.NET Q&A - Aaron Schatz, Part Three

On January 19, Seahawks.NET was honored to participate in a phone interview with Aaron Schatz, the Editor-in-Chief of Football Outsiders, the cutting-edge website that endeavors to bring new statistical and analytical factors to the diehard fan's enjoyment of the game.

.NET: Regarding a recent online assertion that Nick Goings would outrun Alexander by 40 yards, which gave those of us up here in the Pacific Northwest a nice chuckle - you and I had a conversation in which I mentioned that this showed a complete lack of knowledge of Seattle’s offensive dynamic. You countered with the idea that what it really shows is a lack of respect for Seattle’s run defense. You then gave me a very interesting number regarding that run defense in regards to adjusted line yards. What are adjusted line yards and what do they tell us about Seattle’s front four?

Aaron Schatz: Well, more the front seven. Run defense is usually the seven guys including the linebackers. Obviously Lofa Tatupu and even Leroy Hill have been hugely important to the improvement in Seattle’s run defense this year.

The funniest part of that Don Banks SI.com column was that Carolina is his favorite because they put together two great games, which of course Seattle and Denver could not have put together two great games because they’ve only played one game each.

Adjusted line yards is an attempt to separate the offensive line from the running back or on the defensive side the tackling abilities of the secondary from the front seven. It takes runs and cuts them off based on the length.

So you count only 50 percent of the yards from five to ten and nothing after ten, and you give extra credit for a loss. Then, you sort of get a picture of which teams are more dependent on the running back breaking it long. Once you’re in the open field, after ten yards, it’s really much more about the running back’s shiftiness and pursuit and tackling in the secondary. It’s not about offensive line anymore at that point.

Seattle is, in fact, number one this year in adjusted line yards on defense and number six on offense. Their run defense has been spectacular this year. The reason Seattle is seventh in our DVOA number in the overall ratings is that they have given up some long runs. That would probably be more of a worry against “Mr. Boom-and-Bust”, DeShaun Foster, than it will be against Nick Goings. They may give up a run of 20 or 30 yards here, but when it comes to the front seven, they stuff guys all the time and they keep guys down.

Last week they totally controlled Clinton Portis, and look - Edgerrin James was trying in that Indy game. Maybe (Peyton) Manning was sitting out, but Edgerrin James was trying and they kept him down pretty good, too.

The other place where they really match up well with Carolina, is the third- and fourth-and-short. Seattle ranked fourth on defense, Carolina was 22nd on offense. When it came to long runs over 10 yards, Seattle was 10th, which is about average, but Carolina was 26th. So even with DeShaun Foster they weren’t breaking a lot of long ones.

People know, who read Football Outsiders, that we really are down on DeShaun Foster. We think he’s very overrated. He happens to have really good games whenever he’s on television or playing Atlanta. But a lot of the times he’s running into the line for a yard or two every time and then maybe breaking one for 15 and that’s the one that shows up on SportsCenter.

So actually, I think Goings is better than Foster and certainly more consistent.

.NET: Two or three years ago, (how you described Foster was) how a lot of people described Shaun Alexander.

Aaron Schatz: Yeah, but Alexander was better. Alexander’s long runs came more often than Foster’s, they were for more yards and he was getting stuffed at the line less. There were more twos and threes and less negative ones than Foster.

Alexander is still a boom-and-bust type of guy compared to someone like Edgerrin James, but he’s been so good this year all around. Part of that is because of the offensive line too, because Maurice Morris has good (stats) according to our numbers, but I wouldn’t have that worry about him. But we feel that way about Foster, Goings will be okay, but it’s no comparison.

Carolina has been amazing against the run the past couple weeks. They kept Tiki Barber and Warrick Dunn to almost nothing. But Seattle’s run defense, I wouldn’t say disrespected, I’d just say people don’t realize how good they are.

.NET: Speaking of units or people that aren’t getting maybe talked about enough, you look at Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Delhomme especially down the stretch and you have to think they’re coming into this game with a lot of confidence.

Aaron Schatz: Matt Hasselbeck is the best quarterback in the NFC. With (Dante) Culpepper injured and his future being kind of iffy and the fact that Donovan McNabb has really never quite been able to do it without (Terrell Owens) – he was always good, but never great – I think that Matt Hasselbeck is the best quarterback in the NFC.

It just so happens that the three best quarterbacks in football are all in the other conference: Manning, (Carson) Palmer and (Tom) Brady. And then the other two guys you might think of as being the best are also in the other conference and they’re Drew Brees and (Ben) Roethlisberger. But in the NFC, Hasselbeck is the best.

With Delhomme, you hear these stats about him in the playoffs and that’s all well and good, but you’re talking about, what, five games? That’s a small sample size to say, “Jake Delhomme does not fold in the playoffs”. During the season, the guy does make some mistakes. He throws some stupid interceptions. That’s how they do things like lose to New Orleans early in the season.

I don’t think five games is enough of a sample size to say, “Jake Delhomme is a better playoff quarterback than Matt Hasselbeck”. I don’t think you can look at the, “We’re going to take the ball and score” game and say Matt Hasselbeck can’t throw in the playoffs. That’s one game.

I think that Seattle absolutely has the advantage. In fact, I think Seattle has the advantage on offense at either nine or ten of the eleven positions. The only one maybe other than with Steve Smith where they don’t have the advantage might be right tackle with Jordan Gross for Carolina. And then they also have the advantage at third and fourth receiver and second-string running back. Steve Smith is amazing, but that’s a lot of advantages to balance off because of Steve Smith.

Editor's Note - Many thanks to Associate Editor Scott Eklund for his help in transcribing this interview.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at doug@seahawks.net.

Aaron Schatz is the Editor-in-Chief of FootballOutsiders.com, Lead Writer and Statistician for the “Football Prospectus” annual volume, and an NFL analyst for FoxSports.com. He has also written for the New York Times, the New York Sun, the Boston Globe, The New Republic Online and Slate, and has done custom research for NFL.com and a number of NFL teams. Before creating Football Outsiders, he spent three years tracking search trends online for the internet column, “The Lycos 50”. He has a B.A. in economics from Brown University and lives in Framingham, Massachusetts, with his wife, Kathryn, and daughter, Mirinae.

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