The Seattle Seahawks' Defense Is as Good as Ever Despite Early-Season Struggles
James Bond was never going to actually die at the hands of any of the bad guys he pursued. MacGyver was never going to not make a bomb or defuse a bomb using household materials to save the day. Rocky was never not going to stay on the mat, lose, retire, and never be heard from again.
Heroes don't go quietly into the night, at least not during the first half of the movie. They're the title characters, they're the stars of the show, and as such, they're going to be key figures all the way through the end. But there's still tension in those moments as we watch on to see if they'll bounce back from adversity and triumph over their adversaries.
This season in the NFL was supposed to be the reign of the Legion of Boom. Richard Sherman and company were supposed to lead the Seahawks to a dominating performance on defense this season, establishing a defensive dynasty like the ones held by the Steelers in the '70s, the Bears in the '80s, and the Bucs and Ravens in the '00s. But after the first few weeks, the hero was reeling. The Seahawks were on the ropes.
But just like any hero, they bounced back. And they're better than ever now, with an extra chip on their shoulder as they charge towards the playoffs.
A Slow Start Would Be an Understatement
If the Seahawks season were a movie, it would receive an "R" rating for the violent scenes included in Seattle's Week 2 loss to San Diego. Philip Rivers threw for 284 yards and 3 scores (all of which went to Antonio Gates on virtually the same route combination) as the Chargers ran over the Seattle defense a week after they looked alright against the now formidable Packers.
This game was a look into the early season struggles for Seattle, who didn't defend the pass very well at all through their first six games. In fact, if you extrapolate their early-season Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) on defense, they'd currently be worst in the NFL, behind even the Washington defense that's been embarrassed all season.
And even with a strong rushing defense, which didn't allow a runner to pass 40 yards until DeMarco Murray faced the Seahawks in Week 6, the Seattle defense would rank in the bottom-10 in the NFL in overall Defensive NEP had they kept up their pace from the first six games.
But those six games weren't a sign of things to come. They were just a moment of adversity that the hero has to overcome en route to the dramatic conclusion.
Regressing to the Mean
Since a loss to St. Louis in Week 7, which saw the Seahawks drop to 3-3 on the season, the defense has been playing at 2013 "Legion of Boom" levels. Take a look at their Defensive NEP output when split at the St. Louis loss earlier this season.
|Weeks||Def NEP||Passing Def NEP||Rushing Def NEP|
|1 to 6||35.16||56.09||-24.84|
|7 to 13||-44.14||-38.13||-16.33|
Negative numbers are good in Defensive NEP, as it indicates a defense causing the offense to lose expected points on the average play. And while teams have seen a slight uptick in rushing efficiency against the Seattle defense, they've lost any ability to pass the ball efficiently against the Seahawks.
This should come as no surprise, as three of the league's most talented defensive backs roam the back four for Seattle, with Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas representing three of the best players at their positions in the league.
If we extrapolate the Seahawks' pace during Weeks 7 to 13 over a full 16-game schedule, the numbers would look very similar to the team's 2013 production on defense.
|Team||Def NEP||Passing Def NEP||Rushing Def NEP|
|Weeks 7-13 Pace||-100.89||-87.14||-37.31|
That Defensive Passing NEP figure would be best in the NFL in 2014 by 54 expected points, and their overall defense would lead the league by 47 expected points, had they been on this absurd pace all season. But what makes it even more absurd is the comparison to last year's defense, meaning that these numbers aren't outliers or exceptions, they're to be expected from the Seattle defense at this point.
Because rather than following a script like in a work of fiction, the Seahawks simply regressed back to the mean, or in other words, returned to their expected level of play after a few outlying weeks of poor performances. Which means fans of the 49ers, Cardinals and Rams shouldn't be expecting any mercy from the Legion of Boom over the next three weeks.
Vegas certainly isn't expecting the Seahawks to slow down, installing them as heavy favorites over the 49ers this week in what should be a low-scoring game, with the over/under and spread predicting a 14-point output by the 49ers. This is one of the lower totals I've ever seen for a team, especially one with a winning record heading into the game.
But the Seahawks are at home, where they've dominated every opponent other than the Cowboys this season, and that trend should continue against the 49ers who are rife with controversy and locker room issues lately.
If you don't like seeing Richard Sherman on your television in January, I'm afraid to tell you that you're out of luck. The script is playing out just as the Seahawks expected it, and their leading star will be front and center once again as the Seattle defense plows its way through the 2014 season and into the playoffs.