Why didn’t Chris Carson play?
Coach Pete Carroll had a different answer Tuesday than he did the previous night for why the Seahawks’ lead running back stood on the sideline with his helmet on spectating for almost three-fourths of the Seahawks’ latest loss.
“It’s a difficult time, again. We need to do better. I need to do better,” Carroll said Tuesday on his weekly day-after radio show with Seattle’s KIRO AM, the morning after the 24-17 loss at Chicago dropped the Seahawks to 0-2.
“I make mistakes, you know. I misread a couple things that happened.”
Following Monday night’s game, I asked Carroll in his press conference at Soldier Field why Carson got only six carries, didn’t touch the ball after 11:51 remained in the second quarter and didn’t even get on the field in the second half. Rookie running back Rashaad Penny and third-stringer Mike Davis played instead.
“He was a little gassed from working on special teams and helping us,” Carroll said of Carson late Monday night. “He had to kind of double dip. And I wanted to see how we could do with Rashaad and get him some playing time.”
Carroll explained Monday night that Carson was tired from having to play so much more on special teams because of injuries to safeties and linebackers that normally play on kicking downs.
Carson played two snaps on special teams at Chicago.
He played 19 snaps on offense, of Seattle’s 66 plays.
That’s a load he—heck, any NFL back—should be able to carry.
More Seahawks bizarre: On Tuesday NFL Network reported the Minnesota Vikings reached an agreement with defensive tackle Tom Johnson on a one-year contract. Johnson started for the Seahawks nine days earlier, in the opener at Denver.
Last weekend Carroll and general manager John Schneider decided to release Johnson because they wanted to use his roster spot to promote backup safety Shalom Luani to the active roster and play special teams at Chicago amid all the Seahawks’ injuries. Their thinking was they could re-sign Johnson soon, after the need for special-teams help subsided.
Luani played as many snaps on special teams and defense as you did against the Bears. Which, again, was just two fewer than Carson did.
So the Seahawks gave away their starting defensive tackle for nothing. Worse, because Johnson is a vested veteran who was on Seattle’s roster for week one, the Seahawks have to guarantee his salary for the entire season: $1,865,625. Seattle takes a salary-cap hit for Johnson of $2.1 million. And now Johnson is getting paid by the Vikings, too, a second contract reportedly worth up to $1.5 million.
Minnesota plays at Seattle Dec. 10. Yes, the Seahawks will be paying Johnson to play against them.
That makes the Carson fiasco Monday into Tuesday almost excusable, by comparison.
“I was off on the thing I said about Chris, about...he was on special teams a couple plays. But I thought that’s what happened (that he was on teams more),” Carroll told 710 ESPN radio Tuesday. “I misread him on the sidelines a little bit, and didn’t clearly understand. And so now I just want to give Rashaad a chance to go play, and he did. And then Chris never really gets back in the game.
“It was, ‘What, did you bench him, or something?’ That didn’t happen. It was the way the thing was turned. And I missed it a little bit.”
Carroll said he didn’t know during the game that special-teams coach Brian Schneider had taken Carson off most of the kicking units “because he was running the ball well” early in the first quarter.
“I just looked at him on the sidelines. It looked like he was kind of worn down a little bit. And I knew he was a factor in special teams. And I just missed that he wasn’t...”
In June, Carroll raved how fit Carson was, perhaps the star of the Seahawks’ offseason in his return from a broken leg and ankle-ligament damage that ended his starting job as a rookie last Oct. 1.
“What has really jumped out is Chris Carson. Chris has looked incredible the whole time, the entire offseason,” Carroll said June 7 during minicamps. “He hasn’t missed one snap of anything. He just looks so fit. He’s just so cut, and quick and explosive and all that.
“He might be the guy, when you look at everybody, who jumps out in that regard.”
Monday, Carson was the guy left on the sidelines for most of what was a 10-3 game into the fourth quarter, for a team that keeps saying it wants to and needs to run the ball more.
Carson ran three consecutive times on the game’s first three plays in Chicago, for 13 yards. He ran three more times the rest of the night, and none after that 11:51 mark of the second quarter.
“Brian had taken him off on a couple things, because he was running the ball well. So I just missed it,” Carroll said. “I thought that’s what happened when I looked at him.
“But it wasn’t like to bench him. It wasn’t like I was disappointed with him. And the plays were, as the plays came on, we just wanted to see how the other guys do and mix them in. And that’s just the way it went. I didn’t read it right. And when I commented about that, I was just...I wasn’t clear. I just misread the situation.”
All this was after Carroll said last week rookie Rashaad Penny needed to regroup and re-gain his decisiveness running, and that Carson had taken a clear hold of the featured-back job coming out of the opening loss at Denver.
So, the reason the starting running back on an 0-2 team that won’t run the ball to support struggling passer Russell Wilson didn’t touch the ball over the final 41:51 of Monday night’s game has to be something else.
Carson seemed to be in a good temperament during the second half and after the loss to the Bears. During the only drive the Seahawks looked like a functioning offense (until a garbage-time touchdown with 14 seconds left), their march early in the fourth quarter that ended with Wilson’s touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett to cut Seattle’s deficit to 17-10, Carson was on the sidelines. He had his helmet on and was clapping for Penny and his teammates who were playing. At one point between plays Carson during that 11-play drive without him windmilled his arms to exhort the offense to continue the fast pace that finally had the Bears’ defense retreating for the first time all night.
After the game, Carson sat at his locker and chatted amicably with Penny and fellow backs around him. His head wasn’t down.
(I left without talking to Carson because Carroll was beginning his postgame remarks in another room; by the time I got back in the locker room Carson was on the team bus to the airport).
Carroll hired offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer in January to replace the fired Darrell Bevell to fit the head coach’s mandate to return the Seahawks to the run-based attack that got Seattle to consecutive Super Bowls in the 2013 and ‘14 seasons. Schottenheimer led the NFL’s top-ranked offense with the New York Jets a decade ago. He and Carroll talked from March through last week about the importance of establishing the run early in games and staying with it throughout them. Of the need to balance the play calling so defenses no longer focused solely on sacking Wilson. Of Carson being their lead runner.
Yet Carson has just 13 carries over the first eight quarters of the season, despite averaging 5.8 yards per carry that is far above the NFL average. He romped hard for 9 yards on the first play of Monday’s game, then again for a first down and 2 more yards.
Last week after his 51 yards rushing in the 27-24 loss at Denver, the questions were why Carson didn’t get more than seven runs. Carroll and Schottenheimer vowed to change that.
Monday, Carson got one fewer.
Penny has carried the ball 17 times for 38 yards through two games. The first-round draft choice this spring is averaging just 2.2 yards per rush.
No Seahawk—not Penny, not Carson—ran the ball in the third quarter Monday night. Seattle ran six plays, all passes by Wilson, and gained a total of 1 yard on two three-and-out drives to nowhere.
Carroll took the blame for that. He said he trumped Schottenheimer’s play plan in that third quarter.
“Unfortunately, we wanted to do better in the third quarter,” Carroll said in Chicago after the game. “I got Schotty to take a couple shots and look at a couple things, and got him out of rhythm a little bit. ... It was my fault. I got him trying a little bit too hard to take a couple shots and see if we could bounce back and get back into the game quickly. And I shouldn’t have done that.”
The score in the third quarter was 10-3 Bears. It stayed that way into the fourth.