Monday, January 27, 2014

Seahawks vs. Broncos: A Statistical Analysis Part 1

By Jackson Safon

There are thousands of different storylines for Super Bowl XLVIII, but one of the things that often gets neglected is the simple comparison of the two teams. Marshall already illustrated how the Seahawks’ defense matches up against Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense, but I am going to use statistics to truly compare the two teams and show how they stack up with one another. Along with standard statistics such as passing yards, completion percentage, and others, I am also going to be using a statistic called DVOA, which stands for Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. Because there is so much to go into, this is part one of a three part statistical analysis.

Peyton Manning will lead his 1st ranked Broncos offense on to the field Sunday against the Seahawks.
Business Insider

DVOA was created by Football Outsiders and it essentially takes every single play of the NFL season and compares it to a league-average based on situation. In essence it is the ideal stat because it takes into account opponent, situational leverage, even luck. The way DVOA is measured is through percentages. For example, the Seahawks and Broncos ranked first and second in overall DVOA during the regular season, with scores of 40.1% and 32.8% respectively. This means that the Seahawks were 40.1% better than the average team, and the Broncos were 32.8% better than the average team. To put this in perspective, the Seahawks’ 40.1% overall DVOA is the fifth best all time. Additionally, it is interesting to note that this is the first time since 1999 that the top two teams in DVOA are also the No. 1 seeds in each conference. Finally, a version of DVOA called weighted DVOA adjusts for time of the year. In essence it means that more recent games matter more.

To start, I am going to hash it all out for both offenses and defenses, and then do the comparing afterwards. Some of these stats can get a bit confusing so bear with me.

Broncos Offense
Denver’s offense was unstoppable this year. It scored the most points in NFL history and was dominant in most categories. A couple stats to illustrate how good they were are as follows:
  • The gap in points per game between the Broncos (37.9), and the second place team (Bears at 27.8), is almost the same as the gap between the Bears and the 30th best scoring offense, the Buccaneers at 18 per game.
  • They averaged over 40 yards per game more than the second best team in that category
  • Their offensive DVOA of 33.7% was the sixth best all-time

To go more in-depth, the Broncos passing DVOA was first in the league, but rushing DVOA was only 10th. Additionally, they faced the third easiest defensive schedule according to Football Outsiders, and only faced four teams in the top half of the league in defensive DVOA (but played five games because they played the Chiefs twice). In these games however, Manning and the Broncos’ dominance wasn’t deterred even slightly, as the team averaged 38.2 points per game and Manning averaged 376.2 yards and 3.6 touchdowns. He destroyed defenses all year and top ranked units were no different. Manning and the Broncos were seemingly unstoppable all year on offense, and for those who say they have not been as good in the playoffs, you are wrong. They may have averaged less points per game than their season average, but their points per possession is actually up from their season average, there have simply been less possessions so far in these playoffs. There is hope for the Seahawks however, as the Broncos offense had a historic DVOA of 33.7% as I already mentioned, but their weighted DVOA (which remember reflects how teams play at the end of the season) was only 27.1%. This figure was still good for first in the league, but was less than 1% above New England. To sum that all up, there are positives and negatives for the Seahawks: the Broncos offense was better at the beginning of the season than it was at the end, but it is still historically great and has actually been better in the postseason than in the regular season. Hmm. Tough to figure out. But it will become easier as we go along.

Seahawks Offense
The Seahawks offense was good but not great this season. Early in the year, when the offense was clicking, the ‘Hawks were hovering between second and third in points per game, but they finished the season tied for eighth with a Packers squad that was without their starting quarterback for over a month. DVOA agrees with the eye-test, the Seahawks offense was better earlier in the season. Their offensive DVOA was seventh at 9.4%, but their weighted DVOA was ninth, at 8.7%. This isn’t a massive decline by any means, but it does go to show that the ‘Hawks offense got worse. This news is even worse when one considers that the Seahawks were fourth in offensive DVOA last season, Russell Wilson’s rookie year. As expected however, the Seahawks were more balanced on offense than the Broncos this season, as they were eighth and seventh in passing and rushing DVOA respectively. This could be good news if there is snow during the Super Bowl, as running games become more important in those types of conditions.

Russell Wilson will need to bring his "A" game if the Seahawks want to win on Sunday.

In contrast with the Broncos, the Seahawks offense played against the ninth toughest defensive schedule that included 11 games (compared to Denver’s five), against team in the top half of defensive DVOA. In these games however, Russell Wilson only averaged 205 yards per game and only 1.63 touchdowns. While these statistics really don’t look great on paper, especially compared to Manning’s, they are actually right at Wilson’s season averages. With a run game and defense like the Seahawks have, consistency like Wilson portrayed is exactly what they needed. 

One of the things that concerns me most about the Seahawks’ offensive struggles as of late is Wilson’s lack of rushing. In the final seven games of the regular season, Wilson only averaged 24 yards rushing on just over four carries per game, compared to his season averages of 36 yards on six carries. Furthermore, in the playoffs, Wilson is only averaging four carries per game and eight yards. Not good. I think Wilson plays better when he can run anyways as it means he is reacting more as opposed to over-thinking.

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