Defending the Super Bowl title sure has become a pain for the Seahawks.
Seattle, 4-3 and still seeking its first stretch of consistent play this season, has four starters out and three more questionable for Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders (0-7) at CenturyLink Field.
“We are ready to be home. It’s been a while,” coach Pete Carroll said following a light practice Friday, two days before the first home game since the loss to Dallas Oct. 12.
“We’re ready to roll.”
Well, at least those physically able to roll, anyway.
Tight end Zach Miller will miss his fifth consecutive game since ankle surgery, so Luke Willson — who caught the winning touchdown pass with 47 seconds left last weekend at Carolina — will start again. Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner will be out a third straight game because of a turf-toe ligament injury that is healing. Cornerback Byron Maxwell will be sidelined for the third game in a row with a strained calf, so Tharold Simon will make his third consecutive start.
It will be Simon’s third NFL start of his two-year career. Raiders rookie quarterback Derek Carr has already been in the league long enough to notice that. He and his coaches will likely target any receiver Simon is covering Sunday. The Seahawks may counter by moving All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman around the field and into specific one-on-one matchups, as Sherman has the last two games with Maxwell out.
Outside linebacker Malcolm Smith has a strained groin that Carroll said may keep him out next weekend, too, against the New York Giants.
The questionable starters are strong safety Kam Chancellor (a strained groin, among other pains), left tackle Russell Okung (strained calf) and center Max Unger (sprained foot).
While this is standard fare for many NFL teams in the middle of the regular season, it is more injuries than the Seahawks have had at this point in the previous two seasons — certainly more than last season, when they were relatively fortunate and healthy on their way to winning the Super Bowl.
Chancellor’s latest injury leaves him a game-day decision to play Sunday, Carroll said. That is on top of his painful bone spurs in both ankles and the assorted other injuries Chancellor has been noticeably dragging through recent games.
“He’s banged up. He’ll be worked out on game day. We’ll see what happens,” Carroll said of his key run stopper and ball hawk in the center of the field.
Chancellor’s ongoing pain and backup Jeron Johnson being out with a concussion he got on a kickoff late in last weekend’s win at Carolina leaves Seattle with just three healthy starters at safety: Earl Thomas, DeShawn Shead and Steven Terrell. Terrell has been on a practice-squad shuttle for some of this season. There could be a Saturday roster move at that position.
Okung has a new calf injury to go with a sore ankle and banged-up shoulder. If Okung can’t play Sunday, second-year man Alvin Bailey likely will.
Unger completed his first week of practice, though on a limited basis, since he sprained his foot Oct. 6 in the win at Washington. Carroll said the two-time Pro Bowl selection will also be a game-time decision Sunday. Unger says his foot is much better and he is hopeful to play.
“It’s been a long road back,” he said Friday.
Stephen Schilling has been starting for Unger the last three games — his first three games at center of his four-year NFL career. But now he is questionable with a knee injury he originally played through two games ago at St. Louis.
If both Unger and Schilling are out, Patrick Lewis would play against Oakland. Lewis, whom Seattle picked up this summer, released and then re-signed early this season, played five snaps two games ago against the Rams when Schilling first got hurt.
Carroll said the offensive line has missed Unger’s communication and “connection with Tom Cable,” the offensive line coach, while he’s been out.
“It’s hard. There’s no other way to get that but through years of working together,” Carroll said. “We were very fortunate that Steve Schilling did a very solid job for us, kept it together out there and did some good stuff.
“Having Max back is important, just communicating with everyone through the week and helping everybody. But then you also miss his play. He is a very, very good football player.”
Sherman was back for Friday’s workout after missing Thursday with a back injury. He is probable to play but may be less than fully healthy.
Malcolm Smith will “take a couple weeks before he gets back,” Carroll said. That likely means for Oakland and for next week’s home game against the New York Giants the Seahawks will have K.J. Wright back at outside linebacker to replace Smith — Wright has been starting the last two games for Wagner at middle linebacker. It also means the first career starts at middle linebacker for undrafted rookie Brock Coyle.
All these injuries in the back half of the defense comes on the eve of playing a Raiders team that has thrown the ball 67 percent of the time through seven games. No team in the NFL has run it fewer times than Oakland’s 133 rushes.
With all these injuries and mixing and matching, it may be a challenge for the Seahawks to attain and maintain any of the continuity they have been seeking on offense and defense for going on two months now.
Yes, even against the winless Raiders.
“We’re trying to get better. We’re trying to improve,” Carroll said. “We did a really good job on third down last week; we’d love to see that continue. The pressure (on the quarterback) was there last week; we’d love to see that continue.
“So we’re trying to build some momentum and consistency, certainly.”