Seahawks are not the running team that Pete Carroll dreamt of
Seaside Joe 1296: Seattle has a run blocking problem, how do they fix it?
Caveat: It’s been two games.
Nonetheless still true: These two 2022 games have the second-lowest two-game total for rushing yards in Seattle Seahawks history
*in the voice of a southern girl such as Jenny from the Gump movie narrating your thoughts*
”I dreamt of you the other night. You were runnin’ through a field, holdin’ a ball of some such sort. I don’t know if it was a tennis ball, or a ball of yarn, or a giant gum ball that you got out of a grocery store penny machine. But there you were, floatin’ through the wheat like dandelion seeds on a warm autumn night and whatnot and what such short and what have you. You were comin’ right at me. Swiftly. On a jaunt. And just before you reached me, and I could see it was an…what’s the word you taught me? Oblong? You were holdin’ an oblon’ ball and then *BAM* That’s when I woke up to the sound of that asteroid that hit the Earth last Tuesday. Hand me that rat, would ya? I’m hungry.”
Now here’s the twist: That voice you hear? It’s Pete Carroll. Yeah, the Seahawks coach.
Pete has always dreamt of a strong running game and Pete has always known the importance of at least these two elements to a strong running game: Run blockers and yards creators.
The 2022 Seattle Seahawks do not have run blockers. Therefore, they need Marshawn Lynch. They need yards creators. But the season may not be setting up to give yards creators all that many opportunities to create yards.
Through two weeks, the Seahawks have rushed for 76 yards against the Broncos and 36 yards against the 49ers. The 112 yards that Seattle has rushed for in two games is the second-lowest total in franchise history through two games, behind only the—stop me if you’ve heard this enough already these days—the 2011 season.
Back in 2011, the Seahawks rushed for a total of 95 yards on 35 carries after two games. One of those also happened to come against the 49ers. And that year the Seahawks scored 17 offensive points in one game, 0 offensive points in the next. This year, Seattle scored 17 offensive points in one game, then 0 offensive points in the next.
The other bottom-five rushing totals to open a year belong to the 1999 Seahawks, the 2002 Seahawks, and the 1982 Seahawks. Those teams finished 9-7, 7-9, and 4-5 (short season). Combined with the 7-9 finish in 2011 and you’ll see a common theme of being right around .500.
Pete Carroll also dreams of a winning record, if not getting very close to it around 8-9. Will those hopes end in an asteroid crash?
Two rookie pass blocking tackles
The Seahawks knew what they were getting when they selected Charles Cross out of Mississippi State and Abraham Lucas out of Washington State with two of their first four picks in the 2022 draft: Two fine offensive tackle prospects, but also two players who were way more experienced in pass blocking than in run blocking.
Nobody ran the ball less often in college football than Mississippi State. Cross was usually praised for his run blocks, but he just had fewer opportunities than any other left tackle in Division-I football. And those opportunities that he did get, they might not adequately represent the same type of assignments that Cross faces in the NFL.
This is not meant to be me criticizing Cross for any direct mistakes through two games, just a reminder of the differences he’s facing between the two football teams. Cross may in fact be a good run blocker and Seattle has only run the ball 33 times this year: Fewest attempts in the NFL.
A PETE CARROLL TEAM with GENO SMITH AT QB has the fewest rushing attempts in the NFL. (Which we know is impacted by the Seahawks also just running the fewest total offensive plays in the NFL.)
The Seahawks are running the ball up the middle 69% of the time, which is the fourth-highest rate in the NFL. They are running off of left tackle 8% of the time, which ranks 27th.
At FootballOutsiders, the Seahawks are ranked 19th in adjusted line yards, 21st in power blocking run rate, 23rd in second level blocking, and 16th in stuff rate (stopped behind the LOS), but the sample size is very small right now. There are about seven or eight teams that have run the ball roughly twice as many times, if not more than twice as many times already.
Abraham Lucas committed to play for Mike Leach at Washington State as part of the 2017 class. That meant that his first three years were in Leach’s air raid offense: In 2018, the Cougs carried the ball 21 times per game (fewest in college football by EIGHT ATTEMPTS PER GAME) and in 2019, the Cougs carried the ball…SIXTEEN TIMES PER GAME. That was nine fewer rushing attempts than any other program.
Then, as some of you already know, Leach left Washington State for…Mississippi State. Now coaching Charles Cross, Mississippi State ran the ball 18.5 times per game, fewest in college football. Despite the change at Wazzu, the Cougs still ranked as having the fourth-fewest rushing attempts in 2020 and the 14th-fewest in 2021.
Anyone who says that Lucas “wasn’t always in the Mike Leach air raid offense” is not accounting for the fact that Lucas still had fewer run blocking reps than maybe any other right tackle in college football during his tenure.
It’s really great that Abe Lucas can pancake guys, but I can’t imagine how watching one or two plays can verifiably end any discussion about whether or not he’s going to go through a lot of growing pains in the early portion of his career. We do know that the Seahawks are running to the right 15% of the time, about twice as frequently as on Cross’s side.
This attempt by Rashaad Penny was stopped before the ball was snapped, as nobody accounted for the blitzing linebacker from the right:
Questions in the middle
A 69% rate of runs up the middle is very high and Seattle ranks 24th in adjusted line yards in that area, according to FO.
Center Austin Blythe was a starting right guard and center for the Rams during the darkest period of Todd Gurley’s career. L.A. fell from third in yards per carry during their Super Bowl run in 2018 (falling apart as Gurley’s knees fell apart late in the year) to 27th in yards per carry in 2019 and 17th in YPC in 2020.
Blythe hit free agency in 2021 expecting a team to be interested in him after 46 starts in the previous three seasons, but nobody came calling until the Chiefs offered him a spot to be a backup. He played in 12 offensive snaps in 2021.
The Seahawks have called on Phil Haynes for 85 snaps this year after he played in 137 snaps over the first three seasons of his career. Damien Lewis has only played in 19 snaps so far, but is expected to be ready to go for the Falcons game this Sunday.
Veteran Gabe Jackson, who we’ve been suggesting as a trade candidate, has taken the brunt of the blame for Seattle’s offensive line issues so far.
But this is not all going to fall on one player, let alone a right guard.
Problems at running back
Seaside Joe believes wholeheartedly in Ken Walker III and at this point he’s been a non-factor due to the hernia issue he suffered during training camp. Walker is back on the field and it would be understandable if his impact doesn’t come for a few more weeks, if not months. He may not need to wait long, as the Seahawks likely need to share opportunities between him and Penny.
Through two games, Rashaad Penny ranks 30th in Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement, although that is a volume stat and as I’ve said, the Seahawks have the fewest carries in the league. But his DVOA is 34th out of 36th and his success rate is 29th. That will be impacted by the run-blocking in front of him.
Penny has two broken tackles on 18 attempts, while Walker already has one broken tackle on four attempts.
I expect Penny to be the guy who takes all the yards who are given to him—outside of five broken tackles against the Bears, Penny only had five broken tackles total during the other five games of his insane finish to the 2021 season.
I expect Walker to be the guy who takes extra yards from the souls of his opponents. That’s what Pete Carroll was dreaming of when Seattle drafted Walker with the 41st pick in the draft because Walker was the only running back left in the draft this year who should be expected to do that consistently.
He was an elite yards creator at Wake Forest and Michigan State and we saw a sample of that during his direct snap against the 49ers.
Now that I have your attention, let me do a quick promotion: Seaside Joe has been at a plateau for subscriptions since the season started. Please consider subscribing to the newsletter and sharing these articles to help support the newsletter as we strive for new milestones ahead. My entire family said that they would not speak to me ever again if I didn’t reach another milestone :(
Seaside Joe is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
How to fix the running game
Matchups should help. The Falcons and Lions both seem to be willing to give opportunities on defense, especially Detroit. Despite great offensive improvement, the Lions still have major issues on the other side of the ball and allowed 216 rushing yards to the Eagles in Week 1. On tap after them is the Saints, another team that gave up over 200 rushing yards in Week 1.
Perhaps the Seahawks will have successful games on the ground thanks to those matchups for the next three weeks, giving Lucas and Cross 12 more quarters of reps in run blocking to prepare for the rest of the season. Maybe also giving Seattle time to find the right combination of interior offensive lineman to sit in between them.
The addition of Ken Walker III to the backfield on a full-time basis should also help.
But if the Seahawks don’t get the run game right, the one thing that the head coach has been preaching since his very first day at the helm in 2010, then Pete Carroll might not wake up from this nightmare.
Share this article, please!
All I think about anymore is QB Survivor 2023 and so you can bet this game is going to get wild, interactive, and unlike anything you’ve ever seen in blogging history! You’ve got two more days to vote the last four in and let me tell you something: A HUGE UPSET IS BREWING! Go read about how to play QB Survivor and how to vote right here!