Seahawk Similarity Scores: The Offense, Pt. 1

In Part One of a three-part series, Seahawks.NET's Doug Farrar takes a detailed look at Seattle's 2005 offense from a historical perspective. Using Football Outsiders' proprietary Similarity Scores, and with the help of FO's Aaron Schatz, we begin with Matt Hasselbeck's 2005 season, and the ten most similar quarterback seasons.

Seahawk Similarity Scores
Part One: Matt Hasselbeck

In comparing the finest season in the history of the Seattle Seahawks to other seasons in NFL history, there are many different factors to consider. Where is this team in the “Pantheon” of Super Bowl contenders? And how do we judge that?

One thing we do know is the driving force behind this “Miracle Season” – the offense. First in the league in points scored and second in yards gained, the Seahawks led the NFL in touchdowns (57), fourth down efficiency (7/8), red zone offense (71.7%), scoring drives of 80 yards or more (24), and scored 40 or more points in three games. This offense was a juggernaut all year long, and part of that success had to do with balance.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS REGULAR SEASON RUN-PASS RATIO: 1999-2005

Year

Record

Running Plays

Passing Plays

Total Plays

PCT

1999

9-7

408

525

933

56.3% passing

2000

6-10

403

507

910

55.7% passing

2001

9-7

469

462

931

49.6% passing

2002

7-9

430

587

1017

57.7% passing

2003

10-6

453

522

975

53.5% passing

2004

9-7

486

533

1019

52.3% passing

2005

13-3

474

519

993

52.3% passing

Of course, individual performances really make the difference – otherwise, Seattle’s 2004 offense would match up, and it doesn’t. With an equivalent playcalling balance, Seattle ranked 12th in points and 9th in yards in 2004. In 2005, Matt Hasselbeck enjoyed his most efficient season – and as we will discuss later, that season included one of the best Decembers by any quarterback in NFL history. Running back Shaun Alexander won the NFL rushing title, set a new single-season record for touchdowns scored, and brought home the first NFL MVP award given to any Seahawk player. The receivers, previously known for their butterfingers, cut the drops almost in half from 43 to 23, in one season, according to a Mike Holmgren pre-Super Bowl press statement.

It was this group of receivers who told perhaps the most interesting tale (and this adds to the value of Hasselbeck’s season as well)…number-one man Darrell Jackson lost nine games due to a knee injury. #2 wideout Bobby Engram, formerly an expert slot man, moved outside and enjoyed a solid season, despite missing three games himself and playing a part one could say he’s not ideally suited for.

In the wake of Koren Robinson’s long-overdue departure, new team president Tim Ruskell brought in a name with which he was most familiar – former Tampa Bay tough guy Joe Jurevicius. Jurevicius immediately added to the stature of the group, both literally and figuratively – his height (6’5”) made him an impressive red zone target, and his Spartan work ethic set the bar far higher than this talented but formerly dysfunctional group had previously seen.

Rounded out by third-year man D.J. Hackett (Football Outsiders’ top-ranked receiver with under fifty catches in 2005), the Seahawks receiver corps supplanted previous incarnations with impressive replacement value when needed.

Thanks to our good friend Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders, we can now take some manner of measure when speculating the value of individual performances. Aaron has put together Similarity Scores for players at different offensive positions (similar, in a way, to what the excellent baseballreference.com site does – similarity scores are based, in part, on Bill James’ book, The Politics of Glory) allowing us a window into that historical perspective. Aaron has run the numbers for Hasselbeck, Alexander, and Seattle’s receivers. As a bonus, we will provide the Similarity Scores for newcomer (and former Viking) Nate Burleson.

The comparisons have been drawn from 1978 through 2005 – 1978 saw the dawn of the 16-game season, and set us on the path to the rules changes that have helped define the modern passing offense. Aaron has run numbers for one-, two- and three-year periods. For the sake of our 2005 comparisons as opposed to more long-term estimations, we will be working with one-season numbers. It’s quite possible that these trend-based aggregate calculations will form the basis of one or more articles down the road.

How are these similarity scores tabulated? According to the Football Outsiders system (listed here), the points of comparison are established as follows:

FOR ALL POSITIONS

  • Subtract 15 points for each year difference in age between the two players
  • Subtract 15 points for each year difference in career experience between the two players
  • Subtract 10 points for a difference in one game played
  • Subtract 20 points times the difference in games played after one

(For example: If Player A was in 16 games and Player B was in 13 games, that's 50 points.)

QUARTERBACKS

  • Subtract 0.45 points for each difference of 1 pass attempt
  • Subtract 1 point for each difference of 10 passing yards
  • Subtract 1 point for each difference of 0.1% in completion percentage
  • Subtract 4 points times the difference in passing touchdowns
  • Subtract 5.5 points times the difference in interceptions
  • Subtract 40 points times the difference in yards per pass attempt
  • Subtract 3 points for each difference of 4 rushing attempts
  • Subtract 1.5 points for each difference of 10 rushing yards
  • Subtract 3 points times the difference in rushing touchdowns

    ©2003-2006 Football Outsiders, Inc. All rights reserved.

It is important to note a few things – first of all, Aaron has told me, as he writes on the page I linked to, that this system is a work in progress. Second, what Football Outsiders likes to do is to use this system to analyze career trends, hence the two- and three-year comparisons we don’t show here. Again, it’s very likely that I will revisit this in the future in order to take a different and larger view of players like Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander. Third, quarterback comparisons aren’t adjusted for things like strength of schedule, quality of receiver corps, or balance of offense. Not yet, at least.

That said, having metrics to further the ability to construct legitimate single-season comparisons for football players is interesting enough that the “bugs” can be mitigated, if not overlooked.

In Part One of our three-part series, we’ll take a look at the Seahawks’ field general.

MATT HASSELBECK, 2005 SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

YEAR

TEAM

POS

G

COMP

ATT

PaYD

PaTD

INT

rush

ruYD

ruTD

2005

sea

qb

16

294

449

3455

24

9

36

124

1

FANT

COMP%

YD/ATT

AGE

StYr

CAR

SIM Y

287

65.5%

7.69

30

5

7

1000

At least two aspects of Hasselbeck’s 2005 season bear closer analysis – first, the aforementioned fact that his top two receivers, Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram, missed twelve games due to injury between them. Jackson was out from Week Five through mid-December with a knee injury, and Engram missed games five through eight with cracked ribs. Jackson also sat out the regular-season finale against the Packers, because Seattle had pretty much sewn everything up except for a couple of Shaun Alexander season milestones. The Seahawks were 2-2 before Jackson and Engram were hurt, and they did not lose another meaningful game until Super Bowl XL. He had just about the most productive running back in the NFL behind him, and Joe Jurevicius had the kind of career year that will be talked about ‘round these parts for a very long time, but make no mistake – Matt Hasselbeck led this 13-3 team through the NFC in 2005.

Second, his December. In the two playoff games leading up to the Super Bowl, Hasselbeck completed 36 of 54 passes for 434 yards, 3 touchdowns, no interceptions and a 109.7 passer rating. Anyone who was surprised by those numbers obviously didn’t pay attention to his December. In his four games in the final month of 2005, Hasselbeck completed 76.1% of his passes – the best percentage of any quarterback in NFL history who played in at least four games in the month. His 135.5 December passer rating told the story – 67 completions in 88 attempts for 777 yards, 10 touchdowns and one interception. For the season, he ranked 9th in the league in completions, 10th in passing yards, 4th in touchdowns, and 4th in adjusted yards per pass.

Officiating aside, what does he do in the Super Bowl if Jerramy Stevens doesn’t drop all those balls? The mind positively reels.

Support System: A total of six offensive players from this team made the Pro Bowl roster in 2005 – Hasselbeck, Alexander, fullback Mack Strong, tackle Walter Jones, guard Steve Hutchinson and center Robbie Tobeck. Of the ten quarterbacks in this article with stats listed, Hasselbeck, the 1984 and 1985 Joe Montana, and the 1991 Bernie Kosar were the only ones without a Pro Bowler, or a teammate amassing 1,000 yards, at the wide receiver position.

Now, let’s look at the ten most similar quarterback seasons to Matt Hasselbeck’s 2005:


TOP 10 ONE-YEAR COMPARISONS (Name/Year-Team/One-Year Similarity Score):

1. TROY AIKMAN, 1995 DALLAS COWBOYS (886)

YEAR

TEAM

POS

G

COMP

ATT

PaYD

PaTD

INT

rush

ruYD

ruTD

1995

dal

qb

16

280

432

3304

16

7

21

32

1

FANT

COMP%

YD/ATT

AGE

StYr

CAR

SIM Y

238

64.8%

7.65

29

7

7

886

1995 found Aikman in Year Two of the Barry Switzer Era, just a couple years before the Dallas Dynasty of the early ‘90s was blown apart due to various ego battles, the lasting effects of prior and future front office turmoil, and too much off-field “recreating” on the part of many players. (Just for the hell of it, I’ll personally blame Skip Bayless, as well.) The first inklings of the police-lineup version of America’s Team became evident around this time, but the ‘Boys still had enough gas left for one more go. After losing the 1994 NFC Championship game to the 49ers, Dallas came back and won it all for the third time in four years, beating the Steelers, 27-17 in Super Bowl XXX. The 12-4 Cowboys finished the season 3rd in the NFL in points scored and 7th in yards gained. The offense was as balanced as any you’ll see in this article – rushing attempts trumped passing attempts by one, 495 to 494. Emmitt Smith toted the rock a total of 377 times for 1,773 yards and 25 touchdowns. Michael Irvin was Aikman’s leading receiver, with 111 catches for 1,603 yards and 10 TDs – by far Irvin’s best season - only 1991 comes close.

Support System: Aikman was one of eight offensive Pro Bowlers for the Cowboys that year. Along with Smith, Irvin and TE Jay Novacek, four offensive linemen made the trip – guards Larry Allen and Nate Newton, center Ray Donaldson, and tackle Mark Tuinei. Aikman, very much like Hasselbeck ten years later, won the honor of facing Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl by efficiently leading an immensely talented cast of characters.


2. JOE MONTANA, 1984 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (865)

YEAR

TEAM

POS

G

COMP

ATT

PaYD

PaTD

INT

rush

ruYD

ruTD

1984

sfo

qb

16

279

432

3630

28

10

39

118

2

FANT

COMP%

YD/ATT

AGE

StYr

CAR

SIM Y

317

64.6%

8.40

28

5

6

865

In the year that made Joe Montana…well, JOE MONTANA, the 49ers won their second of five Super Bowls, and their second of four with Montana at the helm. The 1984 San Francisco team flew under the radar all year, as the football scribes touted the Season of Marino. In truth, this 49ers squad was an incredibly well-rounded unit that hit Super Bowl XIX, and Marino’s Dolphins, like a ton of bricks. Bill Walsh had his West Coast Offense working to near-perfection with Montana as the captain. San Francisco went 15-1 in 1984, and Montana’s season was more notable for its efficiency than any gaudy stats. Those who are familiar with the aerial nature of the Walsh offense may be surprised to note that the 1984 team ran the ball 51.8% of the time – 534 of their 1,030 overall plays.

While his team ranked 2nd in the NFL in points scored and 4th in yards gained, Montana ranked 10th in pass attempts, 7th in completions, 6th in passing yards, 3rd in passing touchdowns, and 2nd in adjusted yards per pass. It seemed that the more the stat mattered, the better Montana’s numbers would be. We would become familiar with this phenomenon over time.

Support System: An interesting reflection of the ’84 team’s very balanced attack is that only five offensive players made the Pro Bowl, and three of them were on the offensive line – center/guard Randy Cross, tackle Keith Fahnhorst, and center Fred Quillan. Montana and running back Wendell Tyler, enjoying the finest season of his ten-year career, were the other nominees. Montana threw to no 1,000-yard receivers (Dwight Clark led the team with 880), and Freddie Solomon caught ten TD passes to lead the unit. In the first round of the 1985 draft, Walsh would select a raw, gangly kid from Mississippi Valley State (If I remember correctly, he went by the name of “Rice”), and his uber-efficient system would receive its first shot of marquee jet fuel. This was matched by Roger Craig’s 1,000 yards rushing/1,000 yards receiving season. 1984 was the last year of the lesser-known, but equally effective, role-players working in concert and taking it to the league.


3. PEYTON MANNING, 2005 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (859)

YEAR

TEAM

POS

G

COMP

ATT

PaYD

PaTD

INT

rush

ruYD

ruTD

2005

clt

qb

16

305

453

3747

28

10

33

45

0

FANT

COMP%

YD/ATT

AGE

StYr

CAR

SIM Y

304

67.3%

8.27

29

8

8

859

One year after breaking Dan Marino’s single-season touchdown record, Manning followed Marino’s progression to a far more mortal follow-up season. While some QBs on our list had no 1,000-yard receivers, the 2005 version of Peyton Manning had two. Marvin Harrison caught 82 balls for 1,146 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Reggie Wayne caught 83 for 1,055 and 5 TDs. Manning himself lost 21 touchdowns and 810 yards from ‘04 to ’05, but his team was far more balanced. In 2004, the Colts ranked 1st in the NFL in points scored, and 19th in points allowed. In 2005, they were 2nd in both categories. Manning appeared to check off to Edgerrin James a bit more last season, seemingly preferring to make the offense go than to focus on breaking any more records. The Colts won their first thirteen games before dropping their next two, finishing the year at 14-2, and suffering yet another agonizing playoff loss, this time to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Steelers in the divisional round.

At least it wasn’t the Patriots this time…

Support System: Two Indianapolis offensive linemen made the Pro Bowl, although one had to wait a while in purgatory. Center Jeff Saturday was a no-brainer, but tackle Tarik Glenn was finally named as an alternate to the AFC team after a vote tabulation error originally placed him on the roster. He had been notified of his selection in December and subsequently dropped in January. Manning, James and Harrison rounded out the offensive lineup – the last time the Triplets would go to Hawaii together before James’ deal with the Cardinals. Reggie Wayne could have been added to this list without too much argument.


4. JAKE DELHOMME, 2005 CAROLINA PANTHERS (855)

YEAR

TEAM

POS

G

COMP

ATT

PaYD

PaTD

INT

rush

ruYD

ruTD

2005

car

qb

16

262

435

3421

24

16

24

31

1

FANT

COMP%

YD/ATT

AGE

StYr

CAR

SIM Y

276

60.2%

7.86

30

3

8

855

So…how happy do you think Jake Delhomme and his Carolina Panthers were to add Keyshawn Johnson, or any other warm-blooded receiver with a remote history of productivity, to their roster?

In 2005, Steve Smith caught 103 passes for 1,563 yards and 12 touchdowns. That’s 38% of his team’s 269 receptions, 44.8% of their 3,485 passing yards, and 48% of their 25 passing TDs. That is a LOT to ask of one man – and if you doubt that statement, go back and watch the NFC Championship game, when Seattle put up a 34-14 beating on the Panthers by covering Smith with up to four men and subsequently shutting down their offense. Carolina knew they needed some level of balance. Although Keyshawn isn’t what he used to be, he isn’t Keary Colbert, either – and he’ll no doubt provide more than Smith’s understudies did in 2005.

Support System: As we have detailed, Delhomme’s support system was pretty much Smith, Smith, Smith, Smith, Smith, Smith and Smith. In the famed Python sketch, Smith would represent the Spam, with everyone else as either baked beans or Lobster Thermador. Both Delhomme and Smith were named to the Pro Bowl, and guard Mike Wahle was the only other offensive nominee. Football Outsiders bete noire DeShaun Foster “led” the Panthers with 879 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns, which makes one wonder if Smith didn’t get robbed in the MVP voting, no matter how impressive Shaun Alexander’s season was. For his part, Delhomme tied for 4th in passing touchdowns and ranked 10th in adjusted yards per pass…but this is the one case listed in which the quarterback’s story is really that of his primary receiver.


5. BERNIE KOSAR, 1991 CLEVELAND BROWNS (846)

YEAR

TEAM

POS

G

COMP

ATT

PaYD

PaTD

INT

rush

ruYD

ruTD

1991

cle

qb

16

307

494

3487

18

9

26

74

0

FANT

COMP%

YD/ATT

AGE

StYr

CAR

SIM Y

254

62.1%

7.06

28

7

7

846

Thanks to our friend Barry McBride of the Orange and Brown Report (Cleveland Browns website par excellence), we will hereby explain how 1991’s Bernie Kosar makes this list despite having no 1,000-yard receivers or rushers, a fairly porous offensive line, and a coach who really didn’t like him. Well, actually, we can’t explain any of that, except to say that Kosar was always a very talented, underrated and idiosyncratic player. However, Barry might be able to explain why Kosar is the only QB in this list whose team had a losing record (6-10):

1991 was the Browns’ first year under Bill Belichick, and despite some good performances on offense (Kosar, WR Webster Slaughter, Leroy Hoard), the Browns weren’t able to bounce back quickly after the previous year’s disaster with Bud Carson and Jim Shofner. There was significant changeover in personnel during the first couple of years of the Belichick era, and while the team had started to get some traction under Belichick, there was still a ways to go before the team’s personnel would allow them to compete effectively.

In 1992, Kosar was injured much of the year, and in 1993, Kosar and Belichick were so far apart in terms of philosophy and personality that the popular Browns quarterback ended up being traded before the end of the season. In addition to Kosar and Belichick’s differences, the veteran QB had paid the price for inattention to the team’s offensive line in previous years. Kosar was never very mobile to begin with, and by the end of the his stay in Cleveland, he had been banged around so much that Belichick looked to a more mobile Vinny Testaverde to replace him. That Testaverde wouldn’t challenge Belichick’s authority was undoubtedly another plus in the coach’s eyes.

By 1994, not even making the playoffs could make up for the public’s distrust of Belichick, whose unceremonious cutting of Kosar was a public relations disaster for the team.

Thanks, Barry! Sooo…when all was said and done, Kosar would finish his career with Dallas and Miami, the Browns would move to Baltimore, and Belichick would get himself some “genius wings” in Foxboro after spurning the Jets with one of the weirdest last-minute backouts in NFL history.

Someone needs to write this book.

Support System: Kosar finished his last truly productive season ranked 3rd in pass attempts, 3rd in completions, 5th in passing yards, 6th in passing TDs, and 7th in adjusted yards per pass. And I’m still not sure how on earth he did it. Kosar certainly spread the ball around – Cleveland had eight players with at least 200 receiving yards in 1991, but only three with over 400 – WR Webster Slaughter, who led the team with 64 catches and 906 yards, WR Reggie "Foghorn" Langhorne, and RB Leroy Hoard, who caught 9 TD passes. Apparently, Kosar’s support system consisted of whoever had a pulse that day (no Pro Bowlers on offense), and I’m starting to think that his is the most interesting season on this list.


6. JAKE PLUMMER, 2005 DENVER BRONCOS (834)

YEAR

TEAM

POS

G

COMP

ATT

PaYD

PaTD

INT

rush

ruYD

ruTD

2005

den

qb

16

277

456

3366

18

7

46

151

2

FANT

COMP%

YD/ATT

AGE

StYr

CAR

SIM Y

267

60.7%

7.38

31

9

9

834

In which our intrepid hero, Jake the Snake, finally becomes the Reliable One. After mixing a career cocktail of equal parts tantalizing potential and unspeakable inconsistency over eight seasons in Arizona and Denver, Plummer pulled back and got with the program. He didn’t need mega-stats to lead the Broncos to the AFC Championship game – in fact, he failed to finish in the league’s top ten in many of the “black ink” categories – but he cut his interceptions by 13 from the year before, matching a 2003 that most people took as a fluke. Of all the active players on this list, Plummer’s future may be the toughest to predict. Will his 2005 be the preamble to a bright future, or will he continue to delight and torture as two sides of the same coin?

The 13-3 Broncos played to type, with the highest run percentage of any team discussed here. Of their 1,008 plays, 542 (53.8%) were running plays. WR Rod Smith was the team’s only Pro Bowler on offense, finishing 2005 with 85 receptions for 1,105 yards and 6 touchdowns.


7. JOE MONTANA, 1985 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (833)

YEAR

TEAM

POS

G

COMP

ATT

PaYD

PaTD

INT

rush

ruYD

ruTD

1985

sfo

qb

15

303

494

3653

27

13

42

153

3

FANT

COMP%

YD/ATT

AGE

StYr

CAR

SIM Y

324

61.3%

7.39

29

6

7

833

Though Montana finished 1984 slightly more impressively and with a better postseason result, 1985 might be considered the first year of the true dominance of the San Francisco system for two reasons – first, Roger Craig’s landmark season, in which he gained over 1,000 yards both rushing AND receiving (pointing to the versatility which is the hallmark of the West Coast offense). Also, as previously mentioned, there was also the small matter of their first-round draft pick…one Jerry Rice. In his rookie year, Rice would gain 927 yards receiving on only 49 catches, for an ungodly 18.9 yards-per-catch average. Over the next eleven years, he would never fail to gain at least 1,000 receiving yards on his way to one of the greatest careers in NFL history.

The ’85 49ers passed the ball 53.6 percent of the time (550 attempts in 1,027 total plays), and ranked 5th in the league in both yards gained and points scored. They lost to the New York Giants, 17-3, in the wild-card round of the playoffs. Montana finished the season ranked 6th in pass attempts, 3rd in completions, 5th in passing yards, tied for 2nd in passing TDs and 5th in adjusted yards per pass. Montana, Craig, and center Fred Quillan made the Pro Bowl.


Rounding out the Top Ten:

8. RON JAWORSKI, 1980 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (832)

YEAR

TEAM

POS

G

COMP

ATT

PaYD

PaTD

INT

rush

ruYD

ruTD

1980

phi

qb

16

257

451

3529

27

12

27

95

1

FANT

COMP%

YD/ATT

AGE

StYr

CAR

SIM Y

300

57.0%

7.82

29

4

8

832


9. JON KITNA, 2003 CINCINNATI BENGALS (829)

YEAR

TEAM

POS

G

COMP

ATT

PaYD

PaTD

INT

rush

ruYD

ruTD

2003

cin

qb

16

325

521

3605

26

15

38

117

0

FANT

COMP%

YD/ATT

AGE

StYr

CAR

SIM Y

296

62.4%

6.92

31

5

7

829


10. STEVE MCNAIR, 2003 TENNESSEE TITANS (828)

YEAR

TEAM

POS

G

COMP

ATT

PaYD

PaTD

INT

rush

ruYD

ruTD

2003

oti

qb

14

250

400

3215

24

7

37

138

4

FANT

COMP%

YD/ATT

AGE

StYr

CAR

SIM Y

295

62.5%

8.04

30

7

9

828


Honorable Mention:
Jim Everett, 1992 Los Angeles Rams (804), Jim Kelly, 1990 Buffalo Bills (797), Steve Bartkowski, 1983 Atlanta Falcons (796), Dave Krieg, 1986 Seattle Seahawks (791), Scott Mitchell, 1997 Detroit Lions (788) Tom Brady, 2005 New England Patriots (779).

Strike-Adjusted Comparisons: Richard Todd, 1982 New York Jets (835), Danny White, 1982 Dallas Cowboys (821), Steve Bartkowski, 1982 Atlanta Falcons (806).


Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him here.

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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