So the offensive line wasn't a thing of beauty in our first preseason home game. There's a ton of reasons for this, from the line being young and with no real gametime together, to a replacement being in at LT (and while I generally support Tyler Polumbus, he's a better guard than tackle at this point), to no gameplanning while the Vikes had fun blitzing.
Another factor is that our line is tooled a bit more towards run protections over pass protection right now, especially on the inside. Gallery is not a top-tier guard and has always been uneven as a pass blocker, and looked outright lost several plays for the Hawks. Moffitt comes in better at run-blocking than pass-blocking. I've seen the same argument made for Carpenter occasionally, and while I don't agree there, he is a pretty relentless run-blocker.
The upgrades are showing some early results in run-blocking. Minnesota is a pretty good run D (10th overall DVOA last year), and we ran well against them (particularly late, which is somewhat telling), with 31 run plays for 150 yards (4.8 YPC). There were three runs for losses for 6 lost yards total (Lynch for -2, Force for -1 and Clayton for -3). Josh Portis was the lead rusher, and I think Beast Mode would describe him as "stoopid fast". The Vikes 4th-stringers clearly weren't prepared for his running, but his running wasn't particularly smart or meaningful in context. For the morbidly curious, the Vikes outran us, 27 rushes for 142 yards (a way-too-high 5.3 YPC, despite Adrian Peterson getting only 2.7).
I'm going to focus on the halfbacks here. Between the five of them, they had 23 attempts for 76 yards, 3.3 YPC. Taking out Lynch and Force (more on that in a bit), it's 13 attempts for 66 yards (5.0 YPC).
Leon Washington: 4 for 26, 6.5 YPC
Thomas Clayton: 7 for 25, 3.6 YPC
Vai Taua: 2 for 15, 7.5 YPC
Justin Forsett: 7 for 8, 1.1 YPC
Marshawn Lynch: 3 for 2, .7 YPC
Per-player looks after the jump, by depth chart.
Marshawn Lynch: The FO seem to consider Beast Mode a known quantity, and are much more interested in getting extended looks at Washington, Forsett and our to-be-emergency-PS-depth. Lynch was in for about half a dozen snaps and that was the plan. Even getting to the goalline didn't dissuade the coaches, they planned to use him for a set number of snaps and they did. Lynch ran into the pile, was tackled on a blown assignment, and missed a wide-open hole to run through the pile for 3. He added a couple of screen passes, which was nice but nothing new.
Leon Washington: Washington looks like our best zone runner, by far. He sees the hole fast and hits it decisively and with blistering speed. Behind our huge offensive line, the dude might as well be invisible until he appears behind the defensive line. One nine-yard run came on a particularly weak tackle by Vikings LB Erin Henderson (who had a big hit on Washington in his next run), but he flashed the ability to make the first tackle miss on elusiveness quite a lot. His 12-yard run in the 2nd in particular showed his skills, as he cut in the smallest of spaces between several Seahawks and Vikings bodies and then just hit the open space for 10. A slight hesitation to cut left to avoid more people saw Vikings safety Tyrell Johnson catch up to tackle him from behind. Washington definitely looks like our #2 guy, and the kind of #2 that gets significantly better yards per carry than the #1, but I don't think he'll push for the starting job, he's of more value as an oft-utilized backup. His special teams days should be mostly over. There were a few situations where he had nowhere to go, but generally our line created holes well for Washington to exploit.
Washington (and Forsett) have some added value as receivers, but we haven't seen them used much as anything other than dumpoff options. Forsett logged one nice catch in wide-open space that should've gone for more than 6 on a 3rd and 10, but the the decision to throw took too long and the ball was slow.
Justin Forsett: Like Washington, Forsett is damn small. But he's not a speed guy like Washington, he runs with a power style that you wouldn't expect from a small guy. His value for us comes primarily from his skill as a single back compared to Lynch, who usually requires a fullback to get good runs. The coaches were obviously experimenting with Forsett, he was used with a fullback in our 4th drive, and pulled off some nice runs. The drive was saved by Robinson power through the pile on 4th and 1. This was followed by a 5-yard run where Forsett waited just a heartbeat for McCoy to move his guy, creating a hole for him to run through, before having a collision headfirst with Doug Baldwin, who was not blocking safety Jamarca Sanford well.
Then we hit the redzone, and while we'd normally put Lynch or Robinson in there, that just wasn't the plan here. Instead, the coaches wanted to see their offensive line dominate and power the Vikings Dline into submission, and to watch Forsett run in such a situation, with Robinson as the fullback for every try. He ran for 1, -1, nothing and nothing. The first and last run looked hopeful. On the second one our line collapsed in a heartbeat and Force was tackled behind the LoS (mislogged in the gamebook as a 0-yard run). The second one saw Forsett hitting the hole hard but no gain, primarily on Carpenter, who was free to pick up the free tackler but did not (Forsett might have been tripped up regardless, though). Force has a nice hole on the final try, but trips over Moffitt's ankle. An unfortunate attempt at trying to show some smashmouth, it's got Cable's fingerprints all over it. Force and Lynch posted the ugliest numbers, but because of the way they were used, also the least relevant numbers when forecasting to the season.
Thomas Clayton: Clayton got some good reviews last week but didn't impress me. He has the makeup for a good zone runner, hitting the hole quick and hard. The FO seems to like what they see, and keep giving him a quite a few touches (...ewwww). Clayton came in when Charlie did in the third quarter. The Vikings stacked the box on his first run, and the NT Fred Evans penetrated the line to tackle him for a loss of three. He ran well enough the rest of the drive, and even motioned out wide for one play (as a decoy). He showed good movement with forward momentum on an 11-yard run in the 4th. He's not the flashiest of players, but decisive and runs hard. Later in the game, he showed up well in pass protection. Clayton doesn't excite, but he impressed me more this week than last.
Vai Taua: Taua came in with Charlie still at quarterback in the fourth. Following a Boyce reception, Taua was the singleback and hit the hole hard before being ankle-tackled by Larry Dean (6 yards), and in his second run (again single) again had a good hole on the left and ran well before being tackled from behind by Tremaine Johnson who had peeled off his block (9 yards). And that was it for some reason, with Clayton coming back in for that drive and the next. He was back in for the closing drive by Portis, it's noteworthy he didn't stay in to protect or chip a single time, instead running to give Portis some quick outs. He was targeted once, but hadn't quite turned when Portis gunned it way too low. He was lined up wide left for the final snap. I want to see more Taua.
Fullbacks: Michael Robinson was his usual competent self blocking and running, but it's worth noting Dorson Boyce was in for much of the second half, and looked pretty good as a blocker for Clayton and in making nice catches on 2nd and 8 for 6 and the consequent 3rd and 2 for 3, as well as a 7 yard catch on 2nd and 2 in the 4th quarter. Not bad at all. Boyce wasn't in a lot though, blocking only for Clayton as Taua was always the single back.
Overall, while you can't draw too many conclusions, the easiest ones are: can't say much about Lynch, Washington looks like he'll be an important offensive weapon for us, and our power blocking has some question marks, particularly on the interior getting pushed back. Some promise here, but I'll be anxious to see how Lynch does with more snaps next week. I think the plan is to stash someone on the PS as emergency depth (not sure if Clayton is eligible, but I doubt it) and that makes for an interesting struggle. Part of me wonders if Force could be up for a cut, especially if we add some other team's leavings, but it would be a surprise.