Grading the Seattle Seahawks' Positional Units at the First Quarter Mark
The first quarter of the 2013 regular season for the Seattle Seahawks is now in the books. That means it is time to look over the first four games and try to figure which parts of the team are most responsible for the team's 4-0 record.
With the exception of one rough half against Houston, the Seahawks defense has been statistically dominant. Even with that one bad half included in the stats, the Seattle defense is still among the best in the league in almost every statistical category.
The offense is a different story. It has been inconsistent and has struggled to move the ball at times. Yet despite the struggles, fans might be surprised to find out that the Seahawks currently rank 12th in the league in total offense and are fifth in the league in scoring. Those are good numbers for a team that is supposedly struggling.
It should also be noted that the Seahawks have played teams that are currently ranked first, second and fifth in total defense. While that's not an excuse for some of the offensive struggles the Seahawks have had, it is important to acknowledge that as being part of the context that these performances have happened within.
- A's are reserved for individual players who dominated the opposition.
- B's are for players who played well but didn't dominate.
- C grades are given to players who struggled for most of the game.
- D's are for players who truly struggled and were occasionally dominated by the opposition.
- F grades are rare and reserved only for players who were completely dominated by the other team on almost every play.
- + and - modifiers to bridge the gaps inside those definitions.
Russell Wilson's statistical numbers so far don't jump off the page as being dominant. He's completing 61.4 percent of his passes. He also has six touchdowns and three interceptions. Those numbers are decent but hardly great.
He has also been sacked 13 times and has faced pressure more often than all but one quarterback in the league. (Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles)
Wilson has also added 131 yards on the ground. While the Seahawks still run the read-option on occasion, the bulk of those yards have come on scrambles and not on designed run plays.
Overall, Wilson has been a steadying force for an up-and-down offense. He hasn't been perfect, but he has still played well for the Seahawks. As the play of the offensive line improves over the next few weeks, Wilson will likely begin to dominate like he did a year ago.
Position Grade: B+
The Seahawks remain a run-first team, with 139 rushing attempts to just 104 passing attempts on the season. So Marshawn Lynch is still the key cog in Seattle's offensive machine.
Lynch has seen an overall drop in his production this season. He's down to just 3.9 yards per carry after averaging 5.0 yards per carry a year ago. Most of that has to do with the blocking though, as Lynch is still averaging 2.2 yards after contact per rushing attempt this season.
Robert Turbin, Christine Michael and Spencer Ware have each received a few carries so far this season, but it has been Lynch who has seen the lion's share of the touches at running back for the Seahawks.
Position Grade: B+
It is difficult to judge Seattle's wide receivers statistically given the lack of passing attempts. The Seahawks receivers have just one dropped pass total thus far in the season, but there have also been plenty of times when Wilson has simply had no one open to throw the ball to.
The all-22 tape shows that the receivers often struggle to get open and are often facing double teams due to the lack of players running routes compared to the number in coverage. The Seahawks are being forced to keep extra blockers in on almost every pass play, creating situations where opposing teams have seven in coverage against just three Seahawks who are running routes.
Ultimately, Doug Baldwin has made a number of highlight-reel catches but is getting far too little playing time. The rest of the receivers haven't been particularly efficient, but it remains to be seen if that will still be the case when defenses are forced to cover more than two or three players on passing plays.
Position Grade: B-
Zach Miller has been a steady contributor for the Seahawks offense. He has had very few opportunities as a pass-catcher but has still managed to collect eight receptions and two touchdowns.
Miller's true impact has come as a blocker. His +1.0 performance rating for pass-blocking is the best on the team, even better than any of the offensive linemen.
Rookie Luke Willson has had an up-and-down first four games of his career. Overall he's been decent, with positive ratings in pass protection and as a receiver, but the Seahawks need him to be more consistent if Willson is going to see an increase in his playing time.
Kellen Davis was brought in to be a blocker, has struggled with penalties and hasn't been particularly effective as a run-blocker either. His -3.3 performance rating as a run-blocker makes it difficult to figure out how he's managed to hold on to his roster spot this long.
Position Grade: B-
There aren't a lot of ways to judge an offensive line statistically that is independent of QB or RB play, but it doesn't take statistics to know that Seattle's offensive line is struggling this season. The blocking for the Seahawks has been the team's only true weakness so far this season.
Wilson has been under pressure on a higher percent of his passes than all but one current starter in the NFL. Wilson has also been sacked 13 times on the season, which is more than three sacks per game on average.
Sports Illustrated's new pressure metric rates Seattle's offensive line as the second worst in the NFL, just ahead of Philadelphia. The Seahawks are also the only team whose run-blocking and pass-blocking are both in the bottom five in the league in Pro Football Focus (subscription required) performance ratings.
Injuries have certainly contributed to the problems. Only right guard J.R. Sweezy has started every game for the Seahawks, but blaming the blocking struggles on injuries is ignoring the bigger problem.
Every single starter on Seattle's offensive line has a negative overall performance rating. In fact, the only Seattle offensive linemen who have positive ratings are backups Alvin Bailey and Lemuel Jeanpierre.
Position Grade: D
Michael Bennett leads all NFL defensive ends in pass rush proficiency according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). That means that while he generates pressure on the QB at a higher rate than any other player.
Chris Clemons is third on that list, and Cliff Avril is 13th. That means that the Seahawks have three of the top 13 pass rushing defensive ends in the NFL based on their productivity so far this year. That's impressive.
The only Seattle defensive end who has played a significant number of snaps who's not on that list is Red Bryant, and Bryant has been among the best defensive ends in the NFL at stopping the run. He ranks 5th in the league among defensive ends at stopping the run.
Position Grade: A
Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane might be having his best season as a pro, and that's difficult to do considering all of his good play in previous seasons. His +11.1 overall performance rating fourth among all defensive tackles, and his +10.3 rating against the run is second in the league.
Halfway through the SEA-HOU tape…JJ Watt is a freak show and Brandon Mebane is one of the most underrated players in the NFL— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) October 1, 2013
It is tough to believe that the Seahawks cut Clinton McDonald at the end of the preseason, and he was a free agent until Seattle re-signed him late in Week 2. Since rejoining the team, McDonald has been very productive as an inside pass-rusher, collecting 2.5 sacks in three games.
The only other defensive tackle to get much in the way of playing time for the Seahawks has been Tony McDaniel. McDaniel has been inconsistent for the Seahawks with two positive ratings and two negative ratings in the team's first four games.
Overall the Seahawks have gotten good play out of their defense tackles, and that should continue once rookie Jordan Hill returns from his biceps injury.
Position Grade: A-
The Seattle linebackers haven't been as good this season as they were in 2012. K.J. Wright is adapting to playing on the other side of the formation, and the results haven't been what the Seahawks have hoped for. He is currently at -2.9 in run defense, and just +0.3 overall for his performance ratings, which is not what the Seahawks are used to seeing out of Wright.
Bobby Wagner has played well overall but has struggled at times in pass coverage. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he's given up 11 receptions out of 15 targets. That includes 120 yards and 54 yards after the catch. Opposing teams have been targeting Wagner in the passing game and with good success thus far.
Malcolm Smith has played reasonably well against the run but has struggled against the pass. Despite limited playing time when defending the pass due to the fact that he comes off the field in the nickel, Smith has given up six receptions on six targets for 77 yards and a touchdown. Opposing QBs have a perfect 158.3 passer rating when throwing to the player that Smith is covering.
The Seahawks will be getting Bruce Irvin back from his suspension this week, which should allow the Seahawks more flexibility in how they use their linebackers.
Position Grade: B
The Seahawks have the game's best cornerback in Richard Sherman. The 2012 first-team All-Pro was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for September, per Pro Football Talk's Josh Alper. He's already compiled two interceptions, and opposing QBs have managed a measly 38.7 passer rating when throwing to the receiver Sherman is covering.
Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond have split time opposite of Sherman. Both have played very well, though neither has a pick or a flashy number of passes defended. Overall though, both have been very solid for the Seahawks.
Position Grade: A
The Seahawks have arguably the best tandem of safeties in the entire NFL, and both of them have been playing very well this season. The Seahawks have to be pleased with the play of their Pro Bowl safeties.
Earl Thomas has already racked up two interceptions and two forced fumbles to go along with his 21 tackles. Kam Chancellor has added two interceptions and 21 tackles of his own.
Position Grade: A
The Seahawks once again have one of the best special teams unit in the NFL. The +26.6 rating is the second best in the league, just behind Denver.
Steven Hauschka has been perfect so far on the year, making all eight of his field goals and all 11 of his extra-point attempts. He's also been good on his kickoffs this year, with 18 out of 24 kickoffs ending in touchbacks.
Punter Jon Ryan has been equally impressive. Ryan is averaging an impressive 40.9 net yards per punt, including eight punts downed inside the 20-yard line.
Golden Tate and Seattle's 12.5 yards per punt return average is the best in the NFL for those who haven't taken a punt return back for a touchdown. Considering that Tate has yet to have a big return, that average is extremely impressive. Almost every time Tate gets his hands on a punt, he puts together a good return.
If there has been one weakness for Seattle's special teams units, it has been kick returns. The Seahawks' tandem of Jermaine Kearse and Jeremy Lane are averaging just 20.7 yards per return, which is 25th in the NFL.
Position Grade: A-