Anyone who watched the Seahawks could see that their offensive line was too often dysfunctional, a yearlong problem that manifested itself not only in the lackluster rushing efforts but also in the relentless pressure put on quarterback Russell Wilson.
You can follow the arc of Pete Carroll’s coaching tenure in Seattle merely by looking at the Seahawks’ yearly rushing totals.
And you can ascertain the team’s reaction to last year’s precipitous decline in its running game merely by looking at the first days of NFL free agency, which featured a procession of offensive linemen and running backs onto Seattle’s radar.
There’s clearly a mission statement here from Carroll and John Schneider: We need to get back to what made us great in the first place. And what was far from great last year.
So here we have the Seahawks’ first move of free agency, agreeing to terms with former Jacksonville lineman Luke Joeckel, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft. That was followed by the wooing of T.J. Lang of Green Bay, a Pro Bowl guard last year. And they have been linked to numerous veteran running backs, including Eddie Lacy, Jamaal Charles and Latavius Murray, all of whom are believed to have visits scheduled in Seattle.
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Carroll has always regarded a punishing running game as the bedrock of his team-building philosophy. In 2010, his first year in Seattle, the Seahawks ranked 31st in the NFL at a mere 89 yards a game, a deficiency they set about repairing by the midseason acquisition of Marshawn Lynch from Buffalo.
The Seahawks, 7-9 that year, jumped to 21st in the NFL in rushing in 2011 (109.8 yards per game), another 7-9 season. And then Lynch blossomed into stardom in 2012, and not at all coincidentally, the Seahawks became a force in the NFL. They ranked third in rushing in 2012 (161.2 ypg), fourth in 2013 (136.8), first in 2014 (172.6) and third in 2015 (141.8, largely on the strength of the transition from Lynch to Thomas Rawls). It was a four-year period that coincided with four playoff berths, two division titles, two conference titles and one Super Bowl win.
But last year, despite another division title (aided by division rivals that fell apart around them), the Seahawks sans Lynch stumbled to 25th in the NFL at 99.4 yards per game. Anyone who watched them could see that their offensive line was too often dysfunctional, a yearlong problem that manifested itself not only in the lackluster rushing efforts but also in the relentless pressure put on quarterback Russell Wilson.
Analysis showed that no quarterback was rushed harder than Wilson, which helps explain not only his two crippling injuries but also a Seattle offense that struggled too often. The Seahawks had five games in which they scored one or no touchdowns, hardly the stuff of a Super Bowl contender. For the second year in a row, they were ousted in the second round of the playoffs.
Carroll’s answer to all that, by early appearances, is what it almost always is — increase the competition, in hopes of either unearthing new options or jump-starting the old ones. That’s not to say the Seahawks threw themselves into that endeavor with all guns blazing, targeting the best players on the market at those positions. That’s hardly possible when free-agent prices are skyrocketing — particularly for offensive linemen — and you rank near the bottom of the league in available cap space.
So what you get instead are options with flaws. Both Joeckel and Lang are coming off significant injuries, while two of the three running backs mentioned are on the backside of their careers and also recently hampered by injuries.
Yet Lang, if healthy, would be the best free-agent lineman this Seahawks regime has signed, and a clear indication they agree with the consensus that this year’s draft class of O-linemen is not great. It’s hard to say how it would all sort out, and what the arrival of Joeckel and potentially Lang, both of whom would most likely be looked at as guards, would mean for their returnees on the line. But what it could, and should, do is light a fire under those guys, and that’s sorely needed.
Similarly, there’s nothing wrong with giving a competitive nudge to Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise, both of whom have injury questions of their own. When you go into games at the end of the season with Terrence Magee as your third option at running back, as the Seahawks did, it’s a clear sign you need some reinforcements.
It’s still early in the process, of course, with dozens of potential free-agent targets still on the market. There’s also the draft, which the Seahawks will likely use as the prime vehicle to restock their defense, particularly in the secondary and on the line.
But if the Seahawks last year put too much faith in their ability to forge a running game out of a young, inexperienced line and a youthful post-Lynch running back corps, it’s a mistake they don’t want to make again.
|Seattle’s running game|
|A look at the Seahawks’ yearly rushing totals under coach Pete Carroll, and their record each season.|
|Source: Pro Football Reference|