The Running Back Who Mattered

By Nathan Ernst

This is the story Pete Carroll doesn’t want you to hear. This is the story of a running back who broke the mold.

From the very beginning, CMike was an analytics darling. Michael’s unreal combine performance caused spreadsheets to collapse under their own equations.

From Zach Whitman: Well, Fun Fact To Know And Tell about CM: if you took each one of his test scores down (40 yard time increases, broad jump decreases, etc.) by a whole standard deviation his pSPARQ would be 130 (!!!), good for ninth-best (!!!) in the 2014 class (!!!!!). That is insane. I can’t process it. It’s impossible.”

While this exceptional athleticism is what initially drew Pete Carroll’s interest, it wasn’t long before the coach began to wonder: Is Christine Michael a little *too* exceptional?

The answer, of course, is yes. Soon recognizing that Christine Michael would expose, through contrast, the morass of mediocrity that is the modern run game, Pete Carroll tried his best to suppress the supremely talented back. 

In 2013, Michael was given just 18 carries. Even with such a limited workload, Michael shined. He averaged 4.4 yards per carry, besting all other running backs on the team including Marshawn Lynch. Things only got worse in 2014 when, on just 34 carries, Michael improved his average yards per carry to 5.1. Again this rate bested Marshawn Lynch, outpacing him by nearly half a yard in just his second year in the league.

On a team lauded for their rushing attack, Christine Michael was showing the world what a difference-making running back could actually do. Pete Carroll had no choice but to pull out all the stops in 2015.

Carroll’s first effort to put the genie that is Christine Michael back in his bottle came with the decision to retain offensive line coach Tom Cable. Cable had been much criticized to this point and any fool could see it was time to move on. Pete not only kept him, but fully turned over offensive line roster decisions to the embattled coach.

Next, Carroll launched a two-pronged attack to further undermine his promethean ball carrier. Seattle traded away Max Unger, an All Pro center, in exchange for Jimmy Graham, a fantastic pass catcher but sub-par run blocker. Almost overnight, Seattle’s blocking was handed over to Justin Britt, Garry Gilliam, Drew Nowak, and Jimmy Graham.

But it wasn’t enough. Rumors that C-Mike’s carries were surpassing 1 EPA in practice, with a near 100% success rate, were rampant. Left with no choice, Coach Carroll banished the young back to Dallas. 

After years of undermining, Michael’s confidence wavered. He began to wonder whether the NFL would be able to accept a running back who added value to his team. Maybe running backs really were only good for short yardage situations and running out the clock. Lost in a sea of doubt, CMike would find himself cut by the Cowboys midseason.

We all know, however, that things were not going much better back in Seattle. Pete Carroll had only just stanched the bleeding induced by the hell he had unleashed on his own offensive line when Thomas Rawls was lost to injury. With his offense once again ascendent, Carroll gave in to desperation and brought Michael back to Seattle.

Michael was exuberant. His spirit restored, C-Mike provided an immediate boost to Seattle’s offense. In his first game back, against Cleveland, he rushed for 84 yards on 16 carries with an unprecedented 66% success rate in a 30-13 win. Two weeks later he would rush for over 100 yards on 17 carries in an even more lopsided 36-6 win against Arizona.

But it was all too much for Pete Carroll. Still terrified at Christine’s greatness, the coach unleashed his greatest act of sabotage yet. Seattle traveled to Minnesota for their first playoff game in 2015. Facing a ferocious Vikings defense, with a wind chill of -25 degrees, the Seahawks pounded the rock with C-Mike 21 times. Despite estimates of a temperature adjusted EPA/carry ranging from 2.1 to 2.6, Michael would succumb to the physical toll of the game.

Michael, never able to recover from that fateful day, would eventually be cut during the 2016 season. Pete Carroll’s quest to find a running back who is good, but not *too* good, continues, with rumors swirling that, perhaps, C.J. Prosise has met a fate similar to that of CMike’s. (Editor’s Note: How dare you)

But that’s a story for another day. Today we tell Christine Michael’s story. The story of a running back who took on math. The story of a running back who faced off with Big Rushing. The story of a running back who was too good to succeed.

The story of a running back who mattered.