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Seahawks’ offense balanced in coach Pete Carroll’s eyes

Seahawks running back Christine Michael has been the lone bright spot in the backfield so far this season. (Kathy Willens / Associated Press)
Seahawks running back Christine Michael has been the lone bright spot in the backfield so far this season. (Kathy Willens / Associated Press)
By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

To Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, offensive balance isn’t necessarily about running and passing an equal amount of time.

Instead, what Carroll says defines being a perfectly balanced offense is that “when you need it, you’ve got it.”

In other words, it’s not the amount of times the Seahawks run or pass, but whether they can run and pass equally well when the game dictates that is what is required.

In Carroll’s eyes, last Sunday’s 27-17 win over the New York Jets was a perfect demonstration of being balanced.

The Jets entered the game third in the NFL in run defense but 21st in pass defense, allowing a whopping 71 percent of passes to be completed, next-to-last.

So it only made sense for the Seahawks to devise a gameplan heavier on passing than running, especially with quarterback Russell Wilson hobbled with knee and ankle injuries.

And while Carroll would resist the idea that such a pass-centric plan might not have always played to Wilson’s strengths, that Wilson and the Seahawks were able to execute it fairly effortlessly appeared to only add to the coach’s giddiness about what may be in store for this team down the road.

“If you rely on the running game and it’s not there that day or your runner gets hurt, you might not have what you need to win football games,” Carroll said Monday. “On the other side of it, (Sunday) was a good example. They were loaded up front. Those guys were big, tough, strong and hard to run at them. We were able to pass protect and we went to the passing game. Russell threw for 300 and something yards (309). So that’s what balance is all about.”

If there is a question about the Seahawks after four games, though, it may be whether they will be able to call on the running game when they need it as effectively as they were able to pass on Sunday.

Seattle stands 18th in the NFL in rushing this week at 93.0 yards per game (compared to 141.8, and third in the NFL last season) after being held to 66 against Miami – the second-lowest total in a Seahawks win since Wilson became the quarterback in 2012. Maybe more tellingly, the Seahawks are 29th in yards per carry at 3.3 (the Seahawks averaged 4.5 last season and 5.3 in 2014).

Carroll on Monday, though, didn’t sound too concerned.

Carroll noted again that the Seahawks have played some good run defending teams (The Jets, Dolphins and Rams all rank in the top 12 in the NFL in fewest rushing yards allowed per play).

Carroll also seemed to imply that for now, a still-evolving offensive line that features just one player starting at the same position as a year ago may simply be better at pass protection than run blocking.

“We’re growing on offense up front with the guys up front on offense,” Carroll said. “They’re doing a good job and pass protection is a big deal to us right now and we’ll grow in the running game.”

What will also happen is Wilson’s continuing return to normal from his two injuries, which have greatly reduce the team’s willingness to put him in positions to run and his own effectiveness when doing so – and hence the need for defenses to worry about it.

Wilson has just 28 yards rushing on 15 attempts in four games after averaging 36 yards on six attempts per game in his first four seasons.

Not only does Wilson add to the rushing totals himself when he is healthy, though, but the way he operates the zone read option – assessing how the defense is playing and making the decision whether to keep it or hand off – also is credited greatly with contributing to the rushing totals of others.

Defenses simply have to play the Seahawks differently when they know Wilson is a full threat to run as opposed to how they have the last few weeks when he has not been.

Certainly, that will be hope, that the running game returns to normal once Wilson does.

Not only has Wilson’s running been down, but so has that of the tailbacks.

While Christine Michael has been fine, averaging 4.6 yards per carry, Seattle’s tailbacks as a whole are averaging just 3.6 (compared to 4.4 for all of the team’s tailbacks last season).

A big part of that number, though, is the 25 yards on 19 carries of Thomas Rawls in a game-and-a-half before he was again sidelined. Rawls appeared to be shaking off the rust from last season’s injury before he was again hurt, and another reason for optimism is the assumption that at some point he will return to 2015 form, and certainly by the time the playoffs roll around.

As Carroll says, the goal for the Seahawks is “to be prepared for all of the things you have to be challenged by.” The Seahawks will inevitably need their running game to achieve their lofty goals of this season.

But while there are lots of valid reasons for why the running game hasn’t yet been what it has been in the past, whether Seattle will “have it when they need it” maybe be one of the biggest questions still facing the Seahawks.

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