Through the Seattle Seahawks' 2010 training camp and preseason, we're following running back Justin Forsett(notes) as he tries to take that next step from offensive cog to feature back in his third NFL season. In this fifth installment (you can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here), the Seahawks try to get their run game going before it's too late.
SEATTLE -- Through their first three preseason games, the Seattle Seahawks have rushed for just 207 yards and one touchdown on 61 carries. That adds up to a 3.4-yards-per-carry average, which puts the team in the league's bottom third. It's a disconcerting notion for a new front office trying to improve on a 2009 run game that averaged just 4.0 YPC (tied with the Detroit Lions). And Justin Forsett, the third-year back who came into the preseason as the projected lead dog in a new running-back rotation, has gained just 50 yards on 18 carries (2.8) as his quick-zone runs have been frequently bottled up behind an injury-plagued offensive line. For the Seahawks, it's been same stuff, different day.
As a result, head coach Pete Carroll said on Monday that the in-game running-back situation hadn't provided a star just yet. "I'll say what we've said all along -- it'd be nice if it did. But it doesn't matter to me that it hasn't. I don't think we've had enough success running the football for these guys to distinguish themselves. They've all run hard -- I've looked at all their runs in groups to make sure I can see them and the styles they run to see if they're anything going on, and right now, they're all battling out there. They're all really good football players ... they're all going to play, and we'll see how we do."
If Forsett was worried about the team's rushing performance, and his place in it, he certainly didn't let on when I talked to him after Tuesday's practice. "We're good," he said. "I think we're just like one block away, or one cut away, from making a big play happen, And that's what we want, is for those explosive runs to come now. We were making the right reads and the right cuts, and we want to make sure that we get to that second level and make some big yards happen."
Last week's game was a particularly interesting challenge, as Seattle traveled to Minnesota to face the Vikings' dominant front four. The Seahawks lost the game, 24-13, and Forsett got 20 yards on six carries. Leon Washington(notes), the guy expected to compete most with Forsett for regular-season reps, amassed just 16 rushing yards on the same number of carries. I asked Forsett if there are any specific adjustments when going from Green Bay's variable-front 3-4 defense to Minnesota's 4-3 base.
"We didn't have any changes, but what we wanted to do was to make sure that we got those guys cut down," he said. "They're all tall guys who play with a lot of motor, especially [Jared] Allen -- they're great off the edge. So we had to get them cut down and get upfield on them, because we wanted to control the clock. Unfortunately, we weren't able to do it as well as we wanted, but you've got to hold on to the ball so their offense stays off the field.
"They usually do a nose tackle and a three-technique tackle [inside], but they'll switch it up on you and do a true 40 front with the two guards covered. But those guys are ... that's a great defense."
And with all their talent, facing an ineffective running game, Minnesota didn't switch things up too often -- fewer over or under fronts; no crazy blitzes. "It's usually just a straight 40 stack [with the tackles covering the guards]. But they're a great defense, and it was good for us to play with them. We had an opportunity to win the game -- I think we're doing better and getting more productive every week. Just learning and growing with the new [offensive] scheme. And the only way up is up."
For the preseason finale, the Seahawks travel to Oakland, where they'll face a Raiders team with a surprisingly good defense. Established stars like tackle Richard Seymour(notes) mixed in with esteemed rookies such as linebacker Rolando McClain(notes) and tackle Lamarr Houston(notes), and young up-and-comers like end Matt Shaughnessy(notes). The Raiders have personnel that fit three- and four-man fronts, which presents another type of challenge.
"Well, it's good because we already had Green Bay, and then Minnesota, and of course Tennessee -- we got those guys already. So, we got the 4-3 and the 3-4; we're pretty much prepared right now. We've just got to be patient with the run game, and just make sure we're not rushing anything. We need to hit those creases and get to the second level -- that's what we want to do as running backs, get in the secondary and make big plays."
Perhaps it's time to get the backs more involved in the passing game -- Forsett has displayed an ability to not only get to the seam from the backfield, but to line up wide and get downfield. "That's the thing with this offense," he said. "Coach Carroll -- you remember Reggie Bush(notes) and those guys [at USC]. He likes to spread the running backs out, and I'm excited about doing things like that during the season. It's definitely an option there.
"I like the post," he added, when I asked him what his best route is. "It allows me to get up on the defender and stick him really hard. Plus, I'm going at an angle toward the end zone. So, I can usually catch the ball going in."
That's a nice concept for Forsett and the Seahawks, but the running game is still in flux and time is running short before all the games matter more. There's the Thursday game at Oakland, and then, the hay's in the barn. Forsett, as is his style, sees the positives. It has to be this way for a seventh-round pick, who has been overlooked since his days at Cal, and keeps finding ways to make a difference for his team.
"I just think I'm more confident this year. Just comfortable in the system, and I've been doing it for a while -- since college. Getting that experience last year was key for me. I'm ready to go -- I'm excited about the season and I'm ready to get some yards."