Actually that's misleading I'm going to attempt to make this pretty short. First let's remove the Bengals game. Let's remove the whole season and start with what we knew about Alexander entering the 2007 season.
- He's 30. If the local media hasn't pounded this in yet, very few running backs stay productive after 30.
- In 2005 he had 370 rushing attempts in the regular season and another 60 in the post season. If you've never heard about the "Curse of 370" or research into how very high numbers of rushing attempts affect running backs you can look here. I'll give you the gist though. Throughout the history of the NFL running backs who have exceeded 370 regular season carries face injury or decline the following year. Most, nearly all are out of the league in a few years following the high workload. Victims include: Earl Campbell, Terrell Davis, Jamal Lewis, Jamal Anderson, Curtis Martin--Larry Johnson had 416 last season.
- In 2006 Alexander had a very down year. This coincided with two events, first Seattle lost the services of otherworldly left guard Steve Hutchinson and second he suffered a cracked bone in his left foot. By the end of the year the 2007 line was set, with Rob Sims finally unseating Porkchop Womack and former first rounder Chris Spencer replacing then 36 y/o Robbie Tobeck. Alexander's performance rebounded. Against the Bears excellent run defense Alexander put up his best game of the year converting a full ten first downs and scoring two TDs. Fans, bloggers and Seahawks rejoiced.
That brings us to 2007. Given Alexander's age, high work load and recent injury it was understood that Alexander would have to defy odds to once again be a top tier rusher. It also must be understood that steep decline was possible.
- Alexander rushes for 105 total yards on 27 attempts. That's a solid fantasy showing. In reality not counting first down or touchdown conversions he had 12 rushes of two or fewer yards and a fumble. He recorded only four first downs.
- Alexander rushes for 70 total yards on 18 attempts. Fantasy owners wonder where his dominance of the Cardinals has gone. Alexander records 7 rushes of 2 or fewer yards, three first downs and a touchdown.
At this point some legitimate concern has arisen from serious Seahawks fans. His superficial numbers look good, but despite facing two mediocre rush defenses, Alexander has posted a -7.1% VOA. This same week the Hawks next opponent, Cincinnati, is allowing 216 yards to Jamal Lewis. Lewis posted a -9.9 DVOA on the Baltimore Ravens the previous season, journeyman Mike Anderson behind the same line posted an 18.0 DVOA. Against the Steelers fourth ranked rush defense from 2006 Lewis rushed for 35 yards on 11 carries, this last week against Oakland's 16th ranked rush defense he rushed for 56 yards on 15 carries.
By almost every account the Bengals rush defense is pitiful. They are then stripped of their starting middle linebacker and their starting left outside linebacker. The linebacker unit is so stricken that former free agent and bowtie salesman Dhani Jones, he of one of the worst run defending reputations in the NFL, is forced into action and records 7 tackles.
- Alexander rushes for 100 yards on 21 carries. He records 4 first downs and 9 carries of 2 or fewer yards. That's pretty bad by itself...
But when one considers the quality of the Bengals rush defense, Alexander's age, his injury history and his performance over the first three games of the season (12 first downs, two touchdowns, a fumble and 28 of 66 rushes for two or fewer yards) and the clear visual evidence that he's slow out of his cuts, being chased down from behind, hesitant to hit the hole, unable to break arm tackles and falling over regularly without any provocation (this is happening at an alarming rate) it's flying in the face of reason and evidence to say he's played well or projects to play better for the rest of the season.
I understand that many Seattle fans think it's Alexander or bust, but consider that all four teams in the NFC/AFC championship games from last season had two rushers with 150 or more carries. Maurice Morris may have zero star potential, but in four of his five years he has recorded a DVOA of 10% or above. Morris, 27, is in his athletic prime. I have yet to see a single rational argument that Alexander should continue to see the vast majority of carries going forward.
It is not my intention to bash Shaun Alexander, nor by any means do I wish for him to fail. The Hawks are a potentially great team, but face a steadily closing window. One that snaps shut the second Walter Jones or Matt Hasselbeck are significantly injured. One player is disproportionately hurting his team through his poor receiving, his poor blocking and to a lesser extent his poor rushing. That player is Shaun Alexander. It's only five attempts, so discount this wholly if you will, but Leonard Weaver and Morris have combined to average 4.8 yards per attempt. Alexander sits a little under 4.2 yards per attempt. That doesn't say Weaver and Morris are better than Alexander, but only that they have played better when given the opportunity. If Seattle wants to compete for a Super Bowl birth, Weaver and Morris must be given more rushing attempts. I can't divine whether they will succeed or not, but I can tell you that if nothing else is tried, if Alexander is given 90% of the carries for the rest of season out of bullheaded loyalty, the Hawks, barring a miracle, have no chance of competing. It's just that simple.