In the second week of the season, the Arizona Cardinals beat the Seattle Seahawks, 23-20, as a late Neil Rackers field goal followed a fumbled Seahawks exchange. If the Seahawks win the rematch, they'll bag another division title. With the use of Football Outsiders' revolutionary statistics, Doug Farrar looks at the matchups that may decide who wins this important contest.
DVOA Matchup - Cardinals at Seahawks
In this preview of the Cardinals-Seahawks game, Football Outsiders' revolutionary stats are used.
Seahawks.NET
http://sea.scout.com/2/709672.html
SeahawkFootball.com
Dec 9, 2007

DVOA Matchup - Cardinals at Seahawks

DVOA Matchup - Cardinals at Seahawks

In the second week of the season, the Arizona Cardinals beat the Seattle Seahawks, 23-20, as a late Neil Rackers field goal followed a fumbled Seahawks exchange. If the Seahawks win the rematch, they'll bag another division title. With the use of Football Outsiders' revolutionary statistics, Doug Farrar looks at the matchups that may decide who wins this important contest.

The stats used in this analysis are all available at Football Outsiders - the DVOA and DPAR stats referenced here are theirs, and are explained here. In addition, if you want to drill down and get really forensic, you will find some amazing numbers in the "Head-to-Head" section of the FO Premium Database. We'll be featuring some of those numbers in future installments of DVOA Matchup, but you can see a sample here. To get things started, we'll stick with offense, defense, and special teams.

Total DVOA


Team

Total DVOA

Rank

Weighted DVOA

Rank

Variance

Rank

ARI

-6.4%

19

-7.4%

21

27.0%

3

SEA

15.1%

10

13.9%

10

11.9%

18


For the Seahawks, the most interesting aspect of their overall DVOA is that their top ten spot is predominantly due to defense and special teams. If you needed proof that this is now Tim Ruskell's team, look no further. The 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Super Bowl champion that Ruskell helped build, ranked first in defensive DVOA, eighth in special teams DVOA … and 21st in offensive DVOA. It is possible, though not at all glamorous, to win the Super Bowl with an efficient quarterback, the recent loss of a franchise back (Warrick Dunn to Atlanta after the 2001 season trumps Shaun Alexander's ineffectiveness, but not by much), and a productive group of under-the-radar receivers (Keyshawn Johnson, Joe Jurevicius, Keenan McCardell). Tampa Bay's defensive DVOA of -33.6% was quite a bit better, though.

For the Seahawks to go on any real playoff run, something's going to have to bust loose, and it would probably have to be the offense. There are simply too many teams playing spread formations and passing over 60 percent of the time for a league-average offense to survive, and Seattle is not in possession of the 2002 Bucs/2000 Ravens/1985 Bears type of defense. This is as good as it gets, though it is probably sustainable. A Dallas/Green Bay/New England postseason scenario would be Seattle's dream and nightmare in equal proportions.

Notice the Variance as well - the Seahawks are what we think they are, while Arizona is a somewhat spikier proposition.

Offense vs. Defense


Team

Total DVOA

Rank

Weighted DVOA

Rank

Variance

Rank

SEA OFF

1.2%

15

0.7%

15

2.4%

31

ARI DEF

1.2%

16

-0.4%

15

10.5%

3


Ah, yes. "Mediocrity vs. Mediocrity" doesn't sell tickets, but it's been the truth when discussing Seattle's offense and Arizona's defense. That said, the tables are starting to turn. Arizona has lost All-World safety Adrian Wilson and cornerback Eric Green for the season; remaining marquee 'backer Antrel Rolle is a misplaced nickel corner who is infamous for biting on double moves and acquiring penalties. Meanwhile, Mike Holmgren's re-commitment to a pass-wacky offense since the bye has paid dividends.

The Seahawks are 4-1 since their break, with the only loss coming in overtime to the Browns. In those five games, Hasselbeck has completed 127 of 203 passes (62.6%) for 1,369 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions.
Hasselbeck's performance has been all the more impressive given the fact that opposing defenses know what's coming -- the days of Seattle's elite running game are long gone. The Seahawks rank 12th in passing DVOA (13.3%) and 28th in rushing DVOA (-15.3%). Arizona's defense is 13th in DVOA against the pass and 23rd against the run, which tells us that Hasselbeck should have another frisky day.

One important note - Arizona's terrible against #1 and #2 receivers (25th and 20th in DVOA, respectively), but quite good against #3 guys and tight ends. They're average defenders against the screen pass (16th), which would be relevant if passing to their backs was something that the Seahawks actually did. Deion Branch and Bobby Engram should have big numbers.

One more notable aspect is that Seattle's offensive line, which has indeed been truly offensive most of the season, will be experiencing a few shakeups in this game. Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack will continue to get reps along with Rob Sims at left guard -- at least until Womack experiences another hangnail or fat globule strain and can't go anymore. Center Chris Spencer has been the team's representative in the "Oblique of the Week" contest, but that may bode well for his performance. Patrick Kerney had a strained oblique in early November, but he picked up seven sacks in the month. Lofa Tatupu was able to overcome a recent oblique issue to intercept three A.J. Feeley goatballs last week against the Eagles. At this rate, the coaching staff
might be aiming football-filled JUGS machines at the obliques of every player on the team.

Team

Total DVOA

Rank

Weighted DVOA

Rank

Variance

Rank

ARI OFF

-2.1%

18

-3.6%

18

8.2%

9

SEA DEF

-11.1%

4

-12.3%

4

10.3%

5






First, the obvious. Last week against the Browns, Arizona's passing offense suffered mightily due to the fact that receiver Larry Fitzgerald was out with a groin injury. He's a game-time decision against the Seahawks. With no Fitzgerald in the game, Cleveland could roll coverage on Boldin, who didn't see his pass thrown his way until halfway through the third quarter. Later in that quarter, Boldin suffered a toe injury and will be out for this game. Do not, under any circumstances, expect the same to happen to Fitzgerald if Boldin is out.

The perception of Arizona's receivers is that Fitzgerald and Boldin are relatively equal in productivity, but it just isn't true. This year, Fitzgerald ranks 16th in DPAR, with Boldin bringing up the rear at 33rd. In 2006, Fitzgerald was 7th, and Boldin 21st. In 2005, Fitzgerald was 4th, and Boldin was 15th. You get the idea.

If Fitzgerald plays, Marcus Trufant will most likely have the "honor" of covering him, a fact which has left chilblains running up and down the spines of the Seahawks faithful in contests past. However, it's well worth remembering that this year's Trufant is a very different player, and he would be going up against a slightly diminished version of the man who is probably the best receiver in the NFC West.

Kelly Jennings would then have Bryant Johnson to deal with, and this is a matchup in which receiver and defender are probably a bit better than people think. Another outlet to watch for is tight end Leonard Pope, who had five touchdowns among his 28 catches. The Seahawks do well against #1 receivers, tight ends and running backs; less so against receivers #2, 3 and 4, whoever they may be. However, Arizona's current receiver situation leaves everything up in the air.

Edgerrin James has rushed for over 100 yards only twice this season -- last week against the Browns, and in that week 2 win over Seattle. The good news for the rematch is that the Seahawks currently rank sixth in Defensive Adjusted Line Yards, thanks in large part to defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, one of the NFL's best rookies.

Kurt Warner's been sacked once in every 21.8 pass attempts, ninth-best in the league (Hasselbeck gets taken down once every 17.4 attempts). It will be interesting to see whether the Seahawks go with the heavy pass rush they had been using recently, or the hands-off, coverage-specific approach implemented against the Eagles. Both approaches are working right now, which is one reason the Seahawks are 4th in Defensive DVOA.


Special Teams

Team

Total DVOA

Rank

FG/XP Pts+

Kick Pts+

Kick Ret Pts+

Punt Pts+

Punt Ret Pts+

SEA ST

2.8%

10

-0.65

0.00

9.10

-7.80

11.84

ARI ST

-3.1%

24

-3.73

2.44

-1.54

-16.95

6.21


10th may seen alright until you consider that before Josh Brown's recent and uncharacteristic yips, and Ryan Plackemeier's transformation into Tom Rouen's stunt double, this unit was top three. The Seahawks rank 10th in average yards per kick return (23.8), and Arizona ranks 16th (23.0). Seattle allows 24.7 yards per kick return, 25th in the league, while Arizona allows 23.3 per kick return, ranking 21st. Arizona's 13.8 yards allowed per punt return is second-best in the NFL, ahead of only the Colts, and the Seahawks rank 24th in this category at 11.2 yards allowed per return. Seattle ranks 5th in yardage gained per punt return with 11.7; Arizona is 9th at 10.7. Neil Rackers' 68.2 field goal percentage is his worst since 2001. Brown has made 77.8 percent of his field goals this season, but he's missed four of five and five of his last nine.

One of Plackemeier's oddest statistical quirks is that with one exception (the week 6 game against New Orleans), his good games and bad games have alternated weeks. Mitch Berger is Arizona's new punter, signed after the recent release of Matt Barr, who ranked last in the NFL in both net and gross average.