Seahawks running backs coach Sherman Smith said Thursday the team's running backs need to do their part to improve Seattle's rushing attack.
While the struggles of the offensive line and the injuries that have limited Russell Wilson’s mobility are generally cited first as reasons the Seahawks’ running game has struggled lately, running backs coach Sherman Smith this week let the players at his position know they need to take responsibility, as well.
Seattle stands 27th in the rushing offense at 82.7 yards per game and 31st in yards per carry at 3.1, each in stunning contrast to the last four years, when the Seahawks have never ranked lower than fourth in rushing yards.
It’s been a particular struggle the last three games, with the Seahawks averaging 2.7 yards per carry or worse in all three games, with 190 yards on 72 carries.
That Wilson, who has averaged 35 yards rushing for his career, has just 33 this season while dealing with knee and ankle injuries, is obviously a significant factor.
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But Smith said this week he also feels his running backs haven’t been physical enough, particularly the last two weeks, when Seattle has been held to 124 yards on 46 carries by Atlanta and Arizona, the latter a 6-6 overtime tie. Leading rusher Christine Michael has 116 yards in those two games on 34 carries — no other running back had more than one carry in either game.
“I told our group the good news is we are getting what is blocked for them,’’ Smith said Thursday. “The bad news is that we are not getting more than what is blocked for them. We’ve got to extend runs. We’ve got to break tackles, be more physical.’’
Judging by social media, Seahawks fans have noticed Michael duck out of bounds after a few runs the last two weeks.
Smith has noticed it, too. And while coaches want their players to be as smart as possible when it comes to self-preservation, Smith says Michael also needs to know when to fight for the extra yard.
“We don’t coach running out of bounds,’’ Smith said. “Particularly if that yard makes a difference. Now I would tell a guy ‘you run out of bounds if you are going to get banged up and you get an extra yard and it’s second-and-nine.’ That makes no sense. But if it’s to get a first down or a touchdown, you go get it.’’
Smith said he felt Michael did that when the Seahawks beat the Jets 27-17 on Oct. 2, a game in which he had 58 yards on 18 carries going against a defensive line Seattle felt was geared to stop the run.
“C-Mike against the Jets, he was very physical as a runner and that’s the mindset that he has to bring every week,’’ Smith said.
Michael has been Seattle’s starter and main ballcarrier since Thomas Rawls was sidelined in the second game with a fibula injury.
Coach Pete Carroll has mentioned the challenge for Michael of having to navigate through the physical wear and tear full-time running backs take each week for the first time in his career.
Smith said that hasn’t been an issue so far.
“He’s been fine,’’ Smith said. “I don’t make a big deal out of if he gets 20 carries or 10 carries. I just expect him to prepare to play.’’
Smith said the Arizona game — when the Seahawks had just five first downs in regulation and only 13 yards rushing on five carries in the first half — was obviously frustrating.
“I think the thing that helped us be successful in the past was we extended runs,’’ he said. “We had Beast Mode (now-retired Marshawn Lynch), we had Thomas Rawls breaking tackles. So now we are doing a good job of getting what’s there but I think there are more yards there to be had.’’
Asked how that can change during the season, Smith said “it becomes a mentality. It’s got to be mental. Guys just got to say ‘I’ve got to be more physical, more aggressive.’’
Carroll said Monday there’s a chance Rawls will return for the Buffalo game on Nov. 7.
If so, that could mean Sunday’s game is Michael’s last as the primary ballcarrier for a while.
The team gave him some help this week re-signing 6-2, 280-pound fullback Will Tukuafu. Without a fullback, and not using tight ends in fullback roles other than for a snap or two, the Seahawks ran primarily out of one-back sets against the Cardinals.
But with Tukuafu back that could change against the Saints.
“He’s going to be a physical presence in the run game in our two-back stuff,’’ Smith said. “He’s a big guy that gets in there and moves people and I think that helps with the mentality of what we want to do, and that is we want to be physical.
“We didn’t have to think about it in years past because we had a physical runner that brought that brand to our team, and so I think having a fullback there should help get back that brand that we are talking about. And the guys that are running behind him need to understand that’s what it’s all about.’’