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Take 2

A different spin on sports by The Seattle Times staff and readers.

January 9, 2015 at 7:36 AM

Seahawks Take 2: Going Beast Mode with advanced stats, keys to the game

BY ROGER PIMENTEL

Running back Marshawn Lynch finds a seam through the Philadelphia Eagles defense Dec. 7.  John Lok / The Seattle Times staff

Running back Marshawn Lynch finds a seam through the Philadelphia Eagles defense Dec. 7.
John Lok / The Seattle Times staff

What do the Seahawks need to do to win this weekend? Depends who you ask.

When the analysts give their “Keys to the Game” on a TV broadcast, it all sounds so easy — a checklist of exactly three things that guarantee a win. The reality check is that there are just as many different keys to victory as there are pundits providing them, and it’s tough to really know what goes into a win.

But when the going gets tough, as they say, the tough use advanced statistical analysis. Using statistical software, we looked at the Seahawks’ season to find out exactly which team and individual statistics contributed most to Seahawks wins this year. Using something called all-subsets regression, we identified the best possible statistical model, using only three variables, to predict a positive margin of victory in a game based on the Seahawks’ regular-season performance.

Without further ado, your Seahawks’ keys to the game.

1. Marshawn Lynch’s rushing yards

No surprises yet, right? Any fan could probably guess that the number of yards Lynch piles up throughout a game is a big factor on how the game turns out. It’s fairly easy to eyeball the correlation as well, given that he averaged 86 yards on the ground in wins and only 68.5 yards in losses (removing his 124-yard performance in the loss to Kansas City, that average goes down to 50 yards per game). Those losses were 3 of his 5 lowest-yardage games of the year, including his season-worst 36 rushing yards in the Week 2 loss to the Chargers.

The statistical analysis gives us a little more information, including the theoretical value of each yard. The statistical model tells us that during the regular season, for each additional rushing yard for Lynch and with all other variables staying the same, the margin of victory increased by 0.15 points — meaning that the Seahawks picked an additional touchdown’s worth of points for every 46.7 yards that Lynch racked up on the ground. The statistical significance means Marshawn Lynch’s rushing yards have been a better predictor of margin of victory than any other Seahawks offensive stat, and that includes Russell Wilson’s passing and rushing efforts.

The Panthers’ run defense is stingy — they’ve only allowed more than 100 yards of rushing once in their past eight games — but the Seahawks’ first key to the game has to be Beast Mode.

2. The opponent’s rushing yards

Conversely, the second predictor of the Seahawks’ success is how well they limit the other team’s rushing attack. Again, this passes the eyeball test — the Seahawks only allowed 100 or more rushing yards in six games, with four of those being their only losses (and two of them against star running backs DeMarco Murray of Dallas and Jamaal Charles of Kansas City). In wins, the Seahawks only allowed an average of 62.4 rushing yards per game, keeping their opponents under 40 four times (Denver, Washington, Oakland, Arizona).

It’s interesting to note that the performance of Seattle’s all-world secondary didn’t make the list. This appears to be the result of a defense that: 1) was stingy all season, not allowing 300 passing yards in any game, and 2) got better as the season progressed, allowing fewer passing yards in the final eight games of the season than in the first eight (149.4 YPG vs. 221.9 YPG, with two of the top four passing-yards-allowed games being wins early in the season).

Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner sacks 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick on Dec. 14.   John Lok / The Seattle Times staff

Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner sacks 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick on Dec. 14.
John Lok / The Seattle Times staff

3. The number of sacks by the Seahawks’ defense

The third and final key to the game is also a defensive statistic. The Hawks weren’t impressive in sacking opposing quarterbacks this season, ranking just below the league average at 37 sacks this season, down from 43 last year. The correlation between pressure on the quarterback and their wins is strong, though. In fact, the Seahawks only amassed two total sacks in their four losses this year. They had at least one sack in every win, and averaged just shy of three sacks in those wins.

This, however, is where we must distinguish between correlation and causation. In the Seahawks’ Week 13 win over the San Francisco, three of their four team sacks came after they had already amassed a lead of at least 16 points, suggesting that the sack total correlated with a solid victory, instead of causing it. When they played the 49ers again two weeks later, it looked different — four of the Seahawks’ six sacks came while tied or trailing, with only two coming when the game was more in hand. Regardless of whether the sacks caused the win or merely resulted from it, we do know that the Seahawks were more likely to have a larger margin of victory this year in games where they had more sacks.

There’s no telling what Cam Newton and the Panthers will bring this weekend, and what the Seahawks will really need to do to win. The pundits may very well be right. But if I had to guess, I’d look at these three keys—and more likely than not be looking at a Seahawks win.

Roger Pimentel, 31,  lives in Auburn with his wife and three sons. He is a senior marketing manager at Amazon.com who once ran the webswite HowToWatchSports.com for several years. The former Los Angeles resident is a rabid consumer of all things Seahawks and is a Clippers fan until the Sonics return. On Twitter: @rogerpimentel

Want to be a reader contributor to The Seattle Times’ Take 2 blog? Email your original, previously unpublished work or proposal to Sports Editor Don Shelton at dshelton@seattletimes.com or sports@seattletimes.com. Not all submissions can be published. Opinions expressed are those of authors, and The Times reserves the right to edit and publish any submissions online and/or in print.

 

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