The Seahawks ranked 30th in the NFL in run defense after three weeks. Heading into their Week 14 game against the Jaguars, they're back in the top 10.
Remember when everyone was all worried about the Seahawks’ run defense?
Wondering if a few early breakdowns were a sign of the Seahawks starting to show their age?
Well, don’t look now — actually, you should look because there’s no reason not to look and the only way you’ll find out is if you look — but the Seattle run defense is back to its usual ways.
After ranking as low as 30th against the run three weeks into the season and still standing at 26th six games into the year, Seattle this week is up to a season-high seventh in rushing defense at 98.3 yards per game and also seventh in yards per attempt at 3.8.
The Seahawks, recall, allowed 159 rushing yards against the 49ers in week two and 195 against Tennessee in week three, which inflated their stats throughout the first half of the season.
Seattle players and coaches at the time noted that much of the yardage was due to three runs — 61- and 27-yarders by Carlos Hyde of the 49ers and a 75-yarder by DeMarco Murray of Tennessee.
Take those three plays out and the stats would have looked a little normal, they insisted. But those plays obviously counted — the Murray run helping Tennessee clinch a 33-27 win over the Seahawks — and at the time such comments sounded to some like wishful thinking.
Turns out, though, the Seahawks were right in stating that those three runs were an anomaly, mostly the result of misalignment and a few missed tackles and not a sign of significant issues.
Seattle has given up just one run as long as 27 yards since then — a reverse by Rams receiver Tavon Austin — and has been as stingy as any team in the NFL since then against the run.
Consider that Seattle was allowing 5.3 yards per carry after the first three games (82 rushes for 438 yards) but has allowed just 3.3 (225-742) in the nine games since, which is better than the 3.4 Seattle averaged in leading the NFL in 2016 and on par with the 3.3 of Cleveland that is currently leading the league (yep, the Browns somewhat astonishingly lead the NFL in fewest yards allowed per carry this year.)
Sunday, the Seahawks allowed just 98 yards on 26 carries Sunday against an Eagles team that came into the game second in the NFL in rushing at 147.5.
Players say nothing all that exciting other than doing their jobs a little better.
“I think it was a couple things and couple plays got away from us,’’ middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said this week. “It was still early on the season, so you are still trying to learn the people that are in front of you because it’s a lot of new guys there, so you are trying to learn that. And then, just being more gap sound.
“At some point in the season, you always have the point in the season where you need to tighten your screws up and make sure everything, like the details is on point, so I feel like it happened earlier for us. We are very conscious of it now and we want to make sure that we just stay gap sound. It’s going to help us.”
A couple other things may also have helped, notably defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson having gotten more acclimated to playing in a 4-3 scheme. But Seattle has had no real lineup changes other than those mandated due to injury, nothing appreciably different about its scheme.
What hasn’t mattered much is the loss of the likes of cornerback Richard Sherman — whose tackling has long been an underrated aspect of his game — and strong safety Kam Chancellor.
In the three games each has missed Seattle has allowed just 3.38 yards per carry against Atlanta, the 49ers and Eagles.
What also helped last week was being ahead — the Eagles had a little success running early in the game with 91 yards on 19 carries at halftime but basically gave up the run in the second half with just seven carries for seven yards the rest of the game while attempting to rally (the Eagles’ longest run in the second half was the five-yarder by Carson Wentz in which he fumbled the ball through the end zone).
In the NFL, though, storylines can change quickly and on paper the Seahawks will get what statistically is maybe their toughest test this season against the run in going on the road to face a Jacksonville team that leads the league in rushing at 149.4 per game.
Much of that is due to 240-pound rookie Leonard Fournette of LSU — the No. 4 overall pick in the 2017 draft — who has 822 yards. One storyline in Jacksonville this week, though, is that the running game hasn’t been as good lately with just 91 and 96 yards the last two weeks against the Cardinals and Colts — the team’s two lowest-rushing totals of the season.
ESPN this week revealed that the Jags are third in yards after contact with 713 yards, meaning opponents have been in position often to make tackles on Fournette and others but just haven’t done it.
“They do a lot of good things,’’ Wagner said. “He (Fournette) runs really, really hard. They are going to get him the rock. I think this is probably one of the teams that runs a little bit more than they pass. It’s going to kind of be the same thing. We’re going to stop the run and put them in passing situations where you can allow the rush to get to them. I feel like we are very confident in the possibility of stopping it.”