RENTON -- The Seahawks will run the ball more in 2021.
Now before you get all apoplectic about that statement, there are reasons head coach Pete Carroll wants to see his team run the football more next season.
Carroll gave his final remarks of the season about the premature end of the team's playoff run in a 30-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday. The team will have the entire offseason to do a full autopsy on exactly what went wrong for a team that appeared to have a deeper January run ahead. But the thing immediately at the top of Carroll's mind is the need to run the ball more effectively so that they can dictate the game to their opponent and not the other way around.
"I want to see if we can run the ball more effectively to focus the play of the opponents and see if we can force them to do things like we'd like them to do more, like we have been able to do that in the past," Carroll said. "That doesn't mean we're going to run the ball 50 times a game. It means we need to run the ball with direction and focus and style that allows us to dictate the game. I mean I just, frankly, I'd like to not play against two-deep looks all season long next year. And so we have to be able to get that done. It's not just the running game. It is the style of passes that will help us some, but we have to get after it a little bit differently. As it unfolded in the end of the season, it became really obvious. In the last four or five games, it became really obvious."
The Seahawks didn't stop throwing the ball the second half of the year. They became a bad passing team. It wasn't for a lack of calling pass plays. In the second half of the season (post-Buffalo), the Seahawks continued to call passing plays on around 63 percent of their offensive plays. That number includes passing attempts, sacks, and scrambles from Russell Wilson since very few are designed runs anymore. A 63-37 pass-run ratio is still a very heavy pass lean. And yet, Wilson had four games with under 200 passing yards and the team became woefully more incapable of moving the football in the second half of the year.
The team became far more effective in the passing game against teams that played with two-deep coverages against them, either through Cover 2 variations or Cover 4. Three games against the league's best defense in the Los Angeles Rams factors into that. The New York Giants, Washington Football Team and San Francisco 49ers all had good defensive teams as well that followed a similar script.
“You can chase them out of it by beating them in their two-deep looks or you can chase them out by running the football and drawing them up,” Carroll said.
It makes sense, right? If defenses are playing one of their 11 defenders an extra 5-10 yards away from the line of scrimmage and only have six or seven defenders to try to stop the run, you should be able to find success running the ball. And if you can get them to commit that extra defender down closer to the line of scrimmage, more space will be created to throw the ball downfield, which is where Wilson truly excels.
Now that's not a cure-all either. When Seattle's offensive line gets dominated like it did Saturday by the Rams, a commitment to run the ball won't matter because they can't win the line of scrimmage even with one fewer guy in the box. And Seattle will need to find ways to be effective throwing against two-safety coverage schemes as well just in general because they'll face it regularly.
But there's no way to look beyond the cratering of the passing game in the second half of the year being a significant reason why the Seahawks season is now over.
Carroll added that the success of the passing game through the first half of the year may have made them too inelastic to adapt their plans later in the year.
"I feel like we lingered in that," Carroll said. "The kind of the glow of the first half of the season. As we needed to adjust a little bit, we didn't do it well enough, fast enough, to feel better about it.
"You can get stuck in running the football too much. You can get stuck on throwing the football. You can get stuck on how you throw the football and all that and so we just have to be more flexible. It's why balance is so important so that you have what you need when it's time to go to it. I think we weighted ourselves out of balance early in the year. It was so attractive throwing the football because Russ was 75 percent and we're rolling and we're scoring tons of points. It was fun. We liked it. We got lured into it a little bit."
While the Seahawks were still trying to throw the ball plenty, the efficiency plummeted. The team had just one 100-yard receiving game from a wide receiver in the second half of the year when DK Metcalf had 177 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles. Wilson had zero 300-yard passing games. His yards per attempt dropped from 8.5 over the first eight games to just 6.4 in the final eight games of the year. He had three games with completion percentages under 60 percent after having zero the first half the year. Saturday's loss to the Rams came with just 11 completions on 27 attempts and five sacks.
Carroll believes Wilson can be a 70-percent passer over the course of an entire season. Wilson nearly reached that mark this year, completing 68.8 percent of his passes in 2020. But he thinks running ball will help free up the passing game more as a needed complement.
“We have to run the ball better, not even better, we have to run it more. We have to dictate what’s going on with the people that we’re playing, and that’s one of the ways to do that," Carroll said.
Another area of focus will be getting better on third down again. Seattle opened Saturday's game against the Rams 0-for-8 on third down and were just 2-of-14 at the end of the day. Over the final nine games, Seattle was just 39.3 percent on third down. Over the last seven games, it was just 34.8 percent.
“That’s one of the primary areas that will allow us to run the ball more," Carroll said. “If you convert, you get more chances. … It’s running the football more effectively to control the scheme, and it’s third-down play. If you want to nail it down to, ‘OK that’s where Pete thinks it needs to go this offseason.’”
Certainly there will be more time for the Seahawks to deconstruct what happened for their offense in the weeks and months ahead. Personnel decisions will need to be made over how to best fit their plan. Chris Carson is a free agent. Carlos Hyde is a free agent. Greg Olsen could likely retire. Ethan Pocic and Mike Iupati are free agents. David Moore and Phillip Dorsett are free agents.
They need a third weapon on offense to play off of Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. The running back position would have questions if Carson isn't back. There's a lot to solve ahead. But as the offseason begins, Carroll has his impressions of what the team needs to do offensively to improve next year.
Get back to a more balanced attack on offense.
Photo Credit: SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - JANUARY 09: Russell Wilson #3 hands the ball off to Chris Carson #32 of the Seattle Seahawks during the second quarter against the Los Angeles Rams in an NFC Wild Card game at Lumen Field on January 09, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)