Pearls of Faux: Falcons Edition

If you, dear reader, have ever read anything I’ve written, you know that my most unfailing literary talent is the construction of unnecessarily long-developing premises that end with sadly anticlimactic, even obvious, conclusions.  Well, Seahawks football is back, and thus, so am I.

Let’s go back — we’re all tense, our emotions in flux — and consider that field that will help us understand ourselves: psychoanalysis. Pioneer Sigmund Freud was desperate to turn his new line of inquiry into a science despite the lack of a scientific process or any evidence in support of his theories; his most lasting contribution (comically influenced by Nietzsche, comical because of Freud’s insistence that he didn’t realize Nietzsche despite actual library receipts!) consists of distinguishing the psyche into superego, id, and ego components. What is critical about this ordering is the contrast, a notion that would be expanded upon in Freud’s most well known student, Jung, who turned that contrast into an active conflict, though he didn’t replicate Freud’s terminology. The primary function of the highest pinnacle of the psyche, in Freud’s consideration, is regulatory: as Freud himself describes it, the ego “attempts to mediate between id and reality,” often requiring the psyche to conceal the way in which it preconsciously rationalizes the “commands of the id.”

Now, if we know anything about Seattle fandom, we know that it is first and foremost an act of self-torture, a painful flagellation in which our secret hope that the Seahawks remain a very good, maybe great!, football team wars with the crushing despair of reality: that, as a team, they often do dumb things that seem at odds with that arcane and cherished hope.

BUT NOT SUNDAY.

On a Sunday that delighted the id much as Freud would have considered church a delight to the superego, the Seahawks were, in a word, fun. Nevertheless, the psyche is a clever enforcer, and the reason for its existence demands that it not permit the id free rein in its joys.

Translating this into football parlance, we can say, and our ego demands it: beware small sample sizes. Indeed, if we use DVOA as our gold standard — an operation that follows from how much DVOA has loved the Seahawks, we see in it a kindred spirit — it’s important to note the existence of weighted DVOA. In a normal year, the first few weeks of DVOA analysis is intended solely as a projection, based in large part on past performance (both the prior season and the preseason). Moreover, DVOA doesn’t even consider opponent adjustments until Week 4, a tacit (if not explicit) concession to the fact that we really don’t know much about any team until they’ve played at least a small handful of games.

Imagine, then, if you will, a psychoanalysis of our fandom, a study in contrast of the eternal conflict between the unyielding id and the moderating ego.

First and foremost, the passing game looked, in a word, great! What’s that, more words are needed? Dominant. Efficient. Smooth. Multiplicitous. Everything we’ve come to expect when Schotty unveils the good plays, conjoining them with Russell Wilson’s hyper-effective, maniacal cerebral cortex. Wilson threw as many TDs as incompletions. And, somehow, an even greater rarity: he completed no passes in a tight window, which is a vast improvement over last year. But even after all of this, he still managed a nearly +10% CPOE. He spread the ball around, and it was pleasing to see that Schotty wasn’t over-using TEs and RBs in the passing game, considering the EPA/play variance between passes to WRs and other passcatchers. The only grounds for disappointment — Metcalf’s three drops — look better when you consider that two of them were tipped. And yet. The Falcons’ secondary consists of: a rookie with no preseason or OTAs, two returning third-year players who helped Atlanta to the 21st best passing defense by DVOA who struggled in both pass defense and tackling, and a potential star who played four games in the last two seasons (because of severe injuries). What if the Seahawks passing attack looked good simply because the Falcons pass defense is bad?

Or consider the offensive line. It has long been conventional wisdom among the wise of Seahawks’ faithful that this team can be explosive with merely competent pass protection.  (We know that Pete Carroll, and possibly Schneider as well, prefer[s] your mauler over your technician in his/their blockers, and Russell Wilson takes enough sacks that even a perfect pass protection scheme couldn’t overcome this.) On Sunday, the pass blocking looked … just that? Competent? Wilson’s Time to Throw was 2.75 seconds, which put him in the bottom third, and any game where Wilson takes a fair amount of time to throw and doesn’t take too many sacks has to be counted a success. But!  Wilson ranked 16th and 24th in terms of Completed and Attempted Air Yards, respectively, suggesting that the Seahawks weren’t interested in calling too many long-developing pass plays. Or look at the Falcons instead, a team that in 2019 ranked 23rd in terms of hurry rates and 20th in terms of hurries per dropback (both by PFF), or that ranked 27th in terms of pressure rate (by FO). What if the Falcons simply aren’t good at rushing passers? What if Dante Fowler isn’t enough of an improvement over Vic Beasley to make that significant of a difference? Or what if we look at that hemisphere of blocking at which Seattle is supposed to be dominant, and see that the Seahawks ranked 16th in terms of rushing EPA/play and 23rd in terms of rushing success rate?

Finally, consider the defensive performance. Giving up 450 passing yards isn’t optimal, but a fair number of those yards came after the Seahawks took a commanding 28-12 lead, when they were playing largely preventative defense, and Matt Ryan’s AY/A was more than 3 yards less than Wilson’s. As everyone has already pointed out, Jamal Adams was seemingly everywhere, Bobby Wagner was back to form after a healthy offseason, and, perhaps most exciting, the Seahawks played significant snaps in a dime package! However. For a team that was supposed to be fielding a top-5 secondary, a secondary that has collectively cost the Seahawks two fifths, two thirds, and two first-round picks, plus a second round pick for nickel, and a third third-round pick for their dime package, that defensive performance was only good for 23rd best by DVOA. The assumption that the Seahawks approached this offseason from a purely analytical perspective — focusing on pass defense to the exclusion of pass rush — hasn’t played out in practice, at least not yet. And perhaps some of this originates in the powerful degree to which the two overlap, even if the former is more indicative of defensive success.  Indeed, the Seahawks only pressured Matt Ryan on 12.5% of his dropbacks, and half of the Seahawks’ two sacks, as well as 3 of their 8 QB hits originated in DB blitzes… these are statistics that do not compare well to the rest of the league, let alone indicative of a dominant defense. In terms of defensive EPA/play, the Seahawks recorded a positive 0.123 for dropbacks, placing them with the Lions in the middle of all teams that played before Monday. We can expect that the Seahawks have a good defense, but we should wonder if the defense looks to be great.

Is there a point to all this? If anything, it’s that we can’t be certain; one might as well ask if there is a point to anything. (Quick answer: probably!) The regulation of the ego is intended to make sense of things, help us see what is real. But this, of course, presumes choice, whether we’re conscious of it or not; in performing its moderating work, the ego “driven by the id, confined by the super-ego, repulsed by reality, struggles [to find] harmony.” Thus, we know little, and most of that, when even harmonious, is largely subjective.

We don’t know much about this team, and what we do know is likely a tiny corner of the universe of what could be known. But what we do know, unequivocally, is that Sunday was fun. We also know that fun — pure and unadulterated, not blemished by a team coached by a titan whose default facial expression is the smirk, that fanciful liar who delights in coyness and making us doubtful — is a bit of a rarity in our fandom. So let the id run wild.