RENTON Though he’s still getting treatment and taking precautions for his sprained knee and ankle, Russell Wilson “looks great” after the Seahawks’ bye and four days before Seattle hosts fellow division leader Atlanta.
That was coach Pete Carroll’s assessment before Wednesday’s practice, adding “that’s a great sign for us.”
Great indeed, because the sprained right ankle Wilson got in the opener Sept. 11 and sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee from Sept. 25 have all but eliminated Wilson’s running. Last year the quarterback’s 553 yards rushing accounted for nearly one-quarter of the Seahawks’ No. 3 running game in the NFL.
This season through four games the hobbled Wilson’s rushing yardage is just 7.5 percent of Seattle’s 372 yards on the ground. The Seahawks are currently 18th in the league in rushing offense.
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Lead back Thomas Rawls being out into November with a cracked fibula hasn’t helped. But Wilson playing on through his leg sprains have had an even bigger effect on the Seahawks’ rushing offense -- though many overlook that effect, because Wilson’s throwing through four games is on pace to break his record-setting 4,024 yards passing in the 2015 season.
“The threat that he poses is always a threat and has always been a threat in our running game,” Carroll said of Wilson. “You know, he’s averaging one yard a carry right now. That’s not the guy we know.
“So, as he comes back to full speed and can be the factor, it affects everything.”
Even after a week of not practicing or playing -- but not a week “off,” as I wrote this week -- Wilson is unlikely to be at “full speed” Sunday against the Falcons. He’s believed to have a high-ankle sprain, which often take a month or more to heal. And his sprained MCL may still require a brace Wilson wore while passing all over the New York Jets in Seattle’s last game, the win on the road Oct. 2.
But Wilson may be more of a threat running than he’s been since the first half of the opener more than a month ago. Even incremental improvement in Wilson’s mobility and willingness to run will improve the Seahawks’ running game and thus bring the offense closer to Carroll’s plan.
As we’ve discussed here the last two weeks, Wilson has run 15 times for just 28 yards (1.9 yards per rush) so far this season. Last season after four games he’d run 27 times for 158 yards (5.9 yards a carry).
His types of runs have also changed. Last regular season, Wilson scrambled 56 times (an average of 3.5 times per game) for 401 of his 553 yards rushing. He averaged 7.2 yards per scramble. He gained 19 first downs on scrambles off pass calls.
So far this season on the bad legs he has scrambled just six times (1.5 times per game) for 31 yards. He has averaged 5.2 yards per scramble. He has yet to gain a first down by turning pass calls into improvised runs.
“Most of all, we just have to keep going, keep hammering,” Carroll said. “We are really excited to keep hammering the football and get back to the numbers and the balance that we want.”
Seattle has run the ball 113 times and thrown it 142 times so far this season.
“We have also had the benefit a little bit of having the ability to rely on the throwing game, like against the Jets when they loaded a bunch of guys up front. And we were able to protect them and we threw the heck out of the football (32 passes for 309 yards and three scores) that day,” Carroll said. “We were able to take advantage of that. That’s really being able to take advantage of balance.
“However, the numbers aren’t where we want them in the running game. We’ve got to get that going.”
This may be the week to do it. Atlanta, though 4-1 and on a four-game winning streak, is 15th in the league in run defense and 22nd in yards allowed per carry. The Saints, 29th in rushing, romped for 5 yards per run against Atlanta last month. Oakland gained 155 yards on 25 rushes in a narrow loss to the Falcons.
Lately, the Falcons have been better against the run -- 133 yards allowed combined in the last two games. But especially Carolina and last weekend Denver barely tried to run after falling behind to Atlanta’s soaring offense. The Panthers ran just 15 times against Atlanta. The Broncos rushed 24 times last weekend in a 23-16 loss that was a 23-6 Atlanta lead in the fourth quarter.
Even with Wilson not running much if at all, Seattle is averaging 28 running plays per game so far this season.