JOHN CLAYTON

Dedication, health in running game should help Seahawks offense pick up steam

Oct 19, 2016, 9:27 AM
The eventual return of running back Thomas Rawls should help bolster the Seahawks offense. (AP)...
The eventual return of running back Thomas Rawls should help bolster the Seahawks offense. (AP)
(AP)

Considering the challenges in the first five games, it may seem a little surprising to see the Seahawks ranking No. 16 in total offense.

That puts them in the middle of the pack and would be considered average, which is pretty good considering what happened in the team’s first five games.

Clayton: Seahawks’ remaining schedule no longer as tough as it first seemed

Quarterback Russell Wilson operated most of those games on two bad legs, suffering an MCL and high ankle sprain. The offensive line is young and was not in sync, plus faced tough defensive lines that were bad match-ups. The Miami Dolphins have Ndamukong Suh. The Los Angeles Rams have Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn. The line did a good job of containing the New York Jets’ vaunted group.

Let’s look at the numbers.

Wilson has been the main star. He completed 65.9 percent of his passes for 1,334 yards and five touchdowns despite his limited mobility. He’s on pace for his second 4,000-plus yard season as long as he can stay healthy.

Because he hasn’t had the speed to run to the outside, he’s had to make the best of it in the pocket, where he ranks fourth in the league in terms of QBR, the ESPN stat that judges every throw and every decision. So far, he has an 81.1 QBR, has been a 69.8 percent passer and has completed 30 of 43 passes, gaining 8.02 yards per attempt. He’s also only been sacked three times in the pocket.

Wide receiver Doug Baldwin has had a great start to the season, too, with 28 catches for 361 yards and two touchdowns.

Perhaps the biggest story, though, is tight end Jimmy Graham hurrying back from a ruptured patellar tendon injury and posting big numbers in the past three games. Graham has 22 catches for 355 yards and one touchdown. Some wondered if Graham would come back with the same speed as before. That’s not an issue. He’s averaging 16.1 yards a catch, which is 3.6 yards per catch more than his career average. He’s making big plays that no one thought he would this soon. The next mission is to make him more useful in the red zone.

The other big need is to improve the running game, and that should take place over the next month. Because Wilson’s leg injuries keep him from being much of a running threat, teams can defense the Seahawks differently to stop the run. As a result, the Seahawks are averaging only 88.8 rushing yards per game. The O-line was a problem early, but that unit is getting better. Injuries have played another role, with last year’s starter Thomas Rawls and rookie C.J. Prosise combining for only 20 carries.

Christine Michael has saved the day. Imagine where Seattle’s running game would be without him. The former second-round pick has rushed for 354 yards on 81 carries, putting him on pace for a 1,000-yard season. His 4.4 yards per carry is solid and his 5.33 yards after contact is fifth best in the league.

As head coach Pete Carroll said Monday, the problem with the running game is the lack of attempts. The Seahawks have run the ball on 42.6 percent of the plays and Carroll would like it to be closer to 50 percent. They average 37.8 pass plays to 28 running plays.

It’s a work in progress but the offense expects to progress over the next several weeks as the running backs get healthier, Wilson gets healthier and the line gets more time together.

Want more John Clayton? Listen on-demand to his weekday and Saturday shows as well as his “Cold Hard Facts” and “Clayton’s Morning Drive” segments on 710 ESPN Seattle. Also, check out his all-new “Schooled” podcast and look for his columns twice a week on 710Sports.com.

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Dedication, health in running game should help Seahawks offense pick up steam