The Seahawks rushed for just 33 yards on 21 carries in Sunday’s 41-38 victory over Houston. If they can’t advance the ball on the ground, they won’t be advancing far in the postseason. “That’s something we have to work out,” running back J.D. McKissic said. “We have to find it.”
Assuming the high has worn off for you — and it might not have, given the theatrics of that victory — let’s take a moment to examine the wart on the Seahawks’ otherwise silky skin.
Prolific as Seattle’s offense was Sunday, mind-blowing as Russell Wilson was in that 41-38 victory over Houston, the running game essentially took a vacation day.
By game’s end, the Seahawks had accumulated a season-low 33 rushing yards on 21 carries. Thirty of those yards, mind you, came via four carries from Wilson.
That means among Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, J.D. McKissic and Tyler Lockett, Seattle ran the ball 17 times for three yards. That’s not a struggle — that’s just sad.
“It was so obvious that we weren’t able to run the football,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “When we realized that we were struggling, I thought (offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and offensive-line coach Tom Cable) did a great job to go ahead and go where we could not fight it.”
Loosely translated, the coaching staff gave the ball to Wilson, got the hell out of the way and watched him throw for a career-high 452 yards and four touchdowns on 26-of-41 passing. It was a performance for the ages by a man who has stockpiled masterpieces throughout his five NFL seasons.
But is this is a sustainable model? Can the offense put this much responsibility on the quarterback week in and week out?
Remember, with its Super Bowl window ajar, there is really only one goal for this team. Can the Seahawks raise the Lombardi without fixing the run?
Now, a cursory glance at team rankings would suggest the run game isn’t the dumpster fire I’m describing. Seattle’s 97.6 rushing yards per game is 21st in the league. That’s certainly not good — especially for a team that finished in the top four in rushing every year from 2012-15 — but it’s close enough to avoid being an eyesore.
Let’s dig a little deeper, though. If you look at yards per carry, which might be a more accurate way to judge the run game’s efficiency, the Seahawks’ 3.7 yards per carry are tied for 24th with three other teams. But what if you subtracted Wilson’s rushing stats? Then they’re at 3.2. And what if you then took out injured running back Chris Carson’s numbers? Then they’re at 2.7. And what if, just for kicks, you subtracted the 44 yards that Lockett, a receiver, has gained on the ground?
Then, you’d realize that the Seahawks’ healthy running backs have tallied just 2.45 yards per carry this season. That’s a dumpster fire.
“That’s something we have to work out,” McKissic said of the running game after Sunday’s game. “We have to find it.”
Added right tackle Germain Ifedi: “There’s not much spin you can put on it — we need to be better.”
It’s hard to know where to place the blame. McKissic is a second-year player who played just one game last year, and Lacy and Rawls have suffered season-ending injuries the past couple seasons — so maybe it’s on a trio of running backs that’s a half step too slow. Then again, the Seahawks have the NFL’s second-lowest-paid offensive line, so maybe the boys up front deserve the bulk of the criticism.
It’s likely a combination of both, but the point isn’t to find a scapegoat. The point is that, unlike the offense as a whole, this is a problem that doesn’t seem to be getting better.
So what would that mean for the Seahawks if the running game doesn’t improve? If opponents see no reason to bite on a play action, can they ever move the ball?
Those questions might be better for coaches, but here are some numbers to digest anyway.
In the past five years, no Super Bowl participant has finished lower than 18th in regular-season rushing yards per game. Seven of those teams were in the top 11 in rushing, six in the top seven and five in the top five.
However, in the past 10 years, three Super Bowl participants have been dead last in rushing yards per game — the 2011 Giants, 2009 Colts and 2008 Cardinals.
So do the Seahawks need to shore up that part of their game, or would they just like to?
Given the inconsistency the offense has shown the past couple seasons, I’m gonna go with need. Wilson isn’t going to be able to carve up elite defenses without a complementary running attack (his two best games came against the Giants and Texans, who are ranked 27th and 22nd in passing defense, respectively).
Moving the ball on the ground is no longer “Seahawks football,” as it was once described. This is Wilson’s offense, and coaches would be ill-advised to act otherwise. But they still have to figure out the running game, because if they can’t advance the ball on the ground, they won’t be advancing far in the postseason.