Conference Championship Quick Reads

Conference Championship Quick Reads
Conference Championship Quick Reads
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Vince Verhei

So here we are, with just one game left in the season. At this point, an extended essay on individual statistics from this Sunday's games seems a little silly. Anyone reading this watched the championship games, they don't need me to tell them that Peyton Manning was a star (again) or that Colin Kaepernick had a fourth-quarter meltdown.

Instead, let's take a look back at the 2013 season, and specifically the individuals who put up the best numbers against this year's Super Bowl clubs. Is there a common theme tying those players together, and how might that effect what happens in the Meadowlands? Today, we'll look at the matchups Russell Wilson and Seahawks will face against the Denver defense. Next week, in a special off-week Quick Reads, we'll look at the Super Bowl's main event: the league's best passer against the league's top defense.

The best game by any quarterback against Denver this year was, by far, Tony Romo in Week 5, when the Cowboys quarterback went 25-of-35 for 506 yards with five touchdowns and one interception. By DYAR, that was one of the four best performances by a quarterback this year, but it was only the second-best in that game. (If you haven't noticed, Peyton Manning was really good in 2013.) Among Broncos opponents, the next best game was by Tom Brady in Week 12, followed by Philip Rivers in Week 15, and then Terrelle Pryor in Week 17. That last game merits some kind of asterisk, because virtually all of Pryor's production came after the Raiders fell behind 34-0 in the fourth quarter. On the other hand, it's legitimized somewhat because Pryor also played well (for Pryor, anyway) against the Broncos in Week 3.

Each of these four games was driven by a strong performance in the red zone. As a group, the four passers went 14-of-23 for 121 yards, 11 touchdowns, and two other first downs inside the Denver 20, with two sacks and no interceptions. That's a rate of one touchdown every 2.1 red-zone plays, compared to a league average rate of one touchdown every 4.5 plays. Wilson, though, had his problems in the red zone this year, finishing with a DVOA of -1.9%. Most of those problems have come from pressure. In 61 red-zone plays, he had 18 touchdowns, but he was also sacked 10 times, fumbling twice, and managed to lose 21 yards on an intentional grounding penalty in Week 1 against Carolina.

Romo and company also had a lot of success on deep balls. Counting DPIs as completed passes, the foursome went 12-of-27 for 430 yards on passes that traveled more than 15 yards downfield. That's a success rate of just 44.4 percent, but at 15.9 yards per play, who needs efficiency? For consistent production, though, the deep pass wasn't the most effective weapon against Denver. This quartet found steady success on not-quite-deep passes that traveled 11 to 15 yards past the line of scrimmage, going 22-of-37 for 252 yards. With one failed completion, that's a success rate of 56.0 percent and 10.1 yards per pass, much better than what the group averaged on passes shorter than that (57.4 percent success rate, but only a 6.4-yard average).

All of this is bad news for Denver, because throwing long is what Russell Wilson does best. On not-quite-deep passes, he went 23-of-42 for 426 yards. And on deep balls, he went a remarkable 48-of-97 for 1,442 yards. That's a 13.4-yard average on 11-plus-yard throws, more than 4 yards better than the average quarterback (9.4). Only Manning, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, and Matthew Stafford gained more yards than Wilson on deep passes this year, and they averaged 629 pass attempts each. Wilson only had 407 throws this year.

Wilson's feet, though, are nearly as dangerous as his arm. He finished third among quarterbacks in rushing yards in 2013, and second in DYAR. Can he have that kind of success against Denver? As it turns out, the Broncos played a lot of running quarterbacks this year, including Michael Vick, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin, plus two games each against Pryor and Alex Smith. Counting that pair of double-headers, they played nine quarterbacks who finished in the top 10 for rushing DYAR (including both Michael Vick and Nick Foles when the Broncos played the Eagles). Across the board, the passing stats for the running QBs against Denver were a little worse than their brethren who stayed in the pocket. Completion rate dipped from 60.5 percent to 55.4 percent, yards per pass fell from 7.4 to 6.7. The running quarterbacks, though, threw only four interceptions in 276 passes, a much lower rate than that of the pocket passers (13 picks in 334 throws). It seems that when quarterbacks leave the pocket, Broncos defenders tend to hesitate, and that moment's hesitation stops them from jumping routes that they would otherwise disrupt. That has been SOP for Wilson this year: break away from pressure, buy some time, and find the man downfield for the big play. If he can hit some home runs against the Broncos, that could be enough to decide the game. But if Denver can limit the damage on those big plays and force Wilson to execute in the red zone, it would go a long way to swing things back in the Broncos' favor.

The three running backs with the best rushing days against Denver were Tennessee's Shonn Greene, San Diego's Ryan Mathews, and Kansas City's Jamaal Charles. More intriguing than the who, though, is the when. Those three games came back-to-back-to-back in Weeks 13, 14, and 15. While that seems to indicate a late-season slide, no runner has come close to that success against the Broncos since -— unless you count Shane Vereen. The Patriots running back had only four carries against Denver on Sunday, and thus he does not qualify for our tables. However, those four carries all gained at least 5 yards, including a conversion on third-and-5, and three runs of at least 9 yards on first or second down with 10 yards to go. That's 28 DYAR in a very small sample size, but it shows that there are still plays to be made against the Denver front seven. Which is good news for Marshawn Lynch.

Not surprisingly, the list of best receiving games against Denver is dominated by guys who played with Tony Romo. Terrance Williams is number one, and Dez Bryant and Jason Witten both make the top five, which also includes Julian Edelman and Justin Blackmon. It's a little interesting that Williams, Edelman, and Blackmon, the top three, are all on the smallish side at 208 pounds or less. Seattle's wideouts aren't very big (Jermaine Kearse is the heaviest at 209 pounds), but that shouldn't be an issue in the Super Bowl.

Quarterbacks
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
1.
Peyton Manning DEN
32/43
400
2
0
235
235
0
Denver's shortest drive gained 37 yards, which would have been above-average for 30 offenses this year, and their average drive topped 60 yards. So it's no surprise that Manning was at his best on his own half of the field, where he went 16-of-19 for 250 yards with 12 first downs.
2.
Tom Brady NE
24/38
277
1
0
107
92
15
Brady was also better on his own side of the field, though in his case it's more about how he struggled after crossing midfield. On Denver's side of the 50, he went 10-of-17 for 101 yars with one touchdown, five other first downs, and two sacks.
3.
Russell Wilson SEA
17/25
215
1
0
12
27
-15
Going back to our theme from the start of this essay, on throws that traveled more than 10 yards downfield, Wilson went 3-of-6 for 108 yards. That's half his yardage on the day on three completions. Meanwhile, inside the red zone, he went 1-of-3 for 9 yards with no first downs and one sack. The fourth-down goal-line fumble that was recovered by San Francisco was also technically charged to Wilson.
4.
Colin Kaepernick SF
14/24
153
1
2
-12
-49
38
The Seahawks only allowed two completions on eight deep middle passes on the regular season. Kaepernick threw two deep middle passes against Seattle, completing both, for a 22-yard gain and a 26-yard touchdown. Otherwise, though he had some ugly splits. Red-zone passing: two passes, a 2-yard gain on second-and-8 and an interception you may have heard about. First-down passing: 2-of-8 for 33 yards with two first downs, one sack-fumble, and two interceptions, one of which you may have heard about. Passing to his right: 2-of-6 for 17 yards with one first down and an interception you may have heard about. He had -110 passing YAR, before opponent adjustments, so a lot of that has to do with the Seattle defense. Now, let's talk about why an 11-carry, 130-yard day scores at just 38 rushing DYAR. He had four first downs on gains of 12, 17, 22, and 58 yards. Each of those carries was worth 7 to 20 DYAR. He had two other successful carries: an 8-yard gain on second-and-11 and a 6-yard gain on second-and-7. Those were were worth 6 DYAR, total. He had four carries that lost DYAR, two failed third-down runs, a 4-yard gain on first-and-10, and a 2-yard loss on second-and-10. They combined for -13 DYAR.
Five most valuable running backs
Rk
Player
Team
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
1.
Marshawn Lynch SEA
109
1
0
0
16
16
0
Lynch's big run was a 40-yard touchdown, and he also had an 11-yard gain on first-and-10 and three other first downs. Meanwhile, he was stuffed for no gain or a loss only two times in 22 carries. The Seahawks didn't throw him a single pass.
2.
Montee Ball DEN
43
0
13
0
-1
2
-4
That's right, in two games, only one running back who qualified for our tables finished above replacement level. Three of Ball's nine runs failed to gain yards, and none gained more than 9 yards, but he did convert on third-and-1, third-and-3, and fourth-and-2. Also caught three out of four passes, including a 12-yard gain on second-and-8.
3.
Frank Gore SF
14
0
17
0
-2
-16
14
Five of 11 carries lost yardage, and none gained 10 yards or a first down. Also the target on two throws, an incompletion on third-and-16, and a 17-yard gain on fourth-and-2.
4.
Stevan Ridley NE
17
0
0
0
-2
-2
0
No targets, and only five carries: Gains of zero, 5, and 8 yards on first and 10, plus a 5-yard gain on second-and-10 and a 1-yard loss on second-and-2. There were only two games, folks, this is what we got.
5.
Knowshon Moreno DEN
59
0
22
0
-4
-11
8
On the ground, he had runs of 28 and 11 yards, but those were his only first downs on the day. Two of his 14 carries lost yards, and ten of them gained 3 yards or less. He also had two targets and two completions, an 18-yard gain on second-and-4 and a 4-yard gain on third-and-5.
Least valuable running back
Rk
Player
Team
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
1.
LeGarrette Blount NE
6
0
0
0
-14
-14
0
No targets, and only five carries: Gains of 3, 2, and zero yards on first-and-10, plus a zero-yard gain on second-and-5 and a 1-yard gain on second-and-4. There were only two games, folks, this is what we got.
Five most valuable wide receivers and tight ends
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
1.
Demaryius Thomas DEN
7
10
134
19.1
1
49
Thomas had a 3-yard touchdown and a 4-yard gain on second-and-7. Each of his other catches gained a first down and at least 15 yards, four of them gaining at least 26 yards.
2.
Doug Baldwin SEA
6
7
106
17.7
0
48
Baldwin's only incompletion came on his last target. He had conversions on third-and-7 (a 22-yard gain) and third-and-8. He had two other first downs, including a 51-yarder. His two catches that failed to gain first downs were a 7-yard gain on first-and-10 and a 4-yard gain on second-and-5.
3.
Eric Decker DEN
5
8
73
14.6
0
22
Each of Decker's completions gained a first down, including gains of 18, 19, and 21 yards.
4.
Jacob Tamme DEN
2
2
24
12.0
1
18
A 1-yard touchdown and a 23-yard gain on second-and-7. There were only two games, folks, this is what we got.
5.
Austin Collie NE
4
6
57
14.2
0
17
Each of Collie's receptions gained at least 7 yards and a first down, including two third-down conversions.
Least valuable wide receiver or tight end
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
1.
Jermaine Kearse SEA
2
5
44
22.0
1
-16
Three incompletions, then a 35-yard touchdown on fourth-and-7, then a 9-yard gain and fumble on third-and-goal from the 10. Anyone with common sense could see on replay that San Francisco's NaVorro Bowman had managed to recover the fumble despite tearing knee ligaments, but the referees ruled that Seattle had kept possession. In DYAR, though, it doesn't matter. All fumbles, whether recovered or lost, count the same.

Comments

124 comments, Last at 28 Jan 2014, 2:01am

1 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

Wait. You're saying Shane Vereen was the most productive running back of the weekend, but you excluded him because he was the most productive despite the additional handicap of having just four carries? But you include Ridley with five carries?

WTF? It's a cumulative stat. The minimum number of runs should be 1.

30 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

The real reason we have a limit on number of plays is for ranking guys who have negative DYAR. If we included everyone, then a running back with a couple of fumbles might rank 100th in a given week, including all the 1-carry, 4-yard guys. We want to weed those guys of little consequence out.

99 percent of the time it's not an issue. In Week 11, though, Antone Smith of the Atlanta Falcons had two carries. One was a 50-yard touchdown; the other was a 38-yard gain on second-and-10. That's 45 DYAR, which would have made him the most valuable runner of the week if we didn't have a carry limit. Should we have included him, even though he was such a small part of the Atlanta offense?

I can see both sides of the issue. But really, I just get the tables, and then add commentary.

(Side note: Outside that Week 11 game, Smith had three carries on the year. They gained 8, 11, and 38 yards. HIS MEDIAN CARRY GAINED 38 YARDS. Why the hell didn't he get more runs? Were there better options in the Atlanta offense?)

84 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

"One was a 50-yard touchdown; the other was a 38-yard gain on second-and-10. That's 45 DYAR, which would have made him the most valuable runner of the week if we didn't have a carry limit. Should we have included him, even though he was such a small part of the Atlanta offense? "

This is a philosophical question I suppose;
Should "small part of _unit_" be defined on a % of plays, or a % of yards etc basis?
Because 88 yards and 1 TD (~20% of their offensive yards, and 33% of their TDs)
seems to deserve more than "small" in a contributory sense, even if statistically the sampling size is small.

--------------------------------------
The standard is the standard!

86 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

While I understand how the decision to exclude players from DYAR lists might have come about, it's a wrong decision. DYAR is supposed to answer the question "who had more total production?".

If a RB carries the ball twice for two TDs and 90 yards, and leaves with an injury, he needs to be on the list. Same goes for the guy who fumbles on his first two carries and gets benched.

Yes, that means the region around 0 DYAR is filled one-carry guys. That's actually fine. 0 DYAR means their presence didn't matter much. Benching them for a replacement would not have changed the team much, unless the replacement wasn't replacement level.

10 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

The ruling on the field was a fumble, recovered by the Seahawks. The refs did not see that Bowman had complete control of the ball on the ground before the pile developed. Ironically, if the ruling had been that Kearse was down before the ball came out, that would have been reviewable.

Double-ironically (this is where things start to circle back around to not being ironic again) San Francisco benefited from the call, as the next play was a fumble that they recovered on the fourteen, a substantial improvement in field position. Although if they had gotten the ball on the one they might not have called the pass play that led to Kaepernick's first interception, so maybe it wasn't so lucky after all.

12 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

I'm assuming you're talking about the controversial Jermaine Kearse fumble. Kearse did, in fact, fumble. The only dispute is who recovered (well, anyone who watched the game and has functioning eyes knows who recovered). DYAR counts all fumbles the same, since recovering it or not is basically luck.

4 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

Does DYAR care that the incompletions directed at Kearse were (if memory serves) all bombs way down the field?

As a fan it wounds me deeply to see the big play miss by inches but I would think it should be penalized less harshly than missing on an easier pass.

5 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

"The fourth-down goal-line fumble that was recovered by San Francisco was also technically charged to Wilson."

As it should, because the handoff was poor. But I like to assign him 100 IDYAR (Intangible DYAR) for accidentally (or perhaps intentionally !?!) preserving the integrity of the game, or whatever is left of it.

8 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

DYAR once again overrates garbage time. They had Pryor rated really high for playing well down 34 vs backups in garbage time. DYAR overrates Brady's garbage time success. And Vereen being rated really high proves it. Vereen only got end of half and garbage time carries. He should be penalized for eating up valuable clock time.

26 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

Brady's late success only becomes garbage time after the fact, when it is known that the running attempt for two fails, and the onside kick fails. It isn't as easy as many suppose to weight such success to a lesser degree, without failing to penalize a defense enough for allowing a touchdown, which will sometimes result in blowing a lead.

32 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

I'd argue that "garbage time" (by my definition at least) did not happen during the AFC championship game. To me, garbage time is when it is almost literally impossible for a team to come back, and since the Pats were driving the ball with several minutes left in a two-score game I don't think it ever hit that point. Like Will said, if the two-point conversion is successful and the onside kick works, the Pats are right back in it.

64 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

Though part of the reason it stayed two scores was Vereen getting stuffed on the two-point conversion. It's not counted as a carry, so while it is true that all of his official carries went for 5 yards or more, his most important one did not even make it two yards.

56 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

I don't know if the contributor's on this site consider win probability, as some other advanced stats sites use, but Advanced NFL Stats has it that Denver's win probability was never below 85 percent in the second half vs. SD, and it was never below 96 percent vs. NE (even when Brady scored his second TD). So yes, by that metric, I'd say both SD and the Pats scored all of their points in garbage time.

79 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

So Denver had a 96% chance of winning at the beginning of the third quarter, against a team that had already come back from a larger halftime deficit to beat them? That seems wrong.

Even if you assume the percentage is correct, though, I don't see how you could call the entire second half garbage time given what the score was at the half.

103 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

Rather than get hung up on "garbage time", the question is whether the success owes something to the score, etc. late in the game. Very clearly the answer is yes. The Broncos made significant changes in their defense because they enjoyed a big lead. From my perspective, they were very foolish to do so. But there can be no argument that they were content to give up completions underneath in exchange for time off the clock.

121 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

Yes, this is a long-standing complaint of DEN fans... our DEF sucks at protecting leads, but that largely appears to be a scheme issue.

We get up by 2+ scores in the 4thQ, and Del Rio/Fox suddenly start playing deep zone defenses rather than the press-man coverage that the personnel seemingly are better suited for, and that typically got them the lead in the first place.

Note, DEN also tends to switch to zone when one of the top DBs gets injured midgame (see games where Harris/DRC went out with injuries)... I guess in theory to protect the benchwarmers.... but even they are better suited to press-man.

11 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

38 DYAR on 11 carries sounds pretty impressive to me. He only had 65 DYAR on 14 carries last year in a far more impressive effort in the Packers game. Though I don't think I've heard about this interception you keep going on about.

13 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

So, let me get this straight, this week's pregame highlight was to discuss how bad the Broncos were on defense (before the last six games) and what the Seahawks can exploit. Does that mean that next week's article will be how average the Seahawks defense has been the last six games and what the Broncos can exploit?

I was expecting some more objective stance that at least broke down the worst games for Seattle and Denver and then provided some overlay that showed where each team may take advantage.

(Disclaimer - I am a Bronco fan)

FO is getting more biased by the week. I used to like coming here because I thought there was statistical objectivity. I think I'll start staying over at PFF a little longer.

16 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

"before the last six games"

Weeks 14, 15 and 17 for Denver are not part of the last six game?

"Does that mean that next week's article will be how average the Seahawks defense has been the last six games and what the Broncos can exploit?"

If it's about the various weakness the Seahawks defense has shown this season (I still have no clue why you keep bringing up the last six games) and what the Broncos can exploit, will you be back to admit you're wrong?

19 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

The horror! There's now ONE article on the Internet talking about Seattle's offense versus Denver's defense. What terrible bias.

Of course, it doesn't even mention the most salient fact[1], which is that Percy Harvin will be playing, he's been a huge difference-maker in his limited snaps this season, and Denver has no answer for him. Putting Denver's best corner on him is irrelevant because he lines up anywhere, Denver's best corner is probably not equally good inside and outside, Harvin will take hand-offs, get fly sweeps, screens with blocking in front of him, return kicks, and tilt safeties away from Seattle's other play-makers. This has all happened this year. Keenan Lewis is a better corner than anyone Denver has and had no effect on Harvin against the Saints.

[1] Not that it should have or needed to--a conclusive and comprehensive break down was not its point--but since you're complaining about even discussing points favoring Seattle's offense versus Denver's defense in general...

60 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

...It feels so weird to be logged in after being a casual visitor for what, seven years now? But it feels a lot nicer than the whole "ten times in a row the spam filter says you got the CAPTCHA wrong" thing.

That aside, yeah, Harvin is a talented player and having him on the field obviously makes Seattle's offense better than not having him on the field (Kearse, clutch TD catch aside, seems like he's dropping the ball or having an INT targeted to him every time I saw his name mentioned in the regular season; when the best part of a WR's game is his blocking, there is a problem). But not only has he missed massive time from three separate injuries, there's nothing to suggest from his career that he's some kind of transformative talent that utterly changes the game. Like I said before the Saints game, he's basically an upgraded Doug Baldwin. That's not a bad thing (I've liked Baldwin best out of Seattle's WRs for the last three years), but unless Denver's defensive coordinator goes into "We can't let Harvin beat us!!!" panic mode, I just can't see him being the difference in the game.

(Honestly, probably the biggest question will be, how much contact will the officials allow Seattle's secondary to get away with? Given their sheer talent, that edge could be enough to give Peyton his worst game of the year. Otherwise, the not-Thomas-and-Sherman portions of the secondary could have trouble keeping up with the sheer number of quality options Denver can throw out there.

73 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

The problem is, his entire season consists of, what, four quarters in two separate games? Small Sample Size Theater at work there. He has talent, obviously, but there's a big difference between "game-changing potential" and "superstar," and Harvin is a classic case of a guy where hype > performance. Having escaped from the horrors of the Childress/Frazier Minnesota QB years, he might have the opportunity to balance those things out in Seattle. On the other hand, at the rate he's going, the doctors might tell him "quit football now or risk serious brain damage the next time you're hit" by halftime.

76 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

"...It feels so weird to be logged in after being a casual visitor for what, seven years now? But it feels a lot nicer than the whole "ten times in a row the spam filter says you got the CAPTCHA wrong" thing."

I'm with ya man...I've been a casual visitor for 4 years and finally got my lazy butt registered. I'm liking the highlighted posts...it's a lot easier figuring out which ones are the new ones. :-)

25 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

"FO is getting more biased by the week. I used to like coming here because I thought there was statistical objectivity. I think I'll start staying over at PFF a little longer."

I'd say fans complaining about "bias" are getting more whiny by the week.

Note to FO. Feel free to make "bias" and "biased" words that get picked up by the spam filter.

27 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

this week's pregame highlight was to discuss how bad the Broncos were on defense (before the last six games) and what the Seahawks can exploit.

If by "pregame highlight" you mean the essay that introduced this column, then no. It's about the players who had the most success against Denver, whenever they might have played. The best game against Denver was by Tony Romo, in the first week of October.

Does that mean that next week's article will be how average the Seahawks defense has been the last six games and what the Broncos can exploit?

Close. It will look at the biggest games by offensive players against the Seattle defense, whenever they might have been. (I haven't run the numbers yet, but I bet there will be a surprising number of Houston Texans on the list.) But yes, the other side of the coin is coming.

105 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

Thanks for your response. TO you as the author, I should mention that my comments about going to PFF relate more to what I perceive as a negative bias toward DEN over the past few weeks. SD was supposed to do this, NE was supposed to do that, and now it's the SB and there are still holes. I'm starting to get the impression that, if DEN wins the SB, the articles the next day will be about their deficiencies heading into next season.

It's good to know that you are going to attempt to treat both defenses equally. My issue is this feeling of invincibility of the Seattle defense. I agree that they are very good, maybe even great, but Seattle lost three games like the Broncos. The defense did save them from even more losses, but they aren't impenetrable. On the flip side, the Broncos defense has been torched a couple of times in the passing attack (Seattle's weakest link), but they have shown an improved pass rush and overall pass defense and they have essentially the same run defense as Seattle across the season.

I was asked about my focus on the last six games. A rudimentary look at the last quarter of season and the playoffs shows that the DEN defense has given up 1665 yds versus the SEA defense giving up 1681. While not all yards are created equal, DEN faced a stronger contingent of offenses than SEA over that span. I'm interested in an analysis of those games.

On the flip side, for all of Seattle's ability to exploit the Broncos defense, they have the worst adjusted sack rate in the league, the worst power success rate in the league, and a woeful open field rank. How exactly do you expect Russell Wilson to exploit the pass defense if he is gets sacked (or worse, has a sack-fumble like in the NFC championship game)? For instance SF got to Russell Wilson and they rank lower than DEN in adjusted sack rate. In the running game, SF d-line in not in the same league as DEN. They do ran higher in second level and open field.

At the end of the day, highlighting a units negative moments seems like a weak analysis, especially since you track variability. A highly variable squad will have some glaring deficiencies, but will also have some strong highpoints. With that said, and given Seattle's variance, I don't think you will have an issue finding deficient performances for Seattle, even amongst the outstanding play.

I look forward to next week's article.

106 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

"My issue is this feeling of invincibility of the Seattle defense."

All this site has said is that it's a historic defense, not an invincible one. Plus, even historic defenses better than Seattle's have lost games. The 2002 Buccaneers lost more games than Seattle, for instance.

"A rudimentary look at the last quarter of season and the playoffs shows that the DEN defense has given up 1665 yds versus the SEA defense giving up 1681."

That is certainly rudimentary. Denver's defense faced only 59 non-kneeldown drives compared to Seattle's 72, which means that Denver gave up 28.3 yards per drive compared to 23.4. More importantly, Seattle forced 16 turnovers to Denver's 5.

"How exactly do you expect Russell Wilson to exploit the pass defense if he is gets sacked"

How exactly do you expect Russell Wilson to have the 8th-best QB DVOA if he gets sacked so often? Or for Lynch to be so successful despite getting stuffed so often? None of those line stats are adjusted for opponents, so it certainly doesn't help that they twice faced Arizona and St. Louis, who are 2nd and 4th in opponent power success rate, as well as Indianapolis and Houston, who are 5th and 6th.

"but they have shown an improved pass rush"

It's interesting in your criticism of Seattle's regular season running stats that you didn't mention that Lynch has also shown an improved running game.

114 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

Perundle - Thanks for your perspective. I appreciate your argument for the SEA defense. My point is that taking the poorest performance and saying that may be remotely representative of the current state of the unit is not accurate. I made the comparison to highlight that point. Thanks for taking it a step further.

I also see your point about Wilson. I'm a fan of his. As the article points out, he is very successful on deep balls. However, those pass patterns take time to develop. Let's see if he has time. Also, asking Wilson (#9 DYAR, #8 DVOA, #13 QBR) to win the game will be a tall task. After all the DEN did just contain the Rivers (#2 DYAR, #3 DVOA, #3 QBR) and Brady (#6 DYAR, #11 DVOA, and #11 QBR).

116 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

Re your last point, I have been saying that for a few days, yet it doesn't seem to get through to anyone. Some people seem to feel that Seattle's offense is better than that of the Patriots or the Chargers. Although they have played one great game this season vs a quality opponent, and no one knows what effect Harvin will have. So they have that going for them.

115 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

That's my point. More bias towards one team leads to less objectivity regarding that team, or that team's opponent, which then affects the analysis. If the goal is objectivity, it probably doesn't make a lot of sense to have a Seahawks homer writing analyses about the Seahawks or the Broncos. Of course, there are some writers who can remain objective regardless of their biases, but that is extremely hard for most people to do. I agree though, that it is preferable to know where the writer stands.

108 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

Look, at the end of the Chargers game, the Broncos, due to injury, put a db on the field who has about as much business playing in a NFL playoff contest as the random college player. Nobody knew if Bailey would be able to go the next week, and if the Broncos had been forced to give Jammer substantial playing time again, the contest would have likely played out very differently. As it was, Jammer had exactly zero snaps, so the Broncos defense did not suffer. It was entirely reasonable, however, to think that Jammer might get substantial playing time, with consequent effect.

A key matchup in this contest are the Broncos receivers against the Seawhawks secondary. The Broncos receivers have not displayed above-average ball skills. Don't you think that is worth examination?

113 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

I think this is the other key contest (absent another db injury, or the Seattle offense getting a lot of short fields, I don't Seattle is going to score a lot of points); will Manning get hurried or moved off his spot? If he does, I don't think Denver's receivers catch the ball well enough, when contested, for Denver's offense to be efficient, and that will bring turnovers into play. I also think Denver's offensive line has actually improved towards the end of the season, but that Seattle's front has a quickness advantage that may be decisive. Normally, the answer to that is to play sluggo until the quick people are less enamored of being quick, but Seattle does a much, much, better job than most defenses of keeping a safety in run support, without sacrificing much in pass defense.

If I had the offensive line of the '91 Skins or '92 Cowboys, or even the '98 Broncos, I'd play 60 minutes of hammerball, and win the game 31-14. Nobody builds offensive lines like that anymore, however, so while I don't think Seattle's defense is historically great (a term I have pretty high standards for), it may well be plenty good enough for this year.

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Regarding, Denver's defense, I would also like to point out that they have a higher weighted DVOA then SF.

I wish some people would stop trying to defend Seattle's offense. They are good only in that they don't turn the ball over, but that's about it. Most of the time they are spluttering around and actually look pretty terrible. It's amazing to me how many times I've seen Russell Wilson get lucky on those long bombs to Tate or Kearse which are really quite fluky. The only game that made me second guess my assessment, was that MNF game versus New Orleans. That performance has since proven to be a fluke as well, and Russell Wilson has continued to be a game manager. As to their defense, they played a lot of below average offenses during the year and I think that helps inflate their rankings, despite opponent adjustments; however, they are still a great defense.

124 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

"It's amazing to me how many times I've seen Russell Wilson get lucky on those long bombs to Tate or Kearse which are really quite fluky."

How many years of Wilson completing those deep bombs will it take to make you reconsider your "fluky" stance? It's astonishing that defenders can't take advantage of it considering he's been doing it for at least three years now. It'd be like me saying "It's amazing to me how many times I've seen Peyton Manning get lucky on those wounded ducks to Thomas or Decker which are really quite fluky."

"As to their defense, they played a lot of below average offenses during the year"

Ah, so Seattle's defensive SOS is important, but not their offensive SOS? They've played 10 top-10 pass defenses in their 18 games.

"Regarding, Denver's defense, I would also like to point out that they have a higher weighted DVOA then SF.

I wish some people would stop trying to defend Seattle's offense."

Seattle's weighted offense is 9th, but I see that DVOA is only considered when it makes Denver look good. If it makes Seattle look good, then it's not worth defending.

"The only game that made me second guess my assessment, was that MNF game versus New Orleans."

So the 320 yards on nearly 10 yards per attempt against Carolina or the 3 TDs against Arizona (both on the road, and both against top-5 pass defenses) didn't make you second-guess your assessment?

14 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

Does looking at the four best games against a team really tell us all that much, on its own? For example, the beginning portion of the article includes this bit:

"Each of these four games was driven by a strong performance in the red zone. As a group, the four passers went 14-of-23 for 121 yards, 11 touchdowns, and two other first downs inside the Denver 20, with two sacks and no interceptions. That's a rate of one touchdown every 2.1 red-zone plays, compared to a league average rate of one touchdown every 4.5 plays."

But how did the other twelve QBs play in the red zone against the Broncos? Did their defense consistently shut down QBs there, or are the good performances more of the norm? Just looking at the best games doesn't really tell us anything about how Seattle will do or even what they're most likely to do well.

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"All of this is bad news for Denver, because throwing long is what Russell Wilson does best."

My two cents says that throwing on the run (or at least from a non-traditional planted position in the pocket) is what he does best. Last week he underthrew more than a few balls. Was that on him mentally, his arm, or the pass rush, I cannot say, but to me he looked fairly weak throwing downfield. Maybe I am remembering distances wrong.

24 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

By last week do you mean the last game? He threw an accurate pass to Kearse for the touchdown, threw a slightly underthrown but still accurate pass to Baldwin, missed long on another throw to Kearse, completed an underthrown pass on the run to Baldwin that was nearly intercepted, made an accurate pass to Willson that got knocked out by two defenders, and delivered a fairly accurate if slightly inside bomb to Kearse that also got knocked out by two defenders. So that's five out of six deep balls that his receiver got two hands on, with only one of them being noticably underthrown.

37 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

How much of that is due to him unable to trust his protection? I just went through his highlight video at Wisconsin (where he had good protection), and I count 27 passes he made in the pocket and 11 outside of it, which suggests that he would be fine throwing passes in the pocket if he could.

40 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

Prior to the New Orleans game in December, I would have written it off as "protection issues" and/or no pocket to throw from. And truth be told, they're still not doing him a lot of favors. I'd also say that in some cases, his receivers simply aren't able to get open--they're not substandard by any means, but they're all playing up a level from where they should be on the depth chart due to injury. This leads to Wilson holding onto the ball longer than he should from time to time. Plus Seattle has played a murderer's row of defenses since that NO game.

There are a lot of contributing factors, but overall I'm not seeing the same accuracy and decisiveness from Wilson that I saw earlier in the year. I've seen several plays from him where the receiver was open by NFL standards, but he doesn't pull the trigger and ends up running around before getting sacked or posting a minimal gain. I've also seen a greater number of uncharacteristic misses by Wilson since early December. He showed flashes of his former self in the NFCC game, esp. the 35-yard dime to Kearse in the end zone, so I know it's still there. It may simply be selective memory, since the NO game was his last "good" game. This offense has been good enough to win every game but one since then, but it feels very much like the passing offense, with this QB and receivers along with Marshawn Lynch to keep the defense honest against the run, should be able to deliver more value to the overall effort than they have to this point.

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The defenses he's faced in that span are pretty impressive. SF twice. NO twice. Arizona. St.Louis has had Seattle's olines number for a couple of years now.

Our oline is ranked 32nd in pass pro per this website.

Is it any wonder he's making some uncharacteristic misses? Yet, at the end of the game he has a 104 QB rating. Why? He held the ball, sure, but he didn't pull a Luck or a Kaepernick. He didn't throw the ball to the other team. And he made some big plays.

It may not look sexy, but big plays, no turnovers. That there is Wilson's Toxic Differential :)

51 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

I agree with Coltrane; he's simply not making the decision to throw like he was. He's also not running with the authority he was earlier in the year. This has so far not been particularly detrimental, but the comparison between how he performed vs. NO the first time and the second is pretty telling.

68 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

But the way the Saints played him in those two games is completely different as well. In the first game they focused all their energies on stopping Lynch, as if to prevent the trauma of Beast Mode again, forgetting that it wasn't so much Lynch that beat them in the playoff game as much as Hasselbeck. Also, the offensive line did considerably worse in the second game as well. That 8-man blitz that Wilson torched in the first game would not have gotten picked up in the second.

85 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

I'm sure that he's had to make several throws under duress due to a combination of good pass rush/bad protection. My point is that he was under duress earlier in the year as well, but he was making quicker decisions and throwing more accurately from the pocket or on the move. I used to lick my chops at seeing him flushed out of the pocket to his right, or scrambling off of play-action, because I knew a big completion or at least a first-down scramble was coming. Or so my memory tells me. The monthly splits for DYAR seem to indicate he had a pretty rough go of it in December as well, and that's a defense-adjusted stat. This has been fine so far, because this defense hasn't faced a world-class offense outside of NO.

I still think Wilson is a good QB, and I still think they have a respectable WR corps even without Harvin. I also think they've been sand-bagging on offense since that first New Orleans game because they know that if the Seahawks offense gets to 20 points they win, and sometimes they don't even need that many points. But I suspect that settling for 20 points in the Super Bowl will lead to a Denver win, so I question whether this offense is capable of producing more points after hanging back for so long.

21 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

"he fourth-down goal-line fumble that was recovered by San Francisco was also technically charged to Wilson."
Botched exchanges SHOULD be charged to the QB since it's his responsibility to make a proper exchange.
The carrier has his eyes downfield - he can not do anything other than holding his arms in the right way.
This is something that is taught at the first practice of every player involved in a handoff.

45 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

Wondering if any defense can see a larger QB mobility transition than when it goes from facing Brady to facing Wilson.

Well, I guess some of the other young QBs are roughly as mobile as Wilson.

47 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

Well, yes. Seattle just went from facing Kaepernick to facing Manning. At least Brady is mobile enough to rush for a touchdown. Manning has -31 yards rushing this year on 32 attempts, which is the worst total for a QB in at least 13 years (I know around 30 are kneeldowns, but none of the other non-mobile QBs on great teams have simply not rushed like Manning this year). The Seahawks used two spies at times on Kaepernick, which is three too many for Manning. That'll free up their remaining 12 players to deal with Denver's formidable receivers.

57 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

Manning's season rushing total is the lowest for a QB of all time (ignoring QBs of the 1940's, who have sacks mixed into their rushing total). He hasn't scrambled from a dropback once this season, and his only intentional non-kneeldown was the 4th-and-goal bootleg against the Cowboys. I doubt there's been another QB since late-career Dan Marino about whom you could say something similar.

70 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

The Seahawks used two spies at times on Kaepernick, which is three too many for Manning. That'll free up their remaining 12 players to deal with Denver's formidable receivers.

I wonder if any defense would dare rushing 0 at Manning, and double covering EVERY RECEIVER. The remaining two can either play safety, or try to block off passing lanes.

71 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

OK...so now that I've had some time for that to sink in...

The Broncos receivers had a total DYAR of 89 and the 49'ers recs had a total DYAR of 4...what does that portend for the SB (remembering that it's "D" YAR)?

91 Re: Conference Championship Quick Reads

As a Seahawks fan, Peyton Manning + Denver's top 3 WR and TE on a neutral field concerns me a lot more than Colin Kaepernick + SF's top 3 WR and TE in Seattle. Unlike SF and NO in the playoffs, I do not expect Manning & Co. to get shut down in either half of the game. I'd love to be wrong about that.