For what seems like the 24th time this season, the Seahawks’ offense is shifting focus.
And for the better — if you are one of those who thinks too much of No. 24 is not enough.
Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell says running back Marshawn Lynch having team highs of five catches and 76 yards last weekend in the win over Oakland was not an accident. With Percy Harvin long gone and quarterback Russell Wilson running less and getting hit more in recent weeks, the OC wants to get the ball to the Seahawks’ four-time Pro Bowl plow horse in every way possible.
Lynch has been catching more screens and swing passes in recent games, a product of how fleeting or nonexistent Wilson’s pass protection has been.
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“Well, we want to use our good players. And he’s definitely, probably, the best player on our offense,” Bevell said after a practice this week before Seattle (5-3) hosts the New York Giants (3-5) on Sunday. “And we want to get him the ball as many ways as we can.”
This sure doesn’t sound the Seahawks are tired of Lynch’s “act,” as a national report stated last month. If the Seahawks can’t wait to get rid of Lynch following this season, as that ESPN report on Oct. 26 the morning of Seattle’s game at Carolina asserted, Seattle’s OC sounds as if he’s going to take a showcasing route to get there.
“Anytime we can get the ball to Marshawn we want to,” Bevell said. “Just opportunities to get the ball in his hands, because we know he is going to make people miss, the opportunity for a second-level runs (against overmatched linebackers and defensive backs). He’s going to run people over. Then the yards are going to come and we can keep the (first-down) sticks moving.”
Bevell has seemingly been searching for a sweet spot of runs and touches for Lynch in each game since last month’s stunning trade of Harvin. Before that deal, Bevell spent the first games this season getting the ball to the wide receiver in as many ways as he could.
That meant bubble screens, fly sweeps and hitch routes to Harvin. More to the point, it meant plays that weren’t going to Lynch.
Lynch missed his second consecutive practice day Thursday with a newly listed calf injury but doesn’t seem likely to miss Sunday’s game.
The scene most will remember Lynch doing last Sunday was his bullish, 5-yard touchdown run. He dragged just about every Raider back to Ted Hendricks across the goal line for his fifth rushing touchdown of the season and the 70th of his career.
But the play that was the most impactful in that game — and has the potential to remain as huge as his hits over the final eight regular-season games — is the screen pass.
“Yeah, it worked today,” Lynch said Sunday, the characteristically brief way only he does.
Even when fully healthy at the start of the season, Seattle’s offensive line was not consistently giving Wilson time to drop back and find receivers down the field. With center Max Unger and left tackle Russell Okung out injured and then left guard James Carpenter spraining his ankle during last weekend’s game, screens to Lynch were about the only thing Bevell had Wilson throw in the second half against the Raiders.
Unger fully practiced Thursday for the first time since he sprained his foot Oct. 6 at Washington. That makes it more likely the two-time Pro Bowl center will play for the first time in six games against New York. Okung returned to practice Thursday on a limited basis.
Still, Bevell is now saying 20-25 carries for Lynch might not necessarily be the best route for Seattle’s offense, because of Lynch’s skill in catching the ball and then bulldozing defenders in the open field. His 22 receptions are second on the team. It’s the same amount Harvin had in five games with Seattle before the trade. Lynch’s average yards per catch of 10.1 is more than four yards higher than Harvin’s was for Seattle.
Bevell has also lined Lynch up outside as a fourth or fifth wide receiver in formations. The tailback would already have a career-high four touchdown catches had he not let Wilson’s pass go through his hands on a slant route from out wide at the goal line in the win at Carolina.
Lynch’s 76 yards receiving last week were the second-most of his career, two yards behind what he had last season in a win over Tennessee. That day included a 55-yard catch-and-run on a wheel route and throw back across the field from Wilson.
“It’d be easy to turn around and hand it to him. But we know he is a phenomenal receiver. He runs really good routes,” Bevell said. “We just have to kind of understand how important he is to us in the passing game as well. He caught a huge third down for us early in the game to extend the drive for us (last weekend against Oakland, on third-and-5 to set up that touchdown run in the first quarter).
“And we want to see more of that.”
There are other, less-thudding tweaks to the Seattle offense in the four weeks since the team traded Harvin to the New York Jets. Doug Baldwin has become the team’s leading receiver with 34 catches while moving back inside to Harvin’s old slot position, where Baldwin has excelled in the past. Rookie wide receivers Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood have gained prominence and receptions; Richardson played a season-high 72 percent of Seattle’s offensive snaps last weekend.
But as the pass protection keeps breaking down up front — and as teams try to combat Lynch’s running inside by putting eight men in the box, as the Giants did against the Colts on Monday night when Indianapolis threw on 31 of that game’s first 36 plays — Lynch in the flats as a receiving option looks more attractive to the Seahawks.
“Marshawn is a guy who can do it all,” Wilson said. “He’s a guy who can run the ball so physically. And he can catch the ball extremely well. He’s like a wideout out there.
“Once he makes a guy miss, you never know what can happen. To have a guy like Marshawn Lynch, a star running back in the National Football League, run the ball for you and catch the ball for you is huge.”
Larger than ever right now.
SS Kam Chancellor (groin) missed another practice day. He seems iffy to play Sunday. Last week was the first game he’d missed since 2011. … DE Michael Bennett has now sat out the last three Thursdays with a listed toe injury. He played in the last two games after doing that, so he being out this time doesn’t seem to be a huge concern. … Carpenter missed another practice with that sprained ankle. ... Okung, Baldwin and CB Byron Maxwell being back in practice after missing Wednesday is a good sign all three will play Sunday. Maxwell has missed the last three games, with second-year man Tharold Simon making his first three NFL starts for him. … Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said new DE Demarcus Dobbs, claimed off waivers from San Francisco on Tuesday, could be ready to play Sunday. The next couple days will determine that.