By John Boyle Herald Columnist
RENTON — Assuming Percy Harvin does indeed make his Seattle Seahawks debut this afternoon, all eyes will be on No. 11 whenever he takes the field.
But if you really want to watch what makes the Seahawks offense go, and what makes Minnesota’s offense, well, worth watching at all, focus your eyes in the backfield and enjoy this showcase of two of the NFL’s best running backs.
Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson.
“Beast Mode” and “All Day.”
It’s a matchup between two of a dying breed in the NFL, the dominant, workhorse running back who isn’t just a complementary piece to a passing attack, but rather the engine that makes an offense go.
“This is a fantastic game for somebody to watch running backs and to compare the two,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said. “Our style of offense is a little bit different than theirs and the style of running game, but both guys are great players and it will be great to watch it on the same field.”
When the Seahawks hosted the Vikings last year, Peterson was in the midst of an incredible second-half run that saw him nearly break the NFL record for rushing yards in a season. He had 182 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries in that loss to Seattle, part of a 2,097 yard season. Lynch, meanwhile, finished with “just” 124 yards on 26 carries that day.
Peterson will surely go down as one of the best running backs of his era, if not all time, and Lynch isn’t far behind having racked up an NFL-best 19 100-yard games since 2011, his first full season with the Seahawks.
“They’re both very physical, downhill running backs, but they have the ability to move and once they get outside, they can take any play to the house,” Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said. “I’m just trying to tell our guys around here, ‘Let’s not let Beast Mode get all Beast Mode.’ So (we’re) trying to keep that in check a little bit, but a very tough-nosed dude. Just like Adrian, you might stop him one, two, three times, on that fourth time, he might take it 60 yards.
While more and more NFL teams are becoming increasing more reliant on the passing game — Lynch and Peterson are two of just five running backs averaging 19 or more carries per game — physical, smash-mouth football sometimes seems like a relic from another era. But if watching running backs fight for every yard is your thing, then there is no better game to watch than a matchup between Peterson’s Vikings and Lynch’s Seahawks.
“A lot of teams just want to air it out all the time, pass over 40 times a game. But when you know a team’s going to come out and try to establish the run and try to dominate you physically, coming at you down hill, linebackers especially, we like that challenge,” Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright said.
And Carroll isn’t committed to the run just because he’s old-school and thinks physical football is fun. He sees it as the best way to win. And it’s hard to argue with his reasoning. Since the Seahawks made a concerted effort to dedicate themselves to the run game midway through 2011, Seattle has a 25-10 record and is well on its way to a second consecutive playoff berth.
“You look at a lot of teams that go deep in the playoffs and do well late in the season, they might not have a fullback, but they have some type of a running game,” fullback Michael Robinson said. “Late in the season, teams don’t want to hit guys like Marshawn and AP (Adrian Peterson).
“Because of the new rules in today’s NFL, I think tackling gets lost late in the season, because you can’t put on pads, you can’t hit at practice. So when you have a beast in the backfield like Marshawn, it makes your job a lot easier, because they don’t really want to tackle him.”
And while the Seahawks aren’t pass-happy, they’re very efficient in the pass game, in large part because of the threat Lynch represents. The Seahawks attempt 26.5 passes per game, the second fewest in the NFL, but they average 8.5 yards per attempt, which trails only Peyton Manning’s Broncos. And despite attempting so few passes, the Seahawks are tied for seventh in the NFL with 36 pass plays of 20 or more yards.
“That’s the best thing that we have in terms of being able to make some big plays just out of our running game. And if we can make explosive running plays out of our running game and then also make explosive plays out of our passing game, it’s tough to beat us if we’re good on third down and good in the red zone,” quarterback Russell Wilson said.
The Vikings don’t have the quarterback or all-around offense to capitalize on Peterson’s talents the way the Seahawks have with Lynch this season, but that doesn’t make Peterson’s ability any less impressive.
The two aren’t exactly the same in their style — both are violent runners, though Peterson is faster while Lynch is the more patient runner. And if Peterson finds daylight, he’s likely gone, while Lynch might go out of his way to run over a defensive back, or as Richard Sherman put it: “I think Adrian Peterson runs to go. Marshawn runs to run through people. He runs to find people to run through.”
As Allen noted, the Vikings will try to keep Beast Mode from going all Beast Mode, while Seahawks safety Earl Thomas said he and his teammates have to be piranhas when it comes to swarming Peterson, because they know if he gets in the open field, there is no stopping him.
“You see him on ESPN all the time. If he gets that burst, you see that head pumping; we don’t want to see none of that head pumping this week,” Thomas said. “So we’ve got to keep gang tackling and getting after him.”
So enjoy Harvin’s debut. It will no doubt be thrilling every time he touches the ball. But if you really want to watch what might decide this game, while at the same time see a pair of throwbacks in today’s pass-happy NFL, then make Lynch and Peterson your focus.
It should be fun. Well, except for the people trying to tackle them.
In a move that was largely expected, the Seahawks activated Russell Okung from injured reserve/designated for return list on Saturday, a sign that the left tackle will return to action today against Minnesota. Okung, who injured his toe in Week 2, has practiced the past two weeks. To make room on the roster, Seattle released third-string quarterback B.J. Daniels, a player they acquired earlier this season after he was waived by the 49ers.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.