Marshawn Lynch sprinted down the right sideline untouched, into and out of the end zone.
But he wasn’t carrying a football. This wasn’t the latest in his league-leading 38 touchdowns rushing over the last four seasons. The Seahawks’ loss to the Dallas Cowboys wasn’t even going on.
The game was over. The Seahawks’ three-time Pro Bowl running back and NFL rushing leader since 2011 was running off the field into the tunnel at the south end of CenturyLink Field. He was the first player into Seattle’s locker room.
It was the most freely and consistently Lynch ran all Sunday.
The 30-23 defeat to Dallas was the 11th time since the Seahawks (3-2) traded for Lynch in 2010 that they gave him 10 or fewer carries in a regular-season or postseason game. Seattle is now 2-9 in those games.
That includes going 0-2 this season. Lynch had six carries in last month’s defeat at San Diego.
For all the explanations and consternation over the defending Super Bowl champions having as many losses in five games as they had in the first three months of last season — the less-productive pass rush, the injuries, the porous offensive line, the Legion of Boom secondary being more “Legion of Blah” — the inconsistency in adhering to the identity of Lynch’s power running is as telling as any.
He has the most carries (980), most yards rushing (4,418), most 100-yard rushing games (20), most combined touchdowns (45) and most rushing touchdowns (38) since 2011, his first full season with the Seahawks.
And he has the most reason to get the ball early and often in Sunday’s game at St. Louis (1-4).
“Whenever we’re running the ball a lot, then we’re fine,” coach Pete Carroll said before the players’ day off Tuesday.
“We felt the absence of it. So we’ve got to get right back to it, because that’s the way we play. And that’s the way we need to be playing.”
Carroll added: “We don’t ever want to play a game when Marshawn carries the ball 10 times. That’s not enough. That’s not a format that we’re trying to build from.”
Yet it’s happened now twice in five games. It’s the highest frequency for Lynch getting 10 or fewer carries since a three-game span early in the 2011 season. That was offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s first season with the Seahawks.
Those Lynch-less games that year, at Pittsburgh and Atlanta, were losses, too.
Lynch’s running is the foundation of quarterback Russell Wilson’s play-action passing. It slows down opposing defenders that have besieged Wilson into wild, whirling-dervish scrambles soon into his drop backs the last two seasons. Lynch’s rushes have proven to create shorter third-down chances than the Seahawks had while converting only five of 13 against Dallas, and three of eight in San Diego last month.
The Seahawks had 6 yards or longer to gain in 12 of their 13 third downs against the Cowboys. The only time they had a shorter chance, third and 4 early in the fourth quarter, Bevell had Lynch run inside. He gained five yards for his only third-down conversion of the game via the run. Seattle drove on to make a go-ahead field goal.
Very little of Lynch is a large reason why Wilson had the third lowest-rated passing game of his NFL career against Dallas.
“The sense of urgency naturally starts to pick up, especially when you don’t have that many drives early on in the game,” Wilson said. “We only had three (drives) in the first half, so that was kind of tough on us offensively. It’s one of those things where you want to play so well, and you want to get the ball back.
“So, it’s a little bit frustrating when you don’t have the ball, but at the end of the day I think it comes down to, when you get your opportunities capitalizing on (them).”
Not running Lynch on first and second downs consistently and all the third-and-longs was why the Seahawks had just 40 and 48 offensive plays against San Diego and Dallas respectively. The defense allowing the Cowboys and Chargers to each convert 10 of their 17 third downs in those games sure didn’t help.
Bevell’s justified effort to get the dynamic and speedy Percy Harvin involved all over the field — as a wide receiver, as a tailback — to stretch defenses horizontally and set up Lynch’s inside runs later works when the offense is getting 60, 70-plus offensive plays. That’s what happened in Seattle’s wins over Green Bay (66), Denver (75) and Washington (63).
But when the offense is getting only 40 to 50 snaps, it doesn’t have the luxury of using one-quarter or one-third of those plays being more exotic plays to Harvin, or anyone else. Not if the Seahawks want to stay true to Carroll’s base philosophy of running inside with Lynch, that is.
As Carroll said Monday, it’s not as easy as just turning and handing the ball to Lynch more often. The Seahawks’ — and every team’s — offensive game plans are based upon a series of plays for categories of downs and distances that set up each other.
“It really isn’t that simple, it’s not that simple,” Carroll said. “We’ve got to convert on third downs and we got to stay out of 2nd-and-15 and 1st-and-15. It affects the way the calling goes and we weren’t in sync as we need to be.
“We need to be better. We’ve been there this year. We know how to do this. We just have to get right again.”
The Seahawks really haven’t been the way they want to be, for as long as they want to be, yet this season. Sure, they are second in the NFL in rushing offense at 149.8 yards per game. But Wilson’s running and scrambling have contributed 221 of Seattle’s 749 yards on the ground. That’s 30 percent of the team’s running game from the quarterback, and only a portion of those have been called runs for Wilson.
“We come into this week, I think, with a lot of yards rushing. Not exactly the way we want to get it done, but with a lot of yards rushing,” Carroll said, “and that’s really important to the make-up of our team.”
It’s even more important now. The Rams are allowing 139.8 yards rushing per game, 26th in the league.
Seattle’s season is at an early crossroads. Either it will become a .500 panic attack six games in. Or it will be a more relieving 4-2, with the Seahawks still having five games within the NFC West left to play following this week’s.
“We have to do a better job this week and really zero in. We’re playing a very difficult team in the Rams and the way they style their defense. Offensively, in particular, we’re going to be challenged,” Carroll said.
“We just have to get better. There’s a lot of room for improvement. The coaches were all over that. Players seemed to be willing to accept that they have to get better too. Everybody has to get right so we’re working on that.
“Point the finger at me first.”
As Carroll said, the Seahawks know where they want to get offensively. Time to give Lynch the ball to get them there. There’s still 11 games left in the regular season to do it.
“Not everything is terrible,” Wilson said. “We’re still a great football team.”
SEAHAWKS CUT TERRELL, RE-SIGN SCRUGGS
The Seattle Seahawks released safety Steven Terrell just two days after he was forced into action against Dallas because of injuries in Seattle’s secondary.
The Seahawks released Terrell on Tuesday and re-signed defensive lineman Greg Scruggs. Terrell was signed off Seattle’s practice squad to the active roster Saturday before the Seahawks’ game against Dallas.
When Byron Maxwell went down with a calf strain in the first half, Terrell ended up being used as an extra defensive back. He was in on 22 defensive plays and another 10 on special teams.
Scruggs has yet to be active for a game this season as he continues to work back from a knee injury that forced him to miss the entire 2013 season.