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State of Defense: Just How Bad is Seattle’s Defense through Week 3?

We’ve all seen it and felt it. Aside from a couple clutch plays at the end of games against New England and Dallas, it seems that the 2020 Seattle Seahawks seemingly have the league’s worst defense through Week 3. In this article, I’ll go through various statistics and metrics to assess just how bad the defense has been. I’ll be using advanced data from a variety of sources: Pro Football Reference (“PFR”), Football Outsiders (“FO”), and other widely available team statistics. I’ve chosen to stay away from more simple metrics, such as yards per game and points against, as they don’t give a complete picture of the defense. At the end of the article, I will simply average the rankings for each metric for an overall defensive ranking (I know this is a crude and imperfect way to quantify this data, but it is the simplest way to aggregate information into one number).

PFR: Yards per Offensive Play

Rank 31, 6.6 Y/P

(I chose this metric because it adjusts for the number of plays being run against the Seahawks. Teams down a couple scores will likely use a more up-tempo offense.)

The Seahawks are terrible in this metric and are giving up 6.6 yards per play run, besting only GB. For context, IND is the league’s best team at 4.4 Y/P. It hurts even more knowing that teams run a league-high 75.7 plays per game against Seattle and 10 total more plays through Week 3 than ATL, the next closest team.

Passing plays, on average, yield a higher Y/P than running plays, and teams have also passed a league-high 155 times (52 per game) against Seattle, 20 more times than ATL, the next highest. This might help explain the inflated Y/P metric. In contrast, teams have rushed the 3rd fewest times against Seattle, just 67 times (22 per game) and Seattle has allowed just 3.0 yards per carry (“YPC”) on those rushing attempts, good for 3rd in the league (PHI is 4th best at 3.4 YPC).

PFR: Scoring Rate

Rank 18, 41.7% of drives ending in an offensive score

(I chose this metric because it accounts for pace of play and number of drives. Teams that run a slower offense, but score on a high % of drives are still a good offense, even if points scored doesn’t show this. Opposite goes for fast offenses. Bad offenses may allow opponents to have more drives, even if the defense is above average at stopping drives.)

This came as a surprise, as it sometimes felt as if Seattle gave up points on every drive (maybe only in the 2nd half as teams were in catchup mode). The middling rank likely has to do with Seattle’s percentage of drives ending in a turnover of 16.7%, 9th best in the league. As a fan, we know that 2 turnovers against ATL and DAL were desperation heaves into the end zone that ended up being intercepted. Take what you will with that information.

Seattle also is T-3rd in turnovers forced on defense with 6. NE and CLE co-lead the league with 7 each. Without those two end-of-game interceptions, Seattle would have 4 turnovers forced, good for T-12th.

PFR: 3rd Down Conversion Percentage

Rank 29, 51.2% of 3rd Downs converted

This came as no surprise. Seattle was middle of the pack here in 2019 and it seemingly has been much worse in 2020. Seattle needs to be better at getting off the field on 3rd down.

PFR: Red Zone Percentage

Rank 30, 70.0% of red zone trips end in a TD

Seattle has seen opponents enter the red zone a total of 10 times and allowed 7 TDs out of those trips. As you know, one of the three stops came against NE when LJ Collier, Lano Hill, and Bobby Wagner contributed to stop Cam Newton at the goal line to win the game.

FO: Defense DVOA

Rank 23, 7.3%

(FO’s efficiency ratings compares a team’s performance to a baseline to determine value over average, and is adjusted for strength of opponent.)

Don’t get me wrong, 23rd in the league is pretty bad and personally I thought SEA would be lower, but FO likely accounts for the fact that ATL, NE, and DAL are all good offenses. For context, each opponent’s Offense DVOA is ranked 19th, 12th, and 4th, respectively. ATL and DAL’s offense is likely to be ranked higher using more simple, traditional metrics.

Final Results – Rank 26

Surprise, surprise, Seattle’s D is bad. I think 26th sounds about right. We’ve seen flashes of what this defense can do, but all too often the defense collapses in the 2nd half when it has a two score lead. Whether this is a product of playing prevent defense, or the lack of pass rush being amplified as teams relentlessly pass to catchup is a fair question.

The Seahawks ranked bottom three in Yards per Play, 3rd Down Conversion, and Red Zone Percentage. The only metric the Seahawks ranked remotely average (yet still below average) was in Scoring Rate, and I feel like there is a lot of noise there with turnovers (Seahawks rank T-3rd), two of which came at the end of games. Even dating back to last year, Seattle ranked 3rd in total takeaways, despite ranking fairly poorly in most other metrics. Turnovers are important, yes, especially when your offense is this good (more on that later), but it would be nice to see a more consistent showing from the Seattle defense.