Amid the gales of local sports relief exhaled Sunday over the Seahawks’ ability to smack a 1-5 team into 1-6, there was an area of calm that signified apprehension.
The Seahawks still can’t run the ball.
Even the presumptive return to play of QB Russell Wilson, which is expected to lift every seaworthy craft in the Northwest, won’t much help the problem. Against a bad Jacksonville defense, the Seahawks managed 69 yards in 25 attempts, the longest a 12-yarder in the first half by RB Alex Collins.
The margin of the 31-7 triumph fails to disguise the fact that the Seahawks’ eight-game average of 102.9 yards a game is 21st in the NFL, where the Cleveland Browns lead at 161.8.
Data analysts will argue that the weakness is a trifle, since the run game has been declared as out-dated as a phone booth. That has never stopped Pete Carroll from fishing for quarters in his pocket, trying to connect the ground game with his version of success.
A notably odious development came Sunday, when on the first possession of the game, the Seahawks had a first-and-goal at the Jaguars 1-yard line, and needed all four tries to score. Even the touchdown was close, resorting to a rare sneak by QB Geno Smith behind new-old starting C Ethan Pocic. By the length of a mosquito’s eyebrow, he made it, thrusting the ball across the plane for an instant.
Had the QB’s sleeve length been, say, 32 inches like Wilson’s, instead of Smith’s 34, the game may have been different.
When asked about the sequence at his Monday presser at the start of the bye week, Carroll joked that the four run plays was part of his plan, invoking basketball’s four-corner stall in the pre-shot clock era popularized by legendary college coach Dean Smith.
“Working the clock there,” he said. He was smiling. I think.
More seriously, the three stuffed runs were all failures to control the line of scrimmage, and even Smith’s body was stopped on fourth down.
“We didn’t hit the other couple of runs very well,” Carroll said. “We didn’t sustain the block that we needed to on Alex’s run. The line of scrimmage got knocked back on the first one with Rashaad (Penny). We just have to keep punching.”
In the three-game losing streak that ended Sunday, Carroll’s fancy for punching, along with his age, became popular themes for critics who suggested his time had come and gone, somehow overlooking having to work around the injury absence of one of the game’s best players.
There would be fewer complaints about Carroll if he had had over the first eight games the services of Wilson, RB Chris Carson and Pocic to make the run game respectable. Since health travails intervened, Carroll was candid in his assessment of the result.
“I don’t feel like we’ve found the rhythm at all,” he said. “We’ve been spotty. Alex has done a nice job. I really think we’ve watched Alex, the last two weeks, making it through the game. He had a groin issue; I don’t think he was at top speed either one of the lats two games. I think these two weeks are going to be really important for him. He was good enough to play.
“I like what we’re doing in our run game scheme-wise, but we have to find the consistency. Where it really shows up to me is at the end of the game. We didn’t run the ball well in the fourth quarter. That’s when you really want to hammer the football. You eat up clock, and you kind of send the message that you got your act together. I don’t feel like we’ve done that yet. Except for the Pittsburgh game.”
Pass protection, better earlier, has faltered too, with 10 sacks in two weeks.
“That was terrible,” he said. “Disappointed in that. Continue to work to get rid of the football when we get in trouble, and just make sure we’re cleaner. Get better. Geno ate the football a couple times when we want him to get rid of it. It happened again yesterday. Need to get better at that.”
The good news Monday for the Seahawks was optimism around the returns of Wilson and Carson for the Nov. 14 game at Green Bay against the 7-1 Packers, who seem to be the NFC’s flavor of the moment after ending Arizona’s 7-0 start to the season Sunday.
After Carroll said he knew nothing about the timetable for removal of the pin in Wilson’s fractured middle finger, Wilson an hour later posted on Twitter a photo of the extracted device.
The step followed the removal of surgical stitches, and means Wilson can begin rehab to regain strength and mobility. Since shortly after the Oct. 7 injury, Wilson has talked up the Packers game as his target.
Also targeting the Packers is Carson, whose chronic neck problem apparently improved enough to diminish the fear that it could be a season-ending injury.
“Talking to Chris, he wants to go for it next week,” Carroll said. “He has to get back on Monday and check in with the doctors to see where he is and show that he is okay. Then if he does, he will start practicing. He’s really determined to get that done, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for him.”
Carroll also said that a groin strain that caused CB D.J. Reed to leave Sunday’s game was minor, and he should be back for practice next week.
The pending recoveries of Wilson and Carson, and the return of Pocic, suggest the offense has a shot to send the message that, after a half-season of staggering about at the bottom of the NFC West, has its act together. Which is the mandatory minimum to upset the Packers at Lambeau Field, something Wilson has yet to experience.