Steelers Opponent Preview: the Seattle Seahawks
Well, folks, it’s 3:42 on Friday afternoon, and unlike my usual practice I haven’t written anything but the title for this preview. I would like to say it’s because I’m full of turkey, but actually it is because I’m full of indolence.
So before we get going with the actual fact-finding portion of this post I’m going to attach the following exceedingly lovely tweet from the last Steelers game we watched. Doesn’t it seem like about a million years ago since then? It was tweeted by the punter of the Indianapolis Colts as he enjoyed (apparently) his bye week. Or maybe he thought he was working…
And without further ado, here they are, ladies and gentlemen, the Seattle Seahawks!
It’s interesting how “everybody” knows stuff. At least by Week 12, there is a certain amount of validity to the narratives they didn’t possess in mid-September. But there are still some contradictions, depending on who you ask.
The narrative about the Seahawks, who were a disappointment early in the season to their faithful fans, is as follows:
- They are a far better team than their 5-5 record would suggest.
- We don’t know if they are better than their record because they haven’t beaten very good teams.
- Their defense struggled early on but are starting to regain their Legion of Boom form.
- The defense has never gotten it together entirely since Kam Chancellor held out early in the season.
- Russell Wilson is a great quarterback.
- Russell Wilson hasn’t had his best season so far.
- This is not because he is bad but because his offensive line is appalling.
- No one disputes the offensive line part. They have given up an amazingly large number of sacks.
- But wait, Marshawn Lynch is going to miss several weeks.
- Marshawn Who? Mini-Beast Mode (RB Thomas Rawls) will do just fine.
- And depending on who you ask, Richard Sherman is or is not the best corner in the NFL.
Did I get everything? I’m sure there are a few stray storylines I missed among the tinsel, but this ought to be good for going on with.
The nice thing about most of this is, it is quantifiable, at least to a certain extent. And clearly knowing which side of the argument looks more feasible is of great interest to Steeler fans.
I think we can take it as read that Mike Tomlin has spent the past week and a half accentuating every virtue and ignoring every [non-exploitable] flaw in the 2015 Seahawks as he prepares his guys. But we can be a bit more neutral.
So the first two points seems like a good place to start.
Here’s a list of their games and each opponent’s current record. Just for kicks I will add the information as to the outcome if the Steelers played the same team. The figure for win % is cumulative, so for example the Week 2 opponent win % is the average of the (current) win percentage of the Rams and the Panthers. The one win % figure for Steelers opponents is for all opponents this season, averaged out.
Let’s take a look at these numbers. The Steelers and the Seahawks have had four common opponents. Two of them are clearly weak (the Rams and the 49ers) and two of them are strong (the Cardinals and the Bengals.)
The Steelers and Seahawks both lost to arguably the strongest of the four, the Bengals, at least at the point at which they played them. (Whether the Bengals are on a slide or a temporary lull remains to be seen.) Admittedly the Seahawks were on the road, the Steelers at home. The other strong opponent, the Cardinals, was beaten by the Steelers but not the Seahawks. Both teams were playing them at home.
As for the weak opponents, the Steelers beat both of them, the Seahawks lost to both. Both Seahawks losses were on the road—the Steelers wins were at home (49ers) and the road (Rams.) There is an additional interesting fillip—the Seahawks beat the 49ers at home their second time around, the 49ers being a division opponent. It was a decisive win. The Steelers blew the 49ers out at home.
Certainly the overall strength of the Seahawks opponents has been higher, at least as gauged by the overall winning percentage, but the Seahawks have not beaten a single one of their opponents who currently have a winning record. They have, however, only lost once to a team with a losing record. The Steelers have a more checkered history—they have beaten the Cardinals but lost to both the Chiefs and the Ravens.
But as we all know there is yet another aspect to this. The Seahawks have been playing with essentially all starting personnel for the vast majority of the season. The Steelers have not. The Steelers beat the Rams even when Ben went down during the third quarter. They beat the Cardinals without him at all. Furthermore, their Week 2 win over the 49ers was with Ben but without Le’Veon Bell.
I thought it would be interesting to compare the injury status of the two teams at a couple of points in the season. ESPN wrote about this on October 21st and determined the Steelers were one of the most-injured teams in the league (No. 3.) The Seahawks were tied at No. 32,
The story was updated on November 13th, by which time the Steelers had vaulted to No. 1. (It was only a top-five ranking.)
I found a site which ranks teams and places them on a continuum. (They rank all sports, not just football, although separate them for each chart obviously.) It is called “Man Games Lost.—How Injured is Your Team?” They not only tot up how many games were lost to injury but use the rating system on Pro Football Reference to attempt to determine the relative weight of the loss. Obviously, to take the Steelers, the team would rather not do without anyone who is contributing, but if you had to choose whether Terence Garvin, say, or Le’Veon Bell went on IR, I don’t think there would be any question that Bell would be (was) the far more serious loss.
Here is the chart, which goes through Week 10. A blue ballon means the team qualifies at the moment for a playoff spot. Red means they don’t. The farther to the right, the more “man games” lost. The higher up the balloon is, the more crushing the losses.
Here is part of their explanation:
…three of the least injured teams (STL, TEN, MIA) don’t hold a playoff spot, while three of the most injured teams in the league (NYG, PIT, NWE) sit in a playoff position. Below are the Week 11 games missed numbers and IIT metrics (Injury Impact to Team) as of all games played up to November 25, 2015. In addition to my team data (Table 1) I provide individual player data (Table 2).
What Do The Numbers Say?
Although the Washington Redskins (115), New York Giants (114), and New England Patriots (113) lead the league in number of games lost to injury it is actually the Pittsburgh Steelers who have a strong case that they are most impacted by injuries. The Steelers sit 8th in games lost to injury with 99, but they are tops in the league in IIT-avtotal with 1.538. They are impacted most in the league since their players that are injured, particularly in the Passer category (IIT-avpasser) and Defense category (IIT-avdefense) have greater Approximate Value ratings from Pro-Football-Reference.com.
As you can see, Seattle has moved up a bit since the heady days of being the healthiest team in the league. But what makes it difficult to really determine how all those numbers I gave you above pertain to tomorrow’s game is this—we think, with Ben back and healthy and a few weeks for Alejandro Villanueva to settle into the left tackle slot, there’s a good chance the offense will play quite well, despite the challenges of playing in Seattle. The Seahawks have been improving, apparently, but with no obvious reason other than they are getting it together.
On to our next set of contentions. Was the defense bad but is now good, bad at first but still bad, or something in-between? There isn’t any doubt that at this point we aren’t seeing a truly dominating defense like the team has had for the past several years. Just to see if there was some sort of measuring stick, I checked Football Outsiders. The Seahawks are currently ranked (as of Wednesday) as the No. 8 defense in the league. (FO ranks them as 9th against the pass and 10th against the run.)
For purposes of comparison, the Steelers are ranked at No. 14—No. 16 against the pass, No. 6 against the run.
The earlier DVOA rankings for the year, which are much less detailed, give one the opportunity to look for change. For Week 2 the Steelers were ranked No. 24 in total defense, and the Seahawks were ranked No. 28. So while both teams have improved, the Seahawks have come farther and ascended higher. However, this still doesn’t look quite like one of their Super Bowl defenses. Fortunately. Let’s hope they don’t look like that tomorrow, either.
How about Russell Wilson? Once again, using DVOA for quarterbacks Wilson is ranked No. 17, with a DYAR of 261. Despite DYAR being, as far as I can tell, cumulative, Ben Roethlisberger’s ranking is No. 7, with a DYAR of 573.
- Roethlisberger has a cumulative QBR for the season of 73.5 and a cumulative NFL Passer Rating of 97.0.
- Wilson’s stats: QBR: 60.7: NFL Passer Rating: 96.7. Make of that what you like.
Looking at Wilson’s week-by-week stats, his best game this season was last week—QBR: 94.0, NFL PR: 138.5. (They were playing the 49ers in Seattle.) His worst: QBR: 14.1: NFLPR: 67.2. That was the previous week, playing the Cardinals in Arizona. So it’s difficult to make a narrative out of that.
So is it the offensive line? Are they truly offensive in the classic sense of the word?
Well, according to Football Outsiders, they are No. 3 in the league at the moment in run blocking. The catch is, they are No. 32 in pass protection. This is perhaps why, despite being a decisive and mobile quarterback, Wilson has been sacked 35 times. Compare this to the Steelers. No one is currently holding them up as a standard of pass protection (although considering the varied quarterbacks for which they have been pass blocking perhaps there is some excuse.) They are currently ranked No. 6 in run blocking and No. 21 in pass protection. They have allowed 23 sacks, which, taking into account the substantial lack of mobility with which Ben Roethlisberger has played a couple of games, could be way worse.
In terms of offensive line injuries, Seattle has lost exactly no one. (A few of them are banged up this week.) PIT has, of course, lost their center and their left tackle, a situation Offensive Line Coach Mike Munchak said was unprecedented in his experience.
So it’s hard to imagine why the Seattle line isn’t pass protecting better by this point in the season. Perhaps some of you can add some enlightening information in the comments. Tunch Ilkin merely said they were really bad…
Finally, let’s finish up with the RB controversy. I’m sure the Seahawks would like to have Marshawn Lynch healthy and playing, but if you watch any film on Thomas Rawls you can’t imagine they could possibly miss him, especially with the line blocking really well. It’s clear a key to the game tomorrow is going to be to stop the run (either Rawls or Wilson himself,) because the Seahawks like to split the play-calling just about exactly 50-50, which should warm the cockles of the heart of some of you three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust guys. Although with Rawls it’s a six-yard average, partly because he’s too young and inexperienced to know you will hold up better if you don’t deliberately run into anyone you see before you (or even next to you.) So I hope the defense has put their big-boy pants on. I think we all know what “big-boy pants” are…
The Richard Sherman part? I think both he and Antonio Brown are champing at the bit to find out which one of them is better. Given his size, though, the Seahawks might be better served to put him on Martavis. We’ll see.
And speaking of receivers, here’s a comparison. Doug Baldwin is their highest-ranked receiver by FO at No. 13 in the league, with a DYAR of 180. Antonio Brown is No. 1, with a DYAR of 310, and the next closest is Larry Fitzgerald, at No. 2, 271. None of Seattle’s other wideouts have sufficient snaps to be ranked. (For that matter, neither are any of the other PIT receivers.) In the next strata down (8-43 passes) Jermaine Kearse has a DYAR of 87, Martavis Bryant 81. (This would rank them around 29 on the main list, or right below Amari Cooper.)
As far as tight ends go, Seattle has Jimmie Graham, who is apparently not being terribly well utilized in the scheme. (I guess that’s another of the narratives.) He certainly isn’t producing like he did in New Orleans, and there are (unconfirmed) rumors he wants to be traded. I’m guessing if the team looks like they will make the playoffs after all, these rumors will dry up. FO ranks him as No. 9 in the league, with a DYAR of 99. We love our tight ends, but they are more old school. However, Heath Miller can have a big day when the DBs jam up the outside of the field. He is ranked at No. 13, with a DYAR of 43.
And just for thoroughness I checked out the two defensive lines, as I understood Seattle has a pretty fierce one. To my surprise Pittsburgh is actually ranked higher—No. 15, with Seattle at No. 18. PIT has actually moved up to No. 12 in pass protection, but Seattle has them beat at No. 6. Interestingly the Steelers have more sacks—28 as opposed to 25 for Seattle.
That’s all I’ve got, except the injury report. The Steelers, thanks to the Bye week, are remarkably healthy if you discount all the guys on IR. Here’s what it looks like:
- Questionable— Ryan Shazier and Matt Spaeth
- Probable: Brandon Boykin, Terence Garvin, James Harrison, Shamarko Thomas
For the Seahawks:
- Out—Marshawn Lynch, WR Paul Richardson
- Doubtful—LB Bruce Irvin
- Questionable—C Patrick Lewis
- Probable—WR Doug Baldwin, DE Michael Bennett, T Garry Gilliam, RB Thomas Rawls, G J. R. Sweezy
It should be an exciting game. I’m hoping for a peaceful one, but this seems completely improbable. So put on two chin-straps, lay in a supply of Tums, and get ready to cheer the Cardiac Kids to victory. Or at least to an honorable loss with no major injuries. Somebody get Daniel McCullers ramped up, and let’s go Steelers!