Harvin’s return won’t change Seahawks’ philosophy

RENTON — With Percy Harvin returning to the practice field, this is a good time for a couple of reminders about the dynamic receiver the Seattle Seahawks acquired in the offseason.

One, Harvin will indeed be thrilling to watch whenever he returns to game action, be that on Monday night in St. Louis or in one of the next couple of games that follow. And two, no matter how explosive of a player Harvin might be, his return is not going to fundamentally change the way the Seahawks play.

The return of Harvin won’t mean a sudden shift in philosophy that sees Russell Wilson throwing the ball 10 or 20 more times a game. It won’t mean Harvin is going to catch 10 or 15 passes a game. That’s not who the Seahawks are, and it’s not who they are going to be with Harvin on the field. And don’t just take my word for it.

“Remember I said a long time ago about this, we weren’t expecting him to come in and change our football team,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said after Harvin returned to practice Tuesday. “We were hoping that he could come in and contribute and help us, and that’s all that he wants to do. He wants to help us get better and try to win the games and that’s what we’re counting on too.”

Carroll wasn’t kidding about the “I said a long time ago” part. On the day Harvin was introduced, Carroll issued a similar warning that Seattle’s offense wasn’t about to undergo a massive overhaul just because the Seahawks had acquired a new playmaker.

“We have a diverse offense, we do a lot of cool things and we’re not going to change a lot of stuff,” Carroll said in March. “We’re just going to add him in and fit in to the things that he does so well to go along and complement with the guys that we already have.”

None of this is to say Harvin can’t make a big difference in Seattle’s offense. The Seahawks wouldn’t have given up multiple draft picks and a boatload of money if they didn’t think he was a game-changer. However, Harvin’s impact will be in his ability to make big things happen in those somewhat limited touches, and perhaps just as importantly, in what the threat of his big-play ability can do to open things up for the rest of the offense.

When he’s at full strength, Harvin will be on the field plenty, and the Seahawks will certainly do what they can to get him the ball within their offense, but Carroll isn’t going to abandon his long-held belief that a good offense starts with a strong running game. For the same reason that Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and Sidney Rice are all significantly better players than their numbers suggest, there will inevitably be questions at some point this season as to why Harvin isn’t getting the ball more.

And the answer will be simple. The Seahawks will continue to run the ball a lot, and they’ll continue to be a team that is content playing at a slow tempo unless the situation dictates they speed up. Combine a lot of rushing attempts with an offense that doesn’t run a ton a plays, and you’ve got the equation for plenty of “why isn’t Harvin doing more?” questions even if he is doing exactly what the Seahawks are asking of him.

Even with Russell Wilson coming into his own last season, the Seahawks have continued to run the ball at a rate that seems downright old-fashioned in today’s NFL. Through seven games, the Seahawks have run on 52.5 percent of their offensive plays and have attempted the second most rushes, 238, in the league. Last year, the Seahawks ran 55 percent of the time, and their 536 rushing attempts were the most in the NFL, while their 438 passing plays (that total includes sacks) were the fewest in the league.

At least twice in his coaching career, Carroll has made a conscious effort to focus more on the running game, and both times the results have been incredibly positive. After his first year at USC, Carroll decided “if this is the last time I’m ever a head coach I’m going down the way I want to go down.”

That meant bringing in offensive line guru Alex Gibbs and rebuilding his USC offense around “the balance, the running game, the mixture of the way we throw, the play passes and the movement of the quarterback.”

That next season started a decade of dominance for the Trojans, who while explosive in the passing game, were always committed to the run.

It’s that commitment to the run that creates the explosive passing plays in a Carroll offense. Despite attempting the fewest passes in the league last year, the Seahawks were tied for the fifth-most pass plays of 40 or more yards with 11. This year they’re attempting the second fewest passes on a per-game basis and rank eighth in pass plays of 20 or more yards with 26.

In 2011, Carroll’s second season in Seattle, the Seahawks’ offense was somewhat without an identity, sometimes going up-tempo, other times, giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch, and producing mixed results along the way. During the week leading up to a midseason game in Dallas, Carroll and offensive line coach Tom Cable had a meeting, and the message that came out of it, Carroll said later that season, was: “Let’s stop what we’re doing here, let’s think about the thought of going back to what we wanted to do. This is what it really came down to, regardless of what the results are, let’s do it the way we want to do it and the way we feel best about it.”

The Seahawks ended up losing that game in Dallas, but won five of their next six after finding an identity. That helped set the table for last year’s playoff season, which, again, saw the Seahawks run the ball a ton, a trend they’ve carried into this year’s 6-1 start.

So don’t expect Carroll and the Seahawks to suddenly get all pass-happy just because they have a new, albeit very exciting, weapon to play with.

And to his credit, Harvin isn’t expecting to come in and become a one-man show. For starters, he is coming from a Vikings offense that leaned heavily on Adrian Peterson, so he knows what it’s like to play with limited passes to go around, and secondly, he realized he’s coming into a pretty good situation, one he wouldn’t want to see change a whole lot.

“The team is already rolling so I’m just looking to fit in where I fit in and not try to do too much,” Harvin said. “They’re just going to plug me in and we’re going to keep rolling.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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