Seahawks' RBs must take accountability for offensive success--Yes, the running backs
Seaside Joe 1253, 8/10/2022: We can't forget the running backs
Among all players with at least 100 carries last season, Seattle Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny led the NFL with a 6.9 yards per carry average when running off tackle in 2021. Jonathan Taylor was second at 6.8 YPC and no other RB with at least 50 off-tackle carries was above 5.5.
The good news is that the Seahawks re-signed Penny. The unresolved news is that Seattle has between one to two new tackles, maybe a half-new tackle if Jake Curhan wins the job. And the continued good news is that the Seahawks have their best running backs room since Marshawn Lynch, Michael Robinson, Robert Turbin, and others from 2012-2013.
While most of the focus on the Seahawks offense this offseason has been the “Robert California situation” at quarterback, and little has been mentioned about any running back other than Ken Walker (get your collectors’ edition of my 85-part Ken Walker series here), we may have forgotten that sometimes a strong cast at running back can propel an offense to respectability.
No, not only in 1965.
Last season, the Indianapolis Colts ranked 13th in offensive DVOA, but only 20th in passing DVOA. Why? They were second in rushing DVOA.
Read: Seahawks Wednesday 8/10 training camp notes!
The Cleveland Browns lifted the 19th-ranked passing DVOA to an overall ranking of 14th because they were first in rushing DVOA.
The Eagles were third in rushing DVOA with a 14th-ranked passing offense; the 49ers carried Jimmy Garoppolo to the NFC Championship in part due to a fourth-ranked rushing offense; and the Seahawks joined those teams as upper echelon rushing attacks in 2021 when they rushed for an NFL-best 1,056 yards and 6.2 YPC over the final six games of the season.
No other team is even close and Seattle was undoubtedly first in DVOA from Week 13 to Week 18.
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How much Russell Wilson’s presence help vs. how much Shane Waldron, the run blocking, and Penny helped Wilson will never be known exactly. But we do know that it has never been a requirement for a team to have a good quarterback before they have a productive running back.
Jonathan Taylor rushed for almost 550 more yards than any other back last season and he was not getting much help from Carson Wentz. Derrick Henry led the NFL in rushing yards per game and has clearly done more for Ryan Tannehill than vice versa. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt have been the most valuable duo despite playing with a guy who now plays for the Carolina Panthers. Elijah Mitchell nearly had 1,000 yards in only 11 games even having to play with Garoppolo.
What’s been evident in training camp up to this point is that between all the various position battles and fighting for the last available spot, the Seattle Seahawks have a clear vision about who their top four running backs are and how they’ll use them and how Nick Bellore also fits into that.
I want to briefly recount all the key points in yesterday’s Seaside Bonus about what happened in Seahawks training camp on Tuesday for those of you who aren’t Regular Joes. It’s not my intent for you to not be informed about the team as well as you should be informed! At the end of that is what Pete Carroll had to say about Seattle’s top four running backs.
Pete seems to be preparing fans to see Phil Haynes as a starting guard. Whether that happens by Week 1 or by midseason, it seems like the team gave Haynes the tender with the full intention to give him a legit chance to be a starter. I predicted long ago that maybe the Seahawks would seek a trade partner who wanted Gabe Jackson and it might not be too late for that to come to fruition.
The Seahawks are prepared to start Abe Lucas, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Jake Curhan wins the right tackle job. Pete sounds comfortable with both rookie tackles, if it comes to that.
Pete had maybe the most words for Josh Jones. He sounds like someone who the Seahawks feel they’ve “unearthed” and that he could be heavily utilized in the defense. With Ryan Neal out for about the last week, Jones has played himself onto the roster already, barring a setback. A high ankle sprain for Neal means he is out indefinitely. That’s a tough one to predict a return date.
It doesn’t sound like the Seahawks are as prepared to start Coby Bryant, but Pete was giddy over Seattle being “very fortunate” to draft Bryant and Tariq Woolen. He said he had a better feeling for Bryant than Woolen, but that Woolen can keep up with even the Seahawks’ fastest receivers and is impressive.
Tyreke Smith has a lot of catching up to do to make the roster and he hasn’t been practicing because of injury. Night and day from the other fifth round pick.
Media has consistently mentioned Darrell Taylor has an un-blockable player in camp so far. Is that better news for Taylor or a little troubling for Charles Cross? We don’t hear any reports about Cross whatsoever, but that could just be because it’s harder to judge offensive line until the preseason games with hitting against real opponents.
Finally, Pete, noted running backs enthusiast, sounds enthused about his running backs room this season.
“The running backs in general look more confident. Rashaad’s influence late in the season really made a difference with the guys.”
“Homer has done a really nice job too. The top four guys running right now have made a lot of progress. Giving us real consistency at the line of scrimmage. Backside blocking has really shown up. DeeJay Dallas has had a really good camp.”
If the team is happy with Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas, then clearly the Seahawks have their four running backs and their various roles for the 2022 season set in place. Penny should handle the majority of first and second down carries, with Ken Walker getting a series here and there during the game, while Homer serves as a third down back.
Seahawks roster moves: These players are falling out of favor at other training camps
Homer had most of his opportunities on third down last season: eight carries for 66 yards and nine catches for 90 yards. Dallas caught nine of nine targets on first down, eight of eight on second down, and saw his least amount of time on the field for third downs.
Walker should be difficult to keep off of the field and could see time in various other roles than as the only running back: He could see a little time in the slot, complement Penny by running plays that include both, and handle a few direct snaps out of the wildcat. Walker is adept at all three of those attributes and it’s because of Seattle’s probable setback at quarterback that I expect the Seahawks to use him and Penny as their pathway to offensive respectability in 2022.
Just as Najee Harris rushing for 1,200 yards next to Biggest Ben last year. Dalvin Cook again doing more for the Vikings than Kirk Cousins. Antonio Gibson rushing for over 1,000 yards next to Taylor Heinicke, who is the “Case Keenum” of Taylor Heinickes. Or Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams combining for over 1,800 rushing yards while playing for an offense that was so bad, they had to turn to Drew Lock!
The Seahawks have to turn to Drew Lock!
The Penny/Walker/Homer/Dallas RB room is the strongest one we have had since Lynch left (and that was mainly because of Lynch, let's face it). Penny/Walker/Dallas are all effective threats for screens/flares/wheel routes so it isn't just their running capabilities where they contribute. Penny to his credit showed more of a willingness to pass-protect last year, and that is a strength of Homer's. A great RB room does take pressure off the QB, and the P/A passing game should be money in the bank this year.
The running backs look great on paper. Of course we can't predict injuries and we know Penny's history. So we'll see how that holds up. I've done my best to watch Cross on film, to the extent I can find it, and it looks like his pass blocking is what you'd expect for a rookie with a lot of talent. A work in progress but he'll be fine. I'm not sure of his run blocking, which could be an issue given how dependent we'll likely be on the run game this year.
I have no evidence for this, but it stands to reason that a strong QB makes the run game work better and a solid run game makes the QB's job a lot easier. We've clearly seen how much better Wilson has looked in recent years, since he's lost his ability to essentially be his own running back, when we have someone running effectively. Penny's strong play last year is probably what allowed us to get such a huge haul for Wilson. Otherwise, the Broncos and other teams would have seen an aging QB in decline. Denver has a decent run game so I imagine they'll make the playoffs, though it's not a guarantee given the challenges of their division. I see them picking up with Wilson where Seattle left off. Hoping for a strong season and a shot to make a playoff run, but the risk and likelihood of an early exit. Their overall cast of supporting talent is probably higher than ours has been in recent years but not by a ton. Had Wilson gone to San Francisco, with all their offensive talent, and their solid defense, I'd see a truly a dominant team.