The Seahawks have nearly as many reasons for not making the playoffs as they have players.
Running to nowhere might be reason number one. And two. And three.
“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,” coach Pete Carroll said this week, assessing why Seattle (9-7) is watching this weekend’s NFL playoff games instead of playing in them for the first time since 2011.
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“There are tremendous examples of teams around the league that have turned their fortunes around with a formula that should sound familiar to you: Teams running the football, playing good defense and doing the kicking game thing. That's the formula that has proven historically the best in this game.”
Of the teams that finished within the league’s top 10 in rushing offense in 2017, nine of them are in the postseason. The exception is Dallas. The Cowboys were second to AFC South-champion Jacksonville at 135.6 yards rushing per game, but are out of the playoffs after finishing 9-7.
Officially, Seattle was 23rd in the NFL in rushing. But that’s as hollow as celebrating the team’s 18th-overall pick in the first round over being in the playoffs again.
Russell Wilson led the Seahawks with 586 yards rushing. He is just the third NFL quarterback in the last 26 years to be his team’s leading rusher. Cam Newton did it for Carolina in 2012, and in 2000 Donovan McNabb led Philadelphia in rushing.
Add Randall Cunningham for the Eagles from 1987-90 and Bobby Douglass for the Chicago Bears in 1972, and Wilson is the fifth quarterback since not only the 1970 NFL-AFL merger but back to 1960 to lead his team in rushing, according to footballperspective.com.
Wide receiver Lenny Moore of the NFL’s Baltimore Colts, on his way to being converted at running back and being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and quarterback Al Dorow of the AFL’s expansion New York Titans led their teams in rushing in 1960.
Of Wilson’s 586 yards rushing, 440 yards--75.1 percent--came on scrambles away from swarming defenders on pass plays, according to the league’s official statistical database. Take away Wilson’s scramble yards he got avoiding sacks on plays that weren’t supposed to be runs and the Seahawks would have been 32nd, dead last, in rushing offense.
That’s a long way to say no team got less from its running backs in 2017 than Seattle got from theirs. All of the Seahawks’ running-to-nowhere backs combined gained 994 yards, just 62 yards per game.
Mike Davis rushed for the most yards among Seattle’s running backs, 240 yards. The waiver pickup from San Francisco in the spring was on the practice squad for the first 10 games. Rookie seventh-round pick Chris Carson was second among Seattle’s running backs with 208 yards rushing. He played in four games before he broke his leg and tore ankle ligaments, ending his debut season. Seattle’s third-leading running back was a converted wide receiver picked up off waivers in 2016, from Atlanta, J.D. McKissic.
Supposed lead back Thomas Rawls? Just 157 yards all season. He’s now on his way out of Seattle with his undrafted rookie contract ending. Eddie Lacy will be following him out of town. The Seahawks’ splashiest acquisition last offseason, for $2,865,000 guaranteed, gained just 179 yards in his only Seattle season. He will leave as an unrestricted free agent in March.
What more--I mean, less: The Seahawks had one touchdown rushing by a running back all season.
There’s a rumor going around that Marshawn Lynch used to play for this team.
Another rumor: Seattle was in among the top five rushing offenses in the NFL in 2012, ‘13, ‘14 and ‘15.
Both are true. You can look it up.
“We have been committed to that from the start,” Carroll said of the run, “but unfortunately we have not been able to recapture it the way we have in the past. Last year Russell was banged up all year long and couldn’t contribute the way he normally did. Look what he did this year: he ran for 500 yards and was a huge factor throughout the year. We needed that 500 last year to go along with what he had and we might have had different fortunes. This year we weren’t able to compliment the other end of it like we want to, for some obvious reasons, but we’re also disappointed we weren’t able to pull it off.”
So, the question the Pacific Northwest will be debating on bar stools, living rooms, talk radio, print and eventually patios over barbeques into the summer: Is it the runners, or the guys (not) blocking for the runners?
“The critical guys, I think, is the runners,” Carroll said. “I think the runners need to come back to life to us. That's Chris Carson and C.J. (Prosise) and Mike coming back and whoever else can be a part of that. J.D. McKissic was a really good, positive aspect of our team this year.
“And we need to make that position more competitive. That's going to be one that we're focused on. Because of the durability issues that we've faced for the last two seasons, it's been really trying for us. Those are tremendous candidates to be battling at it, and I'm hoping that that will make a difference.
“So that’s an area of focus you guys are going to be taking about it, we are all going to be talking about it: who can we add to make it more competitive?”
After drafting just three running backs (plus one fullback) in their first six drafts running the Seahawks, Carroll and general manager John Schneider have selected four running backs the last two drafts. Two of those three weren’t even on the team this year: Seattle waived Alex Collins this summer, before he signed and shined with Baltimore; and Zac Brooks got waived at the end of his first training camp in 2016.
The third running back from the Seahawks’ ‘16 draft class, second-round pick C.J. Prosise, has been healthy enough to be active for just 11 of a possible 34 games in his career so far. He’s had six injuries in two years.
Davis can be a restricted free agent in March, if the Seahawks decide to tender him an offer. Carroll’s comments this week signal they will.
And Carroll has been gushing since the day they drafted Carson out of Oklahoma State in May about how uniquely and decisively he runs. The coach gave Carson the lead job for the start of the season, and Carroll is still talking about how excited he is to have Carson be the main man in the entire run game.
“I’ve got to tell you, now, that I was so excited about Chris,” Carroll said. “And I know not a lot of people were. He was available to us in the seventh round, so not a lot of people saw that. But I had been so excited about what he showed us in the short time that we had him and his dynamic play. He’s a catcher. He’s a runner. He’s a blocker. He’s a special-teams guy. He’s big, strong and fast. He’s all of that stuff. ...
“He’s a marvelous guy to be coming back to.”
Still, Carson played just two seasons of major-college football. He was injured for part of that time at Oklahoma State, after transferring from junior college. All 32 teams, including Seattle, passed on him for 6 1/2 rounds of the most recent draft. And he’s played just four more games in the NFL than you have.
Signing free-agent running backs are normally an expensive--or if it’s affordable--aged and injured proposition. Plus, this team has so many other needs--determining what to do about Jimmy Graham, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas entering the last year of their deals, Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril likely having to retire from neck injuries, that iffy offensive line including finding a new left guard, getting deeper and younger in the secondary and defensive line.
So expect the Seahawks to draft a running back, maybe high. How high? Maybe, given how much of a priority Carroll has already made it days into the offseason, with that 18th-overall pick.
I asked Doug Baldwin on the Seahawks’ earliest locker clean-out day in six years, New Year’s Day, how much no running game torpedoed the entire season.
“Run game and defense have been (Carroll’s) philosophy since he’s been here,” Baldwin said.
“The prime example was the Super Bowl (48 against Denver). We were able to do what we wanted to do offensively. Defensively, against Peyton Manning, the Broncos scored eight points. If you took our offense out of the game, the defense wins by itself because it scored a touchdown and got a safety.
“It comes down to us being who we say we are.”