The Seattle Seahawks Might Be the NFL's Most Complete Team
Throughout this NFL season, one of the biggest stories has been the lack of a complete team.
The league’s top-tier -- if we want to call it that -- was made up of a few teams that either have a really good offense or a really good defense. Entering Week 11, no team had both a top-10 offense and top-10 defense by Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) per play.
In 2015, the regular season ended with five such teams in the top-10 on both offense and defense.
After the results of Week 11, the Seattle Seahawks may be the closest to a complete team we have in 2016.
Seattle entered the week ranked seventh in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play. After holding the Philadelphia Eagles to just 15 points, that ranking is likely to improve after Monday Night Football caps Week 11.
With how good the Seattle defense has been during the Pete Carroll era, we can probably safely project the Seahawks to keep playing like a top-10 defensive unit through the rest of the season. In that time, they’ll even get Michael Bennett back from injury -- arguably their best defensive player.
The Seahawks will also get a favorable stretch of opposing offenses through the remainder of the season.
Only one of Seattle’s six remaining regular-season opponents has an offense ranked in the top-10 by Adjusted NEP per play. That team, the Green Bay Packers, rank 10th and might not keep that spot after a 42-24 loss on Sunday Night Football.
Unless something goes terribly wrong, the Seahawks will continue to be one of the best defensive teams in football.
There's hope now, too, for the offense.
Time for Health
Seattle entered the week ranked 15th in Adjusted NEP per play on offense, but the Seahawks were able to move the ball quite easily on the Eagles on Sunday, who came into the week with the top defense by Adjusted NEP per play.
Again, Seattle ranked 15th offensively entering the week, a rank that encompasses a few rough stretches during the beginning of the season and through a Russell Wilson injury.
The Seahawks opened the year with games of 12 and 3 points against the Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles Rams, respectively. Then, of course, there was the 6-6 tie against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 7.
Maybe even more surprising was only scoring 20 points against a New Orleans Saints defense that’s 29th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play. But that game appeared to be the end of the struggles on offense.
It just happens that Seattle’s offensive breakout over these past three weeks coincides with Russell Wilson's apparent return to health. Though the Cardinals tie was nothing to be proud about, it was a defensive battle between two of the top defenses in the league, which could arguably make the game against New Orleans the low point in trying to craft an offense around an injured quarterback.
Against the Saints, the game plan was to keep Wilson upright and attack the defense with short passes. This limited anything Wilson had to do inside or outside the pocket, but it wasn’t effective.
Per the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Wilson took just 2.34 seconds between taking the snap and throwing a pass against the Saints, which was the fifth-quickest time for a quarterback that week. It was the third time he was among the top-five quickest throwers in a given week and the fifth time he was in the top-10.
Time to throw can be a pretty good measure of either the offensive game plan or a quarterback’s playing style. For example, Drew Brees is typically among the 10 quickest throwers in a given week. For the season, Brees has the fourth-lowest time from snap to throw. Russell Wilson is not that type of quarterback, which makes some of his quick release times concerning.
Over the past three weeks, though, Wilson has been back to his old self, averaging 2.9 seconds from snap to throw. He’s been no faster than the 21st-quickest thrower since Week 9, and by Passing NEP per drop back, he’s put up three of his four best single-game performances of the season.
Against the Eagles, Wilson averaged 3.03 seconds from snap to pass against what could be considered the league's best front four.
It’s not even that Wilson has been playing poorly for most of the season. Entering Week 11, he was still sixth in Passing NEP per drop back among quarterbacks for the year. But a healthy Wilson goes from a passable quarterback to one who can cancel out an offensive line that's allowed the fourth-most pressure in the league and do something like this. (Video courtesy NFL Game Pass.)
Of course, Wilson isn’t alone in bringing the offense to another level over the past few weeks -- there’s been some help from a few players on that side of the ball.
Baldwin came into the week ranked fourth in Reception NEP per target (0.92) among wide receivers thrown at least 50 passes on the season. He added 104 yards on 4 receptions and 5 targets on Sunday for a Reception NEP per target of 1.78 against the Eagles.
While Wilson was playing hurt, the production from Baldwin never really stopped, and it’s continued now with the offense rolling. Baldwin can apparently fill in at quarterback too, if needed.
There’s also the resurgence of Graham at tight end. Graham only had 3 receptions for 46 yards on 5 targets, but one of those catches was the ridiculous play above for a touchdown. Graham had a Success Rate -- the percentage of plays that positively impact NEP -- of 100 percent.
On the day, he had a Reception NEP per target of 1.23. Entering the week, he was ninth among 40 tight ends with 20 or more targets with a Reception NEP per target of 0.81.
The Ground Game
The rushing attack could be interesting for the Seahawks through the end of the season. There were some struggles with Christine Michael at the helm at the start of the season, but the emergence of C.J. Prosise over the past few weeks led to Michael’s release.
Prosise was a weapon who could be utilized all over the field, but he suffered a shoulder injury against Philadelphia, which could keep him out for an extended period of time.
Luckily for the Seahawks, Thomas Rawls returned to action on Sunday. He gained 57 yards on 14 carries, though he had a Success Rate of just 35.7 percent. Rawls, however, was the second-most efficient runner by Rushing NEP per attempt last season among 44 running backs with at least 100 carries.
A Complete Team
There haven’t been many games this season when the Seahawks have put everything together, but the past three weeks have been the most complete games of the year.
While the offense overall has been average for much of the season, the ceiling is much higher than for any of the other teams that sport top-10 defenses.
And unlike those other teams, the Seahawks look like that ceiling might be attainable.
In a year without a truly great team, a Seattle squad with everything coming together could be a scary proposition for the rest of the NFL.