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September 21, 2013 at 9:52 AM

Seahawks need to be better at avoiding third-and-long

RENTON – Every week Pete Carroll asks his team a rhetorical question, in which the answer never changes.

Said receiver Sidney Rice, “He always asks us, ‘What do have to do to win in third and 11-plus?’ And the answer is always, ‘Stay out of that situation.’”

Despite sitting at 2-0 and atop nearly every NFL power ranking, the Seahawks have not done a good job avoiding third-and-long situations. The Seahawks have had 29 third downs this season and 21 of them have been 3rd-and-6 or longer. Of those 21, 14 have been 3rd-and-10 or longer.

Seattle has converted on 38 percent of those third downs, which ranks 18th in the league, but it’s not a sustainable way to operate. Rice said facing 3rd-and-long allows defenses to play Seattle differently than they normally have to because the threat to run the ball is gone.

“It gives them room to back off,” Rice said. “A lot of people don’t play two-man against us because we have a quarterback who can run, but it allows them to drop off the coverage. We would like to keep it in the third and three to six range.”

The root of the problem is penalties, a thorn that has stuck in Seattle’s side through the preseason and now into the first two games of the regular season. The Seahawks have committed 19 penalties this season – tied for sixth-most in the league – and those penalties have often pushed Seattle into third-and-long situations.

Quarterback Russell Wilson always talks about the Seahawks needing to stay on schedule. What he means is keeping the offense moving so the Seahawks either don’t have to face third downs or, when they do, make sure those are third and shorts (anywhere from 3rd and 5 or less generally).

That hasn’t happened much this season. And while there isn’t much correlation between penalties and winning (some of the most penalized teams in the league right now: Denver, Kansas City, San Francisco, Seattle), there is more of a correlation between being good on third down and winning. Here are how teams fared on third down last year. Notice how many of the teams that had good seasons are stacked near the top while many teams that did not are closer to the bottom.

Receiver Doug Baldwin said the difference between third-and-short and third-and-long is huge.

“Because we have such a good running game,” Baldwin said, “people are going to stack the box and that gives us an opportunity to make plays outside and get the first down. If we stay on schedule and get in the two-to-four-yard range, there’s nothing that’s going to stop us.”

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