DVOA Matchup, Part 2 - Seahawks at Panthers

Panthers rookie linebacker Jon Beason

In the conclusion of Seahawks.NET's game preview, Doug Farrar takes a look at the Carolina Panthers' defense and Seattle's recent special teams issues using Football Outsiders' revolutionary statistics.

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. Since we covered Carolina's offense in part 1, we'll talk about defense and special teams in the conclusion of our preview.

Offense vs. Defense

Team

Total DVOA

Rank

Weighted DVOA

Rank

Variance

Rank

SEA OFF

3.7%

15

3.8%

14

3.1%

31

CAR DEF

3.0%

19

1.2%

18

7.9%

11

First of all, the ferocious pass rush of the previous Panthers? That's gone. Nothing but a memory. The Panthers ranked as follows in sacks since 2003: 7th (40) in 2003; 24th (34) in 2004; 7th (45) in 2005; 6th (41) in 2006; and ... (drum roll) … 32nd (16) in 2006. Dead last. Julius Peppers, the man who had put up 52.5 sacks from his rookie campaign in 2002 through the 2006 campaign, has a total of three in 2007, and he's played in every game.

This season, Peppers has been more notable for his extracurricular actions - he was flagged for two personal fouls against the Jaguars last week. Only the defenses of the Rams and Bills have courted fewer offensive holding penalties that Carolina (11). This front four simply isn't a threat anymore. Right now, rookie middle linebacker Jon Beason is probably the team's most effective defensive athlete.

The Seahawks, on the other hand, have proven that consistent pass rush requires constant personnel commitment, as evidenced by their rankings in Defensive Adjusted Sack Rate since Tim Ruskell became team president before the 2005 season:

Adjusted Sack Rate

YEAR

SEA

CAR

2003

6.6% (14)

7.1% (6)

2004

5.9% (28)

6.0% (27)

2005

7.8% (6)

7.5% (9)

2006

7.0% (11)

7.4% (7)

2007

8.0% (5)

4.4% (31)

Yeah, that Patrick Kerney deal that so many of us (including yours truly) thought was crazy has turned out pretty well. Carolina's pass defense in and of itself isn't too bad - they're ranked 14th in DVOA against the pass, and their 12 interceptions and 83.2 passer rating allowed are safely in the middle of the pack. Sadly, for this Panthers team, middle of the pack in anything equals standout performance. This is also a good time for Deion Branch to stand out, as the Panthers rank 28th in DVOA against #1 receivers:

vs. #1 WR

vs. #2 WR

vs. Other WR

vs. TE

vs. RB

31.2%

(28)

-0.9%

(16)

-44.8%

(3)

12.7%

(17)

-9.8%

(13)

 

 

Run defense is a different story -- Carolina ranks 21st against the run, and as a team whose offense frequently puts them in no-win situations, the Panthers have faces the sixth-most rushing attempts in the NFL this season - 395, or 134 more rushing attempts than passing attempts. Conversely, the Seahawks have faced 328 rushing attempts, ninth-best in the league, and only 41 more than the 81 pass attempts they've defended. Balance shows that a defense is working -- what you obviously don't want is to show a decided weakness that other teams can exploit. This should be a good set of matchups for a Seattle team that is led by a very hot quarterback right now.

Special Teams

Team

Total
DVOA

Rank

FG/XP Pts+

Kick Pts+

Kick Ret
Pts+

Punt Pts+

Punt Ret
Pts+

CAR ST

-6.4%

32

3.78

-9.85

-14.07

-9.16

-1.39

SEA ST

2.5%

12

-0.60

-1.53

9.18

-7.56

12.29







How much wood would a long-snapper chop if a long-snapper could chop wood?

If the subject of this question is recently cut long-snapper Boone Stutz, the answer seems to be, "A whole forestful". FO Big Kahuna Aaron Schatz detailed the effect that Stutz' presence had on Seattle's special teams in a recent ESPN article:

Seattle just signed its third long-snapper of the season, Jeff Robinson, who replaces Boone Stutz, who replaced Derek Rackley after Week 5.

With Rackley as the snapper, Seattle punts were worth 3.2 points of field position above league average, and Seattle gained 2.4 points on field goals compared to a league-average kicker. With Stutz, punts were worth minus-10.8 points of field position below league average, while missed field goals and an aborted extra point cost the Seahawks minus-3.0 points compared to a league-average kicker.

Mike Holmgren recently put it very succinctly. "The snap, like the snap from center or anything that you think should be fairly automatic, we can't think that much about it," he said. "And certainly our kicker can't, and our punter can't. If all of a sudden they go, 'Where is it going, and what's happening here?' then that affects how they play."

Robinson hasn't played in the NFL since 2005, but longtime NFL scout Tom Marino, who knew the veteran from his days in St. Louis, told me this about Seattle's new long snapper:

First off, he is a great kid and was a very dependable long snapper for the Rams.  He also worked some at tight end, fullback, and H-back but was really not a factor at any of those positions.  The Cowboys signed him as a free agent and gave him a good deal of money, but they wanted him to do things he was unable to do in my opinion.  As a long snapper he was extremely dependable and even covered better then one would expect.  After he signed with the Cowboys, he was still hanging around the locker room (saying his goodbyes for what seemed like a week) Everyone liked him, from the coaches to the security guards.

Translation: It can't get any worse than it was. Well … actually, it can, as evidenced by Carolina's special teams numbers.

The summary is simple for this game: John Fox' team will have to do everything right and hope for a Seahawks defensive letdown against what will most likely be an undrafted rookie quarterback making his first NFL start. Given Holmgren's admonitions about not letting down, I don't think there's much of a chance. Seattle desperately wants to avoid last season's late stumble. This game could be closer than it seems due to the road and early game factors, but the dogs will hunt.

This one might get ugly.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, a staff writer for Football Outsiders, a contributing author to Pro Football Prospectus 2007, and he writes NFL previews for the New York Sun. Feel free to e-mail him here.

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