Cracking the Seahawks Running Game code?

Published on September 24, 2010 by     Tacoma News Tribune (Feed)

The Seahawks’ improving running game will face a 3-4 defensive front against the Chargers on Sunday that is similar to the one they saw against the 49ers in the opener. It’s the results that need to be different.

Two games. Two rushing touchdowns. One problem.

Both scoring runs belong to Matt Hasselbeck, the Seahawks’ quarterback who had last run into the end zone midway through the 2005 season.

“That was pointed out today in the meetings,” said a smiling Justin Forsett, the leading rusher in the Seahawks’ running-back-by-committee ground game. “So we’ve got to step up our game.”

Actually, the work-in-progress running game has done that as the Seahawks enter Sunday’s matchup with the San Diego Chargers at Qwest Field. After rushing for 77 yards and a 3.3-yard average in the season-opening victory over the San Francisco 49ers, the Seahawks upped those numbers to 109 and 5.5 in last week’s loss to the Broncos in Denver.

Granted, the Seahawks would not have cracked triple digits without Hasselbeck’s 20-yard touchdown run. But the real runners did improve their numbers.

GROUND CONTROL

A look at how the Seahawks’ running-back-by-committee approach – as well as quarterback Matt Hasselbeck – has done in the Seahawks’ first two games:

GROUND CONTROL

A look at how the Seahawks’ running-back-by-committee approach – as well as quarterback Matt Hasselbeck – has done in the Seahawks’ first two games:

Justin Forsett
Game Att. Yds. Avg. 10-plus TD
49ers 7 43 6.1 1 0
Broncos 8 44 5.5 2 0
Totals 15 87 5.8 3 0
Leon Washington
49ers 6 12 2.0 0 0
Broncos 4 17 4.3 0 0
Totals 10 29 2.9 0 0
Julius Jones
49ers 8 18 2.3 0 0
Broncos 4 12 3.0 0 0
Totals 12 30 2.5 0 0
Matt Hasselbeck
49ers 2 4 2.0 0 1
Broncos 3 21 7.0 1 1
Totals 5 25 5.0 1 2

Ask where the improvement has started and everyone points to where it all starts in the running game: The big boys up front.

“The guys came off the ball together. They worked together in concert. They were very physical. And the running backs hit the holes,” offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said of the reason for the improvement from Game 1 to Game 2.

“It was exciting to see it.”

And it sounds so simple. But complicating the orchestration of this in-concert effort has been injuries on the line that have forced changes in the starting unit in each of the first two games.

This week, the Seahawks will start the same line that finished the previous game: Tyler Polumbus, who is subbing for first-round draft choice Russell Okung at left tackle; Ben Hamilton, who returned to starting unit at left guard last week; Chris Spencer at center; Stacy Andrews, who stepped in at right guard last week for the injured and out-for-the-season Max Unger; and Sean Locklear at right tackle.

“A lot of people don’t understand how much communication goes on up front,” Bates said. “You’ve got defensive lines that move from a three-down to a four-down (linemen), to (linebackers and safeties) plugging up there.

“So they have to have the communication, and it’s a challenge to get all five – and six when you count the tight end – to work together. So when it does work, it’s a beautiful thing.”

Despite the lopsided final score against the Broncos, the line protected Hasselbeck in addition to supplying enough running lanes in the zone-blocking scheme to allow Forsett, Leon Washington and Julius Jones to improve their numbers from the opener.

“When they’re doing well, we’re going to do well,” Forsett said.

Against the Broncos, Bates also came up with a now-expected new wrinkle by having Hamilton pull and lead block on a couple of the Seahawks’ more successful running plays.

“We don’t typically pull in our zone scheme,” Hasselbeck said. “So it probably caught them off guard a little bit, and Ben did a nice job.”

The Seahawks also ran a couple times in situations where down-and-distance – as well as formation – usually would dictate pass. On a third-and-3 play, with Hasselbeck in the shotgun, Forsett broke a 19-yard run on a draw. On a second-and-7 play, with Hasselbeck again in the shotgun and the Seahawks spreading the field with three wide receivers and tight end John Carlson, Hasselbeck used the open middle of the field to score on his 20-yard run.

“We ran on some third-down situations, which not only keeps you out of sacks but also keeps people from pressuring you,” said Hasselbeck, who has completed 14 of his 16 third-down passes this season for a league-leading .875 completion percentage.

“I think it’s just a good mixture of play-calling and guys getting after it and our running backs continuing to do a good job.”

That eight-play, 80-yard drive to Hasselbeck’s TD run also provides a blueprint for the way this offense operates best. Four runs for 35 yards. Four passes 55 yards. Zero third-down situations.

“We had good rhythm and good tempo,” Hasselbeck said. “What I mean by that is we didn’t wait around for them to apply the pressure to us pre-snap. We got up the line. We were confident we knew our play. We just snapped the ball and whatever they did we didn’t really care. We were just going to read the play out accordingly.”

Sunday, the Seahawks will be running into a Chargers’ 3-4 defensive front that is closer to what they faced in the opener against the 49ers.

“San Francisco came from the San Diego family,” Bates said. “Definitely, each 3-4 is different. San Francisco and San Diego are a lot alike.

“Everyone has they own identity; their own style. It’s a challenge that each week you play a 3-4 team you’ve just got to crack the code.”

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