On exit day, WR Doug Baldwin said the run-game failures were critical, but not the fault of OC Darrell Bevell. Left unsaid was the need for Russell Wilson to rein in his romps.
The Seahawks did it. They set a record.
For the first time since the adoption in 1978 of the 16-game schedule, Seattle is the first team to go a whole season with just a single rushing touchdown from its crew of running backs.
As a team, they had four rushing TDs, but three were by QB Russell Wilson, who also was the leading rusher in 2017 with 586 yards, or 35 percent of the team’s total yards on the ground.
This to brought to your attention because WR Doug Baldwin was trying explain Monday how the absence of a running game upended a season that concluded without Seattle in the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
He knows it, and fans know it. But he harkened back to a comparison with the 2013 team that crushed the Broncos in the Super Bowl to help illustrate the depth of decay.
“Run game and defense have been (coach Pete Carroll’s) philosophy since he’s been here,” Baldwin said Monday at the VMAC in Renton, where an air of melancholy attended the clean-out day for players heading into an unusually long off-season. “The prime example was the Super Bowl. We were able to do what we wanted to do offensively. Defensively, against Peyton Manning, the Broncos scored eight points. If you took our offense out of the game, the defense wins by itself because it scored a touchdown and got a safety.
“It comes down to us being who we say we are.”
Only in spurts in 2017 were the Seahawks true to what made them.
To carry the 2013 analogy a bit further, RB Marshawn Lynch had 1,257 yards rushing for a team that finished fourth in the NFL in per-game average. The 2017 Seahawks finished 23rd, with a team total of 1,629. Lynch had 12 rushing touchdowns by himself.
Wilson in 2013 ran for a comparable number of yards (539 over 96 carries; this year 586 over 95). But the No. 3 rusher, fullback Robert Turbin, rushed for 260 yards. This season’s running back leader, Mike Davis, had 240.
Think about that. In 2013, Turbin was an after-thought breather for Lynch. In 2017 he would have seemed like a poor man’s Walter Payton.
As media and fans begin to pick apart the woes that left the Seahawks out of postseason party, the injuries and salary cap problems on defense seem to loom larger. But running game repair is order No. 1.
Until the Seahawks regain control of the ground, they likely will be wandering in a desert of 7-9, 8-8 and 9-7 seasons.
It is easy to lament the slow game starts, but the fact is that the 2013 team did the same thing, scoring 69 points in the first quarter, just 13 more than this year. The problem this season was that opposing defenses didn’t have to account throughout games for threats posed by a running game that was not even half the caliber of the Lynch era.
The dependency on Wilson’s sandlot scrambles to get back into games was like a sugar high instead of meat-and-potatoes protein. And it made worse an already suspect O-line because blockers often didn’t know in what direction to drive pass rushers during a free-lance escapade. That’s a big part of how the Seahawks led the league in penalties: Holding calls made in desperation.
Nor was the weak production necessarily the province of offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, the popular target of fan abuse when plays go awry. In fact, Baldwin grew salty Monday when asked whether the offense has become more risk-averse over time. He chided reporters for not watching more game film.
“I wish I could can say more, but I’m not going to — obviously I’m frustrated because we lost,” he said. “I wish you’d do your job. I’m not saying this to piss you off or be an asshole. Investigate and watch f—— film.
“It’s not playcalling. We go into a game knowing what the defense is going to give us, and we don’t execute as a team. We’ve seen countless times we do not execute the way we should. That’s on us as players. You guys can blame Bev all you want to, but the truth is Bev is not the problem. I’ve probably already said too much.”
What he said, however, was important, and unlikely to be harmful to the club’s protect-the-team mantra. The fact is that Wilson, somewhat understandably given the physical abuse he’s taken over six years, isn’t getting rid of the ball quickly enough and reverts too often to running backward or sideways instead of stepping up in the pocket.
Opponent scouting reports take his tendencies into account and develop pressures to induce errant throws or shorter run gains. It isn’t necessary to get sacks or interceptions as much as it is to make him miss a beat. In the second half of the season, he missed quite a few beats. All those three-and-outs keep the meter running on a Seahawks defense whose stars keep getting older and more hurt.
It all comes back to the run. The good news for the Seahawks is that they have on hand some potential fixes that don’t cost money or draft choices.
Returns to health next season of LT George Fant, WR Tyler Lockett and RB Chris Carson, while also driving ownership of his own shortcomings by Wilson, offer the possibility of reaching NFL-average competency.
Variables remain, such as what to do at left guard, where Luke Joeckel often showed that he was damaged goods because of a surgically reconstructed knee, and at tight end, where Jimmy Graham was too often orphaned on his own island.
But if Wilson can be persuaded to replicate more frequently the drive that opened the second half Sunday — an 80-yarder that included six plays of eight or more yards — the leap to relative efficiency no longer has the feel of spanning the Grand Canyon.
“I think (the problems) are very solvable,’’ Baldwin said. “I think it just comes with a different focus, different mentality. Maybe just more self-evaluation, and understanding who we are as men, first and foremost, in this locker room. Or in this building, I should say, and growing from there.’’
Correcting himself to add “in this building” was meant to include the coaching staff, just in case anyone misconstrued his endorsement of Bevell.
“It’s frustrating because we have so much talent on this team capable of doing much more this year,” Baldwin said. “We didn’t do it.
“The trend we’re now on is not good.”
Neither is it inevitable, nor does it involve blowing things up.