The Seahawks are now three games into their transition to a Percy Harvin-less offense and one major point of emphasis has been to get back to leaning on Marshawn Lynch as the centerpiece and identity on that side of the ball. Reports of locker room tension and internal discord aside, Lynch is still the engine that powers the Seahawks' offense. Through the first half of the season, though, that wasn't necessarily apparent (and maybe that's part of the reason these reports of discord surfaced in the first place).
Through eight games, Lynch has 132 carries - well off the pace for the 301 he got last season, but I expect that rate to increase over the second half. During last year's Super Bowl run, Lynch was the foundation on which Darrell Bevell built the scheme. Beast Mode was the key to outside zone runs, the zone read, and much of Russell Wilson's rushing yardage came as teams committed to stopping Lynch up the middle. Additionally, the passing game worked in concert with a heavy dose of Lynch -- the Seahawks are one of the most play-action heavy teams in the NFL, and also work their bootleg and rollout game with Wilson off of the threat that Marshawn Lynch creates. Wilson is the point guard and is dangerous in his own right, but this offense is designed to work, at its best, through the Beast.
Last week against the Raiders, you could see a good example this. Oakland started to sell out to stop Lynch up the middle, so Wilson offered a constraint to that by keeping it on a read option. Watch how the defense clogs up the middle, and Wilson keeps it to go wide:
On the very next play, the Raiders, now more wary of Wilson on the outside, widen out a bit. That's where Lynch comes back in and powers it up the middle.
Of course, we all know that Lynch is a strong runner. As the Seahawks look to lean on him more down the stretch, I would guess they start looking to get him more involved in the passing game as well.
"We want to use our good players," Seahawks OC Darrell Bevell said this week. "And (Marshawn) is definitely, probably the best player on our offense, and we want to get him the ball as many ways as we can."
Lynch already has 22 catches for 223 yards and three touchdowns in 2014 after catching 36 for 316 and two last year, and he's not just being used as a dump-off option. On one third down last week, Lynch flexed out to the slot position and ran a rub route combination with TE Cooper Helfet, leaving the linebacker in coverage in the dust.
Lynch caught a touchdown pass on a slant route from the wing earlier this season as well, and is often used as a de facto receiver, not just on shallow release routes.
"It'd be easy to turn around and hand it to him," said Bevell. "But we know he is a phenomenal receiver. He runs really good routes."
With Percy Harvin now in New York and Golden Tate now in Detroit, the Seahawks rely heavily on Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse as their one-two punch at receiver. Rookies Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood have seen their snaps increase over the past few weeks but they're still developing into NFL players. Additionally, Seattle's top tight end, Zach Miller, has missed much of this season with bone spurs, so Wilson's arsenal in the pass game isn't as explosive or deadly as the Seahawks would like.
That's where, perhaps, Lynch could step in and augment things, much in the way that Jamaal Charles is utilized in the pass game in Kansas City.
"Anytime we can get the ball to Marshawn, we want to," said Bevell. "(It gives us )...opportunities to get the ball in his hands, because we know he is going to make people miss, the opportunity for second-level yards. He's going to run people over. Then the yards are going to come and we can keep the sticks moving."
In addition to using Lynch as an outlet receiver and as a dumpoff option over the middle, the Seahawks went to their screen game pretty heavily against the Raiders and I could see them really look to build on that.
Exhibit A: Near the end of the third quarter, Seattle brought Lynch across the formation on a screen play and he did his thing to pick up big yardage.
After making the first defender on the scene miss, Lynch jukes veteran Charles Woodson out of his shoes, rumbling downfield for 39 yards. Lynch's second lateral cut at about the 44 yard line is exactly why the Seahawks want to and need to get him more involved in the pass game as a playmaker.
Lynch finished the game as Seattle's leading receiver with five receptions for 76 yards, and that didn't include an additional 20 or 30 yards that were called back due to a ticky-tack holding call on a similar screen play. One corollary to all this is that the Seahawks could be attempting to extend an olive branch to Lynch in order to sooth his alleged discontent over how much he's is being utilized in the offense. Getting Lynch more touches in both the run game and the pass game could realistically kill two birds with one stone.
First, as Seattle looks to keep their offense going while developing their weapons on the offensive side of the ball, it would behoove them to give Lynch more chances to do what he's proven he can do in the open field. He's Seattle's best skill position player and best playmaker, period.
Second, actions speak loudly, but words matter too. Lynch held out of training camp shortly after Bevell declared Seattle would have a "running back by committee this year," and Bevell didn't mince words to the media this week. "He's our best player," said Bevell, adding, "we want him to understand how important he is to us in the passing game as well."
Marshawn, we might not be talking, but I'm sure you'll hear this.
Bottom line, I know it's a cliche, I know it's seemingly obvious, but I have long held the belief that teams have to make it their No. 1 priority to give their best players the football; let their best players make plays. Marshawn Lynch is Seattle's best offensive player right now, and the Seahawks need to feed the Beast.