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Clayton: Seahawks’ switch to ‘cooking’ let NFL pass them by in run game

After back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, Chris Carson's carries were cut back in 2020. (Getty)

The Seahawks’ Super Bowl run ran out of gas.

How the Seahawks reacted to their shocking early playoff exit

Monday on 710 ESPN Seattle, Pete Carroll pointed at the lack of a running game as one of the reasons the Seahawks’ offense was so bad down the stretch. He said the Seahawks needed to run the ball more. He was right.

Now, there was more that factored into Saturday’s 30-20 playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams than the unwillingness to run the football more. Every position group played poorly and there were coaching mistakes and mental mistakes by players. Regardless, the wild-card loss turned a promising 2020 campaign into a lost year and a lost season.

Fans and players hopped aboard the “Let Russ Cook” formula. In the first half of the season, Russell Wilson was cooking and so was the offense. He was a first-half MVP. The offense at one point was averaging 34 points a game. But that early success ultimately helped to turn the offensive strategy into a failure.

Go back to the first five games. The Seahawks played Atlanta, New England, Dallas, Miami and Minnesota. Each team had good quarterbacks. That allowed the games to be turned into shootouts. Lost in the stats were how bad those defenses were. Atlanta and Minnesota were among the six worst defenses in the NFL. Dallas wasn’t far behind, finishing ranked 23rd in the league. Miami was 20th. New England was 15th.

Even though it was wise to adjust the offensive formula to get quicker plays early in the game and pass more on early downs, that became a problem for the second half of the season. Teams watched Russ cook and came up with different recipes to adjust. More two-deep zone formations were played. As long as teams could get pressure with a four-man rush, they could have seven defenders in coverage – five underneath – to limit the chances for long play-action passes while still having guys covered underneath.

Though DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett were to develop into perhaps the best one-two receiving punch in football, the Seahawks ended up passing the ball too many times. For the season, the Seahawks finished rushing the ball 40.2 percent of their snaps – 19th in the league – and throwing it 59.8 percent of the time. Too much.

The Seahawks fell into the pattern of not being able to convert third downs for most the season. Sure, the second half featured better defensive opponents than anyone expected, but Wilson held the ball too long on passing plays, resulting in more coverage sacks.

For the season, the Seahawks rushed the ball 411 times for 1,971 yards, but the numbers didn’t end up looking right. Missing four games, Chris Carson had 141 carries for 631 yards. Missing six games, Carlos Hyde had 81 carries for 356 yards. That’s a problem.

The Seahawks rode back-to-back seasons with Carson gaining over 1,000 yards, but in 2020 Carson and Hyde barely got over 1,000 yards combined (1,037). Carson averaged roughly 12 carries a game as the lead back compared to 18.5 in 2019.

The rushing numbers look a little better with Russell Wilson getting 531 yards on 83 carries, but the Seahawks need more than 100 yards a game from their running backs. They didn’t get it.

Four of the eight teams in the divisional playoffs were among the top seven is percentage of run, and you’d be surprised at who they are. Baltimore ran the ball 55.9 percent of the time. Not surprised – the Ravens are a running team. Cleveland went to more running and were fourth at 48.3 percent. The New Orleans Saints, believe it or not with head coach Sean Payton, were fifth at 47.3. It was surprising that the Green Bay Packers were seventh at 44.7.

Some of the best offensive minds in the game relied on the run.

The Seahawks let Russ cook, but the Seahawks need to turn down the heat and get better at running the football in 2021.

Follow John Clayton on Twitter.

Huard: Seahawks’ coaches deserve more blame than Wilson for offense

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