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The Road Back, Part 3: Healing the Rushing Attack

I recently fixed my internet connection after four months of spotty service. An intermittent internet connection is frustrating. It's not tragic or life-altering. It doesn't happen all at once and it's not worth complaining about, but it's frustrating. Frustration rooted in wanting something or attempting something and not truly failing but falling short. Repeatedly. The cumulative effect is angering and discouraging. Suffer enough frustration and one becomes enervated. Suffer enough frustration and one becomes stressed - and stress is a killer. So simple frustration, of little day-to-day significance and never enough at once to complain about, accumulates into something debilitating and dangerous.

Frustration is the Seahawks running game. Since 2006, Seattle has struggled to run the ball. Shaun Alexander was disastrous in 2006 and 2007, and though Julius Jones was comparatively better in 2008, much of the rest of the team began falling apart. Seattle lost Rob Sims in week one, Mike Wahle faded and eventually Wahle and Walter Jones joined Sims on IR. At no point, from 2006 through 2009, did Seattle consistently run the ball effectively.

The difference between an effective run and a poor run are slight but cumulative. Over 30 rushes, the total difference between a back that averages 4.5 yards per carry, very good, and a back that averages 3 yards per carry, very bad, is only 45 yards. 45 yards can be gained in one play. 45 yards is the equivalent of one interception. It's meaningful, but seemingly not so meaningful. What matters is how those yards are ceded: One carry at a time; one more play run from a disadvantageous down and distance; one more play you have to pass, that play-action doesn't work and that the opponent can gun for the quarterback.

In the modern game, the pass rules. If Seattle could upgrade its entire passing game with a player or a draft class, that would be preferred. That won't happen though. As high as I am on Russell Okung and Golden Tate, two rookies are not going to transform what was a terrible passing attack into a great one. Football is sometimes called the ultimate team sport, and though that's essentially sloganeering, there is something meaningful in the cliché. Two players can't fix a team, but the differences between a good team and a bad team can be very subtle. It's not always the difference between a Manning and a Carr, but instead the difference between a Kuper and a Unger, a Stroud and a Cole. Though a team can improve in leaps, it typically does so through incremental upgrades throughout the roster. There's maturation, development and better scheme fits. There are debilitating weaknesses overcome and breakout seasons.

Fixing the run is a means to an end. Fixing the run is like fixing the special teams. If the NFL grouped all its players into a pool and repopulated teams through a fantasy draft, players that contribute to the pass offense and pass defense would certainly go first. A team can't prioritize fixing the run. That's losing football. And the Seahawks haven't. Schneider's draft concentrated resources into passing and pass defense.

However, between the moves to rebuild the pass and pass defense, Seattle has quietly begun rebuilding its run game. Okung is a better run blocker than the revolving door of replacement level talent Seattle fielded in 2009. Ben Hamilton is built for Gibbs system. Chris Spencer is so close. Max Unger should grow in his second season. Sean Locklear should replace Ray Willis on the right and that's both a talent upgrade and a better scheme fit. Zone blocking will be taught by its innovator and not Mike Solari. Justin Forsett should start and receive a greater percentage of touches.

In 1983, Chuck Knox was able to build the Seahawks offense around Curt Warner and the run game. It's a very different game in 2010, but if de-emphasized, the run game still matters. Some of its value is hidden by play-action passing. Some of its value is hidden by how it facilitates and simplifies an offense for a new quarterback. Mostly though, building a good run game is about building a complete football team, squeezing value out of every possible player and leaving no stone unturned in the pursuit of fielding the best team possible. Seattle won't relive the magic of 1983 through a superstar draft pick. There is no Curt Warner on the 2010 roster, but a Seahawks team that is competent to good in every phase of the game, from kickoffs to killing the clock, can steal wins, upset better teams and maybe just maybe make a little noise in January.