Since 2007, I've been reviewing almost every Seahawks run play in slow motion on my DVR over at the Northwest Sports Talk Forum under the alias, CamasMan. (I just posted my analysis of the Rams Game there.) Brandon invited me to join this blog and I immediately accepted. Is there a better title than 17 Power for a blog analyzing the Seahawks' running game?
Here some background. I'm the height and weight of a wide receiver, have the hands of a linebacker, the speed of a nose tackle, the tactical savvy of a long snapper, and the toughness of a place kicker. So, in organized sports, I'm a breaststroker. I was never meant to play football.
I first became an obsessed fan back when Bill Walsh first became the 49er's head coach. My best friend's dad had been Walsh's roommate at San Jose State. So here we were, a bunch of young guys in LA, rooting for San Francisco. Hey, timing is everything. A few years later, my young family moved to Grass Valley in Northern California, and the ride continued. In '96, we moved up here to Camas, and watched more High School ball than the pros. I happened to catch Game 5 of Seattle's 2005 season, and quickly became hooked. Again, timing is everything. Screw the '9ers!
In 2007, I was embarrassed that our fans were calling for Alexander's head. Sure, his numbers fell off, but show the man some respect! I wanted to know the cause, and had just gotten an HD DVR, so I started my DVR Running Game Analysis on the NWSportsTalk Forum. It didn't take long before I saw that our line wasn't getting it done. We had busted plays, shedded blocks, no push, defenders in the backfield - and the occasional big run to keep our averages from hitting the basement. Big Walt still played well. Locklear was mixed - he might have a stinker of a game one week, but play perfectly the next. I had a hard time evaluating Spencer. Sims was inconsistent. Gray was clearly weak and soon retired.
Alexander was often criticized for not being a bruiser, but my numbers showed that defenses needed more men to bring him down than they did Mo Morris. Looking back, the problem was that Alexander was a patient, vision kind of back, and the few holes that appeared didn't stay open. We were slow off the ball, and the longer the play clock ticked, the more our line crumbled. Patience was not a virtue for a Seattle running back in 2007.
Lest one think patient backs stink, DeMarco Murray was patient and used vision, and he gouged our normally stout run defense pretty badly. He's a good match in Dallas, but he would have been smothered in Seattle four seasons ago.
Regardless of fault, Alexander wasn't getting any younger and was out of Seattle and soon out of football. But our numbers got even worse as we brought in Julius Jones, a parade of left guards, Mike Solari as line coach, and had to fill the vacancy left by Walter Jones. My DVR analysis continued to show that we were weak between the tackles, and that Locklear had good days and bad. On our "good" days we'd continue to have a string of bad plays and the occasional big play. And long third downs. And three and outs. On "bad" days, it was the same, but without the bursts. Our defense didn't get much rest.
Come 2010 and we drafted a new left tackle, but a long contract negotiation and a teammate falling on his ankle kept Okung from getting up to speed quickly. But Okung clearly had talent. We also had Alex Gibbs as the new line coach, until we didn't. We still had a revolving door at left guard. I liked Hamilton's ability to go after linebackers. Andrews was big, but too big to get to the second level and engage. We had a weapon in Carlson - a tight end who contributed to the running game. He didn't get a reputation as a good blocker, but I found that he was especially effective at slashing behind the line to push out defensive ends. We had a new fullback in Michael Robinson, but he was pretty green at the position and as often as not, our interior linemen would lose their blocks just as Robinson ran by. We continued to have lost blocks, busted plays, and zero push up the middle. Lynch arrived and showed us what a bruising, downhill runner looked like, but his best ability seemed to be improvising in the backfield when the line screwed up. At least we were getting gains of one on plays where we used to suffer three yard losses. Beast Quake (on a play call of 17 Power) was the highlight of the season, but the running game still depended too much on breakaway runs, rather than consistency.
In 2011, we cleaned house and went young on the line. It didn't help right out of the box. We looked terrible in preseason games as well as the first games of the season. Injuries continued to haunt us, and the line looked like the Keystone Cops. We had gone from weak to incompetent over a strike shortened off season. TJ was getting hammered on pass plays. Beast Mode was caged on run plays. Previously elusive Forsett hardly saw the ball and when he did, he was met in the backfield where he couldn't elude anybody. Washington had a bit more success on pitches and screens to the outside. But all the while, things looked different to me. When the linemen weren't looking stupid, they were looking stronger than we had looked before. We had a number of guys who could get to a linebacker, engage, and sustain a block. I was optimistic.
We played well in New York - and the win was great! - but it was still feast or famine. Again, our good yardage and YPC numbers depended on the big play. I missed the "Ohio" games due to international travel and didn't have the heart to go back and analyze those losses. The '9ers were surging, and I figured that we were toast.
Then, in Dallas, something changed. Our linemen stopped making boneheaded mistakes. They were using better technique. You could see exactly how the line play was designed. Right and left zone and slash plays were easy to see. We were executing. And, we were doing it with push. It was clear that our guys were "getting it." And that confident play led to getting off the ball quickly. And that gave us more leverage. That leverage led to push. And all of a sudden, we were getting strings of 3, 4, and 5 yard runs. That led to more runs, and more confidence, rhythm, and speed. This looked nothing like any Seahawks running game I had charted since that first time I opened a football spreadsheet in 2007. Hallelujah! (Too bad our run D and quarterback play didn't match our running quality. That was a game we could have won.)
Surely, we wouldn't continue that against the Ravens. Yet we did. Even with Moffitt out for the year in the first quarter. Yes, their D is great. They limited us to a long of eight yards. But our offensive line was able to deliver consistent three and four yard runs. I was extremely impressed by Jeanpierre as well as the rest of our running game.
As I see it, the line is responsible for plays between -3 and +2 yards. The running back is responsible for everything else. Our backs have been good enough to deliver the occasional break away, but our line wasn't able to deliver those consistent first two yards. Now we are.
Except Jeanpierre won't play as we need to play it safe with our backup center. McQuistan isn't bad, but until the Rams game we had only seen him as part of our "bad" line. Carpenter is out. Can Breno hold down the spot against a strong defense? Personally, I think our running game depends more on our inside three than the tackles, so I expect us to be okay. I just hope he can do his job well enough to keep TJ upright.
We regressed a bit against the Rams, but that's to be expected. We were running behind yet another group of starters who hadn't played before. The inconsistency was back, but not where you would expect it. Giacomini played surprisingly well. McQuistan started out weak, but tightened up his game in the second half. Okung was mostly solid as were our tight ends. If anything, Gallery had the toughest game, and Unger bungled more blocks than is normal for him. They might have still been a bit beat up from the Ravens game.
Now we have the Redskins coming to town. Hopefully, Gallery and Unger get back to recent form. McQuistan should start feeling more comfortable on the right side. Let's hope Giacomini continues his solid play. They'll have the 12th Man on their side. I'm not too worried about yards per carry. I want to see us get that consistent push back - and I want to see it continue.