The Seahawks proved confounding not only to the experts this season but also in reviewing some of their final numbers.
If the Seahawks confounded the experts this season — a team that was considered lucky if it finished 8-8 instead won 10 games and is headed back to the playoffs — some of their final numbers only add to the head-scratching.
Consider that Seattle finished the regular season gaining exactly as many yards — 5,653 — as it allowed and gave up more yards per play, 5.9, than it gained, 5.6.
That was the first time since 2011 — before Russell Wilson was drafted and the team’s turnaround — that Seattle allowed more yards per play than it gained. In the two Super Bowl years of 2013 and 2014, the Seahawks averaged more than a yard per play more than their opponent — 5.6-4.4 in 2013 and 5.9-4.6 in 2014.
Yet here Seattle is, back in the postseason, a sixth 10-win season in seven years under its belt, thanks in large part to two other numbers — a plus-15 turnover ratio that was the best in the NFL, and ranking fourth in red-zone defense. The Seahawks allowed opponents to score touchdowns on just 49 percent of trips inside the 20 while conversely ranking eighth in red-zone scoring (getting touchdowns on 65.45 percent of trips inside the 20).
Simply put, the Seahawks made the plays when they most had to in 2018.
That was fittingly true again in the regular-season finale, a 27-24 win over Arizona Sunday.
Here’s our weekly Final Word review of what I thought might happen in the game and what did:
MATCHUP TO WATCH
WHAT I SAID: Seattle rushing attack vs. Arizona run defense.
WHAT HAPPENED: The best rushing attack vs. the worst rushing defense seemed a recipe for an easy day at the office for the Seahawks. But Seattle’s makeshift offensive line — playing without starting guards J.R. Sweezy and D.J. Fluker, who each have been at the heart of the running-game turnaround this season — made this a tougher game than expected. The stats ended up looking fine — 182 yards on 34 carries. But it took a while to get there as Seattle had just 69 yards on its first 16 carries. Even after Chris Carson’s 61-yard run seemed to get the Seahawks going, they were stuffed on a third-and-run one by Carson early in the fourth quarter when the game was tied. The good news is Fluker will be back and Sweezy could be for Dallas.
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: Seattle offensive line vs. Arizona pass rush. Arizona came into the game with 43 sacks, and got six more to finish with 49, fifth-most in the NFL this season, going against a Seattle line with just two regular starters in their usual spots. Again, the good news is the line could be whole this week, or close to it, and on paper Dallas doesn’t have quite the same kind of pass rush — 39 for the season. But when Dallas has had a pass rush this season it has made a difference. The Cowboys have 28 sacks in their 10 wins, just 11 in their six losses, which includes getting just two against Seattle in the Seahawks 24-13 win over the Cowboys in September.
PLAYER TO WATCH
WHAT I SAID: Arizona WR Larry Fitzgerald
WHAT HAPPENED: The Hall of Fame receiver had one more Hall of Fame moment with a one-handed catch for a 15-yard touchdown in the second quarter on a play-action pass in which he ran right by Akeem King, who had just entered the game for an injured Shaquill Griffin. But otherwise the Seahawks kept him in check as he finished with four receptions on nine targets for 36 yards and the one TD. Fitzgerald may have played his final game Sunday, and if so he will end his career with 78 catches for 859 yards and five TDs against the Seahawks in Seattle.
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: Defensive tackle Jarran Reed. That Reed keeps a relatively low media profile may have contributed to his season going somewhat under the radar. But that should end after he got two more sacks on Sunday to finish the year with 10.5, only the third tackle in team history to hit double digits in sacks. The others are Hall of Famers Cortez Kennedy and John Randle. Reed’s emergence helped solidify a line that began the season as a real question, then endured the odd loss of veteran tackle Tom Johnson after the first week. He also now presents a question for Seattle in the offseason. His rookie contract expires following the 2019 season, and like Tyler Lockett last year, he may be a player Seattle will want to extend before next season begins.
WHAT I SAID: Will the Seahawks try to rest anyone?
WHAT HAPPENED: They really didn’t try to, no. Anyone who thought Carroll was giving lip service during the week to making sure Seattle won the game got proven otherwise. Seattle did hold out some obviously injured players such as Fluker and Dion Jordan, each of whom might have played if the season depended on it. But there was no resting of the healthy players as the snap-count distribution looked pretty much the same as always.
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: Special teams. This game was as close as it was solely because of Seattle’s breakdowns in the punting game — a return, a block and a deflection leading directly to 18 Arizona points. On the first deflection, Delano Hill seemed to just get beat. On the block, Seattle appeared just outmanned at the point of attack with Arizona calling a punt-block play. And just a few missed tackles on the return. Seattle’s special teams have been a net plus for the season. The net punting average of 42.5 is a team record and Sebastian Janikowski has hit three game-winners, including Sunday. But It hardly needs stating that Seattle can’t afford any similar miscues in the playoffs.
WILD CARD PLAYER WHO COULD SURPRISE
WHAT I SAID: RB J.D. McKissic.
WHAT HAPPENED: So, as noted above, Carroll played this straight up other than resting injured players. You might have thought the Seahawks would try to have taken some of the load off Chris Carson. But the score didn’t allow that to happen, so backups such as McKissic saw no more work than usual. He got just one snap.
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: Defensive tackle Poona Ford. Ford continues to impress, the one member of Seattle’s original undrafted rookie free-agent class who signed last spring to make the team and become a regular contributing member. He might have had his best game yet against the Cardinals with six tackles, and also dropped back into coverage on a screen at one point, showing the kind of athleticism and versatility that seems to portend a long career in the league. Pro Football Focus judged Ford as having two pressures and five run stops in 28 snaps. For the season, Ford got the third-highest grade of any Seattle defender from PFF behind only Bobby Wagner and Earl Thomas at 90.3, the 10th-best among all interior defensive players.
WHAT I SAID: 10, Seattle’s turnovers for the season coming into the game.
WHAT HAPPENED: Russell Wilson’s first-quarter interception ended Seattle’s hopes of tying an all-time NFL record for fewest turnovers in a season. Still, the Seahawks finished with just 11, a team record — the previous low was 14 in 2014 — due to Wilson’s careful passing (his seven interceptions tied a career low) and some good fortune with fumbles. Seattle lost just four of its 18 fumbles this season while recovering 14 of the 26 by its opponents, including two of three on Sunday, which led to a touchdown and a field goal.
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: 1, Seattle’s penalties. Two weeks ago, penalties were the buzz word when the Seahawks were flagged for 14 in a loss at San Francisco. Sunday, the only penalty was a holding call on Ethan Pocic early in the second quarter. Seattle has had no penalties in a game three times in its history, most recently in 2007 against Baltimore. The one penalty ties a low in the Carroll era. Seattle also had just one in a 2010 loss at Tampa Bay. Seattle’s previous low this season was three last week against Kansas City. The Seahawks ended the year with 111, the fewest since 2012 and tied for 15th in the NFL.
THE FINAL WORD
WHAT I SAID: Seahawks 23, Arizona 6.
WHAT HAPPENED: A lot closer game than anyone expected. But a win is a win is a win, especially if you believe in taking momentum into the playoffs. Carroll certainly seems to, even if the analytic evidence is mixed (and the Saints obviously didn’t care). More important is getting the offensive line healthy and playing cleaner on special teams. This was really a pretty easy game to analyze with those two areas standing out as such huge warts.