Pete Carroll has made clear reviving Seattle's running game is job one for the offense this season.
There’s probably a danger in reading too much into the Seahawks’ stated desire to revive their running game in 2018.
As coach Pete Carroll said in a recent interview on ESPN 710 Seattle when asked about previous comments about being more committed to the run this season: “It isn’t like three yards and a cloud of dust. It ain’t Ground Chuck. It’s about balance, so you can formulate your whole approach and you make your opponents have to deal with all aspects of this game.”
Ground Chuck refers to former Seahawks coach Chuck Knox, who in showing how reputations can sometimes mask realities, coached two Seattle teams that still rank among the top four in single-season touchdown passes.
Carroll, likewise, isn’t planning to completely forsake the pass, as the signing of Brandon Marshall this week makes clear (sure, he may be a decent run blocker, but that’s not the primary reason he’s being brought in).
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What Carroll would like is to get the pass-to-run percentage more where it was in 2013 or 2014 (47.29 and 48.56 respectively) than where it was last year (59.38).
Or, more realistically, somewhere in the middle of those two numbers, such as the 55.78 last year of Super Bowl champ Philadelphia.
Seattle passed as much as it did last season in large part because it couldn’t run, averaging just 101.8 yards per game and 4.0 yards per carry in going 9-7 and finishing out of the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
And while the internet is rife with debate about how much a good running game matters, Carroll and the Seahawks view it as no coincidence that those numbers were far worse than during the team’s 2012-15 heyday, when Seattle averaged at least 136.8 yards per game each season to rank among the top four teams in the NFL, and at least 4.3 yards per attempt, led by a 5.3 average in 2014.
The offensive struggles of the last two seasons resulted in Carroll making the most significant coaching staff overhaul of his career in firing offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and line coach Tom Cable and re-assigning quarterbacks coach Carl Smith, hiring Brian Schottenheimer as OC and de facto QB coach, and bringing in Mike Solari as offensive line coach.
Streamlining and changing the voices in the ear of quarterback Russell Wilson was also a prominent factor in the firings and hirings.
But Wednesday, when Schottenheimer met the media for the first time since his hiring, Carroll also made clear that Schottenheimer’s background with some successful running teams — specifically, the 2009-10 New York Jets, which each advanced to the AFC Conference title game — was also paramount.
“It’s a commitment to that’s the style of play and that fits,’’ Carroll said. “You go back to a couple of years ago when he had Mark Sanchez back there and they ran the football like crazy and they won a couple of championships there really with a young quarterback based on the commitment to the run and playing defense. Well you know us, that’s something that we do understand about how you play the game of football. He’s committed to it. He gets us.’’
The 2009 Jets ranked first in the NFL in both rushing attempts and yards while the 2010 Jets were second and fourth.
Schottenheimer, who also was the OC for the Rams in 2012-14 and spent the last two years as the quarterbacks coach of the Colts, on Wednesday affirmed Carroll made clear what his marching orders are in taking over for Bevell.
“That’s just something that we’ve talked about from the very beginning when I first started talking to Pete,’’ said Schottenheimer, son of longtime NFL players and coach Marty Schottenheimer. “That was something that you’ve got to have the ability to run the football when people know you are going to run the football. And when you lose that, you become one-dimensional and that’s hard. We’re trying to find some different wrinkles. Find out who we are and different ways to attack people.”
The key part of that statement may be “the ability to run the football when people know you are going to run.’’
That, more than anything, is what the Seahawks really want to get back to more than simply running it more. But running it well would also mean running it more since teams inevitably do more of what they are doing well.
As Schottenheimer acknowledged, though, it’ll take more than just wanting to run more to actually run better.
“I think the biggest thing with the running game is it starts with the guys up front,’’ he said. “That physical mindset of ‘hey, we’re going to control the line of scrimmage.’ That’s easier said than done. It’s easy to have that mentality.’’
That’s where what Solari can do with an offensive line that will likely include four of five returnees from last year and free agent signee D.J. Fluker may be as critical to the success of the 2018 Seahawks as anything.
“But, when you emphasize things in coaching you normally get results,’’ Schottenheimer said. “. … we’ve always been the best at places I’ve been when we were able to run the football when people knew we were going to run it. We could throw the football when people knew we were going to throw it. That just gives you that balance you need to be successful.”
It’s a balance Schottenheimer said he’s hoping to find without completely throwing the team’s playbook out the window.
“If you put a number on it I’d say it’s probably 70 percent of what they’ve done here and then maybe 30 percent of ideas from Mike and myself and some of the new guys,’’ he said of how much the offense will change in 2018. “It’d be crazy to ask some of the guys to learn a completely new system. I’ve been working extremely hard trying to get up to speed with the way they’ve done things. They’ve had so much success here that was easy for me to do. I’m excited about some of the things that we’ve added both in the run and pass game. I think that’ll be something that is noticeably different. It’s a comprehensive approach. We’re all in this thing together. It’s been fun to really figure out who we are and ultimately right now we still don’t know. We’re still trying to figure that out. The more we practice and go up against a great defense we’ll figure that out as we go up against a great defense we’ll figure that out as we go.”