5 Players To Watch: Seahawks vs. Cowboys
Chris Carson is still the Seahawks’ No. 1 back.
The reason he, and every other Seattle running back, isn’t rushing enough is because the head coach is too impatient.
That was Pete Carroll assessment of himself and of Carson Wednesday as his winless team began full preparation for Sunday’s home opener against the Dallas Cowboys (1-1).
Only three of the NFL’s 32 teams have run it fewer than Seattle’s 38 times so far this season. Five of those are scramble runs by Russell Wilson. So it’s only 33 rushes by the running backs. And just 13 total by Carson, a scant 6.5 carries per game by their repeatedly proclaimed lead back.
Twenty-four of the Seahawks’ 38 rushes this season have come on first down. They are not averaging more than 2.1 yards/rush in any first-down situation, in any formation. Two tight ends, three wide receivers, one tight end plus a fullback...doesn’t matter. Still no more than 2 yards rushing on first down.
That’s led Seattle’s coaches to mostly abandon the run after that, on so many second and 8s or worse. Seattle has rushed only 14 times over their other 95 plays on offense. The running backs have only 10 of those 14 other carries on all downs; Wilson has the other four, on scrambles trying to pass.
Then there are the passes on third and a half-yard at Denver, for another instance. You get the picture.
So does Carroll, he says. Carson is going to get more runs, get more than rookie first-round pick Rashaad Penny, Carroll says.
Then again, Carroll’s been saying that after each of the first two games, too.
“There are no changes in approach. No changes on the depth chart or any of that,” Carroll said of Carson remaining the starter. “We should be really clear about that.”
Carroll explained following Monday’s game Carson didn’t touch the ball in the last 42 minutes at Chicago because he looked to him to be “gassed.” The coach said that was because Carson had to play more on special teams due to injuries to safeties and linebackers.
Carson played two snaps on special teams against the Bears.
He played just 19 of 64 offensive plays. Any NFL back should be able to handle that load without exhaustion, and Carson told his coach he wasn’t tired in Chicago.
“I screwed up,” Carroll said Wednesday. “I thought he looked like he was winded early in the game, so I was just concerned about him. And I thought it was because of the special teams because he hadn’t had a lot of plays yet.
“I talked to him. He didn’t think he was winded when I talked to him afterward...(Wednesday) I mentioned it to him. That was just a thought. But he played all the way through the third quarter. He was in the game playing all the way through the third quarter. We always are going to spell a little bit. Rashaad really got some chances in the fourth quarter and wanted to see him run and see what he could do and, and he did fine.
“So that’s all it is. There’s nothing other than that.”
Carson has just 13 carries in the first two games, despite an average of 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.
Carson won the lead job in September 2017 as a surprise rookie seventh-round draft choice with decisive running and thudding pass blocking last season, until he broke his leg Oct. 1.
He played the loyal, young employee on Wednesday when asked about all the hullabaloo about his lack of playing time, and of Carroll’s original estimation Carson was “gassed” in Chicago.
“That was his decision he thought at the time,’’ Carson said.
“My job is to come in and play when my number is called. And I’m ready, whenever.’’
Why have the Seahawks called rushes for their running backs only 33 times and called 86 pass plays (69 throws by Wilson, an NFL-high 12 sacks allowed and those five quarterback scrambles) so far this season?
“Yeah, I would tell you that my...I’ll just take it. My impatience a little bit, you know,” Carroll said. “Figuring that we should be on the board more than we had and just got to throw the ball up more than I want to. I’m over that. Both games were so close throughout. We were close enough we could have done whatever we wanted to all the way down to the end of it. I just got a little bit impatient, threw the ball a bit more than we needed to.
“And so you look back and that’s with limited opportunities because we weren’t converting, it just kind of works together. I’m just owning up. But that’s what I would say is the issue with that. I need to be a little less impatient. I’m a little bit, tend to be that way, you know?”
So the 66-year-old former college defensive back at Pacific, a defensive coach and coordinator before he became a head coach, is not only influencing the play calls of new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. He’s changing them.
Or perhaps he’s covering for Schottenheimer. After all, the new play caller is still in the early stages of learning to balance Seattle’s assets on an offense that continues to also struggle in pass protection, on third downs and in getting rhythm in anything but hurry-up, 2-minute mode.
Carroll said Monday night after the 24-17 loss at Chicago, when Carson got half his six rushes in the first three plays of the game and none after 11:51 remained in the second quarter, he instructed Schottenheimer at halftime to throw the ball more. He said he noticed a Bears defensive back seemed vulnerable to deep throws. He wanted Wilson and Schottenheimer to attack him while down 10-3 in the third quarter.
The Seahawks ran six plays in that third quarter. All were passes. Those produced a total of 1 net yard in that period. Seattle punted twice on two three-and-out drives. The Bears’ lead remained 10-3.
“When I say that, it’s like ‘Yeah, let’s go take a shot at this guy to see if we can get him,’ you know? I can enter, and I can affect the way the guy thinks,” Carroll said. “That’s always. It’s not just Brian. That’s been with offensive play callers for years.
“You can screw them up.”
Then the head man whose coached Seattle to consecutive Super Bowls and won the franchise’s only NFL title, after the 2013 season (it only seems like eons ago right now) smiled and said: “You can also give him some good plays once in a while, too.
“Kind of got to go with it, as you know. But I need to do a good job of that. Make sure that he’s strong and he’s right, all that.”
Carroll had Darrell Bevell as his play caller for the last seven years. Then he fired Bevell in January following the worst running-back production in many NFL seasons, and Seattle’s first non-playoff season in six years.
Carroll has had Schottenheimer as his play caller for two games.
“We are growing together and that there is a (growth period), you know. I was with guys for a long, long time. Seven, eight years and a similar play calling, so there is stuff to grow,” Carroll said. “There’s new situations that happen. Even all of the time we spend to prepare, there’s stuff that still happens.
“I need to do a really good job to help them and that’s really what my job is, to help him be really good. And I’ve got to do better job to help them.”
I asked Carroll if he’s calling more of the offense’s plays than he had when Bevell was his coordinator, or when Jeremy Bates was in Carroll’s first Seahawks season of 2010.
“No, no more than ever,” Carroll said. “No.”