The Seahawks want a run-first attack so they can take play-action strikes down the field. That’s the blueprint Pete Carroll had vowed to follow this offseason, only to get off track the first couple games.
“You can tell what kind of team we are now,” he said. “You know who we are. We know who we are, too. We’re just getting warmed up.”
What they hope they are is the kind of team Carroll has always coveted, and which had slowly dissipated in the years following running back Marshawn Lynch’s departure.
Namely, an attack predicated on the run, rugged and physical, that wears down the opposing defense and makes it susceptible to play-action strikes down the field by quarterback Russell Wilson.
That’s the blueprint Carroll vowed to follow this offseason, only to inexplicably get off track in the first couple games. But since then, the Seahawks have redoubled their commitment to the run, and stuck to it. Here’s how many running plays they’ve had, game by game: 16, 22, 39, 34, 32. And their rushing yardage has grown every game: 64, 74, 113, 171, 190. They’ve had a 100-yard rusher in each of the past three games – Chris Carson twice and Mike Davis once. They didn’t have any last season.
Perhaps most encouraging: the Seahawks’ average gain per rush has been 5.0 and 5.9 yards the past two games. In their Super Bowl-winning season of 2013, they averaged 4.3 yards per rush, and the next year, when they lost the Super Bowl, the Seahawks had a 5.3 average.
By 2016 and 2017, that average had dropped to 3.9 and 4.0, respectively – and the total number of attempts had dropped by more than 100 from their heyday. That was a concession to a weak offensive line and their inability to develop a running back to replace Lynch.
Too often in the past few years they relied on Wilson’s wizardry to carry a one-dimensional offense. Wilson’s performance Sunday was more reminiscent of the Seahawks’ golden years. He was 13 of 21 for 198 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, a performance Carroll called “exquisite.”
“I thought it all fit together exactly in the fashion we like to see it,” Carroll said. “It played off the running game. It took a few weeks to get done. And then Schotty (first-year offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer) just jumped on it. … It was just the way we like to do it.”
This is not to say the Seahawks are a cured offense. Last year they rushed for 194 yards in a rout of Indianapolis in Week 4, and they also viewed it as a harbinger of a transformed running game. But the next week they ran for 64 yards, and two weeks later, 33. The same old struggles prevailed for most of the rest of the season.
They could use a running element from Wilson, who made his name with scrambles and his zone-read prowess. He didn’t have a rushing attempt Sunday, the first time in his career that has happened. And it will help immensely when receiver Doug Baldwin, limited to just one catch Sunday as he battles back from a knee injury, gets back in the offensive flow.
Also, it’s worth noting that when the Seahawks most desperately needed their offense to perform, it failed them. In the fourth quarter, with the Rams clinging to a two-point lead, they had two possessions and were unable to even get off a field-goal attempt that could have given them the lead (and a stunning upset victory).
On the first one, they advanced just 15 yards, from their 13-yard-line to the 28 (an 18-yard Carson run negated by two sacks of Wilson), before having to punt. And on their next possession, after a 44-yard strike from Wilson to Tyler Lockett put them in business at the Rams’ 32, they were pushed out of field-goal range by two penalties. They couldn’t get the yards back as Wilson was subjected to a heavy rush, and the Seahawks had to punt again – never getting the ball back.
The Seahawks also are still lacking the other vital element of their vintage years – a stifling defense that augments and accentuates their ball-control offense. The Rams averaged 7.4 yards per offensive play Sunday, though in fairness that’s pretty close to their season average. The Rams, in fact, are on pace to set an NFL record for yards in a season.
To Carroll, it was a game that gave a glimpse of the formula that he had in mind when he change Seattle’s offensive coordinator and offensive-line coach and drafted running back Rashaad Penny in the first round. (Penny was invisible Sunday and is clearly a distant third on the pecking order behind Carson and Davis, but that’s a story for another day.)
“There is no doubting who we are as a team and how we’re trying to build this thing,” Carroll said.
That wasn’t always the case this season, but it is now.