By Adam Dobrowolski
Cold, Hard Football Facts Big-Game, Big-Stat Guru
With a runaway narrative that happens in times like the Super Bowl, it often becomes a time when the Mainstream Media tends to forget anything else about the big game. That actual tale of the tape tends to be forgotten.
It seems to be no different this year, as the focus seems to be singled in on Peyton Manning facing the league’s best defense.
While that’s not an inaccurate assessment of the big game, it’s far from the only battle that will happen in Super Bowl XLVIII that you need to know.
As our very own Colonel Comey already pointed out, it’s quite amazing in this age of sports media that Russell Wilson’s historic efficiency through his first two years is more or less completely forgotten in the Mainstream Media’s Super Bowl narrative.
You might say he's DangeRuss, to steal his Twitter handle (@DangeRussWilson).
Of course, Wilson’s role will be the primary factor in Seattle’s success, depending on the pace in which team possess the ball and score on Sunday.
Just by knowing the history of the high-powered offenses in the NFL postseason, we know how the story can end badly for Manning and the Broncos. There are now 55 teams in pro football history (NFL, AFL and AAFC) to score at least 30 points per game in the regular season (add in the 2012 Patriots and 2013 Broncos to the list referenced). So far, only 14 of those teams won a league championship.
Looking into more detail, when a full postseason field is considered, only five of the 19 teams since 1990 with this big-tease offense (excluding the 2013 Broncos) won the Super Bowl. The percentage (26.32 success rate) might be better than the average playoff team, but these offenses are supposed to be the best ones in the league.
Many times, these teams were defeated by more balanced teams once the scoring pace slowed down in the playoffs (see: 2001 Rams, 2004 Colts, 2007 Patriots, 2010-12 Patriots).
The Seahawks are not only a team that owns the league’s best defense. They ranked first in nine different Quality Stats in the regular season. We know that if this game sees a lower scoring affair than the Broncos are used to seeing, it’ll firmly favor the team from the Great Northwest.
However, what will happen if this Super Bowl has higher scoring? If the big game’s history, both teams scored at least 24 points seven times. However, it’s happened six in the last 22 games, so it’s something that isn’t far out of question. At first glance it looks like the Broncos would have the distinct advantage, especially when you consider how infrequently the Seahawks are in that position. They allowed 24+ points only five times over the last two years, postseason included. Russell Wilson owns only a 1-4 record in those games.
Leave it to the Cold, Hard Football Facts to dispel any myths and produce true analysis on this issue. As the numbers and game-by-game details go, Wilson isn’t any less of the marvel in higher-scoring games.
Still As DangeRuss As Ever
Since entering the NFL, Wilson immediately made the Seahawks a winning machine. Russell Wilson owns a 27-9 record so far in his NFL career. Better yet, he’s never lost a game by more than seven points. This shows that Wilson avoids making the mistakes that puts his team in a huge pickle.
It also shows that in the rare case he does, Wilson will make the necessary plays to put the team back in position to win. Regardless of what happens Sunday, you can’t count out DangeRuss.
For his nine losses, he’s lost by a combined 41 points. Thus, he owns an average 4.56 margin of defeat. Note that 10 teams owned an average scoring margin worse than that in 2013, while eight did so in 2012. One team this year did best Seattle’s average margin (5.0 per game this year) in the regular season. The Patriots lost their four games by 18 points, a 4.5 average. However, they did end up losing to the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game by 10 points.
Very few teams can say that they say were in position to win against Wilson and the Seahawks, even in the fourth quarter. In fact, seven of Wilson’s nine games involve a blown fourth-quarter lead. Both of those losses were on the road against divisional opponents. This includes a Week 4 loss in 2012 against the Rams and a Week 7 loss in 2012 against the 49ers. That’s extremely impressive.
What this means is that Seattle hasn’t trailed an entire fourth quarter in more than a year and a half of football. As a result, the Seahawks held a lead in the fourth quarter and/or won in overtime in 29 consecutive games, dating back to Week 8 of the 2012 season. No team can remotely match this.
Including games in which teams didn’t lead with elapsed time, but won in overtime, here’s a list of current streaks of leading in the fourth quarter and/or winning in overtime (postseason included):
- The best streaks: Seattle Seahawks 29, San Francisco 49ers 16, Detroit Lions 9
- Decent streaks: Denver Broncos 4, Pittsburgh Steelers 4, Philadelphia Eagles 3
- At least there's a streak: Kansas City Chiefs 2, Green Bay Packers 2, New York Giants 2, New York Jets 2, Tennessee Titans 2
- No streak: Chicago Bears 1, Minnesota Vikings 1, Arizona Cardinals 0, Atlanta Falcons 0, Baltimore Ravens 0, Buffalo Bills 0, Carolina Panthers 0, Cincinnati Bengals 0, Cleveland Browns 0, Dallas Cowboys 0, Houston Texans 0, Indianapolis Colts 0, Jacksonville Jaguars 0, Miami Dolphins 0, New England Patriots 0, New Orleans Saints 0, Oakland Raiders 0, San Diego Chargers 0, St. Louis Rams 0, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 0, Washington Redskins 0
Of the longest three streaks, the Seahawks own a 23-6 record in those games, while the 49ers own a 13-3 record. Somehow, though, the Lions finished the year with a 3-6 record. Defense clearly matters. So does solid coaching. Still, the margin of difference between the Seahawks and 49ers (13 games) is larger than the streak any other of the 30 NFL teams.
Looking back further, Russell Wilson held a lead in every NFL game in his career. (This includes the Week 9 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in which his only “lead” came with the game-winning field goal by Steven Hauschka.)
Current streaks of leading at any time, including wins in overtime:
- The best streaks: Seahawks 36, Broncos 30, Panthers 30, 49ers 16, Lions 11
- Decent streaks: Chiefs 7, Titans 7, Falcons 6, Packers 5, Steelers 4
- At least there's a streak: Bengals 3, Eagles 3, Redskins 3, Giants 2, Jets 2
- No streak: Ravens 1, Bears 1, Texans 1, Dolphins 1, Vikings 1, Cardinals 0, Bills 0, Browns 0, Cowboys 0, Colts 0, Jaguars 0, Patriots 0, Saints 0, Raiders 0, Chargers 0, Rams 0, Buccaneers 0
The Seahawks never lead in overtime loss at Arizona on Week 17 in 2011. That was the last game before the Russell Wilson era, and it was also the last time the Seahawks failed to lead in a game. This year alone, only the two Super Bowl teams and the Carolina Panthers led in every game they played. No wonder they made up three of four teams to earn a first-round bye.
So has any quarterback gone this far into his career while holding lead in each game? That’s something we’ll have to investigate in the offseason.
For now, let’s focus on the lone flaw in Wilson’s resume. His 1-4 record in games in which the Seahawks allowed 24+ points at the surface paints a picture of somebody who cannot adequately keep up with the punches. However, a game-by-game breakdown suggests something a bit different.
Week 8, 2012: Detroit Lions 28, Seattle Seahawks 24
Wilson rating: 25-of-35, 236 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 96.85 rating
Wilson QBR: 26 adv, 36 att, 245 yards, 2 TD, 1 TO, 97.57 QBR
Key notes: Blown fourth-quarter lead, road game with approx. 10am PST kickoff
The details: Wilson and the Seattle offense started this game off on fire. The Seahawks scored on their first three possessions to build a 17-7 lead, and Wilson 8-of-10 for 64 yards and a passing touchdown. He also threw a deep pass to Golden Tate that drew a 41-yard pass interference penalty.
After that, the first half drives included a pair of three-and-outs and a 61-yard missed field goal. Following that, the two third quarter drives included a punt and an interception.
Wilson stepped his game back up with a sterling fourth quarter. He led a 12-play, 87-yard touchdown drive in 6:08 to give the Seahawks the lead back at 24-21. Wilson went 6-of-8 for 75 yards and the go-ahead passing touchdown. However, Detroit countered with a 16-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to grab the lead with 20 seconds left. After the Seahawks got no return on a muffed kickoff, there were only two chances for a touchdown with 82 yards to go. You can’t put that one on Wilson.
On one final note, six of Seattle’s 10 drives finished in Detroit territory.
Week 11, 2012: Miami Dolphins 24, Seattle Seahawks 21
Wilson rating: 21-of-27, 224 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 125.93 rating
Wilson QBR: 28 adv, 34 att, 254 yards, 2 TD, 0 TO, 117.40 QBR
Key notes: Blown fourth-quarter lead, road game with approx. 10am PST kickoff
The details: Honestly, Wilson’s rating should speak for itself, but we’ll oblige by giving the details. Seattle didn’t even begin this game in successful fashion on offense. In fact, the Seahawks went three-and-out in their first four drives. Wilson completed only two of five passes for 10 yards, while he rushed once for five yards. Seattle even punted on its fifth drive, with Wilson finally getting hot passing the ball. Still, it took Miami until its fifth drive to score, going up 7-0 after a Reggie Bush touchdown.
After that, Wilson went 15-of-17 passing for 165 yards and two touchdowns. That’s amazing for a rookie playing on the road against a team with a solid pass defense. However, the defense didn’t do as amazing, allowing Miami to score on its final three drives en route to scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter. Those drives went as followed: seven plays for 82 yards and a touchdown, six plays for 80 yards and a touchdown, and seven plays for 65 yards over the final 1:32 and the game-winning field goal. This comes after Seattle held 14-7 and 21-14 leads in the fourth quarter.
In hindsight, this may be remembered as the best quarter in Ryan Tannehill’s career. However, for a Seattle team that didn’t trail in the second half until the game’s final play, this loss goes on the defense choking one away. This holds even though Seattle punted on its final drive.
On one final note, the Seahawks began their final five offensive drives on their own 20 or worse.
Divisional Round, 2012: Atlanta Falcons 30, Seattle Seahawks 28
Wilson rating: 24-of-36, 385 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 109.14 rating
Wilson QBR: 33 adv, 45 att, 428 yards, 3 TD, 1 TO, 115.79 QBR
Key notes: Blown fourth-quarter lead, road game with approx. 10:05am PST kickoff
The details: Just about everything that could go wrong happened to the Seahawks en route to a 27-7 deficit entering the fourth quarter. However, despite one of the best postseason comeback efforts ever, the Seahawks were trumped by the Matt Ryan one-minute drill.
Wilson first stepped on the field down 3-0. The Seahawks then went three-and-out. After that, the drives in the first half finished as followed:
- Marshawn Lynch fumble lost at the ATL 39
- Punt at the ATL 42
- Turnover on downs at the ATL 11
- End of half at the ATL 20
The Seahawks were down 20-0, but by all means, the lead should’ve at least been cut in half. Yet, that didn’t deter Wilson, who went 14-of-19 for 241 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. We’ll talk about that turnover soon, but first, let’s discuss the comeback.
Here are the five drives that closed the 20-point deficit:
- Touchdown in nine plays for 80 yards
- Touchdown in eight plays for 80 yards
- Touchdown in four plays for 62 yards
- Punt at midfield
- Touchdown in seven plays for 61 yards
The Seahawks suddenly lead 28-27 with only 31 seconds left. However, the Falcons followed with a kick return to their own 28-yard line. Then, Matt Ryan completed a 22-yard pass to Harry Douglas and a 19-yards pass to Tony Gonzalez to move the ball to the Seattle 31 just like that.
Matt Bryant nailed the 49-yard field goal to give the Falcons a 30-28 lead with eight seconds left. Still, a Russell Wilson completion to Doug Baldwin got the ball to Atlanta 46-yard line. With one play left, Wilson heaved a Hail Mary that was intercepted by Julio Jones.
That’s right. The lone “mistake” by Wilson was actually a last-ditch heave. Take away that Hail Mary, and Wilson had a 155.79 passer rating in the second half. If not for a classic Matty Ice final-minute theft, the most recent of his NFL-record five one-minute drill game-winning drives, we’d likely still be talking about the rookie Wilson mastering one of the best postseason comebacks ever.
Of course, just remember that the Seahawks were only down so big because they botched their game management so badly in the first half. That primarily goes on the coaching staff, not Wilson.
In the end, the Seahawks ended their final 10 drives at midfield or in Atlanta territory.
Week 5, 2013: Indianapolis Colts 34, Seattle Seahawks 28
Wilson rating: 15-of-31, 210 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 78.70 rating
Wilson QBR: 30 adv, 46 att, 307 yards, 2 TD, 2 TO, 80.62 QBR
Key notes: Blown fourth-quarter lead, road game with approx. 10am PST kickoff
The details: The Seahawks were fresh off a 17-point second half in an early game the week before in Houston. At the time, it looked like a landmark victory, with Richard Sherman’s pick six being the marquee moment of the game. It ends up that this Sherman play became the knockout punch of the 2013 Texans season and the starting quarterback career for Matt Schaub.
Seattle seemed to be flying high with momentum. The Seahawks held an early 10-0 lead, thanks in part to a Russell Wilson touchdown pass, and they blocked a punt that bounced into the end zone. However, even with plenty of room to spare for a safe fumble recovery, Jeron Johnson neglected to slow up as he slid on the football in the back of the end zone. The referee ruled the play a safety, thus taking away an easy five points. Instead, Seattle led 12-0.
This play was just the beginning of a fluky swing in momentum. After a Seattle three-and-out, the Colts reply with a 73-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton. Seattle then responds with a field goal attempt, but the Colts block the kick a return it for a touchdown. Suddenly, the Colts led 14-12 when the score by normal means should be no worse than 20-7 in favor of the Seahawks.
It only got weirder for the Seahawks. As they led 19-17 with 10 seconds left in the first half, with the ball at the Indianapolis 41-yard line, Wilson lost a fumble after a Robert Mathis sack. This play actually ended with Marshawn Lynch forcing a fumble and Wilson recovering the fumble.
While Wilson deserves some blame, there’s no reason the Seahawks should have run a play that allows a sack. The play should’ve been a quick throw, like a quick slant. Get a five to 10-yard gain and set up the field goal.
Regardless, the Seahawks led 28-23 heading into the fourth quarter. The Colts took the lead on an 86-yard touchdown drive, and then they added a field goal. Down by six points with 1:55 left, Wilson’s last ditch effort on a 4th-and-15 resulted in an interception. For the first time, Wilson let a fourth quarter get away from him. However, can one blame him for the loss when the Seahawks allowed a 15-point swing over two fluky plays that favored the Colts?
Of note, Hilton finished with five receptions for 140 yards and two touchdowns. This was arguably the best performance by a receiver against the Legion of Boom this season.
Week 9, 2013: Seattle Seahawks 27, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 (OT)
Wilson rating: 19-of-26, 217 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT, 91.35 rating
Wilson QBR: 25 adv, 32 att, 253 yards, 3 TD, 2 TO, 104.82 QBR
Key notes: Wilson’s seventh fourth-quarter comeback, home game with 1:05pm PST kickoff
The details: Perhaps this is all you need to know: the Seahawks trailed 21-0 late in the second quarter, but Russell Wilson led the comeback to victory. At the time of Seattle’s largest deficit, Wilson was 3-of-7 for 12 yards and an interception. He also ran twice for 10 yards.
After that, Wilson posted 124.78 rating and a 129.98 QBR. He completed 16 of 19 passes and averaged 10.79 yards per pass attempt. The seven Seattle drives went as so:
- Touchdown in three plays for 80 yards
- Touchdown in nine plays for 86 yards
- Field goal on three-and-out after a long punt return
- Interception after an eight-play, 72-yard drive
- Touchdown in 10 plays for 59 yards
- End of half after five-yard pass
- Field goal in nine plays for 51 yards
It should be noted that the Seahawks forced five consecutive punts by Tampa Bay to end the game. However, Wilson definitely did his part, considering the Seahawks drove 50+ yards in six of their nine offensive drives in the game (excluding their throwaway end-of-half possession).
Final results: 1-4 record (1-0 home, 0-4 road)
Wilson rating: 104-of-155, 1272 yards, 10 TD, 5 INT, 100.26 rating
Wilson QBR: 142 adv, 193 att, 1487 yards, 12 TD, 6 TO, 103.27 QBR
Key notes: Four blown fourth-quarter leads, 0-4 with morning PST kickoff, 1-0 with afternoon PST kickoff
Including the playoffs, Wilson owns a 100.17 career passer rating and a 96.94 career QBR. His rating in these five games is almost an exact match to his career marks. Better yet, his QBR in these five games is better than his career QBR by a notable margin. This doesn’t look like the numbers for a quarterback with a 1-4 record.
It’s important to recognize that five games provide an insufficient sample size to make a true conclusion. However, Wilson’s numbers seem to fit with his normal production. His efficiency wasn't atypical in these games, and it didn't stray from the production of a normal winner.
Of course, this would seem to make some sense, right? If it's a higher-scoring game, logic would follow that the quarterbacks play better. That's not always the case. If the opponent scores more, the opponent is more likely to lead.
If the opponent is more likely to lead, it follows that a quarterback might more frequently make risky throws, which could lead the turnovers. Wilson owns a 2.21 interception percentage in his career, and that percentage increases to 3.23 in the subset. That's not bad, considering it's only five games. Remember, passer rating is not a gross stat, and this subset is created almost exclusively by how the defense performs.
Plus, exactly how much can one blame Wilson when each loss involved a blown fourth-quarter lead? Even more notable, all four losses came in a road game with an early kickoff. Seattle truly struggles in this spot. The kickoff for the Super Bowl will be around 3:30pm PST, and the Seahawks own a 6-1 record with Wilson when kickoff is at this hour or later.
Wilson owns a 1-4 record in this subset, but a 26-5 record in all other games. That’s the lone striking difference when comparing the two situations. Thus, it follows that nothing more than bad “luck” for Russell Wilson has followed him thus far in games in which the Seahawks allow 24+ points.
If it ultimately comes to a higher scoring game in which both teams share a normal amount of “luck,” expect Russell Wilson to produce like he always has – and that very well might lead to the second-season sensation raising the Lombardi Trophy at MetLife Stadium.