Seahawks' split backfield is a split decision
RENTON – Seattle Seahawks running back Julius Jones says there is no question he is a more productive player when he gets more rushing attempts.
That, he said, is true of almost any player who carries the ball for a living.
It’s not just that touching the ball means more yards. It’s more that running into the defense allows a back to familiarize himself with the opposing players.
“You know what, man? You ask any running back that, they will tell you the more they get the ball, the more comfortable they are, the more they can do,” Jones said. “You can answer the question pretty much for yourself.”
It is no coincidence then that since Maurice Morris has returned from his sprained knee and Jones and Morris have split carries, Jones’ productivity has diminished drastically.
Or is it?
Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren says that other factors play a role in the running game struggling as much as it has the past few weeks.
At one point, the Seahawks were fifth in the NFL in rushing, averaging 166 yards a game. In two of those three games, Jones rushed for more than 125 yards, in part because Morris was out with his injury and Jones was getting the bulk of the carries.
But the Seahawks ran for just 39 yards on 28 carries against the San Francisco 49ers two weeks ago, and they ran for 86 yards on 22 carries in the loss last week. Their average has dropped to 114.3 yards a game, 12th in the NFL.
“Some of (our early success) was when Matt (Hasselbeck) was playing, so we didn’t see the same type of defenses that we’re seeing now,” Holmgren said.
Holmgren and running backs coach Kasey Dunn say that without Hasselbeck, defenses are now exerting extra pressure at the line of scrimmage, keying on the running backs and daring the Seahawks to try to pass to beat them. Seattle, operating with few front-line receivers and backup quarterback Seneca Wallace, has been unable to do that.
Jones in particular has seen his production steadily decline. Through three games, he was averaging 104 yards and 20 carries a game. In his past three games, he has totaled 92 yards, averaging seven carries a game.
“All I can do is do what they ask me to do,” Jones said. “When they ask me to carry the ball 25 times, I did that very well. When they ask me to carry the ball six times, I do that very well. It is whatever they want to do, man. That’s all I can tell you. That’s all I can tell you.”
Would he ever approach Holmgren and ask him to go back to a system where Jones is the primary ballcarrier rather than splitting carries with Morris.
“I can do that, but ultimately the decision is going to be theirs,” Jones said. “It’s all about what the coaches want to do and what they feel is going to help.
“So you can moan and complain and talk until you are blue in the face, but when the coaches want to do something it is ultimately their decision.”
Holmgren was adamant that he will not veer from the course that the coaches decided upon when the season started, even if it appears on the surface that the running-back-by-committee approach is not working.
“I love Julius Jones and I love Mo Morris, but as far as who gets how many yards and all that kind of stuff, I’ve never thought a lot about that, and I’m not going to do it now,” Holmgren said.
The fact is, Holmgren and Dunn say, both backs have achieved decent yards-per-carry averages when they get the ball. Jones had 41 yards on 10 carries against Philadelphia last week, and Morris averaged 5.4 yards on eight carries.
Jones gained 42 yards on seven carries at Tampa Bay, when he expressed frustration about his role by throwing his helmet. But Morris had 56 yards on six carries, a 9.3-yard average.
The problem is not that the backs are unproductive; it’s that the offense is stagnant. It got just 39 plays against Tampa Bay and 49 the week before against Green Bay. Over the past five games, the Seahawks have averaged 50 plays a game, while their opponents have averaged 70.
If they could get 15 more plays a game, Dunn pointed out, that would be another 10 carries perhaps, which means another 40 rushing yards. As it stands, they are forced to pass in the second half to catch up.
“When we’ve inserted Mo into the game, typically he’s played well,” Holmgren said. “I think we thought through how we wanted to do that at the beginning of the year, and we had good reasons for doing it.
“I’ve always said this: If one of them is hot, I’ll leave him in the game. There’s really no set structure if it’s going good. But nothing’s been going real good the last couple games in the running game, so we’ve done what we’ve done.
“I think it’s fair to play both of them. That’s not the reason for the rushing total drop-down, the fact that we’re substituting. That’s not the reason.”