A lot of attention has been paid to Pete Carroll’s emphasis of the running game, with his acquisition of another bruising back in Robert Turbin, and his stated philosophy of putting a tough, punishing rushing team on the field. But a quick check of the league’s 2011 statistics reveals a few interesting realities.
The top running teams in the league are not all that common among the 12 playoff teams. The top 2 rushing teams, Denver and Texas were playoff teams. But the number 3 team was Carolina which finished well out of the running. In fact only 5 of the 12 playoff teams were top 12 rushing teams. So where did Seattle fall last year? Most people wouldn’t think this if asked that question, but Seattle finished just 21st out of 32 in rushing in 2011. Interestingly, 2011 Super Bowl loser New England was just 20th in rushing. Even more surprising, Super Bowl winner NY Giants were dead LAST in rushing.
So, it must be the passing game that leads to the playoffs, right? Well, not so fast. While it’s true more passing teams (7) were in the top 12 last year, there were 5 who were not in the top 12 in passing (the same 5 who were top 12 rushing teams). Last years surprise team the SF 49ers, were 29th in receiving yards. The Ravens, Texans, Broncos, and Bengals were also not in the top 12 in receiving but made the playoffs. Many other top receiving teams including Carolina, San Diego, Tennessee, Dallas, Philadelphia, and Oakland finished out of contention.
So what gives? Do the Seahawks need to be a good rushing team or a good passing team to make the playoffs in 2012?
The answer is; Both would be nice. They could be top 12 in rushing and mediocre in the passing game and possibly make it to the post season. Or they could be top 12 in passing and mediocre in rushing and have a slightly better chance of making it. But the best chance the Hawks have at making the post season, looking strictly at Offensive performance, is to have a more balanced output. A top 10 finish in rushing and perhaps a top 15 in passing might do it. That would put them in Steelers/Falcons/Lions territory.
This analysis doesn’t take into consideration the Defensive and Special Teams statistics, so the Hawks could help themselves, as did San Francisco last year by having a top 5 Defense . That obviously will produce wins even with low to middle of the pack Offensive stats. So given where the Seahawks were at the end of last year, where did Pete Carroll put his resources?
Well, Offensively, he definitely upgraded the QB position with the addition of Wilson and Flynn. He added a playmaker in Braylon Edwards at WR. He drafted another bruising RB in Turbin to back up Lynch to avoid those Cleveland games of last year. The O-line didn’t necessarily improve, but they seem at least as good as last year’s bunch and did get a little younger by getting rid of Robert Gallery. If Carpenter makes an early return at Guard around mid season he could give a timely boost to the offense.
The only thing to do now is wait and see if the new additions perform as expected. The receiving corps, particularly Golden Tate, will need to show marked improvement over last year. Edwards will have to show why he made the team using his height and jumping ability and Sydney Rice needs to live up to his reputation. The running game improved the last half of last season and should continue to get better as the blocking gels. If Carroll’s changes can propel the Seahawks into the top 12 either rushing or receiving, playoffs are within the realm of possibility. If they finish in the top 12 in both, as only the Saints did last season, and the defense is top 5 or 6 as expected, their odds of going to the playoffs skyrockets. An early season win over one or two of last years playoff teams should be an indicator of things to come.