RENTON, Wash. – Remember the idea that the Seahawks would spread the carries around more this season instead of simply handing the ball to Marshawn Lynch over and over? So much for that.
That’s just one of the things that we’ve learned about the Seahawks after three games. Seattle steps away with a bye this weekend, but here are three ideas that have been brought into sharp focus in the first month of the NFL season.
What tailback by committee?
Marshawn Lynch’s presence in Seattle’s offense looms as large as ever. Through three games, Lynch is on pace for numbers similar to each of his previous three full seasons with the Seahawks. Lynch has 234 yards on 52 carries, which projects to 277 attempts for the season, just off the average of 300 he has had each of the past three years.
That includes the game at San Diego when Seattle had just 38 offensive plays. Maybe a better way to view it is that Lynch is getting 59.7 percent of Seattle’s rushing attempts, just above the 59.1 percent from last season.
True, second-year running back Christine Michael has been hurt, out since before the final exhibition game against Oakland with a hamstring injury. He was listed as probable for the Denver game but was inactive. Assuming he’s healthier after the bye, he could work his way into playing time. But with Lynch starting and Robert Turbin entrenched as the backup, how carries are handed out seems unlikely to change.
“It’s hard enough playing two guys, let alone trying to play three,’’ Seahawks running-backs coach Sherman Smith said last week when asked how the carries might be divvied up once Michael returns. “And the thing you wouldn’t want to do is take reps from Marshawn. He’s our main guy. So I won’t take reps from him. But then Turbo (Turbin) has done a good job. So we’ll have to figure it out somehow how we are going to do it.’’
Cornerback Marcus Burley is a find
Marcus Burley was acquired from Indianapolis for a sixth-round pick on Aug. 30, the day the teams had to cut their rosters to 53, as the Seahawks sought depth at nickelback. Burley was rushed into action when starting nickelback Jeremy Lane was hurt in the opener against Green Bay and was the starting nickel against San Diego and Denver – all featuring some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
Coach Pete Carroll, though, said Burley has held up well. And some of the analytic stats support that assessment. Pro Football Focus this week rates Burley as the 28th best cornerback in the NFL to date, ahead of Darrelle Revis (40th) and Patrick Peterson (80th). In 113 snaps, Burley has been thrown at 17 times allowing 12 receptions for 91 yards without missing a tackle.
Lane is on track to be back for a game Nov. 9 against the Giants, the earliest he can return from the Injured Reserve-Designated to Return list. Burley, though, looks as if he may have a permanent spot on the roster for himself.
Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril thriving
One big question hovering over the Seahawks heading into the season was how they would replicate the defensive-line rotation of a year ago. Last season, Seattle expertly used seven players up front who all played at least 46 percent of the snaps but none more than 57. That kept everyone fresh and also allowed Seattle to mix and match personnel based on situation and scheme.
But Seattle lost three key members of that rotation to free agency/salary cap considerations – tackle Clinton McDonald and ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant.
The Seahawks counted on making up for those losses in two ways. First, they would increase the roles for Cliff Avril, Clemons’ backup last year, and Michael Bennett, who can play both tackle and end. Second, they would mix in some new pieces like free-agent veteran tackle Kevin Williams, young players such as rookie Cassius Marsh and second-year man Jordan Hill and work in holdovers Bruce Irvin and O’Brien Schofield.
Avril and Bennett are indeed playing more. Bennett has played 165 of 216 possible snaps (76 percent) and Avril 146 (67 percent). And they’ve done so effectively. Pro Football Focus lists Avril with the most quarterback hurries of a 4-3 defensive end with 12, and Bennett’s not far behind with nine.
And in a sign that the rest of it may be coming together as hoped, the Seahawks are allowing just 2.8 yards per rush, tied for the lowest in the NFL.
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