Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals creates an interesting dilemma for the Seattle Seahawks. Arizona has the NFL's best run defense, and Seattle's running game is the engine that drives its offense. The Seahawks are going to have to find creative ways to get running back Marshawn Lynch his yards in this game.
The solution to this problem is to throw the ball more often, and to get Lynch more involved in the passing game. Swing passes, wheel routes and screens are just some of the ways to get the football in Lynch's hands outside of the running game. These passes can become an extension of Seattle's running attack.
Consider it this way: Last Sunday, the Seahawks running game sputtered and Lynch finished with just 47 yards on 16 carries against the Giants. Add in the passing yards though, and Lynch finished the game with 22 touches for 120 yards. That is 5.45 yards per play, which is solid production by the Seahawks' running back.
If the Seahawks can get that type of production out of Lynch, even if it requires altering the game plan to do so, then Seattle's offense will be able to score enough points to beat the Cardinals this week.
On the Outside
One option would be to completely break convention and line Lynch up on the outside as a wide receiver. The Seahawks do this extremely rarely, and thus teams tend to only provide token coverage on Lynch for these plays.
On this play, Lynch lines up on the outside, with a wide receiver in the slot. The slot receiver runs up the seam, clearing out space for Lynch to work with.
The coverage on Lynch is extremely soft. Lynch is able to get upfield and then settle into a soft spot in the defense for an easy completion.
Quarterback Russell Wilson never looks to his right. His first read appears to the WR in the seam, and when that is covered he quickly checks to an open Lynch for a first down.
Out of the Backfield
Obviously, lining Lynch up outside as a wide receiver won't pay off like that unless it is used sparingly. The bulk of Lynch's receptions will have to come with Lynch running routes out of the backfield like in this example:
Both of the receivers on the right run deep routes, clearing out the space underneath for Lynch. Wilson appears to go through at least three reads on the play before eventually taking the short completion to the wide open Lynch.
These types of passes into the flat get the ball to Lynch away from the strength of the defense. Swing passes usually put Lynch one-on-one in the open field against a linebacker. Considering how difficult it can be for defenses to get Lynch to the ground, such a matchup is often good for the Seahawks.
The Safety Valve
Of course, not every pass to Lynch has to be by design. His running skills mean that the Seahawks just have to get him the ball and he's likely to pick up yards. This makes Lynch a viable outlet for Wilson to throw the ball to on plays when the pass-pressure is too strong.
Here is probably the best example of that from this season. Wilson's miracle escape is turned into a nice gain by Lynch:
Note: the video from nfl.com originally added here is no longer available.
Putting It All Together
It would be wrong for the Seahawks to completely abandon the run against the Cardinals. Lynch should still get 15-20 carries, even more if the Seahawks build up an early lead.
At the same time, running into the brick wall that is the NFL's top rushing defense isn't a path to consistent success. The Seahawks need to strike a balance, and this week that balance should include more passes than usual.
By getting Lynch involved in the passing game, the Seahawks can generate favorable down-and-distance situations that will inevitably help them sustain drives and score points.