Remember how the schedule early in the season was doing the Seahawks a favor, with an abundance of lesser teams? The schedule finishes its diabolical catch-up plan Sunday — in Dallas on Christmas Eve against an 8-6 Cowboys team needing a win to keep alive playoff hopes and welcoming back freight-train RB Ezekiel Elliott after a six-game suspension.
Elliott is set up for the Seahawks like Bugs Bunny is set up for Elmer Fudd.
“He’s fresh, he looks lighter,” Cowboys running backs coach Gary Brown told the Dallas Morning News this week. “Legs are good. His focus is different. It’s more laser than it was before. He always had a good focus, now it’s like, elite focus. I’m very looking forward to seeing these next two games.
“When you take something away that you love so much, you understand that it’s precious. And you don’t want to lose it again. And you want to make sure when you’re doing it, you’re doing it to the best of your ability.”
Elliott, 22, is so amped that NFL Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson told TMZ Sports that he accepted a bet from the Cowboys’ second-year star, who wagered that he would get 200 yards rushing his first game back.
“Friendly bet,” Brown said. “I’m sure it didn’t mean to get in the media.”
The chance to win the bet seems minimal. But after the Seahawks two games ago gave up 101 yards to Jacksonville’s Leonard Fournette, then 152 to the Rams’ Todd Gurley Sunday, the unthinkable is thinkable.
Despite playing only eight games, Elliott’s 783 yards (4.1 ypg) is still 16th, ahead of Marshawn Lynch, LeGarrette Blount, Derrick Henry and Jonathan Stewart.
“I think,” Carroll said, “he has to be about as hungry as you can get.”
As Seahawks fans are painfully well aware, the defense, largely for reasons of poor health, has fallen apart. The 244 rushing yards by the Rams was the most by an opponent in the Carroll era.
The only teams more dedicated to running the ball this season than the Cowboys, No. 3 in the NFL at 136 yards a game, are recent Seahawks foes: No. 1 Jacksonville (149) and No. 2 Philadelphia (140). The Rams are seventh (124).
The Cowboys, who’ve lost just a single fumble, likely would have been tops had Elliott been available the past six games.
“It’s been a common theme, it seems, for a month now,” Carroll said. “Teams we’re playing have a similar formula: They’re all committed to the running game. They play solid defense and they’re good on special teams.”
Carroll wasn’t conceding that injuries were the only reason for the vulnerability.
“The better the (opponent) is, the more they take advantage of your mistakes,” he said. “You just have to be errorless. That’s how you have to go about it. We made some misses in some reads, and some things that could be a lot sharper.
“It just leads to the easy yardage for them. Good running backs take advantage of that.”
Errorlessness is a high goal for a team unused to getting worse as the season progresses instead of better.
The Seahawks’ reversal of fortunes this month has sent a shock wave through Seattle that is unlikely to diminish with the events of Sunday. It’s worth keeping in mind that while it’s in serious jeopardy, the Seahawks’ streak of five seasons in a row with at least one playoff win has been an impressive feat.
But evidence of the fragility of sustained success in high-stakes pro team sports isn’t all that hard to find, even in Seattle. Three history lessons:
Remember the 2005 Seahawks who went to the franchise’s first Super Bowl? By 2008, the Seahawks were 4-12 — the first of four consecutive losing seasons.
Remember the 2001 Mariners of 116 wins? By 2004, the Mariners were 63-99, and have yet to recover.
Remember the 1979 NBA champion Sonics, who were 52-30 in the regular season and reached the NBA Finals for a second consecutive year? By 1981, they were 34-48 and last in the Pacific Division, the steepest two-year decline of a champion in league history to that point.
So we are well experienced in rapid tumbles down the mountain.
But the fact that you’ve read this far suggests you share mountain-climbers memory: The ability to shed pain and keep going back.
Wagner, Wright will play Sunday
Carroll confirmed after practice Friday that LB Bobby Wagner (hamstring) will join K.J. Wright (concussion) in returning to the starting lineup Sunday.
Wagner “is ready to go,” he said. “Last week, we didn’t see him until Sunday. He’s well ahead of that. Great sign. Last week (in the third quarter vs. the Rams) we took him out when we had to. The whole week came out very positive for him.”
Their absences in the 42-7 blowout loss to LA were critical in a defensive collapse that led to the worst beating of the Carroll era.
“They’ve been with us for such a long time and they mean so much to us.,” Carroll said. “Everything plays like we’re capable of playing with those guys out there.”
Rookie DT Naz Jones remains doubtful with a sprained ankle, and TE Nick Vannett is questionable with a sore shoulder. Also questionable was SS Bradley McDougald, but Carroll said he needed only to rest a sore knee and would play. DE Frank Clark made a late appearance on the questionable list Friday after practice with a toe injury.
On another matter, Carroll spoke for the first time since the NFL levied a $100,000 fine on the club for not following the concussion protocol with Russell Wilson after a hit in the Nov. 9 game against Arizona.
“I see why the league did what they did,” he said. “It shouldn’t happen like that again. We’ve made some changes. We never had any intention to try and avoid that. ”