So Pete Carroll wants to return to the Seahawks to the run in 2018.
He’s said that. And the head coach’s pairings of firings and hirings for his top two offensive assistants positions show that.
Though as of Tuesday morning the Seahawks have yet to announce any hirings, Mike Solari is reportedly on his way to Seattle to replace fired Tom Cable as Carroll’s offensive line coach. Solari has a proven record of coaching top rushing offenses in the NFL, as does incoming offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
The 53-year-old Cable was a thinker and a tinker with the Seahawks. He believes in the zone-blocking scheme that emphasizes angles and athleticism, timing and subtlety.
The 63-year-old Solari is more no-nonsense and toughness. Go block your guy.
I covered Solari when Mike Holmgren hired him to be the Seahawks’ offensive line coach in 2008, and again in 2009 when Jim Mora retained Solari on his staff the year before Carroll arrived from USC with his new Seattle assistants. Solari is a protege of Bobb McKittrick, the legendary, five-time Super Bowl-winning 49ers line coach. How tough and no-nonsense was McKittrick? In the late 1990s the former Marine coached through liver cancer.
When San Francisco hired Solari in 2010 after he left the Seahawks, he told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat about his 49ers linemen: “They’re gonna play with an attitude.”
Three years later, while still with the Niners on his way to the Super Bowl, Solari said: “We do want to pound you.”
Solari has been known to teach what some have called "power zone blocking." That features more man-up, drive blocking. He’s liked big, road grader-like guards inside, with some zone-blocking principles at center and outside with quicker, athletic tackles.
That would suggest Solari could move Germain Ifedi back to guard. Ifedi spent 2017 flailing and often failing at right tackle as the league’s most penalized player. The Seahawks’ top draft choice in 2016 played right guard as a rookie. Though Ifedi also struggled then, he wasn’t nearly the liability he often was this past season while slow to get out on the league’s fastest, best edge pass rushers.
Solari could also move 2017 rookie guard Ethan Pocic and his 6-foot-6 athleticism and versatility to tackle. Lack of strength was one of Pocic’s issues inside at guard this past season.
Solari’s system in the past has been less about thinking than the typical zone-blocking scheme that Cable and, in 2010 for Carroll, Alex Gibbs employed with the Seahawks. Solari’s been more about driving your man into the ground.
The Seahawks could use more driving guys into the ground.
Seattle’s rise to consecutive Super Bowls in the 2013 and ‘14 seasons and the franchise’s first NFL championship came during a literal four-year run when the Seahawks were among the league’s top five rushing offenses. That streak ended after Marshawn Lynch left following the 2015 season. Seattle has finished 25th and 23rd in rushing in the last two seasons. The run game in 2017 would have been 32nd, dead last, in the NFL if not for the 440 yards quarterback and team rushing leader Russell Wilson gained scrambling away from defenders on called pass plays.
Here are some of the NFL rankings in rushing offense Solari's teams have had since 1997, when he became the offensive line coach of the Kansas City Chiefs and then the 49ers: fifth, fourth, sixth, third, fifth, fourth, ninth, eighth, fourth, third and fourth.
Those last three top-five rushing finishes came from 2012-14 with San Francisco, under Jim Harbaugh. It included the 49ers’ run to the Super Bowl and to the NFC championship loss at Seattle at the end of the ‘12 and ‘13 seasons.
Of the nine offenses Schottenheimer has coordinated, three have finished in the NFL’s top 10 in rushing for a season. Two have finished in the top five, in 2009 and ‘10. His New York Jets played in the AFC championship game each of those seasons, behind Thomas Jones’ 1,400 yards rushing in 2009 and LaDainian Tomlinson’s 914 yards with Shonn Greene’s 766 a year later. Schottenheimer’s offense ran it a whopping 607 times in 2009. The only other NFL team in the last 31 years to run the ball 600 times in a season is the 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers (618 rushes).
Carroll would take any of those Solari and Schottenheimer top-10 rushing finishes again for his Seahawks, who ran just 409 times this past season. That was the 12th-fewest rushes in the NFL--and again, many of those were Wilson’s scrambles on pass plays.
“We have a real formula of how we win. And we have been unable the last two years to incorporate a major aspect of that--and it’s running the football the way we want to run it,” Carroll said two weeks ago. “I think you see tremendous examples around the league of teams who have turned their fortunes around, and they have turned it around in a formula that I think should sound familiar to you: running the football, teams playing good defense and doing the kicking-game thing. That is the formula that has proven historically the best in this game.
“We have been committed to that from the start. But, unfortunately, we have not been able to recapture it the way that we have in years past.”
His hiring of Solari and Schottenheimer are attempts to recapture it.