No, the Seahawks do not need to “establish the run”


Seahawks fans love rushing the ball, but the Seattle Seahawks simply aren’t good at it this season.

Fans of the Seattle Seahawks love the running game. They love it.

(This “successful running drive” included a string of 6 straight pass attempts and ended in a touchdown pass. The following drive ended when Wilson missed an open Baldwin downfield — would fans have been complaining if this had connected for a TD pass?)

This love of rushing the ball is completely divorced from whether or not it actually works

On the season, through week 16:

  • Russell Wilson dropbacks have gained an average of 6.6 yards per play (passings yards – sack yards / dropbacks).
  • Thomas Rawls rush attempts have gained an average of 3.3 yards per play
  • Alex Collins rush attempts have gained an average of 2.9 yards per play
  • Seattle’s passing offense has a DVOA of 9.6% and rushing offense has a DVOA of -9.2% (through week 15)

Against the Cardinals:

  • Thomas Rawls had 8 carries for 8 yards
  • Alex Collins had 7 carries for 28 yards
  • Combined: 15 carries for 36 yards (2.4 yards per carry)

That is not good. Each carry for 0-2 yards is a waste of a down, forgoing the potential for a more explosive pass play and lowering expected points on the drive. This is why I believe that Bevell’s willingness to abandon the run when it’s not working is a good thing. Against the Bills (12 rushing attempts to 30 dropbacks, CMike 5 carries for 1 yard), the passing game was working and the rushing game was not. In that case, primarily calling pass plays is a good thing!

Bevell doesn’t need an “excuse” to call passing plays, he goes with what works. As he should.

In the modern NFL, games are decided by quarterback play

In the 15 games played by the Seahawks this year, the QB with the higher QBR has a 14-0-1 record (with Palmer having the tie). A recent study by Adam Steele on Football Perspective found the following:

"85% of the variance in Adjusted Points Per Drive is explained by a basic measure of passing efficiency. That doesn’t leave much room for the running game to have an impact. In fact, I’ll go as far to say that rushing efficiency has no appreciable impact on scoring for the majority of teams"

The very first post on Football Outsiders was devoted to debunking the idea that teams needed to “establish the run”:

"The correlation between first quarter rushing attempts and team wins is a measly .171.  That means there is almost no connection between running a lot in the first quarter, and winning a lot of games."

The fate of Seattle this season does not depend on whether they can fix their running game or commit to running the football. It depends on the play of Russell Wilson (and the o-line at pass blocking, and the receivers).

Why is this idea so prevalent?

Like the 2015 Warriors should have killed the idea that jump shooting teams can’t win championships, the 2014 Patriots should have killed the idea that rushing/passing balance is a necessary component of championship football. In their divisional win against Baltimore, they ran 13 times for 14 yards, compared to 53 passing dropbacks. In the Super Bowl, they ran 21 times compared to 51 dropbacks.

My theory is that in the past eras when coaches and commentators used to play, rushing the football did determine who won games. But like Charles Barkley and similar NBA pundits, they have not adapted to the new normal in the NFL.

Next: Loss to Arizona shows Seattle's weaknesses

Final thoughts

I am not saying Seattle should never run the ball. But there is no evidence that there is any inherent value to committing to running the ball when the running game isn’t working, and Seattle hasn’t been a good rushing team for the bulk of this season.