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The 2018 Run Game, What Can We Expect?

For this article, I’d like to take a deeper look at what to expect out of the run game in 2018. Seattle’s identity has been focussed around a strong and physical run game since Pete Carroll came to Seattle but since Marshawn Lynch departed that identity seems to have dissipated somewhat. It’s rare this team see’s eight man, or even nine man boxes as they know there’s little chance of a running back breaking through the defensive line and beating the linebacker safety so they drop more in coverage to protect themselves against both the pass and play-action. Seattle’s lack of run game has also allowed defences to use ‘Rats’ in the scheming (a Rat is a defender who doesn’t have a zone or man to cover, he is pretty much, free to roam the field as he sees fit). It’s worth noting that I’m not even going to really touch on the offensive line side of the run game, I’ll leave that for another day. This is purely focussing on the running back group.

Firstly, let’s take a look at what new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has done historically with the run game.

His run vs pass differential has been pretty sporadic. Going as high as 59.22% of the time with the Jets in 2009 and as low as 40.92% with the Rams in 2012. Here’s the full list below -

Who knows what sort of run/pass percentage we will see in 2018, based on the above, it doesn’t really give us much information other than we will ‘probably’ be in the top half of teams that run the ball. That assumption is fair and is backed up by the above and Pete Carroll’s words in his end of season press conference. Whether we are successful running the ball is a whole different kettle of fish.

What Will Change from 2017?

As it stands, the main running backs competing for a spot on the roster for 2018 are Rashaad Penny, Chris Carson, C.J. Prosise, J.D. McKissic and Mike Davis. I said back in March that I firmly believe the team will go RB early in the draft and that's exactly what they did, this group of 5 main guys may all end up with a spot on the 53 come September. If Pete doesn't carry 5 RB's he will certainly carry 4, in my opinion that last roster spot heavily depends how C.J. Prosise looks, if he misses a day or two of camp due to injury? His days will be numbered in my opinion. I'd also say McKissic is pretty safe, statistically he was the best RB at the tail end of last season. If all 5 remain healthy, my money would be on Mike Davis not making the cut.

Looking at the rushing yards of the 2017 backs is a bit of an eyesore, however what I believe is more important to look at when evaluating running backs is their yards per attempt. This is (quite obviously) the average yards gained in every single rushing attempt by the player and includes stuffed runs (runs stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage). The average stuff rate around the NFL is (maybe surprisingly) about 20%, however Seattle’s backs were getting stuffed at or behind the line 29% of the time in 2017, a more explosive runner (and some run blocking) will likely see that number get down to a more respectable (or close to) league average in 2018.

Here you can see the average yards per attempt of each of the running backs in 2017 –

Chris Carson led the team in average yards per attempt with 4.2 which is fine. It’s not an ideal number but it will certainly do. For comparisons sake, here is the top 6 players with the highest average yards per play (minimum 100 attempts)

I’d expect the depth chart in training camp to look something like this –

Rashaad Penny

Chris Carson

J.D. McKissic

C.J. Prosise

Mike Davis

I originally thought that Pete would want to emulate what the Saints did in 2017 with Kamara and Ingram but having thought about it further, I don't think they will want to take the approach and that is predomonantly down to Rashaad Penny. He is the type of back that builds momentum based on how many carries he gets, he gets into a rhythem, learns how to attack what the defense is giving him in real time and just generally improves as the game progresses. Of course the other guys will get a look in but Rashaad Penny will carry the vast majority of the load in my opinion.

For old times’ sake, here is a table showing exactly what Marshawn did for the Seahawks between 2011 and 2015

Who wouldn’t want more of that?!

Another consideration to make when talking about the run game is Russell Wilson. He is arguably the best in the league at getting yards from broken plays. Russ picked up 586 yards in 2017, however the vast majority of those yards were from broken plays rather than predesigned and premeditated, 440 (75.1%) to be exact. Adding 500+ yards to the run game on a yearly basis is something most teams would long for, so at least we’ve got that in our favour. That isn’t realty sustainable, though. Russ isn’t going to be able to run around like he currently does in his late thirties, so these yards simply cannot be relied upon. Of course, Pete Carrol and co know that, too.

Of the ten leading teams in rushing this year, nine made the playoffs (Dallas Cowboys being the exception) so it goes without saying that the run game is far from gone in this league, it’s an almost guaranteed route into the playoffs, providing you run successfully, of course. Pete Carroll really drilled down on this in his end of season press conference saying –

“There were issues during the season. The big one I'd like to address for you is we have a real formula for how we win. We've been unable to incorporate a major aspect of that: running the football the way we want,”

Seattle knows how to win football games so provided they can get their formula working effectively, there should be no reason for more repeats of the 2016 and 2017 running game fiasco.

Go Hawks!

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