The Elephant in the Locker Room: Let’s Talk About Injury-Prone Lynch

Hawks-150Expectations are high, and everyone’s paying attention… But every week it seems like there’s some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our World Champions.

By Greg Wright

In an email I received from a reader this week, I noted the following observation:

I was scared when I saw the Hawks first game, and even their wins when I saw that they are (apparently anyway) getting touchdowns primarily from a running game which is an iffy proposition given the fact that Lynch is (1) often injured (2) thinking of retiring (3) often used up by half-time, etc.

This concerned fan is not alone in speculating about Marshawn Lynch’s durability. As the Tribune and other papers have noted, Lynch has missed at least one practice each week since the beginning of October. I also read the following from various columnists this week:

Rob Rang at “Lynch has struggled with back issues. … He has fought through various injuries this season, including pain in his ankle, knee, ribs and back and famously remained on the sideline in frigid Kansas City during halftime to receive treatment on his back.”

John Boyle, Everett Herald: “Phrases like ‘wear and tear’ and ‘able to endure it’ are pretty big red flags for an aging running back, especially one with Lynch’s career workload and physical style. … What used to be ‘back’ or ‘not injury related’ on the injury report is now a combination of injuries — calf and rib last week — and shots of Lynch wincing in pain while being poked and prodded by trainers have become an increasingly regular part of the television broadcast.”

Garrett Imeson, Oregon Sports News: “Even for the optimistic, there is a harsh reality coming on: Father Time. 2015 will be Lynch’s last season before turning 30. There seems to be a pretty severe downturn when backs hit the mythical three-decade mark. As well as Marshawn has been running this season, the dropoff for backs seemingly comes out of nowhere. Even if Lynch plays for Seattle in 2015, his performance will have to begin dwindling shortly after. That leaves Seahawks fans forced to confront a harsh reality: the team’s identity will have to change or at least find a new face.”

LynchBut it’s not all gloom and doom out there in Sports Journalism Land. It’s pretty widely acknowledged that Seattle’s favorite Beastquake-maker is among the most durable running backs in the league. Gregg Bell at the Tribune notes that Lynch has “missed just one game since Seattle acquired him in 2010. That was in October 2011 at Cleveland, when his back tightened during pregame warmups and never loosened.”

And prior to the game with the Eagles last Sunday, Geoff Mosher of CNN Philly noted that since Lynch’s first full season with the Seahawks, his “5,007 rushing yards and 44 rushing TDs are the most in the NFL. His 1,113 carries in that span are also the league’s most, 84 ahead of second-ranked McCoy, and Lynch is tops among all running backs with 23 100-yard efforts.” Opposing players regularly note that Lynch concludes plays not with a grunt or groan, but with a giggle and a grin. As much as Lynch might hurt during the week, on Sundays he’s in the hunt for fun. “It’s all about the action, boss.”

And this is what that action has looked like over his career, courtesy of ESPN player stats:


So Lynch is on course for his second-best season ever… and is also having his best receiving year.

But where’s the elephant in the locker room? you ask. It’s nothing new, after all, to talk about Lynch’s durability, nor about his physical woes.

Well, this is what’s been missing in discussions of Lynch this week: not only are Lynch’s stats not in decline, his numbers are by design.

In other words, Pete Carroll is not to Marshawn Lynch what Bum Phillips was to Earl Campbell. Carroll is not going to ride his work horse until it flops down dead. Lynch is not going to carry the ball 40 times a game… because Carroll wants Lynch fresh in December, and fresh in the second half of those divisional December matchups.

And why?

Because that’s the best path to playing into February, that’s why.

You may note that Lynch had his most carries and yards in 2012, the year that the ‘Hawks were chasing San Francisco for the division title and a playoff berth… and came up short on the former while squeaking into the playoffs as a Wild Card. There was no clear vision for an extended season that year. It was now or never, every week.

So if you’re concerned about the level of work that Lynch is getting, or why he’s being treated with kids gloves, be not afraid: Carroll knows his Super Bowl hopes rest on Lynch’s tender back, and he just wants to make sure he makes the best use of it… and for as long as possible.

What’s up with Lynch is good news this year for Seahawks fans… and, if Lynch is interested in continuing after this season, probably good news for next year, too.


2 Responses to “The Elephant in the Locker Room: Let’s Talk About Injury-Prone Lynch”
  1. Brandon says:

    I guess I have never been concerned with Lynch’s injuries. While I understand that just by watching you would think he would have more injuries since he seems to seek out violent contact, ever since he got here he has had back problems. There is also the “trends” that he is disproving. “everyone” says at 28 running backs decline, rapidly, however Lynch has not shown any signs of this. Here’s hoping he comes back next year, it is true joy to watch him run the football.

    • Greg Wright says:

      I agree, Brandon. The current concerns seem to have been on the table for three years straight now, and they don’t seem to be panning out. And I just think that’s a huge credit to how well Lynch knows his own body, and the coaching staff’s willingness to give him room to manage things his way and trust him.

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