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The Seahawks' physical, punishing run game


"It's the way we want to play," said Pete Carroll toward the end of the 2013 season, "We want to be physical, we want to be tough, we want to attack you, we want to get after you, we want to make sure you know you've played a very hard football game; when you play our team, we're going to beat the hell out of you if we can."

The Seahawks' basic, overarching football strategy is to mix a physical, hard-hitting and turnover-creating defense with fast, sound, special teams and an unrelentingly tough offensive gameplan that focuses on limiting turnovers.

"This game of football has always been about the physical side of it," said Carroll at the team's recent Town Meeting. "It's always been about the aggressive, tough, take-care-of-the-ball mentality, built off the defense and special teams, but we closed the loop on toughness by being committed to the running game."

Closed the loop on toughness. It's now a full circle. It's all three phases. You get no respite.

"We're going to run it down their frickin' throat."

Based on the language that Carroll uses, combined with the track record and style of play-calling the Seahawks have employed, it's become my belief that the run game is about much more than simply gaining yards, picking up first downs, and it's not about finding ways to most easily move the football. It's not even primarily about efficiency or picking up explosive plays, which inevitably drives people crazy and makes Seattle's offense look anemic and two-dimensional at times. Explosive pass plays are a huge part of Carroll's program, but brute physicality is the main priority.

"You don't get that feeling when you're a throwing team," said Carroll. "You can't get that."

So, Carroll will never go to the Air-Raid offense, which would increase the frequency of explosive plays, nor will he likely employ mostly spread looks like Buffalo or Philly, which would very likely increase yards-per-carry and the frequency of explosive runs. That stuff will be mixed in, for sure, and they'll be a part of a robust game-plan, but at the core, Seattle does not want a finesse, space run game. That's why they almost exclusively stock their backfield with 220+ pound running backs. That's why they have two fullbacks, and drafted a third whose claim to fame is destroying facemasks.

Their run game, at its basic level, is about intimidation. Violence. Pain. Fear.


Pete Carroll is a shaggy-haired, outwardly gregarious surfer dude that grew up in hippy-haven San Francisco in the 60s, and is a guy that many still view as a glorified cheerleader. He's not, and in juxtaposition to his appearance and personality, his football philosophy is more akin to the strategies of a ruthless military general that mixes the application of Shock and Awe principles with Blitzkrieg tactics.

- Shock and Awe (overwhelming and unrelenting physicality in all three phases), vis-a-vis the Roman Legions (of boom): "The ability to deter and overpower an adversary through the adversary's perception and fear of his vulnerability and our own invincibility."

- The Blitzkrieg (emphasis on precision shots downfield and the 'big play' while avoiding turnovers, aka casualties), vis-a-vis, the German Wehrmacht - "the intent was to apply precise, surgical amounts of tightly focused force to achieve maximum leverage but with total economies of scale."

There was a discussion about this in a recent article thread, and Field Gulls author Jason Drake summed up my thoughts on the Carrollosophy perfectly. Right or wrong, I think this is exactly what Pete Carroll believes to be true:

When you run the ball, your quarterback isn't taking shots after throwing.

Your receivers aren't taking shots after catches.

Your linemen aren't backpedaling and reacting to the opposition's best past rush moves.

Your linemen and your wide receivers get to do the pushing, shoving, and punishing, and they're doing it against a defender who is more focused on getting away and looking for the ball carrier than he is on pushing and shoving back.

Carroll: "We want to be physical, we want to be tough, we want to attack you, we want to get after you, we want to make sure you know you've played a very hard football game; when you play our team, we're going to beat the hell out of you if we can."


I believe this is the strategic value that Carroll is looking for: To be the one dishing it out rather than taking it, so your team is stronger over the short span (the rest of today's game) and healthier over the long span (the rest of the season).

I think any type of running back will do, so long as he is effective. Marshawn's punishing style is a little better, but he's only putting in a good shot on an opposing defender about once every two plays. It's what the blockers and blockees are doing that makes up the bulk of the difference (as opposed to passing).

Carroll: "You don't get that feeling when you're a throwing team. You can't get that."


However, any type of run won't necessarily do.

If you're doing sweeps with pulling guards or running back screens, your offensive linemen are having to run more. If you do draw plays (a run disguised as a pass), then all of the other interactions mimic those of a pass play.

Of course, you want some variety to keep the defenders off balance. But the mainstay of running plays should not focus on tricking the defenders into being out of position, because that means they aren't getting hit and it invites them to play a reactionary-but-aggressive style.

For the most part, you want every one of your nine guys up front to be beating on an opposing defender right off the snap.

Carroll: "We want to attack you, we want to get after you, we want to make sure you know you've played a very hard football game; when you play our team, we're going to beat the hell out of you if we can."

Jazzaloha replied to Drake with some salient thoughts on the psychological power of this philosophy, which, I have no doubt, Pete Carroll believes in strongly (as a former psychology major who employs a team psychologist).

This is a passing league now (although some teams are going against the grain), and that has obscured the fact that football is a physical game - a game that that can be described as "macho." I really don't think myself as a macho guy (and I'm really not into that in many ways), but the truth of the matter, to put it bluntly, is that football is about kicking your opponent's ass.

Yes, football involves intelligence, subterfuge and speed, but deep down the game is about physically trying to dominate an opponent. If that happens - if one team physically manhandles another - that isn't just a physical triumph, but a psychological one. You can crush an opponent's spirit that way, and once that happens, victory is close at hand.

(I think this partly explains what happened in the Super Bowl.)

When a team is beaten by cleverness and subterfuge or shifty and explosive speed, that can definitely discourage a team, but it's not as demoralizing as being physically overwhelmed by an opponent.

On offense, that usually occurs from the running game. The RB, in such an offense, need not have a physical running style like Marshawn, but it helps - and it helps a lot. When Marshawn batters defenders, when defenders bounce off him, when several fail to bring him down - he's not just dishing out physically, but he's assaulting their manhood. To beat an opponent in this way, is a huge victory in my view.

Also, consider this: what do you, as a fan, feel when you see Marshawn run that way? I'm excited, but it's more than that. I would get excited by an ankle-breaking run by McCoy, too, but the excitement and enthusiasm are different. One of those patented Beast mode runs invokes something primal, almost violent; it gets your juices flowing, making you want to hit someone. I have to believe it has a similar effect on teammates (and not just the offensive players).


I'll pose it another way. When I imagine a matchup with the San Francisco 49ers, who happen to have a similar philosophy, what do I worry about? Their precision passing attack or the threat of getting their players in space or to the edge? No. I worry about their ability to punch you in the face, repeatedly, for 12 rounds. Wear you down, wear you down, wear you down, and wear you down until you make a huge mistake. Or get injured.

The Niners are a very intimidating football team. Not because of Colin Kaepernick or Michael Crabtree, but because of Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman, Justin Smith, Ahmad Brooks, their fearsome offensive line and Frank Gore.

I think this is the image that Carroll and company want for the Seahawks. I don't think Carroll and John Schneider care if people are afraid of Russell Wilson, or Doug Baldwin, or even Percy Harvin. Those guys 'fit in' to what they're doing, but basically, they want you to fear Marshawn Lynch, their offensive line, their defensive line, and their Legion of Boom.

Said John Schneider, shortly after re-signing Marshawn Lynch to a new contract:

"When we got here, we talked about an identity, and creating an identity, and getting ourselves into a position where we were a consistent championship caliber football team. In order to do that in this league, you need to knock people around. You need to play strong, tough, smart, physical football."

"We thought, in acquiring Marshawn, that he would add that, not only on the field, but in the locker room as well and in the way he practices. He's done that, and you're always concerned about the way running backs don't hold up from a durability standpoint, but this guy - he is a seriously tough individual. He's the kind of guy that only knows one way to run, and that rubs off on the other guys, the other players here. It rubs off on our defense."