By: Doug Ludemann
A Tale of Two Halves
By: Doug Ludemann
A Tale of Two Halves
Having demonstrated that not only is Tyler Lockett prone to volatility in terms of his fantasy point production, I think it's safe to conclude that a similar moniker can be applied to teammate DK Metcalf, albeit to a lesser degree. Both saw significant volatility during the 2020 season, including dramatic splits between the first and second halves of the season. Check out this primer to update yourself on the dramatic splits the two receivers saw last season, as well as some key visualizations of their volatile fantasy production.
The question is what is the ultimate cause of that volatility? Is it a function of the the offense? How the players are used in the offense? Or is is something else? Furthermore, can we expect this kind of volatility in 2021?
To investigate the topic, the very first place to explore should be the influence of defensive play on the Seattle offense. There is an argument that game-script also evolved over the course of the season, not only due to Head Coach Pete Carroll's insistence on operating a run-heavy offense, but also as the Seattle defense's performance improved in the second half, with opponent scoring decreasing 47% in the second half of the season. For this reason alone, we should be expecting to see a slight uptick in rushing and a decrease in passing attempts in the second half, because presumably the offense is put into fewer shootout situations.
Another potential explanation for the dramatic production splits Seattle's top-two WRs demonstrated in the first and second half of the season, is the relative quality of defenses Seattle saw over the final half of the season. During the first 9 weeks (including their week-6 bye) Seattle faced defenses that ranked an average of 17th over the course of those games. Whereas in the season’s second half, Seattle’s offence faced defenses that averaged 12th over the final eight games.
The team saw a dramatic drop in passing yards week-10 (shown in the chart below), setting the trend for the rest of the season, and representing a dramatic change in fortunes for the team that would spelled disaster for the offense the rest of the season.
In fact, if you take their four games against top-5 defense (in which the Seahawks went 3-1), including week-4 at Miami, week-10 at the Rams, week-15 in Washington, and week-16 hosting the Rams; the both Lockett and Metcalf were effectively shut down. During this time Lockett scored 8.1 PPR PPG (SD 2.45), which means he was putting up low-end flex numbers, with very little variability. During the same period DK Metcalf scored 10.1 PPR PPG (4.2 SD) indicating a WR4/FLX level of production against the best defenses, again with relatively low variability. Remember, three of these games came in the second half of the season.
This is compared to their splits against poor or average defenses, where Metcalf scored 20.5 PPR PPG (9.32 SD) which is WR2 territory, whereas Lockett scored 18.2 PPR PPG (14.7 SD) over the same period. This indicates that over that period of the year against lesser defenses Lockett had more spike and gutter weeks, whereas Metcalf was a higher floor and lower ceiling player, i.e. more consistent and better fantasy play over the majority of the season (as well as against top-tier defenses).
That they played better defenses in the second half is conspicuous when you inspect their first and second half offensive splits.
You can see from the chart above that most of the splits between Seattle's first and second half offenses were negative changes. Aside from a small jump in rushing attempts and rush yards, most every category took a marked trip straight down south for the winter. Especially significant were the dramatic shifts in Seattle's passing efficiency, where overall TDs as well as TDs per pass attempt were cut in half. But that loss of productivity can't be explained by the drop in pass attempts or completions alone as those metrics didn't fall to nearly the same magnitude as yardage or TD production.
It's fair to note that neither sacks or interceptions increased over this period (interceptions actually decreased over the final half), so I think it's difficult to blame Russell Wilson directly for the offensive woes.
A fair question at this point is to what degree did Seattle’s offensive woes impact the pass catchers on the offense? It’s often been asserted as almost a given in the fantasy Twitterverse that Seattle largely abandoned the pass in the second half of the season, but that isn’t really all that true. It is true that they attempted 10.4% fewer passes and had 13% more rushing attempts in the second half as compared to the first, but the actual magnitude of that change is about four passing attempts and three rushing attempts per game. Hardly the kind of splits that will change a season as dramatically as we saw in the Seattle offense last year, with the team putting up 48% fewer points on a per game basis over the final half of the season.
What’s responsible for this dramatic split in offensive scoring? Getting half (53% fewer) as many passing yards per game would probably explain a lot. That’s despite attempting only 12% fewer passes. Two stats together that imply that the yards per attempt had to have gone down as well, and indeed it did, dropping 37% in the second half, highlighting a central issue with the Seattle passing attack: a neutralized deep game.
It think it may be a popular misconception that Seattle relied more on their running game in the second half. I’m not sure the numbers bear that out either. Sure, they did run 11% more, but their yards per attempt actually dropped marginally during that period of time, so they certainly didn’t gain much by concentrating on the run. Additionally, their rushing TD efficiency was also less in in the second half, with fewer TDs coming on a greater number of carries. It should also be noted that Russell Wilson rushed the ball at a 20% greater rater in the second half and 24% of the team’s second half rushing totals came on the legs of a 32-year-old quarterback.
The uptick in Russell Wilson’s rushing stats stems mostly from the 4-week stretch where Chris Carson was out with a foot injury, with backup RB Carlos Hyde also out for three of those games. During this stretch Wilson rushed the football about 6.5 times per game, this compared to his rate of 4.8 rushes per game before Carson was injured and 4.7 rushes per game after Carson returned from injury in week-12. Having watched a few of these games it’s clear that ousted offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was calling up designed runs for Wilson during Carson’s absence.
Perhaps it has something to do with the success the pair has had versus double coverage. Matt Harmon’s Reception perception lists Metcalf 20th in their rankings of WR success versus double coverage at 66.7% and Tyler Lockett right beneath Jalen Reagor at a 50% success rate. The Giants had good success keeping two DBs over the top, effectively limiting the long passing play and largely neutralizing both of the two receivers. The Rams exploited the same weakness week-10, forcing Russell Wilson to continually settle for shorter passing plays in the face of stiff pressure.
In week-16, the Seahawks were prepared to host the Rams with a far more varied repertoire of shorter slants and motion, which they employed to some success. The Rams simply dropped another man onto the line, completely ceding the middle of the field in a gambit that they could get to Wilson before Moore, Lockett, or Metcalf could get open against two-deep safety sets, a gambit they largely won. The 49ers, who were limping to the finish with a banged-up 18th-ranked defense, were able to employ the same technique to shut down Metcalf with consistent double-coverage combined with pressure on the quarterback. In that game, Lockett benefitted from two separate TDs that were the direct result of Wilson extending the play with his feet. Otherwise, Lockett’s options were short passes under coverage, not the kind of targets that correlate strongly to fantasy production, which is generally a factor of yards and touchdowns more so than simply receptions.
Admittedly, much of that double coverage was on Metcalf which would explain his second half numbers. Thus, one might think Lockett would have benefitted from his teammate attracting DB coverage like gravity…and actually, he kinda did. In the second half, despite averaging about one less reception per game, about 6 PPR PPG fewer, and 50% fewer receiving yards per game, Lockett also secured a larger slice of the Seattle passing offense’s fantasy point production; with Lockett scoring 35% of the fantasy points accumulated by the team's passing game, up from 31% of the team’s total from the first half. This is as compared to Metcalf whose contribution to fantasy point production dipped slightly over the second half (from 36% of the team’s passing fantasy production down to 33%.
One potential shift in offensive tendency that may have had a big impact is Seattle's reliance upon special teams play. Despite a 20% uptick in 3rd-Down conversion attempts and an impressive 37.5% increase in 3rd-Down conversion rates, Seattle also saw a dramatic uptick in field goals in the second half of 2020 with a 142% increase in field goals made and attempted as well. Kicker Jason Myers went from being ranked as the 25th kicker in fantasy in the first half of the season to being the 4th overall kicker in the second half.
Course, there’s always the chance that teams have just figured out the Seattle passing attack, or at least that’s what DK Metcalf seems to think, telling former Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall, “"Teams just started to figure us out. We've been running deep pass, ever since Pete [Carroll] got there. Play-action. Run the ball, run the ball, run the ball, go deep. Teams just said, 'We're just not gonna let you all go deep.'"
And it makes sense too. Defenses starting leaving two safeties deep, bracketing either of the two deep routes. Lockett doesn’t excel in double coverage, which at 5’10” 182lbs isn’t all that shocking, he does produce well against zone coverage where ReceptionPerception ranks him 3rd among pass-catchers with a 83.6% success rate against zone coverage. So it also makes a lot of sense that Carroll is eschewing the deep routes for his veteran wideout, choosing instead to put him in motion, running routes from the backfield, or having him run slants and crosses from out wide, allowing him to feast on shallow zones designed to contain Seattle’s vaunted rushing attack. This is evident in the two player's share of the team's total air yards, where Metcalf is holding a commanding 38.23% versus Lockett's 28.86%.
Until Seattle either develops another deep threat option (enter Dwayne Eskridge) or Metcalf can consistently win despite double coverage, expect to see Lockett’s share of the team's air yards to continue to remain as diminutive as the Lockett himself.
Lockett’s finish in 2020 with 265 Std Fpts was attained on a career best 132 targets on the year. Another big question is whether he’ll still command the largest share of the targets while playing alongside athletic freak DK Metcalf, 2nd round draft selection Dwayne Eskridge, and sleeper TE Gerald Everett.
Are we really that confident in the implementation of first-time offensive coordinator Shane Waldron’s “complex” offense? It’s not that I’m doubting Lockett’s talent, which is clearly immense, I’m just not willing to buy-in on a production ceiling that has proven to have a low floor, on a team that has been a slow-paced run-heavy team with a historical tendency for predictable play-calling. I’ll remind you that Carroll, who many cite as one of the problems when it comes to the team's seeming over-emphasis on the rushing attack, is still in Seattle. And, much like Seattle’s second-half passing attack in 2020, he’s going nowhere anytime soon.
All of these factors plus that Lockett’s 29th birthday will happen in the first month of the season make Lockett a sell for me in any dynasty format. I also came away from this study with a renewed concern for DK Metcalf’s ability to replicate his first of 2020 production, but those concerns have more to do with the scheme and coaching decisions in Seattle, than with any concerns about the abilities of Metcalf or Lockett.
Lastly, despite the fact that I consider Lockett a high-risk player, that doesn’t mean I’d devalue him in a trade. If you come to me with a trade offer, you’re going to receive a roughly market-based offer in return. I don’t over-value players because I like them. I don’t undervalue players because I’m fading them. Maximum market value return should be the goal, always and forever.