Sunday, January 15, 2017

Seattle Seahawks 2016 Season Recap

The Seahawks divisional round playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons was a very fitting end to a very up and down season. The loss highlighted all the problems that that team had during the 2016 regular season. To those watching, the way the game played out was all too familiar. The offensive line failed to protect Russell Wilson or provide consistent run blocking for Thomas Rawls. The playing calling gave up on the run really early and made the team one dimensional. The defense failed to get consistent pressure on Matt Ryan and allow a quick passing attack to rack up big yards. The defense also failed to stop the Falcons from converting on important third downs, regardless of the yards to go. 

The result was not too shocking to me, but I was still disappointed. In my head I knew the Seahawks were going to lose to the Falcons. They were just too flawed of a team to win the Super Bowl, let alone beat good team like the Falcons on the road. But in my heart I hoped that the Seahawks might surprise us. Maybe the pressure of the playoffs would get to Matty Ice, or a freak turnover would change a low scoring game. Alas it was not to be and the 2016 season came to an inglorious end in the Georgia Dome.

The Seahawks showed signs of brilliance during the regular season. They went to New England and beat the Patriots on Sunday Night Football. They dominated the Carolina Panthers 40-7 at home in CenturyLink Field. Doug Baldwin showed he is a legitimate number one receiver totaling 94 receptions and 1128 yards.

However there were also several lows. The Rams beat the Seahawks 9-3. The Green Bay Packers shellacked the Seahawks 38-10. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense to 3 points and those were only because of a short field gifted by a turnover. Maybe worst of all, by ranking 25th in the league in rushing yards, the Seahawks lost their identity as a run first power football team.

The Seahawks players, coaches and executives have a lot of improvements to make over the 2017 offseason. First and foremost they need to drastically improve the offensive line. They need to find more depth in the secondary. They need to cut Jermaine Kearse. Finally they need to figure out, either through play calling or personnel, how to stop other teams on third down. Without these changes the Seahawks 2017 season looks to be much like the 2016. A bumpy ride filled with highs and lows, but ultimately ending in an early exit from the playoffs.

All is not bleak and despairing in Seattle. There is lots to be encouraged by heading into 2017. The Seahawks front office has been one of the best in the league at making changes and improving their team year in and year out. Head Coach Pete Carroll and General Manager John Schneider are one of the best teams in the league. They have consistently been able to add quality players through free agency and the draft, with the only glaring weakness being the offensive line.

On the players side things are also looking good for next year. The team's defense is still anchored by players in the primes of their careers such as Earl Thomas (currently age 27), Kam Chancellor (age 28), Richard Sherman (age 28), and Bobby Wagner (age 26). The teams quarterback, Russell Wilson, despite an injury hampered 2016 regular season, is one of the best in the league. With Doug Baldwin has his primary target, Wilson has a star to throw passes to. The these players give the team a great starting point coming into 2017.

The 2016 season culminated in a fitting loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome. The Seahawks showed all of their most aggravating weaknesses as the game played out as expected. The defense was unable to handle the dominate offense of the Falcons and the Seahawks offense could not get past their own ineptitude to keep the score close. Despite being a frustrating season that ended on a low note things look good for the Seahawks heading into 2017. They will still be the team to beat in the NFC West because of their super talented core of players and their smart front office. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Boldly Predicting 2017

The new year is upon us and with it will come many new and interesting sports stories. Some will be expected while others catch us completely off guard. Whatever ends up happening in 2017 sports fans around the country will definitely have plenty to talk about. So, to help you prepare for another great year in sports the staff here at Unique Sports Theme Name have compiled a list of news stories to keep your eyes and ears open for in 2017. These may not all come true, but  imagine if they did? We could probably ride that clairvoyance into some sort of paying gig. Anyways onto the soon to be news in 2017.

  • The scandal surrounding Russia athletes doping to boost their performance continues to grow. Not wanting to encourage systematic state sponsored doping in international sporting competition FIFA decides remove Russia as the host for the 2018 World Cup. Now in need of a new host those same FIFA officials decide to award Myanmar the World Cup as an award for their continued march towards democracy and a huge wad of cash that was left at the front door of the FIFA offices.
  • After the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers meet in the NBA finals for the third straight year (with Golden State winning), NBA commissioner Adam Silver decides to revamp the NBA playoff system. In July he announces that the Warriors and Cavs will play for the 2017-2018 NBA championship without playing in the overly long NBA playoffs. The rest of the NBA will instead play in a consolation bracket with the winner of that tournament being named Third Best.
  • Encourage on by the recent success of the Chicago Cubs, both the Seattle Mariners and the Washington Nationals fans (the only two teams to never make a World Series) rush out to reserve post season tickets during spring training. Despite  exciting seasons for both teams, neither makes the playoffs.
    • On a more positive note Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez will rebound from a rocky 2016 season to make the 2017 All-star game.
  • After giving up 12 sacks in a single NFL playoffs game, the Seattle Seahawks decide to fully commit to investing in their offensive line during the offseason. They focus their draft strategy on getting the linemen with the most potential they can find. Somehow they end up drafting three defensive tackles, two tight ends, and a full back with plans to convert all to offensive linemen.
  • For the second year in a row the University of Washington Men's basketball team misses out on the NCAA tournament despite having a player (Markell Fultz) talented enough to be an NBA lottery pick. The continued inability of Lorenzo Romar to adapt to the one and done culture of college basketball finally becomes obvious and he is fired from the head coaching position.
  • In September, still looking for a head coaching job, Rex Ryan reaches out to the Great Orange One and requests state intervention. Not wanting to let a winner like Rex Ryan down The Donald removes Todd Bowles and appoints Ryan as the new head coach of the Jets via executive order. A massive scandal erupts during the Senate confirmation hearings.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

In Defense of Booing

Early in Saturday's Seahawks game the Seattle fans started booing the Seahawks offense for its ineptitude. The Seahawks terrible offensive line has cost them several games this year. Probably all five of their losses can directly be blamed on the inability to block for the quarterback and the running back. The 12's, as Seahawks fans are known, were beyond frustrated with the crap sandwich that is the offensive line. They were angry at management's complete and total failure to address the obvious need on the offensive line at any point since the 2016 playoff loss to the Panthers. They decide to vocalize that frustration in a cascades of boos. This was shocking to hear at CenturyLink Field. The 12's are a rabidly loyal group. They will usually defend players and coaches to a fault. So, see the frustration boil over into booing was unexpected, but it was completely warranted. All fans have a right to boo to express their displeasure and frustration with a team's failures.

As a sports fan there are not a lot of options to try and drive change into your favorite team. Players and management hold almost all of the power related to the on field product. The most obvious and impactful action fans can take, no longer buying tickets and ending games, is also the most risky. While refusing to pay money to attend games will send a message to management the resulting outcome may not be the desired one. Seeing empty stands and dropping revenue the team may decide that the market just can't support the team and then decide to move them elsewhere (e.g. The Saint Louis Rams). In this case the fans completely lose because they no longer even have a team to root for.

Another option to try and drive change into the team is using the media (newspapers, blogs, radio, etc) to bring attentions to the failures and the needed changes. This is an important step. Media needs to highlight these failings because they can reach the large fan base and educate them about the problems. However, media alone will not change the problems. It is easy for coaches and players to ignore sports media as just noise. They can write them off as talking heads trying to drive up ratings. It is only if the fans themselves react to these publications that the team has to listen.

Booing is the clearest and most direct way for fans to literally make their displeasure heard. A loud and consistent booing makes it clear to everyone involved with the team that whatever is going on is unacceptable. It is a call for action to fix whatever it is that ails the team. The players, the coaches, the training staff, the front office, and ownership all hear the chorus of anger and frustration from the fans. Those who do press conferences will be forced to address it in the media. The only way to make it stop is to address the issues that lead to the booing.

Now fans should not boo at whatever small transgression or failure occurs. Verbal beratement of a team should be saved for extended periods of failure or calls for major change. Booing because a single event in a single game doesn't go your way is a misuse of the power of the boo. Using the boo too often creates a sort of crying wolf situation; it becomes much simpler to ignore the jeering of the crowd. Players and management will still hear the calls for action, but they will ignore them knowing that they are used so

Sports fans are often captive to the whims of the teams they follow. It is difficult to influence the outcome or directions of teams. Management and players have a much more direct role to play. However, that does not mean that fans are powerless. They have a few tools at their disposal the most effective of which is booing. Fans shouldn't use this power frivolously because it will render the power moot, but they should use it when teams continuously fail in unacceptable fashion.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Grip about Second Person

You are reading ESPN the Magazine. You like reading that magazine. They generally have interesting and well written articles. The topics are broader then what is available on many of the other conventional media sources and the they dive deeper into issues that are not based solely around the results of the latest game. You enjoy that view of sports.

While you are reading this article you come to the realization that it is written entirely in second person. That is an unconventional perspective for a written report, especially nonfiction. You never really see second person used in other forms of media. Novels, newspapers, sociological nonfiction, and radio do not use second person. It is really only written sports commentary in which it appears. You realize you don't really like second person. It doesn't add anything to the reporting, and the strange phrasing distracts from some of the points.

You wonder why they insist on using this style. Does one of the editors of the Magazine just really love second person? Was the author trying to show off his technical proficiency? You hope you this doesn't become a bigger trend. You could not stand having to read lots of different pieces written this way.

You think to yourself that hopefully it is just this one authors signature style. Something he uses to try and get people to remember him. You hope once ESPN the Magazine realizes how annoying it is to read something written in second person they will have a talking to with the author. They will convince him to go back to first person or switch to third person. You think that if the author insists on writing in second person he should really just quit writing magazine articles and start written screen plays.

You really do not like the use of second person perspective.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Seahawks Conventional Wisdom: Domination in Front of the Nation on Primetime

The final piece of conventional wisdom I set out to look at was the Seahawks supposed domination of opponents during primetime games. These games are either Monday Night Football, Sunday Night Football, or Thursday Night Football (although I personally wish it would go away Thursday Night does still exist and is on during prime time). With Mike Holmgren calling the shots the Seahawks developed a reputation for being a nearly unstoppable force during these games. Since then the media has continued to roll out this repeated commentary whenever the Seahawks are coming up on an evening game. But is it still accurate? Are the Seahawks still dominate during primetime or does the narrative need updated?

When considering the last two pieces of conventional wisdom, the Seahawks home field prowess and their inability to win morning games, we looked at win percentage and point differential for the whole sample set. For the analysis of these narratives the holistic view of the sample set worked because the conventional wisdom only considered their ability to win or lose. So for the idea that the Seahawks are dominate in the evening we need to look at more than just winning percentage and points scored in all evening games. Although the Seahawks do have a great winning percentage at 83% (15/18) win by an average of 12 points per game (ppg) this could all be fueled by poor competition. If the Seahawks are getting to play the dregs of the league every time they play a primetime game they could easily be running up the score, but it doesn't mean they are dominate, just that they are playing bad teams. To try and understand if the Seahawks are dominating their opponents I decided to take a look at their opponents final winning percentage over all 16 games and see how they did against good teams compared to mediocre and bad teams.

Between 2010 and 2015 the Seahawks opponents in evening games have had an average seasonal win percentage of 56%. To say this differently, during the season that their opponents were forced to play the Seahawks on primetime those same opponents won over half of their regular season games. So the Seahawks opponents are on average good, but not great. A 56% win percent is equal to 9 regular season wins.

We can break the Seahawks opponents into two categories: good teams, and mediocre and bad teams. Against teams with less than a 63% win percent the Seahawks are undefeated going 8-0. Against teams with a regular season win percentage of 63% (10 wins) or more the Seahawks have only gone 7-3. The Seahawks are undefeated against the teams they should beat (the mediocre and bad one) and they are consistently beating the ones that should be more evenly matched against (the good ones).

Figure 1

So, the Seahawks are winning lots of games on MNF, SNF, and TNF, but are the winning big? Are they truly dominating the competition? Are they running up the score against bad teams and just barely squeaking by against the good ones? To figure that out final point differential, the difference between the Seahawks and their opponents final scores, is a perfect stat. We can also break point differential down into the same two camps: good teams, and mediocre and bad teams. As mentioned before the Seahawks are outscoring all their opponents by an average of 12 ppg. Against good teams, those with over a 63% regular season win percent, the Seahawks won by an average of 12.1 ppg. Against mediocre and bad teams, those teams with less than a 63% regular season win percent, the Seahawks won by an average of 11.9 ppg. Basically the Seahawks are beating opponents on primetime by almost two touchdowns regardless of the quality of that team. The Seahawks are the definition of domination.

The final piece of conventional wisdom related to the Seahawks that needed to be investigated for the Pete Carroll era was their dominance during evening games. The Seahawks opponents were be broken up into two different groups, good teams, and mediocre and bad teams, based on those opponents regular season win percentage. Then the Seahawks win percentage and final score differential against those groups were examined. During primetime the Seahawks have won 70% of their games against good teams by an average score of 12.1 ppg. The conventional wisdom about these games is still true, the Seahawks are dominating their opponents during evening games. Under Pete Carroll the Seahawks are a dominate force in primetime.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Seahawks Conventional Wisdom: Bad when Playing in the Morning

I recently published a post showing that the Seahawks are still a very dominate home team. They routinely win 60%+ of their home games and do so by an average of at least a TD. The conventional and common media narrative about the Seahawks home field prowess is accurate. So, if the first bit of conventional wisdom about the Seahawks being a dominate home team is still true what about the next most commonly held belief that they cannot win a morning game?

Evaluating this data is a lot harder to do because there is not a consistent sample size across each season. The number of morning games changes every year based on their opponents and the location of the games. Being located in Seattle the Seahawks only play morning games when they are on the east coast. Even than not all of their east coast games are in the morning. Due to their run of good season the Seahawks are frequently featured on nationally broadcast primetime games that kickoff in the evening. All of these factors mean the Seahawks have had as few as two morning games (2010) and as many as five (2013). However, even with the smaller sample sizes we can take a look at the trends under Pete Carroll.

Let's start our analysis by looking at the away game winning percentages in each of the three potential time slots: morning, afternoon, and evening. See Figure 1 for away game winning percentages plotted by season. The only clear trend that jumps out to me is that the season total away game winning percentage has a clear upward slope under Pete Carroll. The Seahawks have won over half of their road games each of the last three seasons. In the first three seasons of Pete Carroll's career with the Seahawks the team won less than half of their away games.  Obviously as the team has improved overall they have also improved on the road.

Figure 1
When it comes to looking for win percentage trends in each of the different time slots the data doesn't paint a clear picture. There is a lot of variance from season to season. For instance after winning 80% of their morning games in 2013 the Seahawks only managed to win 33% in 2014. The trend appears to be them hanging round the 40% mark, but it varies drastically. The afternoon and evening time slots have just as much variance although the afternoon appears to average lower and the evening average a bit higher.

I decided to calculate a four game rolling win percent and a cumulative win percent for the morning games. I started the data after the first for morning games has been played, but included those games in the data, to give us a less drastic swing from game to game. This was to try and clarify the data from the morning games and help us answer the question of are the Seahawks bad in morning games. The cumulative win percent trend line paints a clear picture that shows the Seahawks have been steadily improving since 2011. See Figure 2 for a look at the plot. The Seahawks have brought their morning game win percentage up to about 48% from around the mid 30's. They are definitely trending in the right direction.

Figure 2
In addition to win percentage the point differential in the morning games gives us a another valuable look at whether or not the Seahawks are terrible at 10am PST. If the Seahawks are losing close games it might be more about luck than some sort a core truth about the franchise. While on the other hand if the Seahawks are constantly getting blown out it is much more likely that they have some sort impediment stopping them from winning in the AM.

The point differential per game data for morning games surprised me. I was expecting to see something close to zero. The Seahawks are only winning about half of their morning games under Pete Carroll, yet the average score differential has been positive in all but one season, 2010. Plotting out these average score differentials shows us another positive trend. See Figure 3 for the plot. The Seahawks have been improving every year since 2010 with one outlier in 2014, when they dropped down to an average victory of 5 points per game. (Interestingly the Seahawks average point differential has been improving for all road games, not just the morning ones.) In 2013 and 2015 the Seahawks averaged over 20 points per game more than their opponents in the morning on the road. Clearly the Seahawks are not just squeaking by when they play morning games.

Figure 3
Although the data has a much smaller sample set and doesn't offer any obvious conclusions I am confident in saying that the Seattle Seahawks morning game troubles have come to an end. Throughout Pete Carroll's reign the team has been consistently improving their morning game win percent. Additionally the team has put up impressive per game point differentials, consistently outscoring opponents by 5 or more points. It is time for sports media commentators to update their tired commentary about the Seahawks and stop talking about their struggles in morning games.

Sources: Pro Football Reference

Friday, November 18, 2016

Seahawks Conventional Wisdom: Home Field Dominance

Convention wisdom about the Seattle Seahawks says they are really hard to beat at home in CenturyLink Field, they are really hard to beat on primetime games, and they are really easy to beat when they are playing on the road outside of the Pacific Standard Time zone. I hear these believes echoed over and over again by TV broadcasters. The thing is most of this perception about the team is based on the Mike Holmgren era when the Seahawks became a national noticed team. Back then there were times when those Seahawks teams would lose 6-8 of their roads games. The Seahawks would destroy opponents in Seattle one week only to show up on the east coast the next week and get blasted. The thing is this era is long gone now, but the prevailing notion of the Seahawks hasn't changed. So, I decided to take a look at the Seahawks during Pete Carroll's time at the helm to see if the conventional wisdom needs updating or if it is still valid.

Pete Carroll has been the head coach since 2010, for six full seasons now. During that time his teams have gone 36-12 at home and 24-24 on the road. Over this span the Seahawks are 11-12 in morning games, 34-21 in afternoon games, and 15-3 in evening games. Just looking at these numbers it appears that the old and common belief about the Seahawks appears to be true. Their home record is way better than their away record and they have been mediocre in morning games and excellent in evening games.

Table 1

Stopping our analysis here is simplistic and these numbers do not capture the whole story. During the last six seasons the Seahawks have risen from mediocrity in 2010 and 2011 to elite from 2012 and on. This improvement can be seen in Figure 1 by looking at the teams winning percentage in each of those years. The Seahawks have clearly improved since 2010. The 2015 season was their worst season during this dominate run, yet they still managed to win 10 games good for a 63% win percentage. Seeing as how the team has improved in general over the last several season we should also look at how they have changed on the road, in morning games and in primetime. It is quite possible the early failures skewed the data to hide the present reality.

Figure 1

Let's start by looking at the conventional wisdom that the Seahawks are a dominate home team. I will address the other two topics in subsequent blog posts. Overall I will strive to answer if the Seahawks are still a team that can only win at home and is unstoppable in primetime.

Referring back to Figure 1 we can see a clearly rising trend for the Seahawks away game winning percentage. They have won at least 63% of their away games in each of the last three season. While the road performance has been improving the home game results have actually been dropping. That said they are still stellar. The Seahawks have won at least 63% of their home game in each of their last four seasons and have never won less than 50% with Pete Carroll as the head coach. Additionally the Seahawks home win percentage has been higher than or equal to their overall win percentage every one of those same years.

Another stat we can look at to determine if the Seahawks really are a dominate home team is average point differential, which shows us how close the final score of the Seahawks games are. Final score doesn't always accurately reflect the game player because of garbage tie TD, but in general it shows us how well the Seahawks have been performing in games.

Figure 2

For every season between 2010-2015 the Seahawks have had a positive average point differential at home. Surprisingly though this number has been dropping steadily since a high of 18.5 points in 2012. Even so the Seahawks are still winning by nearly a TD per game when at CenturyLink.

Couple these impressive home field margin of victories with their consistently high winning percentage and it appears that the conventional wisdom about Seahawks being dominate at home is true. Pete Carroll has maintained the level of excellence that was established under Mike Holmgren. His teams have continued to make Seattle one of the hardest places in the NFL for road teams to win.

Sources: Pro Football Reference