RENTON – Two weeks into the 2022 season, and there are an awful lot of dire statistics looking the Seattle Seahawks square in the face.
But none may stand out as much as this: No team in the NFL has fewer rushing yards than Seattle’s 112. And it’s not a matter of not trying to do it, as only three teams are averaging fewer yards per carry than Seattle’s 3.4.
That includes Seattle gaining just 36 yards on 14 carries last week, the sixth-lowest total in the Pete Carroll era (since 2010) as the Seahawks went without an offensive touchdown, part of a skid of six straight quarters without offensive points.
That’s about as big of a fall as possible from the 5.02 yards per carry that the Seahawks averaged a year ago, which was third in the NFL and the second-best per-carry average in team history. An average of 3.4 would be the second worst in team history.
And 56 yards per game would smash the worst per-game total in team history of 87 in 1989.
Obviously, two games is just two games so no one is panicking just yet.
But Carroll made clear this week that those numbers have to change quickly, saying “we want to get the running game more active.”
And to do that, Carroll said Wednesday, the Seahawks are going to have to get better up front.
“The 49ers had to a lot to do with it last week,” Carroll said. “They did a terrific job on us, and we weren’t able to get the kind of spacing that we were used to, that we were counting on. So, we have to be better at the line of scrimmage, we have to be stouter. We’ve got to make sure we don’t get penetration and they get the negative plays and the plays that keep you from feeling good about the running game.”
Seattle’s optimism it could succeed offensively this year without Russell Wilson rested in large part on the running game and specifically the legs of Rashaad Penny, who revived his career late last season when he gained 135 yards or more in four of the final five games.
But Penny has almost less than half of that total in two games this year – 75 yards on 18 carries.
His 4.2 yards per attempt also pales compared to his NFL-leading 6.3 a year ago.
But while Penny rightfully earned a lot of kudos last year for the flurry that not only led to Seattle winning four of its last six games but also earned him a contract paying him up to $5.75 million this season, he had a lot of help.
According to Pro Football Reference, Penny averaged 3.2 yards before contact last season, which was sixth-best in the NFL. Through two games this year, Penny is averaging just 1.1 yards before contact, 49th.
In the stat generally regarded as most defining a running back’s role in rushing yards gained – yards after contact – Penny has the same average as a year ago, 3.1. That led the NFL last year and is tied for sixth this year. So he doesn’t appear to be the problem.
Pro Football Focus was blunt about Seattle’s offensive line this week, ranking it 26th in the NFL and stating “Seattle’s run blocking has been amongst the worst in the league.”
That Seattle’s offensive line might need some time to jell isn’t a surprise, with rookies starting at each tackle spot in left tackle Charles Cross and right tackle Abraham Lucas.
It’s the first time since the 2009 Jacksonville Jaguars that a team has opened the season with rookies at each tackle spot.
But via Pro Football Focus, Cross and Lucas haven’t been the main issue, with Cross earning the second-best run blocking grade of Seattle’s OL so far and Lucas third. Right guard Gabe Jackson, who has struggled in pass blocking, has the best run-blocking grade with left guard Phil Haynes and center Austin Blythe fourth and fifth, respectively.
Offensive line coach Andy Dickerson says the key isn’t necessarily improvement from any one specific player but by all five working as a group.
“We’ve played two good fronts, and you see flashes of what we are trying to get done,” Dickerson said of Seattle’s run blocking. “But it’s all about the consistency and we haven’t gotten to where we want to be yet. A couple times we have a couple of miscommunications, guys running the wrong way. If everybody takes a turn (the wrong way) then you are going to have a bunch of mistakes.”
One thing worth wondering is how the absence of Wilson – who is one of the best running quarterbacks in NFL history with an average per carry of 5.5 yards that ranks fourth among all players – is impacting Seattle’s running game.
Under Wilson, the Seahawks made ample use of zone read plays, in which Wilson would take a shotgun snap and then either hand off or keep the ball and run based on what he read out of the defense.
The Seahawks last year averaged more than nine rushes per game out of the shotgun formation, averaging 5.3 yards per carry, and ran out of the shotgun formation 13.5 times per game in 2020, Wilson’s last fully healthy year.
But Seattle so far has pretty much shelved running out of the shotgun, with just seven shotgun rushing attempts in two games.
Those runs have averaged 4.3 yards per carry, compared to 3.0 out of rushes when Geno Smith has been under center, according to Pro Football Reference.
One reason the Seahawks were willing to trade Wilson was the thought that his effectiveness and willingness to run would decrease with age – he turns 34 in November.
And indeed, Wilson – who averaged 5.5 rushing attempts and 30 rushing yards per game in his decade in Seattle – has run just two times for 3 yards so far with Denver.
For now, that’s small consolation for a Seahawks team that needs to find a new way to run in a post-Wilson world.
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