Man, I hate statistics.
They’re so smug in their certainty, and yet so shamefully willing to be shaped to serve any misguided intent.
Numbers never lie, perhaps, but statistics have no such compunctions.
Statistics will try to tell you that Matt Schaub (89.5 lifetime passer rating) had a better career than Dan Marino (86.4), or that Trent Green (86.0) was better than John Elway (79.9).
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Statistics will try to convince you that there are no “clutch” players. That’s a lie. We’ve all seen them.
Stats coldly ignore toughness, and timely excellence, and can’t conceive of the magic that happens when a team or a player occupies the ineffable athletic “sweet spot,” even for a short while.
But some numbers have to be exploited for context to try to decipher some of the weird things going on with the 2015 Seattle Seahawks.
This team has a historic case of the Fourth-Quarter Blues. A sudden-onset case, at that.
16 NFL teams have made it through Game 9 of a season having owned fourth-quarter leads in every game in the past 15 seasons. Nine were undefeated
An ESPN stats whiz friend of mine told me Wednesday that in the past 15 seasons, only 16 NFL teams have made it through Game 9 of a season having owned fourth-quarter leads in every game.
And of those 16 teams, 10 of them were undefeated.
So why are the Seahawks the only one to be 4-5?
First the context, then the causes.
Through the first three periods of their nine games, the Seahawks own a 151-99 scoring advantage. In fourth quarters, they’ve been hammered, 72-48.
While becoming one of the rare defenses to lead the NFL in points-against for three seasons, the Seahawks allowed 60 fourth-quarter points in the 16 regular season games of 2013, and surrendered just seven more points, 67, in 2014 fourth quarters.
But through nine games of 2015, they’re already at 72?
In the previous two seasons, they were 19-2 when holding a lead after the third period. In those two seasons — 32 games — opponents mounted fourth-quarter scoring drives of 80 yards or more eight times.
Through nine games this season, they’ve been burned for seven such drives.
Arizona and Carolina each had two fourth-quarter drives of at least 80 yards, more than the Seahawks allowed in the fourth periods of the entire 2013 season.
In the five losses, opponents have picked up 44 first downs to Seattle’s 23. So what becomes clear is that those seeking a unit to blame are caught in a quandary.
As did Arizona and Carolina, Cincinnati racked up 10 first downs in the fourth quarter of the Bengals win over the Seahawks. The Seahawks had one first down.
Do you blame the defense that couldn’t get off the field or the offense that couldn’t stay on?
The defense, surely, has been seen too much action in the loses — 84 plays on Sunday against Arizona, 79 at Cincinnati and 72 against Carolina.
But the number of plays the Seattle defense has averaged per game (61.6) is roughly the same as last season (61.9).
We’re playing as hard as we can (but) we don’t make any excuses for anything. Regardless of the circumstances, regardless if you’ve been out there for 40 minutes or 45 minutes, you’ve got to make it happen.
“The human body is the human body,” cornerback Richard Sherman said Wednesday when asked if fatigue is affecting the defense. “We’re playing as hard as we can (but) we don’t make any excuses for anything. Regardless of the circumstances, regardless if you’ve been out there for 40 minutes or 45 minutes, you’ve got to make it happen. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that last week.”
Sherman cited penalties as an issue against Arizona. They obviously were, particularly afflicting the offense in the first half and the defense in the second half. They were flagged for four accepted penalties for 38 yards in the last 15 minutes against the Cardinals.
The offense draws its share of culpability, too. Quarterback Russell Wilson, often under pressure from ineffective protection, has thrown only one fourth-quarter touchdown this season.
In his first three seasons, he put together 21 passing touchdowns against eight interceptions in fourth quarters. This season, his fourth-period rating is 85.1, down from 96.2 last season and a high of 102.5 as a rookie.
Add it up, and the Seahawks are as good as any team in the league for three quarters. And worse than they’ve been in a long time in the final, decisive 15 minutes.
They simply aren’t making the big plays on either side of the ball when the game is most in doubt.
It’s hard to make the numbers say anything else.