Entering Lambeau Field in late 2005, Shaun Alexander was on the cusp of accomplishing something that all NFL rushers would love to achieve: the single season touchdown record.
And when the team lined up near the goal line, every fan of the game knew exactly what was about to happen: a running play to the left, most likely an off-tackle.
They couldn't have been more right.
Now, in 2007, the same guy that once helped the Seahawks briefly make history is being booed by the same fans who previously proclaimed him as a Hall-of-Fame caliber back.
His critics say he doesn't run with urgency, his broken wrist has crippled him, and some are now suggesting that the only reason he set such records in the first place were because he had two superstar blockers pushing him.
But the real problem with the twenty-fourth ranked offense in the league (averaging under 95 yards a game) isn't just with the back—rather, it's a result of the collapse of what led the Seahawks to the promised land just two years ago.
The following is a list of the biggest problems facing the Seahawks' running game going into the NFL playoffs.
Sure: Leonard Weaver is a great athlete, with a promising future as a half-tailback/half-fullback option—but what he is unable bring to the table presents a big problem to the Seahawks offense.
Labeled as the anti-Mack Strong, the former leader of the offense and propellant of the running game, Weaver prides himself on his mobility. He has shown that when he can find his defender, he can generally stop them—but his lack of experience has hurt his ability to pick up the blitz.
Where Strong used to plow through the rushers, Weaver sometimes looks like a deer in the headlights of the game going on around him.
Although an asset to the Seahawks, Leonard Weaver is not going to help push this running game back to the level it was at with Mack Strong, a guy who blocked for three one-thousand yard running backs throughout his tenure as the team's lead blocker.
The Seahawks have a wide array of talent and age on the o-line, leading to instability and unfamiliarity when creating holes for the runner.
Let's start off by acknowledging that the two tackles are phenomenal. Walter Jones is a future Hall of Famer, and is widely considered one of the best to ever play the position. His protégé on the other side, Sean Locklear, is also very talented. Although more adapted for pass protection, the pair have created holes the size of a crater for their during their tenure in Seattle. These two guys are the last truly gifted blockers from that Super Bowl run in 2005.
As for the guards: Chris Gray, the 37-year-old right guard, is, well, old.
He has lost his step, and although he can still protect the pass decently well, he has had a tough time moving and blocking for the rushers. His counterpart, Rob Sims, is a second year guy out of Ohio State, who was propagated to be the "new Steve Hutchinson" after his rookie success in 2006.
Now there is talk of replacing Sims with a guy like Alan Faneca, the all-pro out of Pittsburgh, during the offseason. Sims consistently allows defenses to get to the ball-handler on both passing and rushing plays, and has even made Mike Holmgren lose confidence in running to his side of the field, even though that's Jones' side as well.
The center is playing in his first season as the true-starter, and like Rob Sims, often allows defenders to slip through and sack the quarterback or sniff out the runner. He has great potential, as proven by his first round selection in 2004, but he needs decent guys around him to reach it.
The Shaun Alexander
Shaun Alexander just isn't running like he used to. When investigating what the difference is between his 2005 and 2007 efforts, I found that in the latter, their ironically didn't seem to truly be an effort.
It seems as if the 2007 Alexander only runs when he is capable of getting a touchdown—and shows little to no effort when within the forties. When his blockers aren't opening holes, Alexander doesn't wait, and instead tries to create his own running room, which usually ends in a three or four yard loss.
Back in 2005, one of the things Alexander prided himself on was his durability and toughness. He would often bowl over defenders on his way to the end zone. Now, thanks to injuries crippling nearly every bone in his body, he is cautious to hit the ground too hard when he falls.
A true smashmouth runner with mediocre speed needs to be able to hit the defenders hard—and Shaun Alexander is just too afraid to do that right now.
Although it has improved somewhat, Seahawks fans still haven't completely exited the booing phase. There is still some distrust from fans—and next weekend, against a good rushing defense, you can expect the anger to reappear.
With the success of the pass game and the minimal effectiveness of Maurice Morris replacing Alexander during injury, fans don't want to see failure. The golden boy has acknowledged this, saying that he understands the boos, as he has failed to match the standard he set for himself back in 2005.
Alexander is lucky that he has a likeable personality, because if Morris made such an excuse he would be scrutinized. Oh, and that nice eight year, $62 million contract—that keeps Holmgren from not abandoning hope.
Regardless of his west-coast style, Alexander has succeeded in Seattle, and a climate change would be needed for such accomplishment to reappear.
The problems of the Seahawks on the ground arises from a combination of various critical offensive flaws. Hopefully for Seattle, come playoff time, they can hide these errors and play as they did a mere 24 months ago.
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