, who is notably slower. Jackson is quick and strong. That may not help him in matchups against Taylor, but it should against Townsend. In three receiver sets, Jurevicius could pose a problem for McFadden, who is smaller and lighter; Jurevicius has six inches and 40 pounds on him. McFadden's ability to bat balls may not be as useful. In an attempt to neutralize Jurevicius, the Steelers may use Polamalu more in coverage and less in Seattle's backfield.


Although Pittsburgh's young defensive backs are tough, they do occasionally give up a big play. The Seahawks' real advantage, however, will be if they can spread the field and utilize multiple wide receiver sets to find the right matchups. That strategy will require Seattle's offensive line to pick up tricky blitzes and give Hasselbeck time to make progressions. It's a close one, but I say...

Advantage: Seahawks by a nose.

*Note: proverb also applies to Muhsin Muhammad

Posted by: Bill Moore on 02 Feb 2006

75 comments, Last at 05 Feb 2006, 4:30pm by DGL


by Spike (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:09pm

Didn't see the Hawks' Stevens listed in the receivers. Certainly the Pittsburgh performance against TEs looks strong, but there's something to be said for his bulk.

With Hope and Polamalu in the middle for hitting, Seahawks WR and RB screens seem likely. Is that where they've fallen down against RBs? Do they pursue to the extent that wide screens (which is where I see Stevens size coming in) tend to do better? Or are they giving up underneath routes on blitz holes?

by krugerindustrialsmoothing (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:11pm

See, this right here...this is what FO excels at. In-depth analysis of key matchups. I love this website.

by Lylenm (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:13pm

If by "exactly one play before throwing a game ending interception", you mean "exactly one drive for each team and then one play before throwing a game ending interception", you might be a little closer to being accurate. And what do San Francisco and Houston have to do with this? Didn't the Seahawks just score 20 against Washington and 34 against Carolina? I hear those two teams have pretty good defenses.

by Tom Kelso (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:19pm

So the real question to be addressed in the passing game -- all these factors being close to equal -- will be the ability of either team to get pressure on the opposing QB, and how many men they have to rush to do so.

On first glance, that would seem to favor Seattle. Any numbers available?

by pawnking (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:20pm

What an outstanding article! Very well done.

One question: Obviously the Hawks don't pass much to Alexander, a point you've made a number of times in the past. However, looking in seasons past, Alexander has occasionally shown to be an effective receiver. Given the Steelers' weakness at this defensively, would you, if you were the OC of Seattle, scheme a lot of screens to SA this Sunday? If so, how effective do you think this strategy would be?

by Balaji (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:21pm

The relevance of San Francisco and Houston to this discussion, slim though it is, is that both those teams, like Pittsburgh, run 3-4 defenses. Washington and Carolina, to my knowledge, do not.

by Manteo (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:25pm

pawnking - that's a good question in a larger sense, too. If your opponent's major weakness is something your team doesn't do well, how much risk do you take?

It's like when Holmgren let slip that the Seahawks were practicing the shotgun a few days ago. In either case, you've got something the Hawks aren't comfortable doing and risk disaster trying. Is it really worth the risk to fumble for the keyhole, or better just to do like the Niners used to, and hope your eleven are better than their eleven?

by Josh (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:32pm

"So, if the mountain won’t come to Mohammad*,"

Smart move to not include an illustration

by pawnking (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:35pm

Manteo, well said. However I contend that in big games, coaching plays a larger part than typical games. Although Seattle is an excellent offensive team, I believe they will have to take some chances against the Steelers' defense.

Over the past week and a half, I have become convinved that if both play their regular game, the Steelers' Defense will beat the Hawks' offense. However, if in the first half, espicially on third and long, the Hawks throw in 3 or 4 screens, I believe it will largely diffuse the Steelers' pass rush. Even if Seattle does not go back to the screen the rest of the game, I believe it will help their offense, espicially if the screens are very effective.

You may be right, but I just think the Superbowl is the game where you try for every angle, unless you are clearly superior. Seattle is not, IMHO, clearly better on offense than Pitt on defense. RB screens are fairly low risk. I just think it would be a good idea.

by Björn (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:41pm


I think that Alexander has caught something like 55% af passes thrown to him. IIRC, the average for a runningback is close to 75%.

As for Kelly Herndon, I would like FO to issue an official apology to the Denver Broncos for wagging the finger when Denver let Herndon go in free agency.

by Kal (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:44pm

Depends on how much you're used to it, but I'd argue that you have to mostly go with what got you there. What got the Seahawks here was a strong receiving corps, their QB making good reads most of the time all set up by a great line and a good RB. Deviate from that too much, try and get too cute and I think you risk too much.

by Juan (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:58pm

I do not think that the 3-wide sets are going to be a major pain for the steelers, just ask Payton, Marvin and the rest of the most dominating offense in the league.

The steelers will do just fine. Remember it's more than the players, it's the scheme. And currently there seems to be no match for Coach Dick

by Seattle Doug (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 7:00pm

Likely to see more of the screen flat passes going to Mack Strong. Especially since the expectation would be to keep him around the pocket on passing plays.
The worry is Hasslebeck's tendency to throw the batted pass. Potentially devastating on those screen/flat tosses. the last thing I want to see is Polamalu's hair impersonating Al Harris's hair.

by Kal (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 7:01pm

Which time, Juan? The first time the Colts did pretty well against the Steelers D in a 3-wide set. The Bengals absolutely destroyed them in one game and did pretty well in another before Kitna lost it in the second half.

I'm not saying that they can't shut down Seattle, though I doubt it; they have not shut down an offense all year, but they've managed to hold most offenses down below their averages. 3 wide sets are paradoxically bad for the running game for Seattle this game because of the speed of Pitt's linebackers I suspect, but it'll be pretty good for passing.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 7:09pm

Great work.

by Manteo (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 7:10pm

I would guess that throwing a few screens shouldn't be too much of a risk - it's a fairly standard play, after all. But certainly it seems like you would only want to do it as pawnking says, to open up the defense, rather than as a main point of attack.

The other thing is that some people have talked about running the screen to Morris, since he seems more comfortable with it - but then you lose the perception of a threat when MoMo's not in the game. Throwing to Strong might be the best solution.

You know, in my happy dreams, I have a vision of Mack plowing through Joey Porter for a TD just like Bo Jackson did to the Boz. But that would be too much historical redemption to ask for...

by Balaji (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 7:11pm

It's a minor point, Kal, but Pittsburgh did shut down Indy's offense almost completely until the 4th quarter a few weeks back. If they can perform like that for even the first half, I'll be satisfied.

That said, I wouldn't expect them to have that kind of performance again, certainly not for three quarters. But I don't think I'm deluded for thinking that a 3-WR set doesn't equate to automatic points for the Hawks.

by Luz (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 7:16pm

i'm confused as to why the article presumes that taylor will cover engram and townsend cover jackson. jackson is, presumably, seattles #1 reciever. so why woulndn't taylor cover him? i would expect that matchups to be taylor vs. jackson and townsend vs. engram. the two slower, smart vets and the two younger, athletic db and wr... also, as you state in the article townsend moves to the slot in the nickel and would thus be covering jurvecious. mcfadden would most likely take on engram in three wide sets.

by Luz (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 7:23pm

also, pitts defense played indy well in the first matchup. after the 80 yd bomb they held indy to 4 field goals and a touchdown. keeping in mind that the average field position for those 5 scoring drives was pittsburgh's 42. so if you have the best offense in the nfl and you start on your opponents 42 five times and come away with 4 FGs and a TD then i'd contend that the defense played really well.

by Kal (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 7:25pm

Balaji, I'm just saying that the Steelers played the Colts twice, and they were very different games from a 'shutdown the players' perspective. Furthermore, the Steelers did fine the second time but not the first; that (if anything) would point to them having a bit of bad prep.

#18, I suspect that it's a matter of where Engram/Jackson line up, and that Pitt doesn't switch corners to cover specific players, they have cover sides instead.

by Luz (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 7:39pm


not true. traditionally the steelers have covered sides in their scheme. however, they man taylor up against certain recievers like chad johnson and marvin harrison. whether they do that this game remains to be seen.

as to the first indy game, read my previous post. the steelers lost that game on offense and special teams. the defense played well.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 7:39pm

Go Bill! Hopefully you got CLE/PIT in time for this.

Lots of people are asking about pressure. We did keep track of number of rushers and blockers, so could we turn those into some numbers about pressure? ie, figure out some sort of average pass rushing rate based on hurries, sacks, and number of rushers and then compare that to the other team's performance when facing similar situations based on their numbers. I could give you a hand if you wanted me to (sitting around generally being sick and miserable).

by Kal (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 7:46pm

#20: Giving up an 80 yard bomb on an out and go route is not great D, but the rest of the drives were good. Still, they didn't shut down anyone, either game. They slowed them down significantly. That's sort of my point. From both a statistical and a DVOA perspective, the Steelers don't just absolutely dominate a team on defense unless that team is Cleveland.

Though you bring up a good point, which is that the game is going to come down to how well Seattle's D plays more than any other factor. Luz, you sound like you're pretty up on the Steelers; what happened in that week 17 game against Detroit where the Steelers looked so bad against a suspect Detroit D?

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 7:46pm

Drool! Great article, and good look at some of the new data coming out of game charting!

by Fnor (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 7:52pm

That's supposed to be "average successful pass rush."

by Theo (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 8:00pm

If there is going to be a cartoon about Mushin Muhammad: you might want to watch out. Some might not get it.

by BHW (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 8:08pm

Roethlisberger’s stat line for that game: 21-of-27, 275 yards, 9.5 yards per attempt, and two touchdowns

Terrific article, but how does 275 yards in 27 attempts come out to 9.5?

Never mind, I just looked it up; he was 21 of 29 for 275. Carry on ... again, very good article, as usual.

by John (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 8:11pm

I wonder how Seattle's secondary ranks if you remove their "jet lag" games. I've watched them long enough to know that effect is real. That shouldn't be a factor Sunday, and I think that may make all the difference.

by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 8:20pm

Kal, what happened against Detroit?? I think the Steelers forgot that they were in elimination mode. That's the only thing I could think of as I watched Joey Harrington turn into Joe Montana.

I think that the 3WR set does present quite a few problems for Seattle. You have 3 WR's are you going to have a single back with a TE. No TE and an I? I don't know what you do there. Is Alexander good at blitz pickup? Due to my admittedly East Coast Bias (ie being too drunk to coherently watch the 4:00 games) I didn't get to see a lot of him.

by Luz (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 8:28pm


i'm not sure how you qualify "shut down." considering that both games were on indys home field, where they can maximize their offensive advantages, i would argue that the steelers D was better than good. certainly giving up a 80 yd TD is not good D but when the best offense in the league starts on its opponents side of the field and comes up with mostly field goals, that to me is impressive. they didn't even get a first down, i think, on two of those drives before they kicked the field goals. again, the colts mounted two successful drives in the second game, one after the int-that-was-not. to me, disrupting that potent of an offense on their home field as frequently as the steelers D did was very good defense. just my opinion.

the detriot game, i think, was just an example of a team not playing sharply against a weaker foe. it happens. i would imagine that it is similar to the second SEA-SF game. i didn't see it but if i recall correctly SF almost pulled off the upset. which is closer than detriot got. i don't mean that to be snarky, just to say that i think good teams relax sometimes against lesser teams.

by putnamp (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 8:28pm

There's been discussion on Alexander's ability to catch on several different threads, and the numbers for this year are deceiving, since he's often the listed target for throw-aways out of pressure. I'd really like to see some analysis on this in time for the Super Bowl, but I don't see it happening. Still, I'd like to see it, even if it's post-mortem.

by MDD (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 8:34pm


The Seahawks run out of every one of the sets you mention. Pick any two of Strong, Alexander, and (Stevens or Hannam).

by Kal (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 8:35pm

Well, when I think of shut down I think of a performance similar to Steve Smith or Delhomme. In other words, seriously below average. Stat wise, Manning performed better than quite a few games in both matches vs. Pitt. Did Pitt's D play well against Indy? Sure. And I'm sure that they'll play well against Seattle. What I'm not sure is some massive implosion by the Seattle offense caused by Pitt.

I ask about Detroit because it's an odd abberation in an otherwise strong set of last weeks. Ben was really below his average, Pitt didn't seem to do well on D, etc - and this was a must-win game, so it seems even more odd that they'd come out flat. I mostly ask not because I want to rub anything in, but because I'd honestly like to know what (if anything) Detroit did to limit Pitt's passing attack and make them look not so great.

#29, Seattle's traditional response to that is to either audible to a run (which they do very, VERY well in the 3WR set) or do a 3 step drop and quick pass. On third and long they tend to go with Strong or Morris as the RB and use them as another outlet or a blocking back. Alexander is okay but not incredible at picking up the blitz, though he did a great job against Carolina.

by putnamp (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 8:35pm

SF almost pulled off the upset in the first game, in SF. That was many weeks ago, though, so I think the general DVOA opinion of that game is that it's been mostly phased out of relevance.

The second game against SF probably isn't very telling, either, frankly. Comparing Pittsburgh's defense to SF's on the sole basis that they both run a 3-4 seems like a stretch, but what do I know?

by pawnking (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 8:43pm

Up front, I must disclose I am an Alexander fan. That being said:

Alexander has been thrown to only 28 times this year, catching 15 of these, for the mere 54% success rate. The numbers are what they are, but I believe that small sample size warning should accompany this stat. Only 5 more catches would have resulted in a catch % of over 70%, which is fine.

In 2003, Alexander had a success rate of 71%, and in 02 it was 75%. While his contribution has declined in the past 2 years, remember he is still capable of catching the football.

I proposed that it might be a good strategy for Seattle to throw the ball to Alexander, espicially in the first half. It's not as if he's forgotten how to catch the ball. Certainly if they catch Pittsburg on a blitz, Alexander can turn a screen into a big gain. Even moderate gains should slow down the Steeler's pass rush. I just see it as a real tool the Seattle OC can use for Sunday's game.

by Luke (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 8:47pm

hmmm...this article doesn't fill me full of confidence for the game coming up. I knew the seahawks secondary has been ordinary most of the year, but not that ordinary. I also didn't think the steelers secondary was that good. I do think SA can be an effective reciever though. I also think Matt is in rare form and so is Stevens. One last prediction: Peter Warrick will make a big play in this game - either returning a punt, on a reverse or catching a pass.

by Luz (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 9:01pm


RE: manning's #s

i don't know how much you can really take away from his final numbers. i think alot of those yards came in the 4th. he was pretty off balance most of the game and i couldn't even identify the reciever on some of his passes. i was looking back for mannings DPAR from the game but the best i could find was this quote from the resulting any given sunday article: "They converted the great field position into their final score and a 21-3 lead. At that point the Steelers went into a prevent, allowing Manning to gain some rhythm. He played well down the stretch, and thanks to a bogus replay reversal and a great play by linebacker Gary Brackett, Manning had one last chance."

RE: detriot

roethlisbergers #'s were a bit deceptive on that game. while i wouldn't call him sharp his recievers were much, much worse. even ward was dropping balls. randle el tipped a ball near the goal line for an INT. basically, the recievers were pretty awful.


the only reason a mentioned the san fran game was as an example of how good teams sometimes play poorly against weak teams. i don't think it has any relevance to this game specifically or the seahawks in general.

by Kal (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 9:08pm

#37: Does it matter if it's in the 1st or 4th quarter if a player plays well? The defense isn't stopping him in either case, and that was my point. It's not like the Steelers went into prevent defense or anything like that. If anything they were able to totally ignore the running game in the playoff match vs. Indy and go for the pass - and they did _worse_ when they did that? How does that make any sense?

My point is that Manning didn't do horribly in either game against Pitt, though he didn't do as well as he normally did. Horrible is (for example) the 2003 or 2004 performances Indy had against the Pats D. I guess for me, I never got the impression that the Colts were out of either game against Pitt until the last sack - and even then I was proven wrong. Whereas with Carolina vs. Seattle this year, it seemed like Carolina was done when it was 17-0.

Good to know on Detroit. From the stat line, it looks like the passing attack just wasn't there and they were giving up big runs so it wasn't as necessary for Ben to do well. What about on D - how on earth does Harrington lead the lions to 3 TDs against that D?

by Björn (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 9:08pm

I looked at the RB receiving numbers, and Alexander is not only a 54% receiver, but he is negative in DPAR and in DVOA. Maybe that is the biggest indicator of all.

by Luz (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 9:13pm

kal, but as the any given sunday article says, pittsburgh DID go into prevent against the colts. it was then that manning got into rythm. if you look at the first game manning was 14/25 for 165 yds 1 TD and 1 INT when you take away the one big pass play. does that play count in the game? no doubt, but it also inflates what in reality was mostly a so-so game.

as for what happened to the D against the lions... i have no idea. the steelers didn't take control of that game until they got some big plays on special teams.

by Kal (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 9:14pm

Yeah, we've talked about this on several threads already #39. His DPAR/DVOA for this year is not great, but over three years it's positive.

28 passes is not that many. An average of 1.5 passes a game is not a great indicator of skill, and DVOA currently has no way of differentiating between dropped passes, overthrows, throwaways (which are often credited to the RB) and bad plays. He's not a bad receiver. Like I said elsewhere, this is more an indicator that Alexander (for whatever reason) is not a particularly large part of the passing attack as a receiver, which means basically the same as if he were a bad receiver; either way it is doubtful that Seattle will be able to take advantage of a significant weakness of the Steelers D.

by DGL (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 9:18pm

#39: I think the point is that both DPAR and DVOA are based on the same NFL gamebook that the catch % is based on, and if that's reporting throwaways as attempts to Alexander (that may have been at his feet or otherwise uncatchable), it'll pull down his DPAR and DVOA as well as his catch %. And with only 28 passes his way, only 3 or 4 cases like this would be sufficient to skew the numbers.

by Kal (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 9:19pm

#40: They went into a passing D, but that's not the same as a prevent. If they had gone into prevent Polamalu wouldn't have been covering shallow in the secondary and wouldn't have been able to make a 10 yard interception.

I understand what you're saying though, and it makes some sense, but again - 96 yard drives are not 'shutting down' a team.

by Jake Brake (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 9:25pm

One thing that was missing from the analysis on Seattle's cornerbacks was the context in which they gave up plays. (Granted, this would require a lot more number-crunching and in-depth analysis, but it's an important point.)

Anyone who has watched the Hawks play this year knows they use a "bend but don't break" scheme, where they are willing to give up underneath passes and chunks of yardage in between the 20s while placing a premium on preventing the big play. Once their opponents get inside the 20, however, their coverage performance increases substantially, as evidenced by their excellent red-zone defense numbers.

As a result, the numbers you used for the analysis miss a lot of the story here. Seattle's coverage is better than the numbers would indicate. That's not to say they're outstanding, but they are better than they are usually given credit for. Pittsburgh's DBs are better at shutting down the pass at all points on the field, but the gap is not as pronounced as it appears in this analysis.

by putnamp (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 9:28pm

#36, the Seahawks won't be playing jetlagged, as someone else mentioned. That'll help, at least :)

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 9:43pm

Yep, one should never forget the importance of sample size, and making conclusions on a reciever based upon 28 passes is about as useful as doing so with a baseball player based upon 28 at-bats.

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 10:06pm

Well, it at least says that Alexander doesn't have a lot of experience catching the ball this year, which is also important. Two years ago, he had 59 passes come his way, and this year he has 28. If nothing else, it's definitely true that Alexander and Hasselbeck haven't had a lot of game time experience with their pass timing.

by srd (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 10:20pm

What happenned to the Steelers D during that Detroit game?

They held Detroit to a 3 and out that El returned for a TD. After that, they thought they had the game won and relaxed too much. It took a while for them to get back into the game once they were out of it.

by Kal (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 10:28pm

But at that point it was 28-21, right? How did the Lions get 21 points on the Steeler D? I know one was a 64 yard pass to an RB. Just seems like an odd game against a fairly poor offense that somehow managed to do better than Indy did, at least from a points perspective.

by Jed (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 10:31pm

The PIT/DET game was just a bad performance by PIT, similar to the close SEA/SF game. If PIT/DET played a second game, I'm guessing it would be a little closer to the SEA/SF game.

by Vince (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 10:44pm

One Seattle radio personality has theorized that since Manuel took over for Hamlin at safety, the secondary has become more organized and playing better team defense. Does anyone know Seattle's pass defense DVOA before and after Hamlin's injury? (Off the top of my head, I don't know what week that was.)

by Vash (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 10:48pm

#28: But isn't this, to some extent, a "jet lag" game as well?

Seattle's "jet lag" games were (obviously) on the road, against Jacksonville, Washington, Philadelphia (Koy Detmer version), and Tennessee (Green Bay game not counted due to SEA using Seneca Wallace). Slightly below average.
Their non-jet lag games were against SF(x2), ARI(x2), STL(x2), ATL, HOU, DAL, NYG, IND (Joe Sorgi version), WAS, and CAR.
Jet-lag games opponent win% not including games vs. Seattle: .500
Game results: 2-2, 101PF-70PA (.500, 1.44:1)
Other games opponent win%: .487
Game results: 13-0, 388PF-202PA (1.000, 1.92:1)

Interesting. But that still doesn't answer the question... is a game in Detroit on a week of rest a jet lag game or not?

by srd (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 11:17pm

That was how the game began. 7-0 Steelers after that point. The Lions had 14 points before the Steelers started taking them seriously and they only scored one TD after halftime if I remember correctly.

by Paul (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 11:18pm

Has there ever been a study to determine if "bend but don't break" exists? are there defensive coordinators who consistently give up a higher ratio of yards to points? And what is the opposite of BDDB? Are there teams that get a lot of 3&outs, but also give up a lot of big plays? I demand answers!

by Fnor (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 11:54pm

#54: PFP 2005, I believe, had a thing about how bend but don't break was a myth created by substandard defences being propped up by good offences giving them a long field.

Anyway, please, stop the snark. We could pick individual games of any team in the league and talk about how they fell apart and how it means DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM! It doesn't. Stick with season-long and weighted stats, especially when you've got a horse in the race.

by Jake Brake (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 12:17am

#54 & 55: OK, if you prefer, you can call Seattle's scheme "keep it in front of you" instead of "bend but don't break." I would tend to agree that many defenses that are described this way are actually poor defenses masked by good field position, but it could be argued that opponent red zone % against is the true barometer of a successful defense. Remember, the ultimate goal of defense is limiting the number of points the opponent scores, not the number of yards they gain.

Nobody is claiming Seattle's secondary is top notch, and they certainly have their weak spots. But they have been remarkably effective when it really counts, i.e. keeping the opponent out of the end zone - even when forced to defend a short field multiple times in a game.

Another interesting point this brings up is the time of possession battle. Obviously, a team would prefer to completely shut down the opponent's offense, but if they instead give up a lot of yards but hold the offense to a field goal, it burns a lot of clock for minimal gain. This has been an advantage at times for Seattle this season. It's not really relevant and certainly not a planned manuever, but I couldn't help noticing this trend.

by Israel (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 5:49am

Vash (52) - It seems to me that if you are going to allow Seattle a discount for jet-lag games, then you have to allow their opponents a discount when they (the opponents) are jet-lagged. DAL, NYG, WAS, CAR, HOU, ATL - culled from your list.

Life may be tough for Seattle, but it is equally tough for their eastern opponents.

by FinFanUK (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 11:06am

#52: Is a game in Detroit on a week of rest a jet lag game or not?
No, I don't think so. I've often heard it said in the context of preparing for sporting events in different time zones that for each hour time difference you should allow one day of acclimatisation. Therefore a week in Detroit from Seattle is more than enough to adjust.

by Björn (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 4:24pm

#39 is so stupid he should be shot.

RE: Alexander's receiving.

Unfortunately, there are quite a few runningbacks with low numbers of passes. But Alexander is still one of the two runningbacks (with 25 or more passes) with a reception % less than 60. The other guy is Kyle Johnson of Denver who is something of an outlier because of his 5 touchdown passes.

Anyways, back to Alexander. If you want to skip this block of text, I will put this stuff into a "chart" at the end. In 2004, he only caught 61% of passes that went his way, and his sample size was slightly larger. His DVOA was -3.2% despite his 4 touchdowns. In 2003, his catch % was quite a bit better at 71%, but his DVOA was still unimpressive at 1.6%. 2002, his DVOA was negative again, at -1.3%, but his catch rate rose to 75.6%. In 2001 his catch rate was similar at 74.6%. His DVOA rose to 9.8%. The numbers for 2000 are pretty much useless since he was only targeted for 11 passes, but they are comically terrible since he only caught 5 of them.

I apologize in advance for this chart being unreadable.

Year ~ DVOA ~ Catch% ~ # of Passes

2005 ~ -20.5 ~ 54 ~ 28
2004 ~ -3.2 ~ 61 ~ 38
2003 ~ 1.6 ~ 71 ~ 59
2002 ~ -1.3 ~ 76 ~ 78
2001 ~ 9.8% ~ 75 ~ 59
2000 ~ -50.4 ~ 46 ~ 11

What these stats tell me is that in 5 years as the starter, Alexander has 1 good season catching the football, and that was his first season as the starter. It also tells me that there is a good reason for his sample size being so small this year.

On another note, can any Seattle fans tell me why no other teams took a chance on Ricky (Running) Watters after Seattle went with Alexander?

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 4:37pm

but it could be argued that opponent red zone % against is the true barometer of a successful defense. Remember, the ultimate goal of defense is limiting the number of points the opponent scores, not the number of yards they gain.

Yes, but if the only reason that they're a high percentage defense in the red zone is because their opponents are typically working on a long field due to offensive success, then they aren't a good defense. If the offense would (uncharacteristically) fumble and give the opponent a short field, they give up points.

It, in fact, is not that bad to call a defense "average", you know. A team with a great offense and good special teams can cover for an average defense any day of the week.

by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 5:20pm

On "Bend But Don't Break" or "Keep It In Front of You" or whatever you want to call it:

That's not a defensive strategy of choice if you have strong personnel. It's a strategy you use to work around the LACK of strong personnel. Now, it could be a great coaching strategy to hide a weakness, but make no mistake, you're hiding a weakness. The Pats did it effectively last year, hiding their secondary enough to win (their 2004 pass D was only 11th in DVOA, although overall D was 6th), but I can tell you that weakness made THIS Pats fan plenty nervous all last year, despite their phenonenal record. I think what the salary-cap/free-agent environment has done is ensure that no single team can be overwhelmingly strong everywhere. So in some sense, the team that copes best with weakness wins.

I don't know enough to argue about the relative strength or weakness of Seattle specifically, so I'll leave that to others. But in terms of actually measuring the strength of a defense, setting aside how a team copes with its strengths and weaknesses, I agree with the FO approach that the best measure of the strength of a defense is it's play-by-play ability to stop the other team, not simply the best red-zone success percentage.

by Jake Brake (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 5:46pm

#61, good points and as a Seattle fan I have to admit that I am perpetually nervous about Seattle's secondary. But they've demonstrated the ability to make enough plays when it counts, i.e. late in the game and in the red zone. And agreed, a better overall barometer of the defense's strength is their play-by-play ability/success.

However, and this is where watching the team all season is especially useful, Seattle's pass D falls a little bit outside the numbers for two primary reasons:

1) Much of the red-zone success can't be explained away by long drives from the opposing offense. I'm going on memory not statistics, but I saw a lot of drives that used a small number of plays to march quickly down the field (no matter how long - or short), but did not end up in the end zone. From what I've seen, their red zone success has been consistent and not predicated by long drives.

2) Seattle's run defense is excellent and opponents were frequently playing from significantly behind, meaning the secondary faced a higher number of passing attempts. The result is very similar to the "gaining 5 yards on 3rd-and-6" analogy used here; if you're behind by 14 and drive down the field with several successful passing plays but end up with only a field goal, it's not doing you much good.

All I'm saying is that Seattle's secondary isn't quite as bad as they look on paper. Re: #60, "average" is the best way to describe them, and coupled with the potent offense and strong front-7 play, it's good enough to get the job done. Their biggest weakness continues to be 3rd down, though, and with Big Ben's astounding success rate in that area lately, it might get interesting.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 6:31pm

I agree with the FO approach that the best measure of the strength of a defense is it’s play-by-play ability to stop the other team, not simply the best red-zone success percentage.

Especially because one bad play, and the opposing offense avoids the red zone entirely on the way to the end zone.

by Vince (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 7:58pm

On another note, can any Seattle fans tell me why no other teams took a chance on Ricky (Running) Watters after Seattle went with Alexander?

I seem to recall hearing that Watters was sick of flying and just done with football, and would only have come back if some team had offered him a ridiculous amount of money. (I mean, more ridiculous than the standard NFL contract.)

by Björn (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 8:49pm

That's very interesting about Watters. He had one of the better Chris Berman nicknames.

by jeff t (not verified) :: Sat, 02/04/2006 - 1:39am

Here is a question for you DVOA experts: How well does a team's overall defensive DVOA correlate with it's DVOA in the redzone? I would guess there is a fairly high correlation. If so, why the disparity in overall D vs. redzone D for the Seahawks? Is there an on field reason (ie. relatively average DBs covering less field)? Or could it be a sample size issue like a .250 hitter hitting .350 in the clutch? Is the Seahawks mediocre D DVOA a better predictor of future performance in the redzone than actual performance in the redzone? Just curious what the experts think.

by Kal (not verified) :: Sat, 02/04/2006 - 5:47pm

I am not an expert, but here are some things to consider:

Red Zone D is heavily weighted towards run defense. (conversely, Red Zone O is weighted towards run offense). If you are good against the run you will have a better RZD.

RZD often emphasizes the ability of good linebackers and safeties over good cornerbacks. Which is more of a strength for Seattle.

Seattle is known for playing off and not allowing big plays, which is not necessary in RZD.

by Sid (not verified) :: Sun, 02/05/2006 - 12:28am

About the 3 WR sets:

By doing that, the Seahawks are playing to the strength of the Pitt CBs, though. You did say that McFadden seems to be the best, and that Townsend is actually better at playing the slot WR. I know that the Steelers weakest point is against non-1/2 WRs, but it still seems to play to the strength of the Pitt secondary...

by Kal (not verified) :: Sun, 02/05/2006 - 12:44am

How do you figure that? The strength of the Steeler's secondary isn't their 3rd and 4th corners - it's their safety and to a lesser extent their linebackers. Removing a linebacker in favor of a 3rd CB seems like playing to the weakness of the Steelers.

by DGL (not verified) :: Sun, 02/05/2006 - 1:00am

#69: Often in the nickel, the Steelers don't remove a LB, they slide Kimo in to DT and have Porter and Haggans play hybrid DE/LB positions.

I don't think they're automatically going to go to the nickel just because Seattle comes out three wide, though. I think they're going to play the situation more -- especially since Seattle is very balanced run/pass on first and second down (with 3 or more to go), run-heavy on second/third and 2 or less to go, and pass-heavy on third and 3 or more. (See Kirwan's charting of the Hawks' playoff games.)

That implies that, unless Seattle plays away from this tendency, Pittsburgh should be staying in their base defense on first and second down (3 or more to go) regardless of whether Seattle comes out two-wide or three-wide, and only go to the nickel on third and 3 or more.

by Kal (not verified) :: Sun, 02/05/2006 - 3:25am

Well, okay, but again I ask - how does playing 3 WRs play into the Steeler's strengths? I still don't understand that notion - especially playing into the Steeler's strengths at CB. If they have any weak parts, their CBs are it. That's not saying a lot, mind you, but I do think they don't have as strong CBs as they do linebackers, linemen or safeties.

by Sid (not verified) :: Sun, 02/05/2006 - 3:30am

RE: 30

i would imagine that it is similar to the second SEA-SF game. i didn’t see it but if i recall correctly SF almost pulled off the upset. which is closer than detriot got.

The difference is that Pittsburgh was playing a dome team (and a bad road team) at home. Seattle, a great home team and mediocre road team, was playing against a very good home team in their stadium.

by Vince (not verified) :: Sun, 02/05/2006 - 5:43am

That Kirwan article DGL posted is good, good stuff. Highly recommended. Too bad he didn't do one for Pitt as well.

by Kal (not verified) :: Sun, 02/05/2006 - 5:54am

It was the first SEA-SF game. The second one was a really scarily one-sided affair in Seattle.

Another difference - at the time, Seattle was pretty much unchallenged for NFC dominance when they played. Pittsburgh needed to beat Detroit to get into the playoffs. It's just such an odd outlier, especially given how bad Detroit played at times.

by DGL (not verified) :: Sun, 02/05/2006 - 4:30pm

Vince: He did. I think it would have been more interesting if he'd broken it down by quarter or half -- the aggregate numbers come out run-heavy on 1-10, but I think there was a big difference by half.