Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Seahawks vs. Broncos: A Statistical Analysis Part 2

By Jackson Safon

Time for part two. We left off having done some analysis on both the Broncos’ and Seahawks’ offenses, with the conclusion being that the Broncos are much, much better on that side of the ball. Obvious, right? Yes, but there is a lot more to it, and I highly advise you to go read part one before continuing on here. I will wait.

Did you do it? Good. Next on the docket is looking at the games the two Super Bowl teams had in common this season, as those would naturally be good games to compare performance in.

The Seahawks and Broncos actually played five of the same opponents this season, Jacksonville, Houston, Indianapolis, Tennessee, and the New York Giants. Interestingly, they played the same teams at home and on the road. Even more interesting, in the five common games, both teams went 4-1, with their lone loss being on the road at the Colts. Because the Seahawks and Broncos had the home and away games against the same teams and they had the same record in these five games, comparing the performances is very interesting.

First up is the games against the Jacksonville Jaguars. It was a week three game for the Seahawks and a week six game for the Broncos, both teams played at home. In each of these games, the home teams dominated, with the Seahawks winning 45-17, and the Broncos winning 35-19. While these scores are pretty similar, after looking deeper it is clear the Seahawks played better in their game against the Jaguars. The Seahawks completely dominated their game, and even brought in their reserves in the third quarter. The Broncos however were only up by two at the half, and didn’t have the game in hand until much later. In their games against the Jaguars, Russell Wilson and Peyton Manning had the same completion percentage and amount of interceptions, but Wilson actually threw two more touchdowns. Neither team was able to get the running game going very well, but the Seahawks ended up averaging 7.1 yards per play to a measly 5.7 for the Broncos. In the first of their common games, the Seahawks outplayed the Broncos in all facets.

Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson had very similar games against Jacksonville. The only difference? Wilson threw for two more touchdowns. 

Another of their common games was against the Houston Texans, and this is an interesting one to examine because of the Texans’ third ranked pass defense, by DVOA. Russell Wilson and the Seahawks passing game really struggled, to the tune of 123 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. Manning on the other hand, shredded the Texans’ strong pass defense for 400 yards and four touchdowns. The Seahawks were only three of fourteen on third down and averaged 4.7 yards per play, well below their season average. The Broncos defense played better as well, holding the Texans to 13 points, while the Seahawks let up 20 in one of their worst defensive performance of the season.

Both teams lost to the Indianapolis Colts in Indy this season, so I figured this would be one of the most interesting games to examine. Manning was virtually flawless as he was all season, throwing for 386 yards, three touchdowns and only one interception, but the rest of the offense wasn’t as successful. Knowshon Moreno only rushed for 40 yards and averaged less than three yards per carry. Additionally, the Broncos were five of sixteen on third down which was well below their season average. The Seahawks offense was even worse on third down, converting only two of their twelve attempts. It seems the main cause for the loss of both teams was the defense, or lack thereof, as the Colts scored 34 against the ‘Hawks and 39 against the Broncos.

These two teams played two more common games against the Titans and Giants, but the narrative was pretty much the same. Over the five games, the Seahawks averaged 27.8 points compared to the Broncos ridiculous 39.4. The Seahawks defense however significantly outplayed the Broncos’ unit, allowing only 16.8 points per game compared to the Broncos defense that allowed 24.4. The biggest disparity however is one Seahawks fans have harped on all year, third down efficiency. The ‘Hawks converted only 27% of their third downs in the five common games, while the Broncos converted 40%. Both of these are below the season averages, but the ‘Hawks will need to boost that number if they want to win the Super Bowl.
Another of the more interesting points of comparison between the two teams is the place where most football pundits say games are won and lost: the trenches. Offensive and defensive lines are the start to every single play in football, and the team that owns the line of scrimmage has a great chance of coming out with a Super Bowl victory.

Denver’s pass protection was the best in the league, allowing a league low 20 sacks, and boasting a league best adjusted sack rate (DVOA), of 3.7%. The Broncos were first but where were the Seahawks? Dead last. They were middle of the pack in terms of sacks allowed, but that is mostly because of the man under center, Harry Houdini himself. The Seahawks were last in the NFL in adjusted sack rate. First and last. Not a good sign for Seattle. That may trouble some fans, but others could say “But what about run blocking? We can make up for it there.”. Wrong. The Broncos actually had a better run blocking offensive line by DVOA. It wasn’t a lot better, but it was better.

Defensive line play is the flip side to this, and if either team can dominate on the defensive line, they can totally disrupt an offense. This was shown to Seahawk fans firsthand this season, as Robert Quinn, Chris Long, and the Rams defensive line were in the Seahawks backfield seemingly every play in both games they played, resulting in the Seahawks barely averaging over 20 points in those two games. More bad news however Seahawk fans, as the Broncos have the third best defensive line in terms of run stopping in the NFL. They were ninth in rushing yards allowed, but after DVOA adjusts for schedule and everything else, the Broncos defensive line ranks third. Not good news for the Seahawks’ 13th ranked run blocking offensive line. There is a light at the end of the tunnel however, as the Seahawks crush the Broncos in pass-rushing defensive line. The Broncos are in the bottom half of the NFL in terms of adjusted sack rate, which is the statistic of choice to rank defensive lines. Although the Seahawks only had three more sacks than the Broncos, they were seventh in the NFL in adjusted sack rate. This will be a HUGE storyline to watch, as being able to get pressure against Peyton Manning without blitzing is one of the few ways to disrupt his timing.

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