Seahawks: Could offense be better without Lynch?


History tells us that losing an extremely talented player like Marshawn Lynch to retirement could lead to a nice improvement by Seattle’s offense.

Marshawn Lynch was a great player. He led the NFL is rushing from 2011-2014, was a five-time Pro Bowl selection, and an All-Pro in 2012. Team’s don’t simply replace players like that, and they certainly don’t get better by losing them. Or do they?

This situation reminds me of wide receiver Sterling Sharpe. The older brother of Hall of Fame TE Shannon Sharpe was a standout receiver for the Green Bay Packers in the late 80s and early 90s.

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Like Lynch, Sharpe was a five time Pro Bowl selection. He also added three All Pro selections before retiring at the age of 29.

Sharpe’s career came to an abrupt end after suffering a neck injury at the end of the 1994 season. Before that he had one of the greatest three-year stretches for a receiver in NFL history.

Sharpe led the NFL in receptions, yards and TDs in 92. He came the first WR in NFL history to top 100 catches in consecutive years in 93. He set, and then broke, the record for receptions in a season in those two years. In 94, he finished the season with an amazing 18 TDs.

Keep in mind that this was all before the current pass-friendly era in the NFL. His stats would still be good by today’s standards, but they were almost unheard of back in that era.

What does all this have to do with Marshawn and the Seahawks? Take a look at what happened after Sharpe was forced to retire.

The Packers had only been to the playoffs once in Sharpe’s career. They went to the playoff in 8 of the next 10 years after his injury. The Packers offense averaged being ranked 9th in total yards  over that great three year stretch. They averaged being ranked 3rd in total yards in the three years after.

So what happened? How did they lose one of the all-time great performers and still manage to get better? Simple: the offense diversified.

Mike Holmgren, the Packers’ head coach at the time, and quarterback Brett Farve began to spread the ball around more. Game plans were no longer focussed on getting Sharpe the ball, and instead on attacking weakness in the opposing defense. The play calling became more varied, and defenses were forced to cover more of the field.

Sharpe had become a crutch. He was so good that the coaches made sure the offense ran through him. And why not? It certainly worked. Without their crutch, Holmgren and his staff were forced to adapt and evolve. They did just that, and the results were extraordinary.

We saw some that in Seattle last season when Lynch was hurt. The offense brought back the zone-stretch running game. The gave Russell Wilson more responsibility, and finally let him throw the ball more.

The results were stunning. In the second half of the season the Seahawks’ offense was one of the most efficient offenses in NFL history.

Obviously there were a lot of other factors going on at the same time, both in Seattle last season and with the Packers 11 years prior. I don’t want to discount those factors since many (like the improvement of the offensive line) were significant.

At the same time, anyone paying attention could see a dramatic shift in the play calling. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell was no longer predictably calling inside runs on most plays. The rest of the playbook was opened, and good things happened.

The Seahawks have a very strong talent pool at both wide receiver and tight end. The running back position may not have Lynch any more, but Thomas Rawls and company aren’t short on talent themselves.

Next: A way-too-early 53 man roster projection

The Seahawks may never replace Lynch from a talent perspective, but that doesn’t mean the offense won’t be improved in 2016. Without their crutch, the rest of the offense will finally be able to stand on their own.