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FootballOutsiders: Thomas Rawls, Eddie Lacy were historically bad in the red zone

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NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, FootballOutsiders has lended itself to SB Nation, answering five questions from each blog about their team. These questions and answers should slant towards the advanced analytics that FO focuses on, specifically in regards to DVOA. To find out more about the great work at FootballOutsiders, you should definitely be keen on their annual almanac, which is available now in the FO Store.

I kicked things off by asking FO’s Bryan Knowles about the Seahawks 2017 running backs and how they stack up historically among the worst rushing attacks of all-time.

Q: Last season, the Seahawks didn’t have a single running back carry the ball at least 100 times, so nobody qualified in the main RB category for DVOA, but in 20-99 rushes, you can find Thomas Rawls in last place and Eddie Lacy right next to him in second to last, and third-to-last was not even close to them. They appear to be the two worst running backs of 2017, even when you include Adrian Peterson and Samaje Perine. Has FootballOutsiders ever seen a RB duo that was this bad before and the fact that they were so bad on the same team, does it imply that there were significant factors beyond their control that made them look worse? Adding to that, how much is it complicated by the fact that in his four starts, Chris Carson was quite good?

Bryan Knowles: The 100-carry threshold is important because splits happen; sometimes players have a run of bad luck, and you need a certain number of carries for luck to sort of even out. That being said, yeah, I’m somewhat doubtful that adding 30 carries to 2017 Eddie Lacy would do anything other than give Seahawks fans 30 more headaches. I’d agree Lacy and Rawls were the worst two backs of 2017, even without qualifying for the big table. Even in a small sample size, their absolute inability to get anything going jumps out at you.

That being said, even if Lacy and Rawls had qualified for the full table, the Seahawks wouldn’t be the first team to grab those bottom two slots. The 2013 Ravens had Bernard Pierce and Ray Rice, the 1996 Giants had Rodney Hampton and Tyrone Wheatley, and the 1992 Patriots had Jon Vaughn and Leonard Russell. When you throw in receiving value, you also get the 1999 Saints with two backs in the bottom three and the 2001 Panthers with three back in the bottom five. Sometimes, when things go that wrong, they go wrong for everybody. No really good running back will put up numbers that poor, but when your entire rushing game is sputtering at that level, you’re also likely to find a struggling offensive line out in front.

That’s the thing, though. The ‘92 Patriots, ‘96 Giants and ‘13 Ravens all finished dead last in rushing value in their respective years; their entire running scheme was bad enough that it didn’t matter who they actually handed the ball off to. The 2017 Seahawks, however, ranked 23rd in rushing offense, with a bad but not terrible -12.1% DVOA. They were historically terrible in the red zone, with the second-worst rushing game we’ve ever recorded, but on the whole, they were only garden-variety bad. Rawls and Lacy can’t put all the blame on factors outside their control; Chris Carson and J.D. McKissick put up positive DVOAs in the same scheme with the same offensive line in the same games.

Of the two, Rawls has the better case for clemency. Nearly a quarter of his carries came in the red zone, and he also led the team in carries inside the 10. Seattle’s offensive line had real struggles all year long in power situations, and you could argue that because Rawls was called upon more in the red zone, he suffered proportionally more from the offensive line’s issues there. Remove red zone carries from every back in the league, and Rawls is “only” the 16th-worst running back in the league (min. 20 carries), while Lacy only rises to fourth-worst.

For the record, Carson jumps from 25th to 16th in DVOA when you take out red zone carries. Dude was the real deal last season.