Delving deeper into the run game
Gone are the days of our beloved Marshawn Lynch pounding the ball game in game out without a care in the world. The Seahawks had an identity back then and it revolved around Lynch. He would punish defensive lineman and linebackers all game long. Fans across the globe would sit down each Sunday confidently knowing they’d get to see a good dose of Lynch trucking defenders for 60 minutes. What’s not to love? Every now and then he’d even dice with mother nature and create genuine seismic activity. A man created the earth and its crust to shake. Much the same way a corner or safety would if he broke through the second level and they had the unpleasant task of bringing him down.
2017 sees a very different outlook to this group of talented individuals known as the Seahawks offense. The group belongs to Russ, the running game has, for the most part, been unable to get going and Wilson isn’t too short to be a top 5 QB in this league.
Here’s a quick chart to show the transition from a run first team to a pass first team over the last 5 years –
Rushing attempts Passing attempts 1st downs via run 1st downs via pass
2013 509 420 116 160
2014 525 454 144 160
2015 500 489 128 190
2016 403 567 85 203
2017 187 259 35 94
You can clearly see a transition whereby rushing attempts go down and passing attempts go up in post-Lynch Seattle. Interestingly, Seattle were more successful in gaining first downs via the pass by just under 25% average from 2013 to 2015. Obviously, there is plenty in play for this statistic to make sense, long yardage to make first down, penalties creating further yardage etc. Typically, teams pass on third down but routinely, teams also pass more than they run, so…
There are two key areas whereby an effective running game gets going, the running backs themselves and blocking. I hear equal blame by fans on who’s to blame for the ineffective running game this year, half seem to put it down to the running backs with the others saying the offensive line is not run-blocking effectively. But who is correct? That’s what I really want to know.
Firstly, let’s look at the running backs.
Chris Carson ran for 208 yards total on 49 carries whilst averaging 4.2 yards per carry (YPC). He would have been on track for 832 yards on the season if it wasn’t for the season-ending injury in garbage time against Indianapolis in week 4, not heyday Marshawn Lynch numbers but when you consider the workload spread those numbers are more than acceptable.
Eddie Lacy has played in 5 games, rushed for 108 yards total on 42 attempts for 2.6 YPC. Chris Carson proved to be just under 40% more effective in YPC against Eddie Lacy so you can certainly put some blame on his ineffectiveness, given he’s running behind the same line.
Next up is Thomas Rawls, who was in most people’s eyes, our feature back coming into the year. He has rushed for 59 yards total on 30 attempts for 2 YPC. Initially this is alarming but when you consider he has had niggling injuries keeping him off the field, I’m not totally dead on putting blame on him just yet. He has shown flashes in the last few weeks. He runs with an aggressive style however does make some bad decisions and proves impatient. He has been known to run into defenders rather than letting a blocker take care of business for him, patience and smarts are important to running backs and sometimes I question Rawls in this area but the jury is very much still out.
Lastly, we look at J.D. McKissic, a 2016 undrafted free agent who was initially picked up by the Falcons and did make it to the active roster, however was waived three days later being picked up by Seattle late December. He has 54 yards total over 4 games but only carrying it 13 times for an average YPC of 4.2. Could he be the answer, at least in the short term? It’s a pretty small sample size I grant you, but at least there is promise. It would be great to see him get the next 2-3 game starts to see what he can do over the course of a couple of games.
It’s worth noting I haven’t included C.J. Prosise in this, looking at the stats for him, it doesn’t change anything.
Next let’s take a look at the offensive line.
Personally, I like the Adjusted Line Yards metric to gauge an offensive line, it assigns responsibility of a run to the offensive line by yards gained. A loss, for example has a 120% value, a run of 0-4 yards has a 100% value, 5-10 yards 50% value and 11+ yards have 0% value. Basically, as the run develops the drop off on value an offensive line has on that specific run decreases.
Seattle is currently ranked 25th over the season, however what this doesn’t tell you is how much improvement were seeing (hint, it’s a lot).
All the advanced statistical analysis tools have this group getting consistently better each game, adding Duane Brown in at the left tackle spot only expedites the improvement curve. When combining rush totals with rush left, rush center and rush right the Seahawks are ranked 13th for example.
Currently Seattle is running 49% of their runs in-between the guards with only 17% behind the left tackle and 9% off the left-end. Expect those numbers to rocket as Seattle schemes plays specific to having Brown at LT, this opens up the creative mind for play calling and allows much more variance to the run game.
Blame can go to both sides, with the Chris Carson injury it forced the coaching staff to play a running back by committee approach which seemingly hasn’t worked to date. Giving J.D. McKissic the start and keeping him in will get the running game on track (provided he doesn’t drop off in production) as will adding Duane Brown to the left side.
You should absolutely feel optimistic that the team are heading in the right direction, Pete Carroll has been very open stating his unhappiness with the run game and a change of approach will come. I still believe the team are going to pass more than they run, however I expect the two to level out a little bit more to a 55/45% type affair.
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