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Originally published Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Seahawks ground game: Run-down

The Seahawks offense was running nowhere fast well before the season skidded to a halt Saturday in Green Bay. Seattle couldn't gain 18 inches...

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Seahawks offense was running nowhere fast well before the season skidded to a halt Saturday in Green Bay.

Seattle couldn't gain 18 inches when it needed it most in Cleveland in November, didn't have a player gain 100 yards in a game after September and finished with its fewest rushing yards in any season since 1999.

The run-down offense bottomed out in Green Bay with the franchise's lowest rushing total in any game since 1998. Twenty-eight yards. That's all the Seahawks ran for Saturday, and after the game, Shaun Alexander put words to a reality that was evident about four games into the season.

"We have some problems in the running game," Alexander said, "and I think that we're going to work really hard this offseason to fix them."

It's a necessity. One that will require some determination and perhaps a difficult decision or two. The Seahawks have a quarterback who had the most prolific season of his career, a defense that showed dramatic improvement — at least it did before Saturday night — but Seattle's persistent and pronounced inability to run the ball betrayed the team in the snow of Green Bay.

"This is just a fine example of all the things that take good running — playoff games, being on the road and playing in bad weather," Alexander said afterward. "It was one of those things that, not only hoping that you run the ball well, it's almost a must when you have those three situations.

"And when you don't, it gets out of hand quickly."

And this offseason Seattle must get a grip on that inability to run the ball.

Alexander turned 30 before the regular season started, and even in training camp people were checking the expiration date for elite running backs. He broke his wrist the first game, sprained his knee in the eighth game and averaged a career-low 3.5 yards per carry, which was less than backup Maurice Morris (4.5) and fullback Leonard Weaver (4.4).

But it's more than just the man who carries the ball. It's the men who block for him. Right tackle Sean Locklear is an unrestricted free agent and right guard Chris Gray will turn 38 this summer. Is Ray Willis ready to assume a bigger role? Is a potential free agent like Pittsburgh's Alan Faneca worth the big bucks it would require to sign him?

The Seahawks stayed alive longer than three-fourths of the teams in this league, which constitutes a successful season in the NFL. But if Seattle is to get any further, it must address the difficulty it had running the ball. Unlike the 2006 season, injuries do not explain away the warts that became evident for the offense on Saturday. Seattle ran the ball just 15 times, despite holding a 14-0 lead early in the game. Can't blame that on play-calling, though. The Seahawks never showed any sign of getting traction in the ground game.

That wasn't a surprise considering Seattle's seasonlong struggle to run the ball. Alexander gained 105 yards in the season-opening victory over Tampa Bay. He never gained that many yards in a game again.

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Alexander will be 31 next season. His contract calls for him to make $4.48 million in 2008, according to the NFL Players Association. Seattle could bring him back as is, it could ask him to take a pay cut or it could release him. He would count $6.78 million against the cap if Seattle retained him without restructuring his contract. He would count at least $2.3 million against the Seahawks' 2008 salary cap if the Seahawks cut him outright this offseason.

He wasn't thinking about addition or subtraction after Saturday's game. Just improvement.

"The first thing we do is, we all go look at film, go find the mistakes and correct them," Alexander said. "I need to find a way to get out of the first game of the season without hurting anything or breaking anything. That would help."

Alexander hurt his foot in the season opener in Detroit in 2006 and though he played the next two games, he was later diagnosed with a broken bone in his foot that kept him out six games. This season, he suffered a broken bone in his wrist in the season opener against the Bucs. He later missed three games because of a knee injury.

It wasn't the beginning that will cast a shadow over this offseason, but how the season ended.

"We've been to the same spot now two years in a row," Alexander said. "So whatever we've been doing in the offseason, it's good enough only to get us here. So we've got to go find something to get us past this point.

"For me, if it means I've got to go take tumbling classes to make sure I don't break something when I get hit, so be it. We're going to find a way to get past this mark."

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

Running nowhere
Seattle finished with its fewest rushing yards in any season since 1999 — when coach Mike Holmgren arrived — and the fifth-lowest total in the past 20 seasons.
Year Rush yds Rush TDs W-L
1989 1,392 5 7-9
1999 1,408 5 9-7
1991 1,426 11 7-9
1992 1,596 4 2-14
2007 1,619 9 10-6

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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