Numbers show 2014 Seahawks defense off from 2013 levels

Key injuries clearly contributed to the Seahawks standing at 6-3 and needing a strong finish to make it into the postseason.

How have these injuries affected the team in a practical sense? And is there more to blame than that?

I always tend to think that games are won by the immeasurables, the big play at the right time, by one guy beating the guy in front of him when the game was on the line.

But sometimes statistics reveal trends. It sent me to the archives to compare where they stood last season.

The Seahawks were an NFC-best 8-1, with a division lead over 6-2 San Francisco.

In defense of the 2014 team, they’ve faced tougher competition.

Last year, in the first nine games, opponents had a combined 30 wins, with only three teams above .500.

This season, four have been above .500 and the nine opponents have a combined 37 wins.

For the communal dismay over offensive inconsistency, the Seahawks’ current offense is statistically better at 10th overall (13th at this point last season), and No. 1 in rushing, up from No. 5 last season.

Team rushing is up significantly, with the averaging going 4.6 to 5.5 per carry, mostly because quarterback Russell Wilson has 500 rushing yards, 125 more than he had last season through nine games.

Back Marshawn Lynch has been better, too, with his per-carry average up to 4.5 from 4.3 and his total of 12 touchdowns up from seven.

Total passing yards have dropped, as has Wilson’s passer rating (from 98.1 to 89.9). He has seemed inaccurate recently, but he’s completing 62.5 percent, which is up 0.3 percentage points. His sacks are down from 27 to 18.

The lack of offensive plays, particularly versus San Diego and Dallas, contributed to defeats. But on the whole, the 2014 offense has run three more plays at this point, for an average of 5.9 per play rather than 5.6.

The numbers on defense, though, show the steepest statistical decline.

They’re giving up 21.2 points per game, well up from 16.6. Some of the reasons are obvious. They’ve come up with seven fewer interceptions (down to six from 13), in part because their sack total has been the most obvious statistical shortcoming.

Their 13 sacks at this point is less than half their 29 last season, when Michael Bennett (5.5), Cliff Avril (4.5) Chris Clemons (3.5) and Clinton McDonald (3.5) led the way.

Consequently, opposing quarterbacks have 15 touchdowns against six interceptions for a passer rating of 93.0. Last season, the numbers were nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions for a lowly passer rating of 68.6.

Here’s where the injuries are most notable. Defensive starters have missed 10 games this season, but that’s been amplified by the injuries to backups or part-time starters such as Malcolm Smith, Jeremy Lane, Jeron Johnson, Jordan Hill, Tharold Simon, Curtis Marsh, Greg Scruggs and Kevin Pierre-Louis, who have missed a total of 30 games.

The underappreciated effect of their injuries is to the special teams, where a number of these backups are key performers.

Remember last year when the Seahawks were on pace for a league record in punt coverage, having given up just 15 yards on 11 punt returns at this point (1.4-yard average)?

They’ve now given up 162 yards on 11 returns, for an average of 14.7. That’s like giving the opponent an extra first down every time they return the ball.

Against St. Louis, the Seahawks had a number of new players on punt coverage. On one tricky return, the Rams picked up 90 yards and a touchdown. Surely that skewed the stats. But more importantly, it meant six points in a game lost by two.

So, stats don’t win games, big plays at the right time are more important.

And even though the Hawks’ last three wins have been over losing teams, building confidence and momentum is important for this last stretch. More important, in fact, than stacking up statistics.

Last season, they finished the final seven games with five wins. If they could do that again, it likely would get them into the playoffs.

But it’s fair, too, to remember that the teams they met in the final seven games last season were, at this point, a combined 24-33.

The final seven this season are 43-21. Those are daunting numbers.