A closer look at Hawks’ sputtering run game

We’ve heard this all before. Offensive line guru Alex Gibbs was brought in to install the zone-blocking scheme, which may take awhile to take hold, but has been successful everywhere that he’s coached.

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Well, we’re now three weeks into the exhibition season and Gibb’s version of the zone blocking scheme is looking much like former Seahawks offensive coordinator Greg Knapp’s version last season – basically spinning its wheels and going nowhere.

The Seahawks are averaging a paltry 69 yards a game during preseason play, ranking 28th overall in the league. That’s translates to 3.4 yards a game, which is not going to get it done once the regular season begins in two weeks.

And it hasn’t mattered which running back has been in the game. Julius Jones, Justin Forsett and Leon Washington have all gotten starts with the first unit, and each has struggled to find creases in the vaunted run scheme.

Forsett has 50 yards on 18 carries for a 2.8 per-carry average. Jones has 12 carries for 33 yards for a 2.8 per-carry average. And Washington has 35 yards on 10 carries for a 3.5 per-carry average.

If you think those numbers sound familiar, you’re correct. The Seahawks averaged 4.0 yards per carry last year on the ground, tied for 25th overall.

So what gives? Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll had some explaining to do after Saturday’s game.

“I’m not pleased with it at all,” Carroll said. “It’s just not happening the way we want it to. We need to be more balanced than we are. I think Jeremy (Bates), he felt it. We’re not getting the movement that we need in the running game that we want. And so we threw ball quite a bit more. … So we need to mix it like we want to.”

Carroll also mentioned that staying on the field and converting on third downs so the running back can get into a rhythm has been an issue. The Seahawks are just 15 of 46 (32.6 percent) on third downs, and have thrown the ball almost twice as many times as they’ve ran it (115 passes to 61 runs).

The Seahawks have to overcome several impediments to their success in order to improve the run game.

First of all, they are dealing with a make-shift line learning a new scheme, which is not a good combination. So guys like Mansfield Wrotto and Mike Gibson are learning on the fly, and rookie Russell Okung will be doing the same thing when he comes back from his ankle injury.

Secondly, the Seahawks are not getting consistent blocking from the tight end position in setting the edge of the defense, which makes it hard to run the outside zone plays.

And lastly, the offensive line has not been consistent in getting the backside pursuit cut down in order to create the cutback lanes, which is where a lot of the big plays come in the run scheme.

In short, the run game is a work in progress. I know Carroll and offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates have preached balance and wanting to establish the ability to run, but Seattle has enough playmakers on the perimeter to become a pass-first team while the ground game continues to mature.

This is something Bates is familiar with, having thrown the ball well over 60 percent of the time when he had Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall in Denver two years ago. And if Seattle could force defenses to play the pass, then they could use the run game to keep defenses honest once they start pulling players out of the box to defend guys like Mike Williams on the outside.

Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck also talked about using the play-action and bootleg game to keep the backside pursuit honest on the outside zone runs.

“I’ve got to do a better job converting on third down so we can get those guys on the field and get into a rhythm,” Hasselbeck said. “And we probably need to commit to our keeper or bootleg package to take that backside guy who’s chasing down the play to get him out of there.”

As far as the running back competition goes, Carroll said he has not settled on a starter for the regular season, with his evaluations hampered by the team’s struggles to open up holes for any of the runners.

“I didn’t think we learned much tonight unfortunately,” Carroll said. “So we’ll take it to next week and see what’s going on. The guys are working really hard. We love them and all, but we’ve just got to give them more chances and more space.”