It is easy to forget that at 61 years old, Pete Carroll, is the 2nd oldest head coach in the NFL. He’s an old coach that plays old school football. The NFL may be a passing league but in 1984, when Carroll got his first NFL job, it certainly wasn’t. The man loves to run the football and he loves to use multiple backs to do it.
In Carroll’s last six seasons at USC (2004-2009) the lead RB got 42% of the carries on average (runs by QBs and WRs are not included). LenDale White, Reggie Bush, Chauncey Washington, Stafon Johnson and Joe McKnight never got more than 48% of the carries in a season. Carroll had a stable of RBs that he would use throughout the game to force the defense to always have to tackle a fresh running back. This strategy worked pretty well – USC was 68-10 in this time frame.
Unlike at USC, Carroll has used one primary back in his past 3 seasons as head coach of the Seahawks. Since Marshawn Lynch joined the Seahawks in week 6 of the 2010 season, he has received 71% of the carries. The average goes up to 73% if only Lynch’s full seasons with the team (2011-2012) are counted. This is much higher than the 42% average Carroll implemented at USC. This could be because Marshawn Lynch is so good that there is no point to give anyone else the ball, but it also could be because there hasn’t been any other RB on the roster that has been worth giving the ball to. NFL draft expert, Mike Mayock, deemed Christine Michael the most talented running back in this year’s class. With 1st round talent, this could be a player that is worth giving the ball.
With Lynch and Turbin already on the roster, a 3rd RB was hardly a need for the Seahawks heading into the draft. To draft him early was a surprise because the Seahawks have spent the past three drafts addressing needs early. Going into the 2010 draft, Seattle was in need of a LT, FS and offensive playmaker. They drafted Russell Okung, Earl Thomas and Golden Tate to remedy this.
Going into the 2011 draft, Seattle needed to improve their offensive line so they drafted James Carpenter and John Moffitt to fix this. Going into the 2012 draft, Seattle was in need of a pass rusher, MLB and QB so they drafted Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson to address these needs. Going into the 2013 NFL draft, Seattle had no needs. They addressed all their needs pre-draft needs by acquiring Percy Harvin, Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Antoine Winfield and Tony McDaniel. So instead of drafting for need early, they drafted for want.
Multiple RBs is not a need but a luxury. It is something that head coaches and general managers love but fantasy football players hate. Head coaches and general managers love it because it allows a team to run 30+ times a game without having to worry about risking injury to their lead back. It also not only allows for the lead back to be just as strong in the 4th quarter of a game as he was in the 1st quarter, but allows for the lead back to be just as strong in the 4th quarter of a season as he was in the 1st quarter of it.
Maybe if Lynch wasn’t forced to carry the ball 315 times in the regular season of 2012, he doesn’t hurt his foot against the Redskins, is 100% healthy against the Falcons, the Seahawks are able to establish the run early, they don’t fall behind 21-0 and they win that game. The Seahawks had to give Lynch 315 regular season carries because if they didn’t they wouldn’t have even made the playoffs for Lynch to get hurt in. They had to do this because they didn’t have the luxury of having another back that could match the production of Lynch.
Turbin had a solid rookie year and certainly looks like he will be able to be a contributing member of the offense for years to come. Yet every time he was tackled I couldn’t help but think, "I wonder if Marshawn would have broke that tackle, stiff armed the next guy, scored a touchdown and then chased all of that with a hand full of skittles." This is undoubtedly unfair to Turbin and is more of a testament to how good Lynch is than Turbin’s lack of ability.
Yet maybe Michael does break that tackle, stiff arms the next guy and runs for a touchdown while subbing in for Lynch. Carroll certainly thinks he can, otherwise they wouldn’t have drafted him. Think about how high Christine Michael had to be rated on the Seahawks’ draft board to get drafted when John Schneider rates players on how they stack up against current Seahawks. Despite being graded against Lynch and Turbin, the Seahawks still felt that he would be able to compete for carries.
How Lynch, Turbin and Michael are going to coexist is yet to be determined. It is unlikely that Lynch will only get 42% of the carries like the lead backs at USC did, he is far too talented not to demand the lion’s share of the carries. But what if instead of 73% of the carries he received 60%? Lynch, Turbin, Washington and Robinson combined for 430 carries last season. If the Seahawks run as much in 2013 as they did in 2012, 60% of these carries would put Lynch at 258 carries.
Say Robinson gets 10 on the year, this leaves Michael and Turbin to fight over the remaining 162 carries. A per game by game basis would give Lynch 16 carries, Michael and Turbin 10 to split, and Robinson 1 short yardage carry. Throw in a few keepers on read option plays and scrambles by Russell Wilson, and the Seahawks are running 30+ times a game with Lynch only having to carry 16 of those. This could mean a healthier Lynch throughout the season and a fresher Lynch during the playoffs.
Why would the Seahawks pay Lynch $7.5 million annually just to give him the ball 16 times a game? There are 10 other RBs in the NFL that make over $7 million dollars – Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster, DeAngelo Williams, Maurice Jones-Drew, Matt Forte, Jonathan Stewart, Darren McFadden and Ray Rice. Over the past two seasons these players have averaged 14 carries a game.
Some of this is due to injury, some of it due to the fact that some of these players also contribute as receivers out of the backfield, and some of it is that a RB doesn’t have to carry the ball 20+ times a game to be worth $7+ million annually. It is not how many carries someone gets but what they do with those carries that matters. If Lynch averages 5 yards per carry, like he did last year, 258 carries on the year would give him 1,290 rushing yards for the season. This would have been 7th most amongst RBs last year. Even at just 16 carries a game, Lynch is still worth his contract.
With Lynch, Turbin and Michael now on the roster, Carroll finally has the stable of backs that he coveted at USC. He didn’t have this in his first 3 seasons because the Seahawks had other needs on their roster that they had to address before they were able to have the luxury of multiple RBs. Now that the Seahawks have possibly the most talented roster in the NFL, they were able to draft for want instead of need. Michael is certainly a player that Carroll wanted.
His addition allows the Seahawks to pound the ball at opposing defenses over and over again without relying on Lynch to carry the full load and wear himself out. It also allows the Seahawks to mitigate the effects of the 2nd worst case scenario the team could face after a Wilson injury – an injury to Lynch. Lynch, Turbin and Michael are Carroll’s new stable, it is something that he covets and had tremendous success with in the past at USC. If this will also lead to success in the NFL is yet to be determined, but if anyone could maximize a potent running back stable, an addicted to the run Carroll would be the one to do it.