Saturday, March 29, 2008

Pass Happy Hawks

We all know that last year the Hawks were basically forced into an offensive scheme that was centered around the passing game. This was out of necessity because they were completely ineffective in the run game. The Patriots had a offense that heavily focused on the pass too, but theirs seemed driven by an unnatural desire to mangle their opponents. Either way, this is actually a dangerous strategy. Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders, working in concert for ESPN, has a nice piece about quarterback hits. While it is geared towards Tom Brady, it can be applied to the Hawks as well.

If you want to read some analysis and how it relates to the Hawks....

Basically the story is meant to show that there is more to pass rush statistics than sacks. In essence, it is important to count QB hits along with sacks, and then factor in the number of attempts, as some teams run more than they pass.

Surprisingly, this article actually puts the Hawks line in a positive light, something that not many have done with last years performance. The first thing you may notice, is in the first chart, Matt Hasselbeck was in the top of the league in being bumped around by defenders with a total of 27 hits and 33 sacks. I will look at these numbers more closely in a minute.

The next thing you will see is in a lower chart, that because of the sheer number of pass attempts, actually 3 more than the pass happy Pats, the Seahawks ranked 10th in QB hit percentage. Matt was only hit 9.7% of his attempts. Rating higher that the line many said performed so well all season long in NE.

Here is the funny thing though. The article goes out of its way to mention that QB hits is a subjective stat. Different scorers count them differently. Seattle, and Qwest field are used as an example of a major difference. The Hawks combined to have 60 QB hits scored during their home games, and only 24 on the road. So it is possible that the Qwest field offical scorer is likely to call the lightest bump a QB hit. Call it the synic in me, but I saw our defense at home and on the road, and I think that could be the difference by itself. However, this suggests that it is possible that Hawks could have been even better. Either way, the Hawks still ranked as the 10th best pass protecting line, better than the Pats who got a lot of praise for their work. The Hawks line mostly took abuse. The moral of the story is that either way, when you pass a lot your QB gets knocked around a lot too. Strong reasoning to spend a little money and make sure the team can run next year, right.

What I am also interested in from this article is Hasselbeck's numbers. He was sacked THIRTY FIVE times!!!! Which is not so good, but he was only suffered a mere 27 quarterback hits. So why is this? Well my theory is that this shows poor coaching of the line and poor blocking by the running backs. Hasselbeck is a tough guy. He is not afraid to throw the ball and take a hit. The lack of hits, to me, shows how good this line could be if they fixed the scheme confusion. Another random Football Outsiders stat from a different piece is that the Hawks were tied for tops in the league in untouched defenders getting sacks with 13. This is heavily based on the line scheme, and not so much the actual personnel, else there would be more hits on Hasselbeck. When the linemen find the right scheme, they do quite well. The other reason defenders get through untouched is poor blocking from the running backs. However, Weaver should improve, and Jones is a quite capable blocker too. This bodes quite well for next year.

Also, this is an offense in which the QB often goes through several reads and then makes a decision. Smart QB's throw the ball away and take hits, not sacks. I think this is something that Matt has gotten a lot better at. At times he holds the ball too long, but I feel comfortable saying that if the team stops allowing untouched defenders through the line, the sacks will go down dramatically without the hits rising too much. They could easily put together a season like the Cleveland line last year with only 25 hits and 17 sacks (7.1%). That helped Cleveland win ten games, and they had one of the worst defenses ever. Imagine line play like that with the defense the Hawks are putting on the field. It could be something special. It would truly appear, that Mike Solari and the new running backs are the key. I can't wait to see how it works out.