If you’re looking for a single impactful measurement that defines how the Seahawks have come to success so unexpectedly in 2018, here’s my premium contender: Not only do the Seahawks lead the NFL in turnover ratio (24 takeaways against 10 giveaways, four fewer giveaways than the nearest team), the giveaways are tied for the fewest in single-season league history.
If they stay clean in the regular season finale Sunday against Arizona (1:25 p.m., FOX), the Seahawks will tie the 2010 Patriots and 2011 49ers for tidiest teams in the annals of avoiding self-soiling.
If coach Pete Carroll had been a Labrador puppy, he’d have broken his tail wagging over that morsel.
“I think that’s an extraordinary fact of ball and I’m so thrilled to be a part of that,” he said Wednesday. “I wish we had the record outright, but it just gives us a chance to go after it again.”
Having just 10 turnovers so far (Tampa Bay leads with 34) flirts with ridiculousness, particularly in view of the fact that the offensive coaching staff has changed, and the O-line had two new starters, although LG J.R. Sweezy had previous history in Seattle.
But QB Russell Wilson has only six interceptions, and the team has lost four fumbles. In fact, as ESPN.com’s Mike Sando deduced, after five turnovers in the first two games, the five over the past 13 games are the fewest for any team in the same stretch of games since 1940.
“That’s a marvelous collection of effort to get that done,” Carroll said. “It starts with the QB, and then all the way throughout. He hands it to somebody or throws it to somebody every snap, so it’s all of the guys involved.
“We just got to see if we can just do it one more time.”
They have the proper opponent. The 3-12 Cardinals, arguably the NFL’s worst team, have managed 15 takeaways while gifting 26, a minus-11 ratio that’s tied for 29th in the NFL.
Since day one of the Carroll regime in Seattle, Seahawks fans along with the players have learned the primacy of ball possession.
“Every turn, every step, every day, April, May – it doesn’t matter when,” Carroll said. “It’s the number one thing that we emphasize. We’ve been doing that for a long time. What our challenge is, is how well can we transfer that emphasis, so that they engage it and adopt that as part of their play?”
Regarding takeaways, the Seahawks drill the gospel repetitively, in the manner of Baptist church — preach, brother Pete.
“It’s like a religion,” LB K.J. Wright said in the locker room before practice. “Every Thursday, we talk about it all day. In meetings, DB coaches go over it, linebacker meetings, same thing. We watch film on it, how other teams do it, and make it a part of our game.
“To punch the ball out, you’re eyeing it all the time. When you go in, you try to get a good exit angle for the punch. The guy might get an extra two or three yards if you miss the ball, but the risk is worth the reward.”
LB Bobby Wagner said there’s a consciousness about knocking free the ball that is equal with tackling. The master, he said, was retired DE Cliff Avril.
“Cliff comes into the room and thinks about it every single time,” he said. “Rushing from the edge for a sack, he’s not even thinking about the hit, (instead) how is gonna get the ball out? He was best at it.”
Sunday in the second quarter against Kansas City, DE Dion Jordan was the heir apparent, getting to RB Damien Williams behind the line deep in Chiefs territory to pop ball free for DT Jarran Reed to recover.
The resulting 21-yard touchdown drive was the Seahawks’ easiest sequence in an otherwise taut game. The Seahawks won 38-31 in part because they won the turnover argument 2-0 — the eighth game of the season where they did not give the ball away.
On the offensive side, Wilson, behind a more stout O-line that has improved its pass protection, has made far fewer throws in haste, and has had more time to let deep routes develop.
It’s also helped that new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has been on his case, something that predecessor Darrell Bevell was reluctant to do.
“He has been really tough on him throughout, really demanding,” Carroll said. “It’s exactly the way Russ wants it. Russ wants to be great, and he wants to be coached to be great. He doesn’t want any slack in there at all. Schotty has really filled that void very comfortably and it’s worked out really well.
“Brian has had to expose him to everything that he could, instead of not trying to overload him. Russ has taken to it.”
Wilson’s increased precision has allowed him to creep up in the NFL’s all-time career rankings for lowest interception ratio. His 1.91 percent trails only Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.
Mistake-avoidance and mistake-generation are vital in a parity-ridden NFL that this year in particular has underscored how thin are the margins between the strong and the weak. The Seahawks have had 10 games decided by eight points or less, going 4-6. Each week, a fumble or a pick seems decisive.
“They’re a constant that just goes away if you don’t,” Carroll said of repetitive instructions to the defense. “I mean, you just have to be on it, because there are unnatural aspects to (pursuing the ball as well as the tackle).
“You just have to train and drill with the highest of expectations to get it done.”
With that, Carroll bounded away to the training room to have his tail splinted.