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Seahawks made moves to get back to great run defense

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Pete Carroll has stressed the importance of the run game since his first day as head coach and lead voice on all personnel decisions with the Seattle Seahawks. Both on offense and defense. It’s not something that seemed all that unusual in 2010, but imagine a coach getting hired by an NFL team in 2019 and pounding home over and over again that his newfound franchise better find a newfound respect for running the football.

Some how that now sounds more controversial than hiring Kliff Kingsbury to be your head coach.

Over the course of only three offseasons, Carroll built the league’s best defense in 2012 from near scratch in and while the Legion of Boom got the most attention for their prowess against the pass, Richard Sherman was also in a select group of elite-tackling corners. The Seahawks ranked 29th on defense by DVOA in 2009, but were 10th against the run, one thing that Jim Mora didn’t manage to ruin.

In 2010, they ranked 29th again, but fell to 17th against the run.

In 2011, Seattle vaulted to 10th on defense, ninth against the pass and 12th against the run. They improved from 25th in points allowed, 27th in yards allowed, and 21st in rushing yards allowed, to seventh, ninth, and 15th, including fourth in yards per carry allowed.

As things turned a corner in 2012, the Seahawks were first in points and second in DVOA, but actually fell to 23rd in yards per carry allowed and 12th against the rush by DVOA. It wasn’t their strong suit actually, but then 2013 happened.

That year, Carroll signed Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril to play defensive end, signed defensive tackle Tony McDaniel, nearly doubled the play time for Clinton McDonald, with triple the play time for Byron Maxwell and Malcolm Smith. The 2012 Seahawks were a good team but I think sometimes we forget the presence of players like Marcus Trufant, Jason Jones, Alan Branch, and Leroy Hill that season. Not bad players, but also not great times in their careers.

The 2013 defense was insanely stacked and the 2019 version probably won’t be anything like that, but it’s obvious that Carroll is looking to correct his run defense just as he sought to correct the rushing offense in 2018.

A year ago, Seattle went after superior blocking tight ends, superior run-blocking guards, and a first round running back in an effort to get back to being a top-five rushing team. The Seahawks finished first in rushing yards.

But the run defense was back to the 2010 version, again finishing 17th by DVOA. That seems fine, but consider where Seattle used to be.

In 2012, the Seahawks allowed three 100-yard rushers: Adrian Peterson (182), Frank Gore (131), and C.J. Spiller (103). Of the 12 players to get 10 carries against Seattle in 2012, eight were held under five yards per carry, while Matt Forte, Steven Jackson, Cedric Benson, and Stevan Ridley were shutdown despite getting 16+ carries. They held two teams under 3 YPC in a single game: The Rams once and the Cardinals twice.

In 2013, the Seahawks allowed four 100-yard rushers: Mike James (158), Zac Stacy (134), Gore (110), and Foster (102), but Foster needed 27 carries to get there. Of the 14 players to get 10 carries against Seattle in 2013, 10 were held under five yards per carry, while Foster, Peterson, Rashard Mendenhall, Maurice Jones-Drew, Trent Richardson, and Stacy were all shutdown on 15+ carries. In his other game against them, Stacy had 15 carries for 15 yards. Mendenhall had a game of 13 carries for 22 yards. Peterson had 65 yards on 21 carries.

The Seahawks ranked first on defense by DVOA, points allowed, yards allowed, passing yards allowed, rushing yards allowed, and pass defense DVOA. They were seventh against the run by DVOA. When they won the Super Bowl, the Seahawks were phenomenal against the pass but that overshadowed a very good run defense.

In 2014, the Seahawks ranked first in points allowed, yards allowed, passing yards allowed, and DVOA, but they also saw a bump in run defense: second in yards per carry allowed, second against the run by DVOA. Jamaal Charles (159) and DeMarco Murray (115) were the only players to gain 100 yards against Seattle and Murray needed 28 carries. Of 18 players to get 10 carries against the Seahawks that year, 14 were held under three yards per carry. I repeat.

18 players got 10 carries against the Seahawks in 2014.

Three were held under 2 YPC

11 were held between 2-3 YPC

They had seven games where they held their opponent under 3 YPC

In 2015, they didn’t allow a single player to gain 100 rushing yards against them. James Starks led the way with 95 yards on 20 carries. Of five players to get 20+ carries, all but Starks were held under 4 YPC. Only one team all year long had more than 5 YPC against the Seahawks. They ranked first in rushing yards allowed and third by DVOA.

Seattle dropped to seventh in rushing yards allowed in 2016, but it was still one of their greatest strengths. The Seahawks remained third against the run by DVOA and were first in yards per carry allowed. David Johnson, Carlos Hyde, and Tim Hightower were the only three players to top 100 rushing yards, but they all barely got there. Johnson needed 33 carries to get 113 yards.

There was only one player during all of 2016 to get at least five carries and top five yards per carry against Seattle: Tyrod Taylor of the Buffalo Bills, a quarterback. He had 5.4 YPC on eight carries. No team topped five YPC against the Seahawks that season.

The Seattle Seahawks were very good against the run in 2013, but from 2014-2016 they were on another level. They allowed just five players to top 100 rushing yards and only one (Charles) to top 115. That’s fairly insane, right? At the same time, they had 22 players rush the ball at least 10 times in a game who failed to top 3 YPC.

As you know, 2017 was a step in the wrong direction.

Todd Gurley had 35 carries for 195 yards, Carlos Hyde had 31 for 171, while Murray and Leonard Fournette also topped 100. They still had a few shutdown games, but overall Seattle was more susceptible to getting shredded on the ground. Three teams topped 5 YPC and the 49ers had a game where they went over eight yards per carry.

The Seahawks ranked 13th on defense by DVOA, 14th against the run. They were 19th in rushing yards allowed and 14th in yards per carry. The team had lost plenty of familiar players before or during this season, including Sherman, Chancellor, and every defensive tackle I’ve mentioned up to this point. The personnel was very different and while Carroll and John Schneider focused their resources on a better running game, they just couldn’t give the same attention to the defense last year.

Seattle fell to 30th in yards per carry allowed in 2018. Seven players gained 100 yards, including Damien Williams and Jeff Wilson. Williams, Melvin Gordon, Christian McCaffrey, and Ezekiel Elliott topped 7 YPC on their 100-yard games and Gurley had 197 on 38 attempts.

The “shutdown” games almost completely disappeared. Matt Breida had one bad game and Jordan Howard had the other. But they weren’t nearly as awful as some of the games we had witnessed the Seattle defense deliver from 2012-2016. Not only had Thomas joined the departed after the first month, but Bennett was gone too, Ken Norton replaced Kris Richard as defensive coordinator, and K.J. Wright/Mychal Kendricks couldn’t stay eligible or healthy enough to take snaps at outside linebacker from anybody else.

And we spent so much time talking about the Seahawks “forcing” the run against the Dallas Cowboys in the wild card game that we put aside any debate as far as the impact Elliott had: 26 carries for 137 yards, including a key 44-yard run in the second quarter, the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, and Dak Prescott’s game-sealing 16-yard run with under three minutes left.

Whether it be on offense or defense, superior production with or against the run could have definitely helped Seattle reach the divisional round of the playoffs last year. But the defense also failed in that area and Carroll was out searching for answers again.

That’s been the main theme of the 2019 offseason. Which I’ll get to in part two, coming shortly.