RENTON This is not how Pete Carroll wants to win.
But he’s mostly still winning, whether his Seahawks have a running game—or not, if the form of last two seasons holds.
So Monday night against the Atlanta Falcons, the coach who believes in run first, pass second will continue to live with quarterback Russell Wilson doing it all.
That’s just how it is for Seattle (6-3) right now.
"It is. It is frustrating, somewhat," Carroll said. "But I could stick my head in the sand and ignore some stuff, too. We got to keep moving and we got to do what we can with our guys."
That means relying exclusively on Wilson’s throwing arm and his scrambling, running legs. The $87.6 million franchise QB is especially earning his pay this season. He is tied for second in the NFL in passing yards per game (282.6). He set the Seahawks’ franchise record with 452 yards in the air last month in the rally to beat Houston.
Plus, Wilson leads the team with 290 yards rushing. Eighty-nine percent of his rushing total (258 yards) has come off scramble plays away from charging defenders on what were supposed to be passes.
So much for the biggest objective Carroll had for the 2017 season: improving last season’s 25th-ranked rushing offense in the league. Take out Wilson’s mad dashes and Seattle’s 22nd-ranked running game this season would be dead last, 32nd in the NFL.
Is this sustainable, this all-Wilson-or-bust offense? Can the Seahawks win this way, without a running game--other than Wilson’s sandlot dashes—to set up the play-action throws that have been the basis of Seattle’s passing game for years?
"Well, we keep working at it. That is all we can do," offensive coordinator and play caller Darrell Bevell said.
"It’s not something that you ever want to abandon. You become very one-dimensional that way, so it is in us. And we like to run. And we will continue to do it, because it helps set up other things in our offense."
Then Bevell added a dose of practicality. It showed where his mind is when the game is on the line and he has to calls plays that he knows will produce yards, points and ultimately wins.
It’s on number 3.
"But we are doing other things really well right now," Bevell said--meaning Wilson is doing everything really well right now. "So the point is to win the game and score points.
"And so whatever we need to do, we will do that."
If Wilson keeps playing like this, who needs running backs?
Carroll traded for Marshawn Lynch in the middle of his first season leading the Seahawks, in 2010. That move then Lynch’s bullish, decisive style of either stream-rolling or cutting past unblocked defenders gave the coach his Seattle running game. That and the defense he and general manager John Schneider built became the foundation for this current stretch of five consecutive postseason appearances, two Super Bowls and the franchise’s first NFL championship.
But Carroll hasn’t had his cherished running game since Lynch left at the end of his injury-filled 2015 season. The running backs on the Seahawks’ current active roster— Rawls, Eddie Lacy (who will return Monday from missing last week’s game with strained groin), J.D. McKissic and Mike Davis, promoted from the practice squad this week when C.J. Prosise joined fellow running back Chris Carson on injured reserve—have rushed for 368 combined through nine games. No other NFL team’s backs have produced less this season.
Wilson has gained 82.1 percent of the Seahawks’ yards from scrimmage. That’s the most by one player for any team in the league.
Does he feel burdened by the offense being almost totally dependent solely on him?
“No, not at all," Wilson said.
"I think we have to do what we have to do to win. I think that’s what I’m here for, is to help our team win."
Wilson had 85 percent of Seattle’s yards before last week’s win at Arizona. That’s when running back Thomas Rawls had a rare, 23-yard run. How rare? It was Rawls’ longest run of the season.
Yet Seattle is second in passing offense. They are seventh in total offense. They have scored 46 points while beating the Colts and 41 while defeating the Texans. This is the first season since the 2013 one that ended with the Seahawks winning the Super Bowl that they’ve scored more than 40 points in multiple games. And seven games still remain in the regular season. The Seahawks are among the top six teams in the NFC currently holding a playoff spot. They are one game behind the Rams for first place in the NFC West, with a win already over Los Angeles and a game against the Rams in Seattle Dec. 17.
"It hasn’t been quite the same," Carroll said. "But we are still moving the football and we are making a lot of first downs, and we can do a lot of damage.
"So we just have to do it the way we can do it."
Still, Carroll says: "I never give up on the fact of trying to balance out your attack. I think it is the best way to play football. And so we will find a way to do that, but it is a little bit different.
"It hasn’t been as obvious as it has been in the past."
So, no, Carroll says the Seahawks aren’t giving up on the run to just rely exclusively with Wilson’s passes and sandlot plays—no matter that that often seems to be the only way this team can move the ball consistently.
"We are going to run the football this week," Carroll said. "We are not going to not run it.
"We are going to run the heck out of it."