Will the Seahawks really run worse with a fullback?

A recent article showed the Seahawks running game was much worse with a fullback leading the way in 2017. Will this hold up in 2018, or was it just a quirk?

It’s certainly goes against common sense, and football sense, that your running game would be worse with a fullback that without one. Yet that’s what the stats show for 2018, according to the work of Ben Baldwin in The Athletic. It’s a good look at some cool things we’ve learned about the Seahawks. A couple of them are so obvious Mr. Baldwin even points this out in his article.

For example, Russell Wilson is really good under pressure. Yes, he sure is. By the way, the Athletic is subscription-only, but you can find discounts and subscribe for about $3 per month. So if you’re not a subscriber, that link won’t do you much good. Trust me, it’s an interesting piece, and a great site overall.

Back to the the running game. The sixth interesting thing Mr. Baldwin discovered was that the Seahawks were bad at running the football. The surprise was that they were terrible in two back sets. The average per carry dropped from 3.4 yards (ugh), to 2.2 yards (EEGADS!) Yeah, 2.2 is hideous.

Could the Seahawks really be that bad with a fullback?

This seems almost insane, right? The majority of the time Tre Madden would be the fullback in these formations. In 2017 he only appeared in the first eight games of the season. His highest snap counts were thirteen in week two versus San Francisco, and fifteen versus Houston in week seven. I wish I had the personnel for each play, but I don’t. Seattle ran for 131 yards on 37 carries for a 3.5 yard average. In Madden’s other big game versus the Texans, the Seahawks managed just 33 yards on 21 attempts. That’s a revolting average of 1.57 yards. Wait, it gets worse, but we’ll get to that.

One big difference in those two games is the presence of Chris Carson. The 49ers game was his breakout appearance, as he had 93 yards on the day. Of course he was long gone by week eight. Against Houston, Seattle depended on Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, and J.D. McKissic to carry the ground game.

McKissic fared the best, and he only got six yards on four carries. Rawls was still too banged up to be effective, and Lacy was – well, he was Eddie Lacy, sadly. Between them, the latter two players netted minus one yard. Tyler Lockett even lost two yards on his lone carry. Add in McKissic’s six, and without Wilson, the running “attack” of Seattle gained 3 yards on 17 carries. That is going to kill your average.

The problem was magnified by the wrong personnel and a small sample

Tre Madden was only in for 67 offensive plays all year. That makes the sample size very small. The Seahawks only ran 34 times with a two back set, compared to 265 runs with a single back. You may notice on that chart from footballoutsiders.com the Super Bowl Champ Philadelphia Eagles were awful when running with two backs. They averaged just .3 yards per carry.

Yes, as in about one foot per carry. Then you see that they only ran the ball eight times all year from that set. So maybe, it’s just a glitch. Eight plays isn’t a lot of information to go on. And 34 plays compared to 265 isn’t much better.

I don’t think the Seahawks should worry about this. I think it’s a combination of several issues. First, Chris Carson missed 12 games. Second, the Texans game threw everything out of whack, as it was a large part of a small group of plays. And third, it was a really small sample size.

Rashaad Penny of the Seahawks

SAN DIEGO, CA – NOVEMBER 24: Rashaad Penny #20 of the San Diego State Aztecs eludes Bijon Parker #4 and DaQuan Baker #37 of the New Mexico Lobos for a rushing touchdown during the second half of a game at Qualcomm Stadium on November 24, 2017 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

2018 will feature a very different Seahawks running game

Remember too that Lacy averaged 2.6 yards per carry last year, while Rawls squeaked past with a 2.7 yard average. Rawls was injured, and Lacy was busy going into Hulk mode. Carson averaged 4.2 yards per carry, and Rashaad Penny averaged 7.8 yards his senior year. No, he won’t do that in the NFL, but Carson averaged 6.8 yards per carry as a senior at Oklahoma State.

Let’s go back to that sample size. No one would judge a player on just 34 plays. If that were true, you might judge Wilson on the not very good at all second Rams game. He was just 14 of 30 for 142 yards and a touchdown. He ran five times for 39 yards, but was sacked seven times. That’s 35 plays. If you based your decisions on that handful of plays, Austin Davis would start the next week.

Whether it’s Tre Madden leading the way or rookie Khalid Hill opening holes, I don’t see the Seahawks repeating their poor two back performance in 2018. Who knows, maybe we’ll even see Will Dissly in the backfield this year. No matter who’s blocking, I have a lot of confidence in the Seahawks run game this season.

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