If you have a headache, a bad one, you might pop an Aleve or two. And you will probably start to feel a bit better — not completely better, the traces of the headache will probably still be there, but maybe the unbearable pounding will stop and let you get on with your normal life again. That’s my analogy for last Sunday’s Seahawks game: We fans came into it with a collective headache having watched two tough losses the previous two weeks, and we needed an anodyne to make us feel better. A 23-0 shutout victory over the Bears mostly did the trick, but it did not completely wipe way the symptoms. When Jimmy Clausen is at quarterback, and he is throwing to players you didn’t even know were still in the league (Hey, Zach Miller!), no margin of victory can completely wipe out the effects of an 0-2 start.
But the defense tried. They could not have played much better than they did. Yes, a few more sacks and a few turnovers would have been welcome, but it is tough to achieve those things when the opposing offense is more conservative than Barry Goldwater. Despite trailing almost the entire game, the Bears ran the ball more than they threw it, and even when they passed, it was often a check-down or a throw-away because Clausen was being pressured. (Despite not being a big-blitz D, the ‘Hawks wisely brought the heat in several obvious passing situations, knowing that Clausen couldn’t handle it.) It was as if the Bears were resigned to losing in a shutout and just wanted to keep the score under 30. (So, hey, success!) They literally punted every drive, including once on 4th-and-1, near midfield, down by 20. (Commentator Phil Simms praised the move, because he is lousy at his job.) But I suppose this is not very surprising, being that the Bears are coached by John Fox, the same man who punted the ball from inside his opponents’ 40-yard-line, down 29 points, in the Super Bowl.
As it turns out, punting on every single drive is a very rare occurrence. How rare? Well, it’s the only time it has ever happened in recorded NFL history. I queried the Pro Football Reference database for games in which a team finished with zero points, zero turnovers, and zero missed field goals. Fifteen such games were returned. Of these games, we have play-by-play game logs for six of them (going back to 1994). Using this data we can see that only the Bears punted every possession. In all the other games, a team either turned the ball over on downs at least once, or had a drive stop due to the end of the first half or the end of the game. Unfortunately, without play-by-play data, we cannot know what happened in the pre-1994 games. Maybe in one of these old games a team punted every drive, but maybe not. Since we don’t know, it is fair to say the Seahawks just set the record for highest percentage of an opponents’ drives that end in a punt — 100%.
Interestingly, of the six games for which we do have play-by-play game logs, the Seahawks were involved in half of them. Other than last Sunday’s game, the Seahawks forced the Raiders to punt on 10 of 13 possessions in a 2006 game, with the other three possessions ending on a turnover on downs and the ends of both halves. Then in 2011, the Steelers pulled a similar trick against the Seahawks.
Being that an all-punt game has happened only once in (at least) the past 25 years, it is unlikely to happen again this Monday night when the Detroit Lions come to The Clink. But it would not be shocking if the game was a defensive-minded “pitchers’ duel.” Of course, it would not be shocking if it was a barn burner (like Week 1 in St. Louis) either. It is tough to know exactly what to expect from the Seahawks and Lions at this point.
With last week’s dominance over the Bears, the Seahawks are inching closer to “top-10 defense” status again. (According to Football Outsiders, Seattle ranks 11th in defensive efficiency after using their DAVE metric to adjust for the strength of opposing offenses.) The Lions have been poor on offense this season, which actually is not that out of character for them. They weren’t good last year either. It’s weird that an offense with Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate can be below average, but I guess that’s what happens when the run game is horrible (as a team the Lions are averaging under 3.0 yards-per-carry) and the quarterback turns the ball over too much. Also, Megatron, as dangerous as he is, hasn’t been Megatron in over a year. Anyway you slice it, the Seahawks have a big advantage when the Lions have the ball.
And they have a pretty big advantage on the other side of the ball too. Neither the Seahawks offense nor the Lions defense has played up to the standards it set last year. But whereas the Seahawks O has fallen from a top five unit to middle of the pack, the Lions D has gone from a top three unit to one well below average. And I think there is more reason to be optimistic about the Seahawks offense than there is to be about the Lions defense. Last year was something of an anomaly for the Lions D, so the “Plexiglas Principle” might be in play, even before considering the massive downgrade on the D-line from Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley to Haloti Ngata and whoever else is there now. It seems reasonable that the Lions D just isn’t any good anymore — especially if DeAndre Levy is still out and Ezekiel Ansah doesn’t suit (both are questionable).
As for the Seahawks offense, they have not looked great — the offensive line is a mess and Marshawn Lynch suddenly looks old (or perhaps just hurt) — but I don’t think they are as bad as they have been. For one thing, I expect the O-line to play better with more reps together under Tom Cable. Also, I think if the Seahawks know Beastmode is not in full effect they will game plan better. (In Green Bay, the offense opened up once they stopped force-feeding Lynch and turned it over to Russell Wilson, and Wilson took it upon himself to keep the ball more.) Lastly, although much was made of the paltry six points scored in the first half against Chicago, the ‘Hawks really hurt themselves with two big drops — one by Ricardo Lockette and one by Thomas Rawls. And they had a bit of bad luck, in that their best drive of the half came at the very end and resulted in two rushed goal-line passes and then just a field goal. If the Seahawks score a touchdown there and catch one of those dropped passes, it’s likely 14-0 or 13-0 at the half, and nobody thinks anything of it.
The last thing worth mentioning about this game is that the Seahawks could also have a big advantage on special teams. Most of that is “Rocket” Tyler Lockett, who looks legit. Overall, the Seahawks are the better team in all three phases of the game, and they are at home. And still this one makes me nervous for some reason. Let’s hope my trepidation is unfounded and the ‘Hawks win big again. 2-2 with two straight blowout victories is not a bad place to be. At this point, it certainly beats any alternative.