Seattle is using its running backs more traditionally. Sometimes that means using a fullback. Sometimes that means having a quarterback under center with a lone running back behind him. The payoff is the running back gets the ball with a running start — the “downhill” effect.
RENTON — This is an issue of identity. There are different ways of saying it — the long-winded explanation is that the Seahawks are running “downhill” more, which just means they’re not giving the ball to their running backs out of the shotgun as often — but strip away everything and what’s left is a matter of identity.
“Our mentality is to beat people up, and you do that in the run game, down after down after down,” offensive tackle Garry Gilliam said. “As an offensive line, we like to run block, and I think our runners like to run the ball. Has it changed? I don’t know if it’s so much changed or if it’s just getting back to our roots. Going back to my roots. You ever heard that song by Imagine Dragons? It’s a good song.”
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell put it in less colorful terms: “It helps us get back to our philosophy and who we want to be.”
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What the Seahawks are doing is using their running backs more traditionally. Sometimes that means using a fullback. And sometimes that means having quarterback Russell Wilson under center with a lone running back directly behind him.
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The payoff is that the running back gets the ball with a running start — the “downhill” effect.
Marshawn Lynch, Seattle’s starting running back, is adept at running out of the shotgun. He is a master at taking a handoff laterally, quickly squaring his shoulders and having his pick of which direction he wants to go. But he is most comfortable running behind center.
“I think he prefers downhill runs a little bit more because he thinks he’s been more successful at it,” said running-backs coach Sherman Smith. “But really he’s had a lot of good runs out of the shotgun also. If that’s what he likes, then that’s cool with me. Plus, he has a fullback in front of him, and he likes that part of it. He’s effective either way.”
Smith said Lynch didn’t approach the coaches about running downhill more, but the Seahawks have adjusted.
In the first two games, the Seahawks ran their running backs more out of the shotgun than behind center. But in two of their last three games, the Seahawks have had three times as many rushing attempts behind center than out of shotgun.
“I think we’re at our best when we do that,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “So it’s good, and I think that’s what’s showing up more now. You’re seeing us come down hill at people, and we’re feeling the line of scrimmage the way we like to more.”
Look at the numbers this season:
• Seahawks running backs are averaging 4.3 yards per carry out of the shotgun.
• They’re averaging 5.7 yards per carry with a fullback.
• Surprisingly, with just a single running back and usually a tight end or two, the Seahawks are averaging only 2.8 yards per carry.
But there is a sense in the locker room that the numbers are one thing, and the style is something else entirely. That this is the way the Seahawks have played football under Carroll, and this is how it’s supposed to be.
Lynch is actually averaging almost 6 yards per carry when running out of the shotgun. His teammates and coaches say he can thrive in any system, and the shotgun is useful for the obvious reasons: It helps create separation from the line for Wilson, and it preserves the threat of Wilson running — what Bevell calls the “third element.”
“We still have shotgun runs, and there’s still opportunities with the zone read,” Bevell said. “But it’s not the main focus now where the first couple weeks we were pretty heavy in that area.”
The Seahawks ran the ball 17 times with a fullback against the 49ers last week and 12 times with a lone running back behind center. They ran the ball only six times out of the shotgun.
The two games the Seahawks have most included a fullback — Cincinnati and San Francisco — are their two best rushing performances this season, even if chunks of yards still came via the shotgun.
“It helps us,” said Smith, the running-backs coach. “We can do it well. Marshawn wants to do it. So I guess it’s just a perfect storm.”