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The 2021 Seahawks Are Not Generating Turnovers

For the Seahawks to be at 5-10, a lot of things have not gone well. One element has been the defense's lack of turnovers, a crucial part of Pete Carroll's core philosophy. Matty F. Brown highlights the issue.

The Seahawks have not forced enough turnovers this season, directly contradicting the stated main goal of the team. When Pete Carroll became head coach, he quickly outlined the importance of the football. 

“It's been our main theme and our approach in our football for as long as I can remember,” Carroll said back in September 2010. “It's about taking care of the football and getting it. It's not just one side, it's not just giving up [the ball], it's getting the ball, too. The defense can balance out a mistake or two by an offense by taking the football away. So it's the No. 1 emphasis in the program.”

Indeed, this was the case in Carroll’s time at USC. In a March 28, 2008 on-campus presentation, then-USC defensive coordinator—and future Seahawks assistant head coach turned pastor—Rocky Seto featured takeaways as one of the three main principles of the program's secondary play. 

“Get the ball," outlined Seto. "Either strip the ball or make the interception when in position.

Carroll’s Seahawks have long featured “Turnover Thursday” as part of their practice week, where the major focus of that day’s practice is, funnily enough, turnovers. This 2019 picture of Carroll coaching up Seahawks rookies at minicamp suggests that the “all about the ball” mantra remains fundamental. 

Seattle’s 2021 offense has protected the football, fulfilling its role in achieving the core objective. The Seahawks’ 11 giveaways place second-best in the NFL—the Packers are first with 10.

The Seattle defense, however, has struggled to turn the ball over. While its opponent fourth down percentage is tied for fifth-best in the league at 40.74 percent—the best being the Chargers at 29.41 percent—the rest has been majorly disappointing.

The Seahawks' defense ranks 26th in the league in interceptions with just eight—none coming from their cornerback group. Meanwhile, they have forced a measly eight fumbles (tied 29th), recovering six..

The offense’s stinginess has carried the Seahawks to a plus-three turnover differential, which is tied for ninth-best in the league.

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Overall, the defense has taken the ball away a total of just 14 times, ranking 27th in the league. This sharply contrasts to 2020, where Seattle finished with 22 takeaways, an eight-way tie for the sixth-best total in the NFL.

Given the importance of turnovers to Carroll, and in general, are the disappointing 2021 results evidence that the 70-year old’s messaging is growing old and ineffective?

The tape and numbers from this past Sunday's game against the Bears suggests the answer to this question is "no."

In the Week 16 matchup, Nick Foles had an average throw depth of 5.6 yards. Foles finished with just 78 completed air yards, meaning that 172 of the 250 passing yards Foles finished with in the box score arrived after the catch. Yes, 68.8 percent of the figure was yards after catch, at 7.2 YAC per catch. And that was with the Seahawks battling, swarming, and hitting towards the ball. 

Some of this was the ball being checked down beneath coverage, some of it was snow causing bad angles and some of it was Bobby Wagner’s athletic decline. 

It was also, however, Seattle’s defense looking to poke the ball loose rather than secure tackles. Most striking is Darnell Mooney’s explosive catch, the one which kickstarted Chicago's game-winning drive. Mooney caught the football at 12 yards, then took it for 18 more, running through tackles that looked fumble-focused.

Turnovers do feature a degree of luck. Moreover, there are plenty of potential explanations for Seattle's reduced number in 2021, asides from blaming Carroll’s communication methods.

The pass rush has been patchy and not been able to force the ball out at consistent moments. In basic terms, pressure forces errors and therefore turnovers.

The defensive backfield, meanwhile, has experienced major changes throughout the season. Versus the Bears, four of the Seahawks' five primary starters in the secondary missed the game due to injury. Three of the aforementioned five will remain out for the rest of the season. Continuity in individual and collective experience naturally leads to more plays being made.

A large reason the Seahawks defense has been on the field for so long, often taking “bend but don’t break” to the extreme, has been the lack of turnovers. As Seattle searches for ways to correct its dreadful, last-placed 2021, taking the ball away from the opponent must come under sharp focus. It’s the Seahawks’ roots.