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Run Game Review: Rashaad Penny against the Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Week 1 is in the books, and the Seattle Seahawks sit in a three way tie with the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams atop the NFC West after narrowly defeating the Cincinnati Bengals 21-20. The Seahawks run game struggled at times against a Bengals defense playing its first game under a new coaching staff after finishing 26th against the run by DVOA in 2018. Obviously, a change is scheme and coaching can make a world of difference, so it remains to be seen exactly what led to the struggles during Week 1, but we can go ahead and look at how each of the running backs did carrying the ball against the Bengals defense.

We’ll get to lead back Chris Carson later today, but to start we’ll take a look at all of the carries by second year man Rashaad Penny. In contrast to the preseason where one hundred percent of his carries were between the tackles, the Seahawks got Penny to the edge on his first rushing attempt. Unfortunately, the team then went back to calling runs between the tackles for Penny, and he ended the game with six carries for 18 yards.

Here are a look at all six of his official carries.

Obviously, the best run of the day was the one that didn’t count because it was called back on a holding penalty on Germain Ifedi. We can talk a little bit more in depth about that one because it was a combination of multiple factors that led to both the bounce outside and the holding call. So, here’s the video of the carry before we get into discussing it.

In watching this play, obviously, what leads to the holding call is Ifedi failing to disengage as Penny runs to the outside. This is something that Ifedi has, of course, struggled with during his career, with the majority of the holding penalties over the course of his three plus years in Seattle coming on plays where a ball carrier runs to the outside right side of the offensive formation and Ifedi fails to disengage. That exact situation is what has led to the majority of holding calls against him on passing plays during his career, and has been the direct cause of both of the holding penalties called on him on a running play. The first came on a similar run by Penny against the 49ers in Week 13 of 2018. Here’s that clip.

Now, that’s not to try and excuse Ifedi from blame for this penalty. His failure to release his block when there is a runner working to the outside is well documented, and is something he’s certainly improved upon when Wilson is scrambling, but he appears to be going downhill when Penny gets the ball.

In any case, getting back to the play against the Bengals on which the hold was called, it appears as though the initial area where Penny wanted to run - into the gap between Pocic and Britt - was thoroughly closed down by Cincinnati. His options are a cutback into a completely unblocked Carlos Dunlap, or to proceed to the opposite side of the line.

On the opposite side of the line D.J. Fluker appears to have an opportunity to open a gaping hole for Penny, but that he whiffs in the second level against Preston Brown. Brown, while much lighter than Fluker, is one of those unheralded run stoppers who has just a single sack in his career, but who averaged 126 tackles a season for the Buffalo Bills during the four years he spent there before seeing his 2018 season shortened due to a knee injury. In any case, Fluker whiffing against Brown is not all that big a surprise.

Fluker is a fantastic run blocker when he gets his giant bear paws on the defender, but Fluker lacks the athleticism and explosiveness of a player like Brown who is very adept at stopping the run. He’s no Bobby Wagner, but since 2014 he’s seventh in tackles among all NFL linebackers, in spite of having spent more than half of 2018 on injured reserve. Thus, Brown simply slides out of the way of Fluker’s block, fills the hole and forces Penny to make a choice between running into a filled hole or bouncing to the outside. Now, watching Penny’s feet for the duration of the play, it appears as though at no point did he intend to run up behind Fluker through the hole, so it may not have actually been much of a choice.

That said, had Fluker landed a clean block on Brown and had Penny cut it up inside, it had some potential. That said, Fluker obviously missed the block and Penny took it to the outside, leading to the holding call. So, whether one wishes to blame the outcome of that poor run on either Ifedi or Fluker, at the end of the day the failure on that play falls to the offensive line because Penny did what he could, while the line failed to do its job. Perhaps, on could argue, that if Ifedi releases from his block a split second earlier, the end makes a better play on Penny leading to him being tackled in the flat. However, we’ll never know because basically the entire line failed. The left side of the line collapsed under the Bengals defense, Fluker then whiffed on his block and Ifedi then held his man.

Penny did his best, but even his best couldn’t make up for failures at basically every spot on the line.