I hate to say it, but I felt a little uneasy about Christine Michael scoring a touchdown in Sunday’s 25-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints. It’s not that he scored a touchdown at all, but that Michael got six without having to do anything; the classic “touchdown vulture” who snapped up a goal line carry from the clutches of a beautiful play by Tanner McEvoy and C.J. Prosise.
Of course, it’s not Michael’s fault, he did the job he was asked to do and Prosise was not able to get it in himself, but I would have felt better about it if Michael had been doing a better job this season at being a number one running back. So far, he’s been pretty bad.
Problems With The Seahawks Running Game
The Seahawks running game ranks near the bottom of the league in multiple stats so far this season. #seahawks Video Credit: Jeff CollettPosted by Field Gulls: For Seattle Seahawks News and Analysis on Tuesday, November 1, 2016
Michael’s final stat line: 10 carries for 40 yards and a touchdown. The 10 carries is just what he was given, the 4.0 YPC is decent (the Saints are allowing 4.3 YPC on the season), and the touchdown was ... well we just talked about what it was. But let’s look at his carries, since there weren’t that many of them:
Five of the carries: Came on 1st-and-10 or 2nd-and-10 and gained -3, 0, 1, 2, and 4 yards. That’s five carries for four yards when 10 yards were needed on each play.
One of the carries was a two-yard gain on first-and-goal for that touchdown.
And four of the carries were good: 10 yards on 2nd-and-2, 9 yards on 1st-and-10, 8 yards on 1st-and-10, and 7 yards on 2nd-and-1.
There weren’t enough first downs, and half of his carries went for less than we want or expect from a number one running back. Many people will now pull deep into their “List of reasons I hate Tom Cable” trick’r’treat bag but let me refer you to these comments from Seattle Seahawks RB coach Sherman Smith last week:
If there was any doubt that coaches still see Thomas Rawls as the number one back pic.twitter.com/K5HlwOSHID— Field Gulls (@FieldGulls) October 28, 2016
If your first thought is, “Sherman’s saying that he’s taking what the offensive line is giving him, that’s the offensive line’s fault!” but that’s so not what he is saying. That tells me that the offensive line alone is giving him 4.2 yards per carry on the season. And that any running back in the league could go out there and take what the o-line gives him and therefore, Michael isn’t providing additional value over any other running back. The beauty of the Beast is that he consistently took double, triple, and a whole 2010 New Orleans defense more than what the offensive line gave him. In 2014, PFF listed Lynch with an NFL-best 2.9 attempts/missed or broken tackle. He broke a tackle once every three attempts.
ALSO READ: Darrell Bevell is part of the problem
Michael is getting nothing more than what he’s being given. Does Thomas Rawls provide that? He certainly did in 2015: PFF listed Rawls with 3.12 yards after contact, third-highest mark in the NFL. Through Week 7, Michael is getting a broken tackle on 18.3% of his touches, which is 18th among any regular or semi-regular running backs. Arizona’s David Johnson is the best this season at getting a broken tackle on 25.9% of his touches. Former Seattle back Spencer Ware is at 20.9% for the Kansas City Chiefs.
In 16 carries against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 7, Michael had six carries that went for -1, 0, or 1 yard. Five carries went for 3-5 yards and were short of a first down. Four carries went for a first down, including one 10-yard run on 1st-and-10. Then another was a six yard gain on 1st-and-10.
That’s not good enough. You can’t have 11 of your lead back’s 16 carries be disappointments.
Seattle is 28th in rushing yards, 30th in yards per carry, and were ranked 30th in run DVOA by FootballOutsiders going into Week 8. You can blame Darrell Bevell. You can blame Pete Carroll. You can blame Tom Cable. You can blame the offensive line. You can even blame Russell Wilson. You can blame any and all of those people, but let’s not overlook the guy who is actually carrying the ball on those plays. If Lynch “carried” those guys for the last 4-6 seasons, then we can just as easily say that Michael is dragging them down (or running them out of bounds?) right now.
Despite his 19 carries for 25 yards earlier in the season, the return of Rawls should bring back a return to a solid running game for the Seahawks. If he plays like he did a year ago, when Rawls was first in DVOA among all running backs and led the NFL in YPC at 5.6, then the Seattle running game will start moving again even if it’s in despite of all those other variables.
That’s what great running backs do. It’s not what Michael is doing right now. It’s also why I think the Seahawks could draft a running back with their first pick in 2017 even though I’ve hated the idea of doing that in any of the last 10 years. Now may finally be the time:
- Michael is a free agent and if you’ve read my most recent article (this one) isn’t playing very well.
- Rawls has been injured and may never be the same, Seattle has to reduce the risk of putting themselves in this position again next year -- C.J. Prosise plays a different position entirely than “lead back” and Alex Collins was a low-risk move that may not pan out.
- The running back class is great next year and the offensive line class is bad. It might be their best opportunity to draft a premier running back, though I believe (thanks to talking to Rob Staton every week) that Leonard Fournette will go in the top 5, so won’t be available. But Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey, and Nick Chubb will certainly start the conversation for who goes next and when. Others will emerge.
The best thing that the Seahawks can do now is wait for Rawls return, which could come as soon as next Monday vs the Buffalo Bills. Hopefully not later than against the New England Patriots the following week. Until that happens, maybe more plays involving Prosise and Collins will be necessary — Prosise gained 103 total yards on Sunday vs the Saints, something Michael has only done once all year.
They obviously can’t continue doing what they’ve been doing.