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Seahawks setup for heavy rushing day vs Lions

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NFL: International Series-Seattle Seahawks at Oakland Raiders Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Allow me to be the first to cut-off J.K. Simmons before he asks and say that the Seahawks are definitely going to be rushing a lot on Sunday against the Lions, even if they’re dragging. As far as intro sentences go this isn’t gonna make my top-10, but let’s keep this train moving forward anyway.

I’d say that running the football has been the topic de jour of 2018 — more so in Seattle than the league as a whole maybe, but still a huge topic in football regardless — even to the detriment of readers here at Field Gulls that wish I would just, “STOP!” However, I think it would be irresponsible to just stop talking about the importance and presence of the running game given that the running game has been the number one point of emphasis by Pete Carroll in 2018.

  • Fire Darrell Bevell after two seasons of below average-to-bad rushing offenses (22nd in 2016, 23rd in 2017 by DVOA)
  • Fire Tom Cable as offensive line coach
  • Part ways with left guard Luke Joeckel, right guard Oday Aboushi, and tight end Jimmy Graham
  • Hire Brian Schottenheimer as the new offensive coordinator, who if nothing else, got much more out of the New York Jets’ rushing offense in 2009 and 2010 than anyone expected
  • Hire Mike Solari as the offensive line coach and his “power zone blocking” scheme
  • Sign D.J. Fluker to play right guard
  • Sign Ed Dickson to start at tight end
  • Draft Rashaad Penny in the first round
  • Draft Will Dissly, considered the top blocking tight end in the draft
  • Sign J.R. Sweezy for additional depth at guard
  • Sign Brandon Marshall, who at this point in his career is likely way more adept as a blocker than he is as a receiver

Oh, and also just straight-up say you’re committed to the run:

“We have a real formula of how we win. And we have been unable the last two years to incorporate a major aspect of that--and it’s running the football the way we want to run it,” Carroll said two weeks ago. “I think you see tremendous examples around the league of teams who have turned their fortunes around, and they have turned it around in a formula that I think should sound familiar to you: running the football, teams playing good defense and doing the kicking-game thing. That is the formula that has proven historically the best in this game.

“We have been committed to that from the start. But, unfortunately, we have not been able to recapture it the way that we have in years past.”

That intention did not produce the desired results in Weeks 1 and 2 as the Seahawks fell to 0-2 following losses vs the Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears. Carroll said recently that he’s the only one to blame for the lack of emphasis on running in those games:

“Yeah, it took us a couple of games to find the rhythm and the mix that we wanted to begin the season with. I misevaluated,” Carroll said Monday. “It’s not Brian, at all. I misevaluated a little bit how far we had come in the offseason. And we just needed to reevaluate.”

Carroll and Schottenheimer found the run game in Week 3, even if they had to (and seemed to) force it. They’ve ran the ball 142 times in the last four games, which is the 6th-highest total since Week 3 despite Seattle even having a bye week in that time. The LA Rams have the most carries since Week 3 — they’ve run the ball 31.8 times per game in that time — but the Seahawks are running the ball 35.5(!) time per game over their last four.

If a team did that for an entire season, they’d have 568 rush attempts. The team with the most rush attempts in 2017 was the Jacksonville Jaguars, and they only had 527 carries.

This is not a question of whether or not Seattle should run it that much. This is not a debate about whether or not the rush attempts are a product of winning or if the winning is a result of running it. I don’t care about any of that right now, that’s not what I’m writing about. What I am writing about:

Regardless of the reason for it, the Seahawks are going to run the football a lot, if they have the opportunity to. And their opponent this week seems destined to give them reason to over and over and over again.

The Detroit Lions have had the fewest pass attempts against them in the NFL this season. The Seattle Seahawks have the fewest pass attempts in the NFL this season. If Russell Wilson ends up throwing the ball 40 times, something went horribly off-plan for Seattle. The intention will likely be to limit Wilson’s attempts to only his highest-percentage shots, while giving the ball to Chris Carson, Mike Davis, and Penny as much as possible. So far this year, the Lions defense has given teams little reason to not run on them; Detroit is 32nd in yards per carry allowed and 30th against the run by DVOA.

Opponents have run the ball 157 times against the Lions, gaining 836 yards on 5.3 yards per carry; no single running back in the league is even close to producing at those kinds of numbers. When Ezekiel Elliott faced Detroit, he had 152 yards on 25 carries; Matt Breida gained 138 yards on 11 carries; Isaiah Crowell had 102 yards on 10 carries.

The Lions lost all three of those games.

And it’s hardly like you have to say, “Well, those teams started racking up rushing yards after they had a lead” because Breida and Crowell barely had a half’s worth of attempts. That’s just crappy defense. It’s an exciting opportunity for Carson, who has benefited the most from Carroll’s plan that started back in January to re-invest around the running back position: he has 277 yards in the last three games and is one of only a handful of backs to be on pace for over 1,000 yards even though he’s already missed one game.

Mike Davis could also get in on the action, as he has 190 yards in his last three games. Penny had a rough start to the year, but Carroll noted early on that he’s also a rookie who missed three of four preseason games, plus a lot of training camp; though he failed to get a single snap two games ago, Penny’s also gained 5.11 yards per carry in his last two games of action, while also returning kicks.

The Seahawks have a difficult task in Week 8, going on the road for a 10 AM PST kickoff against a team that doesn’t suck. The Lions are 3-3, just like Seattle, including wins over the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, and a 32-21 road win in Miami this past Sunday. The Seahawks likely plan to run a lot this weekend, but plans only go so far. If they can’t stop Matthew Stafford, if they end up turning the ball over, things change in a hurry.

Then they could definitely end up dragging.

Edit: After this article was written, the Lions traded a fifth-round pick for run-stopping defensive tackle Damon Harrison from the New York Giants. He should presumably be able to help by Week 7, though some level of new-team adjustment is usually expected.