By Danny O’Neil
If the NFL season is a marathon, the Seahawks need to work on their closing kick.
Seattle isn’t picking up speed as it nears the finish line. At least not like you’d expect in the one offensive category that is only the most important for this team: rushing.
Marshawn Lynch has averaged 54.5 yards rushing and 3.2 yards per carry over the last four games even though the Seahawks’ offensive line has returned to full strength. (AP)
It has been four games and counting since Marshawn Lynch surpassed 100 yards rushing, and he’s averaging 3.2 yards per carry in that span. It’s a trend that is not necessarily as troubling as it is puzzling because the Seahawks seemed to have lost a step at precisely the moment you would have expected them to pick up speed.
Russell Okung is back at left tackle. Has been for the past four games. Same for Breno Giacomini at right tackle, and while the pass protection has improved remarkably since they came back, the rushing production has waned.
Over the first 10 games, Seattle averaged 153.4 yards rushing per game, 4.65 yards per carry. Over the last four: 110 yards per game, 3.58 per carry.
Not exactly the best time to be hosting the No. 1 rush defense in the league, which is exactly where the Cardinals rank.
We pause now to inject a little bit of perspective. This is the football equivalent of first-world problems. Call it a first-place problem, and before we get hip deep in hand-wringing, let it be stated that Seattle has rushed for more yards than every team but the Eagles while Lynch has already surpassed 1,000 yards rushing for the third consecutive season.
But on a team that has allowed a grand total of 19 yards in punt returns, made 21 consecutive field goals and is on pace to set a franchise record for fewest points allowed for the second consecutive year, penalties and these rushing “struggles” are the closest thing Seattle has to a sore spot.
“I think we’re OK,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We’re still going to pound away at it and keep working, keep getting our numbers and attempts up there. It’s just a matter of breaking one that means the difference in those stats sometimes.”
He’s not wrong about that. Two Seahawks penalties nullified rushing first downs in the game against the 49ers, one of them a 20-yard gain by Lynch.
But the running game is the foundation of Seattle’s offense. Not only does it echo the physical style that Carroll wants to see from his defense, but it’s what sets up the play-action pass that is such a staple in Seattle’s offense.
This is hardly a secret, and for the past three weeks it’s possible to see a concerted effort from defenses to stop the run above everything else, a fact that probably has been reinforced because the improved pass protection has made quarterback Russell Wilson less of a target for opposing defenses.
But that doesn’t change the fundamental formula Seattle relies upon nor the importance of getting back up to speed in the ground game that is so important for everything this team does.
“Our attitude about it is right,” Carroll said. “We’re on it and consistent with it, so I’m fine about it. We would like to get more production and I would think that it would happen.”
That’s certainly the expectation. Then again, you would expect the return of the team’s two starting offensive tackles would have provided the requisite giddy-up for the running game, and that hasn’t been the case.