For a guy famously disposed to seeing sunshine in the gloom, and potential in even the dubious, coach Pete Carroll came off surprisingly understated one day in October 2010.
“We bring a guy into the program that we think is going to give us a little boost,” Carroll said of the running back the Seahawks had picked up for two mid-round draft picks the week of that season’s bye.
A little boost? You might have thought he was talking about a practice-squad rookie rather than Marshawn Lynch.
As fans, opposing defenders and even local seismologists can attest, Marshawn Lynch has provided more than a little boost. At times, he’s hoisted the team on his back, and certainly infused the offense with an expectation of tough play and relentlessness.
And while the focus at the start of this season was on the potential of the defense, and more recently turned into an avalanche of appreciation for rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, Lynch has somewhat quietly put together his best season in the NFL.
Although it was a sidebar topic played below the headlines of the thrashing of the Cardinals on Sunday – by the largest margin in team history (58-0) – Lynch upped his rushing total for the season to 1,266 yards with a 4.9-yard average.
He’s second in the league in rushing, trailing only the astonishing Adrian Peterson, who has 1,600 yards and 10 TDs after returning from a severe knee injury late last season.
At his current rate, Lynch could crack 1,600 yards this season, a figure that would trail only Shaun Alexander’s totals in 2005 (1,880) and 2004 (1,696) as the best in franchise history.
“The thing that comes to mind is his consistency, he’s been very consistent with his output and his effort and his style,” Carroll said Monday. “Everything’s been there every single game. He’s been healthy; we’ve managed him well during the week and he’s come out strong and fast and looked sharp every single time he’s shown up.”
It took a while before Lynch’s statistics truly reflected his effort. In his first game for Seattle, at Chicago, he picked up just 44 net yards. But that represented about 80 yards after contact, because he sometimes had to break three or four tackles just to reach the line of scrimmage.
Midway through last season, Carroll and line coach Tom Cable renewed their commitment to being a physical, running team, and let Lynch know that he was expected to be the driving force. In the 21 games since, he’s had 12 rushing efforts of 100 yards-plus.
“I think the fact we’re the best we’ve been up front, the most consistent with continuity and all that, has really helped out,” Carroll said.
Wilson’s versatility as a threat to run, and his increasing involvement of receivers Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Zach Miller into the passing game, keep the offense from being one-dimensional, and thereby make it tougher for teams to stack up against Lynch.
Uncharacteristic of so many of the runs that Lynch turns into bruising scrums, several times against the Cardinals he raced to the end zone untouched. The toughest shot he took on his third TD, a 33-yarder, was when Rice attacked him in the end zone with a slap-happy celebration.
“Our commitment has always been there, but we’re more effective and more consistently on-point with what we’re doing, so he’s the beneficiary of that,” Carroll said.
Wilson’s mastery of the read-option plays that allow him to either hand off to Lynch or keep the ball and run, have helped open rushing lanes. And the production of rookie reserve Robert Turbin (108 rushing yards against Arizona), has lightened the load for Lynch.
“We haven’t had to overwork him,” Carroll said. “That’s been good. Robert’s done a nice job, and (Lynch) has not worn down at this time, so we’re very fortunate in that regard.”
Some observers wondered if Lynch would sustain his jackhammer rushing style after he signed a big contract (four years, $32 million, $17 million guaranteed) in March. If anything, he’s actually running better and more effectively, with his 4.9-yard average much improved from last year (4.2).
Lynch is still a young back, at 26. But Carroll gives him time off from practice during the week to rest bothersome tightening in his lower back.
“I would expect he can continue doing this,” Carroll said. “There’s no signs otherwise, so we we’ll keep feeding it to him and keep him going as much as possible.”
That’s wise, because any team can use the kind of boost Marshawn Lynch provides.Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 dave.boling@ thenewstribune.com @DaveBoling