Pete Carroll knows his team has to keep trying to run the ball if it is going to keep winning. That was true vs. the Rams and certainly will apply in the playoffs.
The question: Will the offensive line get it back together or will Seattle have to win the way it did against Los Angeles?
The Seahawks had rolled up 655 rushing yards, at a 6.1 average, over four games heading into last Thursday, leading to some confidence that they might be able to buck their trend of poor performances against the Rams.
But they instead conjured one of their worst rushing games of the season, averaging a season-low 2.4 yards per carry. It was their sixth game under 3.0 this season — the most in Carroll’s seven seasons. It also was the worst rushing performance by that metric since Russell Wilson became QB.
If you take away Jon Ryan’s bizarre, concussion-causing, 26-yard dash on a fake punt and three kneeldowns by Wilson to end the game, they rushed for just 49 yards on 26 carries (1.9 average) against Aaron Donald and company.
Whether it was Germain Ifedi whiffing on Donald or Mark Glowinksi playing matador vs. Donald or Bradley Sowell getting roasted by William Hayes and Ethan Westbrooks, it was the same as ever vs. the Rams. The Hawks have gained just 198 yards, at 2.6 ypc, the past three games against that crew. They haven’t been over 3.0 ypc in any of those contests.
“I want to give them credit. They’ve played really well against us for some time now, and they did it again,” Carroll said.
With rotating tackles and first-time starters almost everywhere, this has been Seattle’s worst offensive line since 2010 — when Russell Okung was a rookie and the Hawks used a bunch of second-tier guys (Chris Spencer, Sean Locklear, Tyler Polumbus, Mike Gibson, Ben Hamilton, Stacy Andrews) in front of Marshawn Lynch.
Some think Seattle’s struggles to run this year are due to the retirement of Lynch, but the real culprit has been the inexperienced line, with injuries to Wilson and Thomas Rawls acting as accessories to the crime.
If Lynch were such a savior, why did the Seahawks average only 89 yards a game in 2010, the year they acquired him, and why did they rank just 21st at 110 yards the next season?
The running game took off only when Wilson arrived in 2012. By then, Okung was in his third season and Max Unger was established at center — both went to the Pro Bowl in 2012 — and feisty Breno Giacomini had taken charge at right tackle.
Despite a lot of coming and going along the blocking unit, the Seahawks turned into a top-five rushing team from 2012 to 2015. Even with Lynch out for much of last season, Wilson and Rawls led the NFL’s third-ranked rushing attack.
This year, they have taken a step back, not because of Lynch’s departure but because of the combination of injuries to their top runners and inexperience and inconsistencies among their blockers.
The Rams game was the latest failure. “It was really hard; we had a hard time blocking them and sustaining stuff,” Carroll said.
“But,” he added, “we were going to keep running it and we needed to keep plugging away and calling it and staying with it.”
That worked only because the Seattle defense had an easy matchup against Rams rookie QB Jared Goff and Wilson rebounded from one of his worst games to throw three TD passes.
But the Hawks are going to have to find a way to stay balanced the rest of the way. And, if their line fails to put it together, they will simply have to avoid turnovers, hit big plays in the passing game and try to get ahead rather than play from behind, as they so often do in the playoffs.
The line will get a shot at redemption Saturday against Arizona’s 12th-ranked run defense (99.1) — a group that held Seattle to 52 yards and 2.7 per carry in the 6-6 overtime tie in Week 7.
The Seahawks then figure to face even more tough run defenses in the playoffs. As it stands, the Seahawks would get a first-round bye and then host Atlanta, New York or Detroit. The latter two are ranked fifth and 11th in run defense — the Giants giving up just 90.1 yards per game, Detroit 98.9.
Assuming they were to advance to the NFC title game, the Hawks likely would head to Texas to face the toughest run defense in the league: Dallas allows 80.9 yards per game.
However the Seahawks look at it, it’s going to be a tough run.