Identity Shift: Falcons give thanks to the Seahawks for many free yards

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Giving thanks after a loss is no fun at all, but there’s one aluminum lining: the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Los Angeles Rams also lost last weekend, and by a lot. If the Seahawks keep pace with the Rams and win the head-to-head at their thirty-acre (former) fortress, the division crown will stay in Seattle.

Against the Vikings in Minnesota, the Rams looked lost on offense after an opening touchdown drive. They managed 184 total yards after their early score, and their drives went punt, punt, fumble, kneel, punt, punt, punt, punt, downs. What’s more, 54 of those yards came on the final garbage-time possession.

Of the Rams’ 31 touchdowns this season, 13 have come after halftime. They can be had late in games. The Seahawks can have other teams late in games. It’s a perfect match, right? A perfect match of flawed teams, who’ll meet in the final month to likely decide the division. The whole setup is a Pete Rozelle/Paul Tagliabue/Roger Goodell wet dream come to life.

I suspect nobody will be giving thanks for that image.

1. The Seahawks are a second-half offense

Narrative status, last week: Definite Identity Match

Narrative status, this week: Definite Identity Match

One thing we’re starting to see here is as the Seahawks climb the rankings of total points scored (they’ve risen to 9th), they also start to look respectable instead of embarrassing in scoring by quarters.

Qtr 1: 17th, 3.9 ppq

Qtr 2: 22nd, 5.5 ppq

Qtr 3: 10th, 5.4 ppq

Qtr 4: 2nd, 9.4 ppq.

In five of ten games, the Seahawks have trailed at halftime. Thrice the teams have ben tied. Only twice has Seattle carried a lead into halftime, at Tennessee and at Arizona.

In all four of their losses, the Seahawks have had the ball in the fourth quarter with a chance to tie or go ahead. That part feels familiar.

2. NEW: The explosive plays are breaking the wrong way

TrendCon, last week: 3

TrendCon, this week: 4 (less worrisome)

Recapping from last week’s column, one thing the Seahawks have been particulary adept at is winning the battle of explosives. Well, until the blip in 2016.

2012: +40, 3rd

2013: +48, 2nd

2014: +66, 1st

2015: +42, 1st

2016: +9, 9th

2017: +19, on track for top five in the league again

One interesting thing about the 34 points given up to the Falcons is how the Seahawks limited explosive plays and still lost. Seattle had eight explosives to Atlanta’s four. Maybe limiting explosive plays is not something one can automatically hang one’s hat on. Not when, of course, a powerful equalizer for explosive plays exists, such as…

3. NEW: Penalties called against Seattle are excessive

TrendCon, last week: N/A

TrendCon, this week: 2 (more worrisome)

The news is not good, and it is historical in scope.

When Josh Forrest was called for holding on the Falcons’ final punt Monday night, the ten-yard punishment sent the Seahawks past 100 yards of penalties on the night. It was the fifth consecutive time Seattle had surpassed 100 yards of flags in a single game.

By now it’s pretty common knowledge across our blogosphere that the Seahawks lead the NFL in total penalties, 103, and are on pace for 165, which would edge past the all-time record of 163. Which the Raiders set in 2011. Of course it was the Raiders. It’s not like they had a reputation, and it’s not like the Seaha… aw nuts.

In net count of penalties, Seattle is setting a pace no other team can currently match.

Net penalties (own minus opponents’)

5. Kansas City, 16

4. Denver, 16

3. Buffalo, 17

2. San Francisco, 20

1. Seattle, 36

Net yardage lost via penalties

5. Cincinnati -117

4. San Francisco -134

3. Dallas -148

2. Kansas City -175

1. Seattle -319

You’re reading both lists right, and with the right amount of disbelief, if you realize the Seahawks have been, relative to their opponents, penalized about as much as the second-and third-most flagged teams combined.

Again, hang around these parts enough and you’ll be reminded that the Super Bowl XLVIII champions also led the league in penalties. But nothing like this. They only garnered five more flags than the second-place Rams; their net yardage lost of -314 was less than the Houston Texans, and that was after 16 games, mind you. This year’s Seahawks have passed 314 already, on their way to an statistical outlier of a season, collecting yellow hankies at a pace that has to be impacting wins and losses, at this point.

4. The Seahawks are now a passing team

Narrative status, last week: Definite Identity Match

Narrative status, this week: Definite Identity Match

Or more specifically, they are not a running team. Except when the quarterback is running. But that’s because most specifically, they are Russell Wilson’s team.

Through Week 8: 59.5 percent passing

Through Week 9: 60.0

Through Week 10: 60.1

Through Week 11: 60.8

There’s very little turning back now from the cementing identity of a pass-heavy offense centered on the skills of its quarterback. It is good that he possesses a very particular set of skills.

You asked for the share of offense shouldered by Wilson, and you got it. The Seahawks have officially gained 3,676 yards this year. Wilson is responsible for 3,177. Everyone else can’t even cobble together 500 yards combined.

You can also attribute 23 of the team’s 24 touchdowns to Wilson. By virtue of the dark, deep magic called “subtraction,” one rusher has the lone leftover score (noted touchdown-maker J.D. McKissic).

For that matter, Bobby Wagner has scored more points (eight) than all the running backs and ball carriers combined, who aren’t Wilson. Insert your own “why isn’t Wagz the starting RB” joke here.

5. Pass protection issues

TrendCon level, last week: 3

TrendCon level, this week: 3 again

Pass protection stats are on hold. While we await them, be reassured that 11 teams have given up more sacks than the Seahawks. Then, be un-reassured that only four have given up more QB hits.

But with Oday Aboushi out for the near future (dislocated shoulder), the imminent return of Luke Joeckel, the steady hand of Justin Britt, the high ceiling/inexperience of Ethan Pocic, the baffling inconsistency of Germain Ifedi, and the uncertainty around Duane Brown’s ankle, I’m going to hold off a week and pass a more sweeping judgment here after the 49ers game.

6. The RB job will be done by committee, right?

Narrative status, last week: Holding true

Narrative status, this week: Holding true

In September, the Seahawks finally found their feature back, and his name was Chris Carson. He hasn’t played since Week 4.

In November, the Seahawks finally found Carson’s replacement, and his name was Mike Davis. He lasted half of Week 11 before leaving with a serious groin injury.

Prediction with zero risk: In December, Wilson will continue to lead Seattle in rushing attempts and yards. And yards per carry, but everyone could’ve predicted that back in the preseason.

Here, this is fun.

RB Carries

Eddie Lacy: 51

Thomas Rawls: 49

Carson: 49

McKissic-C.J. Prosise-Davis combo: 45

Nobody’s running attack looks quite like Seattle’s.

7. (ENDING) Shaquill Griffin’s role is large, especially for a rookie

Narrative status, last week: Definite Identity Match

Narrative status, this week: Definite Identity Match

Griffin will finish the year with the most snaps at cornerback, on the entire team, if he exits the concussion protocol in time to log 53 more plays at the position. Knowing what we know about how the universe is picking on the Seahawks defensive backfield, 53 is no sure thing. But he’s likely to appear in a couple more games and surpass Richard Sherman.

Despite missing almost the whole game last Monday night (he left after three plays), Griffin has participated in 77.1 percent of defensive snaps.

A passer rating of 79.7 might not speak to you. Context is valuable. In 2016, the average passer rating of all quarterbacks was 91. Griffin is already making quarterbacks worse, and he’s just a rookie.

Whether or not his career accomplishments dwarf those of his draftmates — thinking specifically of Marshon Lattimore, Tre’davious White, and the locals like Kevin King, Budda Baker and Sidney Jones — the question of his role as a rookie is settled. He won the job, kept the job, and is in line to be a mainstay of the future Seahawks. If the Legion is to be revived or re-incarnated, he is a member.

8. The defense’s return to dominance

Narrative status, last week: Worth Monitoring

Narrative status, this week: Worth Monitoring

Check out the last three games of rushing defense by your supposedly shorthanded Seahawks.

vs. WAS: 23-51-2

vs. ARI: 24-34-1

vs. ATL: 30-89-1

All four of the touchdowns conceded were on one-yard plunges. Total it all up and you get a 77-174-4 line that translates to 2.3 yards per carry. After a tough start to the season that included a 75-yard DeMarco Murray scamper and a field-flipping 61-yarder by Carlos Hyde, Seattle has tightened up its run defense. Which could matter in the playoffs, if there are playoffs. Please don’t Jim Mora me, even if it’s topical.

Defensive rankings

Points allowed: 19.9 (10th, down five spots, ouch)

Passing yards allowed: 215.1 (13th, no change)

Yards/attempt against: 6.1 (9th, down one spot)

Passer rating against: 79.8 (7th, down one spot)

Rushing yards allowed: 99.8 (9th, no change)

Yards/carry against: 3.9 (12th, up three spots)

Sacks: 2.6 (14th, down two spots)

Takeaways: 1.6 (10th, down three spots)

Turnover margin: +5

Playing Matt Ryan has its disadvantages, because even though you held him to 195 yards, he was still 19/27, threw no interceptions, and only got sacked once. Jimmy Garoppolo is slated to start for the 49ers on Sunday. He’s not Matt Ryan. But the Seahawks fan who’s counting his ospreys before they hatch, and chalking up a win in Levi’s Stadium, hasn’t been watching a lot of 2017.

This season has to have Pete Carroll scratching his head like he’s auditioning for the “before” part in a Head and Shoulders ad. He can’t get the penalties under control, he can’t get a running game to move forward, he can’t win by limiting the explosives, he can’t dominate on special teams, and he can’t keep anybody healthy in the secondary. Feels like every Russell Wilson fumble leads to an opponent touchdown, and every hard-earned interception gets wasted by the offense.

It’s folly to believe the league has figured Pete Carroll out. But it’s pretty evident the 2017 season has.

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