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Seahawks slipping in run defense just as they prepare to face Todd Gurley

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to imagine a Pete Carroll defense that struggles to stop the run, but then again we’ve had to get used to a lot of new things this season. From 2010-2017, the Seattle Seahawks held 71 opponents to under 100 rushing yards, tied for second-most in the NFL during that time after the Pittsburgh Steelers, at 79 such games. Of course, we already know that a lot of that has to do with Seattle’s overall success as a team (you win more, they rush less), but you’d be foolish to say that the Seahawks had bad run defense in that time; from 2012-2017, Seattle’s 3.79 yards per carry allowed ranked second overall behind the Denver Broncos at 3.7 flat.

That level of effectiveness seemed to stop after the Seahawks lost Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman in game nine of last season.

From Week 1-Week 10, Seattle was allowing 4 YPC, which ranked 14th in the NFL. They lost Chancellor and Sherman on a Thursday night in Arizona in Week 10, and after holding up for a few weeks, they really started to let opponents get away with a lot more on the ground in the final four games: 156 rushing yards by the Jaguars, 244 by the Rams, 128 by the Cowboys, and 116 by the Cardinals. Overall, 4.44 YPC allowed, seventh-worst in the league over that period of time.

Just two weeks ago, the Seahawks held Kerryon Johnson to 22 yards on eight carries, but returning home after a long hiatus and facing Melvin Gordon had a significantly negative effect on their overall numbers for the season: Gordon had 113 yards on only 16 carries, plus 28 to receiver Keenan Allen and 21 to backup Austin Ekeler on just three attempts. Seattle gets no break this Sunday, facing the NFL’s leading rusher behind the NFL’s best offensive line: Todd Gurley.

In their first meeting this season, the Seahawks held Gurley to only 77 yards on 22 carries, but he scored three touchdowns on the day. Oddly enough, that’s been roughly Gurley’s stat line against every NFC West opponent this season: 19 carries for 42 yards and three touchdowns against Arizona, 15 carries for 63 yards and two touchdowns against San Francisco. His yards per carry is very low but LA is putting him in the position to get six over and over again.

What can Seattle hope to do to stop that from happening on Sunday?

If I knew that then I’m certainly in the wrong profession, but I do know that it is a topic of concern. Not just stopping Gurley (which basically just means, “How do you get off blocks against this incredible offensive line that is opening up massive running lanes for Gurley and a passing attack that is consistently getting him into the red zone?”) but also planning on how to keep it a low-scoring affair. Not likely given that the Rams’ worst offensive performance of the season to date is 29 points; Seattle’s highest-scoring performance is 31, which came in that loss to LA a few weeks ago.

It’s hard to praise the work of frontmen like Jarran Reed, middlemen like K.J. Wright, or backline support like Tedric Thompson when you get eaten up in the way they did against the Chargers last weekend. It’s also hard to ignore just how good we’ve known them to be in the past. But as of now, the Seahawks rank 27th in yards per carry allowed, which is a steep drop from when they were first in that category in 2016. Some players still remain from that defense (Bobby Wagner, Frank Clark, Wright, Reed) but most of the names are new. Gone are Sherman, Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Ahtyba Rubin, and Tony McDaniel. Also gone is defensive coordinator Kris Richard.

In are the new guys, like Quinton Jefferson, Shamar Stephen, Shaquill Griffin, Tre Flowers, Thompson, Bradley McDougald, and without assigning blame to any one person (unless you wanna do that for Carroll or Ken Norton, Jr), we know that it is a team-wide issue that has gotten progressively worse. The Seahawks were third against the run by DVOA in 2016, and they slipped to 14th in 2017, currently sitting at 15th after eight weeks.

This does not look like a week for them to boost their ranking against the run. It’s not necessarily about “containing Gurley” as it is about keeping LA out of the end zone at all, not matter the methodology. Run defense is not nearly as important as pass defense, but as we saw last week against the other LA, it’s still a potentially huge issue when it does become on issue.