O’Neil: Stats show Wilson is right to want Seahawks to avoid halftime deficits
Aug 14, 2020, 1:00 PM
Don’t call it a comeback, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has been here for years.
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And in that time he’s shown that there isn’t anyone better at erasing a late-game deficit.
Russell Wilson has won 95 games as Seattle’s starting quarterback, including both regular-season and the playoffs. Seattle has trailed in the fourth quarter of 32 of those games. As remarkable as those late-game comebacks are, you know what might be even better? If they weren’t necessary quite so often, which is why Wilson was asked Thursday whether he agreed with the idea that he should player a larger role earlier in games.
“Yeah, I definitely think so,” Wilson said. “I think the reality is early in games, rather than us having to be in the fourth quarter, I think to be able to make some stuff happen.”
It sounds weird to think about getting the quarterback more involved in the offense earlier in the game. He’s the one guy – other than the center – who touches the ball every single play. But anyone who has watched Seattle play football for any length of time has watched the Seahawks spend the first 20 to 25 minutes of a game looking absolutely and utterly inert on offense only to see the Seahawks suddenly find their footing (and the end zone) on the final possession of the first half. It’s like they wait until the first half is almost over to start calling the good plays.
Of course that’s over-simplified. It’s not like Seattle isn’t interested in scoring earlier in games, but the statistics show a pretty clear trend. The Seahawks have scored more points in the second half compared to the first half in each of the past three seasons and in six of the eight years that Wilson has been quarterback. Over the past three seasons, Seattle averaged 10.8 points in the first half, 13.9 in the second. They really do finish better than they start, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it does make you wonder why they can’t seem to start with the same efficiency that they finish.
And the reality is that Seattle probably can’t afford to be half bad this season because they’re going to hard-pressed to reach double-digit wins again if they face as many halftime deficits as they did a year ago.
Seattle trailed at halftime in 10 of its 16 regular-season games. The Seahawks came back to win six of those games, which ESPN’s Bill Barnwell pointed out was tied for the second-most halftime comebacks among all NFL teams since the 1970 merger. NFL teams, on average, won 22.4
Now, that’s not entirely a fluke. Wilson really is that good, and having him means Seattle is eminently more capable of a second-half comeback compared to, oh I don’t know, the Bears with Mitchell Trubisky. Or the Rams with Jared Goff. Or the 49ers with Jimmy Garoppolo. Or, well just about any NFL team other than the Kansas City Chiefs and their bonafide ace Patrick Mahomes.
But as good as Wilson is, there’s not a lot of evidence that teams can consistently come back from that number of second-half deficits. Barnwell looked at all teams over the past 50 years that: a) played more than four games in which they trailed at halftime; and b) won more than 50 percent of those games. Those teams that met the criteria were 284-162-3 (.634) when trailing at halftime. The next season, those same teams were 122-196 (.292) when trailing at halftime. In other words, it does not appear that second-half escapes are a repeatable skill that carry over from one year to the next.
That fact only makes it more important for Seattle to stay away from first-half holes. You can’t fail to complete a second-half comeback if you’re playing from ahead.
“Getting ahead is a key thing,” Wilson said. “I do definitely believe in finishing strong. We’ve won a lot of games in the fourth quarter and done some fun things and end of games, but let’s treat every quarter as the fourth. I think that’s my mentality always.”
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