I thought we’d take a look at third down percentages from 2010 on both offense and defense to get a better understanding of how the Seattle Seahawks can improve in those situations in the upcoming season.
Seattle finished 24th overall in the league defensively in getting off the field on third down, at 39.5 percent.
Offensively, the Seahawks were not much better, converting 35.5 percent of third down opportunities to continue drives, good enough for 22nd overall.
Let’s take a look at the issues on defense first.
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The first six weeks of 2010 Seattle’s defense performed pretty well. The Seahawks ranked No. 2 overall in rushing defense heading into the Oakland game, and Seattle’s ability to stop the run in early downs resulted in its opponents having longer down and distance situations on third down, which led to a better third down percentage.
The Seahawks actually ranked in the top 10 on offense (8th overall) and defense (10th) in third down percentage in Week 6 heading into Chicago. Of course, that all changed after Oakland throttled them two weeks later, 33-3.
Seattle’s opponents had an easier time running on them with defensive linemen Colin Cole and Red Bryant out with injuries, leading to more manageable third downs.
And because of the shorter down and distances, along with an inconsistent offense that struggled to move the ball, the Seahawks did not take as many chances on defense, blitzing less.
As this chart by ESPN’s Mike Sando points out, the Seahawks were 22nd overall in all-out blitzes of six defenders or more, with 2.3 per game. New Orleans led the league with 8.1 a contest.
The Seahawks defensively gave up an average of 5.84 yards on first down, ranked 26th overall in the league.
However, Seattle might be looking to take more chances on third down this year after drafting players like linebackers K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith, corners Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell and safety Mark LeGree, in addition to Kam Chancellor, Walter Thurmond and Roy Lewis – all fast, explosive players who can tackle and cover.
Specifically, the Seahawks will look to free up safety Earl Thomas more and allow him to use his play-making ability, as they did against St. Louis in the final game of the year.
“Once we realized what Earl could do, then we started to tailor stuff and give him more opportunities to cover guys in critical situations and pressure, and then we free him up at times to use his anticipation and savvy,” Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said about Thomas.
Offensively, the Seahawks were last in the league in rushing yards on first down, with 628 yards. It’s no surprise that the Kansas City Chiefs were first in this category with 1,428 yards. But guess who’s second? The Oakland Raiders with 1,337 – so it’s no surprise that Tom Cable is leading the charge with the offensive line, trying to bring that same mentality to Seattle.
The most important thing that affects third down percentage is getting enough yards on first down to make third downs more manageable. That’s why Carroll puts so much emphasis on running the football – effectively running the ball on first down when the defense knows you’re going to run it leads to a more manageable situation on third down, which helps keeps the chains moving and increases time of possession, keeping your defense rested and off the field.
“We were very spotty,” Carroll said about his team’s performance on third down last year. “We were up and down, so we need to find consistency at a better rate.”
Carroll went on to cite creating more continuity and cutting down on mistakes on both sides of the ball, and using his players’ unique abilities in specific roles as ways for Seattle to improve on third down situations.