Seattle Seahawks 2019: Need Some Russell Magic

Seattle Seahawks 2019: Need Some Russell Magic
Seattle Seahawks 2019: Need Some Russell Magic

Seattle Seahawks 2018 Stats Review:

Record: 10-6

Pythagorean Wins: 10.1

ATS: 10-5-1; average line -0.8

Over/Under: 9-7; average total 46.0

Close Games Record: 5-6

Turnover Differential: 0.9

Adjusted Games Lost (injuries): 65.7 (10th)

Offense: 9th in EPA per play (0.102);  5.77 yards per play

Defense:  11th in EPA per play (+0.006);  6.0 yards per play

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Process Over Results

Elite quarterbacks can win you a lot of games. That’s what I underrated last season. The Seattle Seahawks played EXACTLY as I thought they would – a run-first approach which puts the quarterback under constant duress. But Russell Wilson cleaned house on third downs which saved Seattle’s season. Running the ball on early downs is generally minus expected value (-EV), and Brian Schottenheimer and Pete Carroll made an art out of it. On first down, Schotty called the most runs (64%) in the league, the second-most (54%) on second down. As a result, the Hawks faced the second-most third downs (200), even though it’s a smarter idea to avoid third down entirely. In first halves, the Hawks had the highest rush rate on early downs. The only reason they didn’t get killed with that strategy was the genius of Russell Wilson.

Against the Cowboys, the Hawks averaged 2.9 yards per run but called 36 runs on early downs. Against Carolina, they had 2.7 yards and called 28 runs. Wilson saved them with 9.7 yards per pass. Their playoff game plan was mind-blowing. I had a bet on the Cowboys, and the biggest reason was that Schottenheimer would desperately attempt to run against a top-notch run defense. You could telegraph their game plan from Canada. Wilson crushed the Dallas defense through the air, but Schottenheimer handcuffed his elite quarterback in a playoff game – like he did all season.

It’s questionable whether Schotty and Pete are going to go the same route, especially without Doug Baldwin. On the season, the Seahawks matched their Pythagorean win expectation of 10.1, had neutral luck in close games (5-6) and a positive turnover differential of 0.9. They also benefited from a surprising defense that I didn’t expect at all. In the wake of defensive regression, they need to keep their offensive level and let Russell Wilson throw the ball early and often. They were excellent at play-action last year. They better use that more without establishing the run.

Is it DK Metcalf SZN yet?

The Seahawks offensive line is going to return four starters and added Mike Iupati at left guard who is a much better run-blocker than he is a pass-blocker, which fits the Hawks philosophy. In my opinion, the offensive line is not a real issue going into 2019. Under offensive line coach Mike Solari, the unit took a step forward, and that’s enough for a quarterback like Russell Wilson to move the chains. Pro Football Focus has this unit ranked 23rd going into the season, which seems fair. Guys like DJ Fluker, Mike Iupati, and Germain Ifedi will deal with problems in pass-blocking often, which is another argument for Schottenheimer to call quicker and play-action passes on early downs. Schottenheimer has mentioned that they are going to feed running back Chris Carson through the or way more than last year. If that replaces some runs, it’s a smart idea.

Seattle Seahawks Offensive Depth Chart Projection
Seattle Seahawks Offensive Depth Chart Projection

With Doug Baldwin’s retirement, the Seahawks lost one of the most-nuanced route runners in the league. And he had a special connection with Russell Wilson. Since 2009, among 459 receivers with at least 100 catches, Doug Baldwin ranks 6th in EPA per target (0.49). Fortunately for Seattle, they still have the guy who ranks third on that list and first among wide receivers – Tyler Lockett. The latter is going to be the featured receiver and the number one option for Wilson.

Rookie DK Metcalf is a big-bodied speedster who took care for a lot of highlights in practice camp. It’s hard to predict rookie seasons, but if he can create separation on go-routes and slants, he has the perfect quarterback to excel. Chris Carson is an underrated running back who can do some damage in the passing game, too. Nick Vannett and Will Dissly are primary threats in the play-action game. Overall, this offense should suffer from the Baldwin loss, but they have the potential to not miss a beat, depending on the development and the field-stretching ability by Metcalf. And by Schottenheimer’s play-calling.

Where is the Pass Rush?

Pete Carroll is one of the best defensive coaches out there, but can he create an above-average unit with the current roster? I ultimately agreed with the move to trade Frank Clark away, but their contemporary edge rushers are Ziggy Ansah coming off an injury, rookie LJ Collier and Cassius Marsh. Collier missed significant camp time with a sprained ankle. Their best interior rusher, Jarran Reed, won’t see the field until week seven due to suspension. DT Earl Mitchell doesn’t move the needle much, Poona Ford is a primary run-defender. I don’t know how this group is going to create pressure out of four-person rushes.

As bad as the defensive line looks on paper, as excellent is the linebacking corps which is hands down the best in the league. Bobby Wagner is the best linebacker in my opinion, whereas KJ Wright isn’t far away and Mychal Kendricks is an excellent third option. Besides, last year’s rookie Shaqueem Griffin is a versatile player who can cover some ground and rush the passer.

Seattle Seahawks Defensive Depth Chart Projection
Seattle Seahawks Defensive Depth Chart Projection

I struggled to put together the secondary depth chart at slot corner and some backup positions. They lost nickel corner Justin Coleman towards Detroit, and it looks like it’s Akeem King’s job to lose. But according to reports, Deshawn Shead and rookie Ugochukwu Amadi are also in the mix. King was a seventh-round pick in 2015 and didn’t play significant snaps before last year. He didn’t grade out well by PFF. The safety-tandem is questionable at best, while cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers ranked 116th and 103rd in PFF’s coverage grade, out of 131.

This secondary is highly questionable and should be considered as a bottom-five unit. The pass rush is weak on paper but also deals with injuries to start the season. It would be a big surprise if Pete Carroll can get average efficiency out of this unit. He’s good, but he isn’t a magician.

2019 Schedule

Taking 2018 offensive EPA per play numbers can give you a solid glimpse at what direction a schedule for any defense is heading. The Seahawks are expected to play the 17th-hardest  schedule (0.0306) by that metric. But as for other NFC West teams: with the apparent improvement of the Cardinals and Niners offenses, that projection is too soft on the Seahawks. Four games against the Cardinals and Niners will be different from 2018. Those improvements are better captured in the win totals markets. Seattle is projected to play the 8th-hardest schedule at .5091, according to Pinnacle win totals.

With Seattle’s defense, these six matchups within the NFC West aren’t going to be easy. Also, they face the NFC South, likely the best division in terms of offensive potential. The AFC North features three teams that could be serious threats to a playoff berth: Browns, Steelers, and Ravens. Four of their road games are going to be played at 7 PM Eastern, where Pete Carroll’s team hasn’t been good historically. It should be described as a top-10 schedule.

Seattle Seahawks 2019: Need Some Russell Magic

My projection for the Seattle Seahawks is nearly the same as it was in 2018. They are going to play a robust program, against some outstanding offenses, with a below-average defense that preferably has downside than upside. The attack will likely rely on Russell Wilson to play hero-ball again because I am not on the Brian-Schottenheimer-Will-Change-Bandwagon. Against that many decent offenses, their run-first approach could be disturbed in a lot of matchups. With Russell Wilson, the passing attack will be fine. But it depends on the development of DK Metcalf, what their ceiling is going to be. From a betting standpoint, look out for some underpriced total lines against good offenses.

Russell Wilson should be enough to carry the Seahawks to .500 football once again, but I am having a hard time believing in double-digit wins. The win totals markets seem to be spot on, pricing this game at 8.5. The number reached a high of 8.9 at some point during June but came back to 8.5. I don’t have a lean either way.

 

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