When Pete Carroll arrived in Seattle in 2010 it was easy to be skeptical about his style.
He was perpetually upbeat about his team. He talked about how hard they would always compete (which a cynic might point out feels like a given in the NFL). He had a relentlessly positive intensity and a desire to find the upside and the fun in everything he did. Seahawks training camp practices featured DJs and ice cream. He seemed to have the ability to relate to players almost 40 years younger than he was and it was easy (at least for me) to wonder how long his rah-rah style would work with professional athletes.
Late in Carroll’s first training camp, the Seahawks cut Craig Terrill. I knew Terrill well enough to call him to see what I could learn about the new coach. I asked him if guys were buying in to Carroll’s somewhat unorthodox (at least in the stodgy NFL) style.
“Oh, yeah,” Terrill responded enthusiastically. “That’s why I’m so disappointed I got cut. I want to be a part of what he’s doing here.”
I immediately dropped my skepticism about Carroll and found myself wondering where things might end up if a coach who seemed to value fun above almost everything else could have success. (Speaking of fun, it’s fun to note that Terrill was signed back by the Hawks about a week later and spent his final season in the NFL on the 2010 team that upset New Orleans in the playoffs.)
Years later, no reasonable person would have doubts about Carroll’s style working. But there remains an interesting paradox in the way he does business. Despite all the non-traditional ideas he’s successfully incorporated into the Seahawks culture, when it comes to game day Carroll is about as traditional as it gets for an NFL coach. Since his arrival, the foundation of the success the Seahawks have achieved has been primarily due to two basic things: they’ve been very good at running the ball and playing defense.
In 2017 they are trying to stay atop the NFL despite the fact that the defense (particularly against Tennessee and Houston) has been leaky. And they’re trying to stay atop the NFL despite the fact that the running game (particularly against everyone they’ve played) has been non-existent.
Seven games into the season the Seahawks inability to run the ball is trending towards their worst overall numbers since Carroll’s first season. That 2010 team finished 31st in the NFL in rushing. 10 times they rushed for 91 yards or less. In a loss to Kansas City, they managed just 20 yards on the ground on 12 carries.
The 2017 team has already had four games with 90 yards or less on the ground including last week’s pitiful 33 yards against Houston. They are on a pace right now to have just over 1550 yards rushing this season which would be less than last year’s total of 1591 which ranked them 25th in the league.
Enter new Seahawks tackle Duane Brown.
The default reaction to the news of the trade that brought Brown to Seattle from Houston this week for many fans was to think about it in terms of pass protection. The Hawks have relied on Russell Wilson for a long time and never more so than this season. The line’s ability to protect him has improved in the past few weeks and that, combined with Wilson’s Jack Bauer-like ability to worm his way out of difficult situations, has kept him upright and productive. Brown’s arrival should do nothing but improve the protection situation.
But he’s also considered one of the best run blockers in the NFL and has been a part of some very productive rushing teams during his time with the Texans. Houston has finished in the top 10 in team rushing in six of the past eight seasons. It may be asking for too much from Brown to lift the Hawks into a top 10 rushing team this year, but if they can improve a little they will greatly increase their chances for success in what continues to look like a wide-open NFC race.
That improvement, if it starts this week vs Washington, will come from Eddie Lacy. After a few weeks of splitting carries the Hawks sound like they are committed to trying to get Lacy going this week. Lacy is a long way (and a few pounds) from the guy who had back-to-back 1100+ yard rushing seasons in his first two years in the NFL with Green Bay. His time in Seattle could be charitably described as unproductive but with no one else on the roster able to grab the running back position and make it work Lacy becomes the option for this week.
Washington’s defense has been pretty good against the rush so any small sign of improvement in the Hawks ground attack this week should be taken as a positive.
It’s also worth noting that Washington has been average at best at running the football this season. So, if neither team can run, and both teams start pitching it all over the field, we could be in for another high scoring thrill-fest this Sunday. When last week’s game ended, Brown couldn’t have known he would be back at Century Link Field this week. But he is, and his presence on the Hawks line for the final nine games of the regular season could be massively impactful.