Every day between now and the start of Seahawks training camp, Seahawks.com will take a look at some of the team's most intriguing storylines, position battles and players heading into the 2018 season. Today, we touch on one of coach Pete Carroll's top priorities for 2018: getting the running game back on track. Tomorrow, we wrap things up with a look at where things stand in the secondary.
Two days after the season ended with the Seahawks out of the playoffs for the first time since 2011, Pete Carroll pointed to his team's running game as one of the most disappointing parts of the 2017 season.
"We have a real formula for how we win, and we've been unable to incorporate a major aspect of that, and that's to run the football the way we want," Carroll said in his year-end press conference. "There are tremendous examples around the league of teams that have turned their fortunes around, and they've turned it around with a formula that should sound familiar to you: teams running the football, teams playing good defense and doing the kicking game thing. That's the formula that has proven historically the best in this game. We have been committed to that from the start, but unfortunately we have not been able to recapture it the way we have in years past."
Then in March at the annual league meetings, Carroll again turned his focus to the running game, calling it “hugely important” that the Seahawks get back on track in that phase of the game after two straight subpar years of rushing offense.
"Our formula of the running game being an integral part of it is really the focus," Carroll said. "We've got to get that done. Without that, then we're still kind of in a mode where we don't feel as comfortable as we want to be. So it's hugely important. Somehow we've got to keep our running backs healthy. In the last few years it just has not been the factor for us, and it's been a problem even going back two years when Russell (Wilson) was hurt the whole year. So that needs to emerge as a significant part of our program, and everything else I think will fall into place."
Of course, talking about fixing the running game and actually doing it are two different things, and only time will tell if the Seahawks are able to get back to having one of the league's top rushing attacks, a staple of Carroll-led teams from 2012-2015. But the Seahawks have certainly made it clear this offseason—with actions, not just words—that they fully intend to get back to having a balanced offense that can count on a physical, explosive running game to help them win games.
Seattle's draft in particular highlighted the team's desire to improve the running game. The Seahawks not only took a running back, San Diego State's Rashaad Penny, in the first round, they also used their fourth-round pick on Will Dissly, who they viewed as the best blocking tight end in the draft. In free agency, the Seahawks added D.J. Fluker, a big, physical guard who could make a difference in the running game, as well as veteran tight end Ed Dickson, who has shown throughout his career the ability to help both in the passing game and running game.
"We were thinking there was a good chance that we might have a shot at a running back because it was a great draft for those guys, and then Will was exactly in tune to that," Carroll said after the draft. "Even in the offseason and the things that we've done, there are a number of things that are leading to (improving the running game). We gave ourselves a chance to get better, there's no question."
The Seahawks also hope changes to the coaching staff will help the running game and the offense as a whole. New offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer shares Carroll's belief that the best offense is a balanced one capable of beating teams in the air and on the ground, and the hope is that new offensive line coach Mike Solari can get the most out of an offensive line returning four starters from last season.
"I think the biggest thing with the running game is it starts with the guys up front," Schottenheimer said. "That physical mindset of 'Hey, we're going to control the line of scrimmage.' That's easier said than done. It's easy to have that mentality. I think a big part of it obviously is getting a guy like Mike Solari to come here and coach the offensive line. Lot of respect for Mike. He was with my father for a number of years. I coached with him for a year. The stable of backs we have here is exciting. But, when you emphasize things in coaching you normally get results. That's just something that we've talked about from the very beginning when I first started talking to Pete. That was something that you've got to have the ability to run the football when people know you are going to run the football. And when you lose that, you become one dimensional and that's hard. We're trying to find some different wrinkles. Find out who we are and different ways to attack people."
And while we're on the topic of the running game, it's worth reiterating that, despite Schottenheimer noting "you've got to have the ability to run the football when people know you are going to run the football," and despite Carroll's stated goal of improving the running game, the Seahawks' goal is not to be a stubbornly run-first offense. Despite some misperceptions, Carroll has never wanted to be a run-first coach or required that his teams have a certain run-to-pass-attempt ratio; rather he wants to have a team capable of moving the ball on the ground and through the air as the situation warrants it.
"That's why we talk about being a balanced attack at the end of the games," Carroll said late in the 2015 season when the Seahawks were on their way to finishing in the Top 4 of NFL rushing attacks for a fourth straight season. "Not always in the games; we don't go out just to establish the run. We've never said that in all of the years. I don't mind telling our opponent, we don't do that. We go out and try to win the game. If we play well, then you have your chances in the second half, and particularly in the fourth quarter to run the football and win the game in that manner. We love doing that. That's all part of it, if we're capable of that… It can be misleading, if you think, 'They're a run-first team and that's all they do.' I don't think that's what we're presenting to our opponents at all."
Whether it was Russell Wilson's injuries in 2015 or injuries at running back the past two seasons or inconsistent line play, the Seahawks have struggled to run the ball the past two seasons, finishing 25th in rushing offense in 2016 and 23rd last year. But with Penny joining the likes of Chris Carson, C.J. Prosise, Mike Davis and J.D. McKissic at running back, and with the line enjoying more continuity than it has had in years, and with new coaches bringing some fresh ideals, the Seahawks are confident that they can get back to being a team that can dominate on the ground when a game calls for it.
"We know what the formula is, we know what it takes, we just have to get ourselves back and feel that continuity," Carroll said. "So that'll be a big focus again, and the challenge begins. Here we go."
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Seahawks cornerback Neiko Thorpe and other NFL players are touring the United Kingdom this week to build excitement for the 2018 London Games. The Seattle Seahawks take on the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, October 14 at the soon-to-be-completed Tottenham Hotspurs' new stadium.