There were plenty of lopsided numbers in the Seattle Seahawks' Week 13 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
There was the final score (38-7), the advantage in first downs (25-9) and time of possession (35:10 to 24:50), the disparity in yardage (433-125) and the difference in third-down conversions (69 percent to 20 percent).
But what just might be the most important number in last week's victory for the Seahawks is a less obvious one, their 9-4 advantage in a statistical category that, along with turnover margin, is one of the most important for a Pete Carroll-coached football team: explosive plays.
The Seahawks define explosive plays as pass completions of 16 or more yards and runs of 12 or longer, and against the Vikings the Seahawks had nine such plays, including 53 and 20-yard touchdown passes from Russell Wilson to Doug Baldwin, with five of those coming through the air and four coming on the ground.
The Vikings, on the other hand, managed just four explosives, three through the air and one on the ground—and perhaps most impressively, none from the league's leading rusher, Adrian Peterson.
"That's ultimately really important for successful teams," Carroll said of making explosive plays on offense and preventing them on defense. "You have to stop big plays from happening. You're not worth a darn on defense if you're giving up a bunch of explosive plays. What are you doing? The whole thing is to slow the thing down and give yourself a chance to stop people. The big plays are so significant in terms of scoring opportunities in terms of drives itself. That's a major factor."
How much of a factor? The Seahawks have scored on 77.6 percent of their drives this season when completing even a single explosive pass, the highest percentage in the league (Kansas City, Carolina, New England, and Cincinnati round out the top five).
And it's no coincidence that as the Seahawks have started winning more frequently, they've been better when it comes to being the more explosive team. The Seahawks, who have won five of six, have come out on top in explosive-play margin in seven straight games. Last season at one point, the Seahawks went 14 straight games winning that battle.
"Our numbers are getting close," Carroll said. "We're up near the top on defense, and we're in pretty good shape on offense too. We're up there again. Those are always a hidden issue for us that we don't talk a whole lot about. You can talk about it, it's hard to just—how do you get it done? You have to function really well and it has to happen in a lot of ways, a lot of contributions and all. It is a huge factor and we're going to see if we can wind up on the top on both sides."
On offense, the Seahawks are sixth in explosive plays made with 99, trailing Arizona (108), Tampa Bay (105), the New York Jets (102), Pittsburgh (102) and New Orleans (101), but only Arizona, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay create explosive plays at a higher per-play rate than Seattle. Seattle's 33 explosive runs rank second in the NFL, while the Seahawks turn 18.7 percent of their pass attempts into explosives, which ranks second in the league to Tampa. The Seahawks also rank third in yards per play (6.0), second in yards per carry (4.8) and second in yards per pass attempt (8.8). The Seahawks are one of five teams in the NFL, along with Tennessee, Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Arizona to pile up 10-plus explosives in four games through Week 13—their wins over Chicago and Pittsburgh and both wins over San Francisco (the Seahawks also had nine explosives last week and against Carolina in Week 4).
On defense, the Seahawks have allowed just 71 explosive plays, second fewest in the league after the Denver Broncos (68), and Seattle's 12 explosive runs allowed leads the NFL. Add it all up, the Seahawks are a plus-28 in explosive differential, second only to the Cardinals, who are plus-31.
The Seahawks offense hasn't always gotten the credit it deserves, in part because it has been overshadowed by a historically-great defense, and in part because a run-heavy approach means efficacy doesn't always translate to big yardage and point totals. But after putting up 29, 39 and 38 points in their past three games, it's impossible to sleep on what has been one of the league's most explosive offenses for several years.
"It's a huge part," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "When you talk about the explosive plays obviously you're talking about field position. Being able just to get one explosive play in a drive really increases your chances that you're going to score points. So it's a huge part of our offense. We run the ball, and then we want to be able to be explosive when we decide to pass, and we're kind of starting to see that."
Just as the Seattle offense thrives with its balance, pounding teams with the league's No. 1 rushing attack, then hitting big plays in a passing game that has been at its very best over the past three weeks, the defense also is so good at preventing explosives because of balance. By being strong at all three levels, there's no single obvious weakness to target.
"It starts up front with our defensive line," defensive coordinator Kris Richard said. "Those guys are huge for our success as a football team. After that, now we've got to take care of explosive plays. Take care of the deep ball first and foremost on the outside, fades, seams, and posts, there's no doubt about it. The more that we can keep that off our back, the better we will be."
The other reason the defense has been so good at preventing big plays is a philosophical one. As Carroll said, his view of a bad defense is one that gives up big plays, and long touchdowns in particular, so he'll gladly trade a bunch of short pass completions, so long as the linebackers and safeties are there to make sure tackles, rather than be overly aggressive and risk allowing big plays. That focus on eliminating big plays is what makes Seattle's cornerbacks and free safety Earl Thomas so critically important to the Seahawks' defensive success.
"(Coaches) harp on it all the time," cornerback Richard Sherman said. "They still harp on it. That's why we're up near the league leaders in that category. We stop the big play a majority of the time. When it does happen, we have to find a way to fix that. Usually it's a heck of a play made by them or an incredible throw and catch. Sometimes you tip your hat off to these guys because they're pros too. We expect to win more times and not."
The Seahawks are winning the explosive battle more times than not, and as a result, they're also coming out on top more often where it matters most—in the win-loss column.