It’s become as clear as Mount Rainier is tall that Chris Carson and D.J. Fluker are indispensable to the Seahawks’ offense, to how it can perform best as constructed for this season.
Seattle is 0-3 this season when Carson, the starting running back, doesn’t get at least 10 carries.
The Seahawks are 0-3 this season when Fluker misses time because of an injury. The huge, starting right guard was out the first two games with a strained hamstring, and Seattle barely ran the ball without him in the losses at Denver and Chicago.
So Carson’s injured hip and groin plus the right guard’s calf injury have become the most important issues for Sunday’s game at the NFC West-leading Los Angeles Rams (8-1) — heck, for the final eight games of the regular season for Seattle (4-4).
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The Seahawks’ season is sitting at a pivot point halfway through it, with Green Bay and Carolina up next after the Rams.
What’s Carson’s status for the Rams game on Sunday?
“I talked to Chris. It’s about like it was last week,” Carroll said Monday. “He’s sore. But he was sore last week and he made it through.
“We’ll have to wait and see and just go day-to-day with him. We’ll take care of him early in the week and see how he rounds out later in the week.”
What is Fluker’s status to play against the Rams, after he could not finish the final 25 plays of Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers because of a calf injury?
Carroll gave an answer that made me wonder how the toughest nail chewer Seattle has was not able to finish the Chargers game.
“He’s OK, I think,” Carroll said Monday of Fluker. “He came out fine.”
Carson played only 2 1/2 series and got just eight carries, his fewest in two months, before he left Sunday’s game. He didn’t play the final 2 1/2 quarters, and the Seahawks offense looked like it did in 2017: totally reliant on quarterback Russell Wilson making plays almost by himself while getting sacked four times because the running game without Carson was a minimal factor.
Wilson threw a season-high 39 times and got sacked his most times since week two, and the Seattle lost for the second time in six games, 25-17 to the Chargers.
Carroll said when the 222-pound Carson is not on the field the Seahawks miss “what he brings to the game. He’s so tough and so physical and attacking. And we love his play.
“That affects more than just the yardage that you make,” Carroll said. “His style of play is one that our guys are really fired up about. They love to see him make his plays. Like the one touchdown he scored against Detroit... ”
That would be this trucking of Lions defensive back Darius Slay to score in the Seahawks’ 28-14 win on Oct. 28:
Mike Davis replaced Carson on Sunday against the Chargers. He gained 62 yards.
But he didn’t do that.
Even Davis acknowledged after Sunday’s game the Seahawks miss “the physicality” when Carson is not on the field.
“Just the way he did it,” Carroll said, going back to Carson on that touchdown run slaying Slay in Detroit. “Just the style, the aggressiveness. And we love that.
“So, yeah, we miss that.”
Carson spent some of Sunday’s first half with his left leg wrapped in tape outside his pants and pads while walking along the sideline. Then he spent a few minutes riding an exercise bike behind the bench, trying to loosen his leg.
It didn’t work. Carson did not touch the ball after his eighth carry. That came with 7 minutes left in the second quarter. He finished with 40 yards on his fewest carries in a game he’s played in since week two. That was the night in Chicago the Seahawks ignored him for the final 2 1/2 quarters of the seven-point loss to the Bears. He didn’t carry the ball that night after 11:50 remained in the second quarter. After that game Carroll gave the odd assessment that Carson was “gassed” after all of six rushes.
Since then, Carson has been the reason Seattle has won the four games it has this season.
He rushed for 100 yards in three of four games after that unexplainable night in Chicago. He rushed a career-high 32 times in the win over Dallas in week three, for 102 yards, but go so banged up that day he missed the following game, the win at Arizona, with what the team said then was a hip injury.
Davis had his first 100-yard game starting against the Cardinals for Carson, and the Seahawks had found its way to win: by running first and most. By creating better situations for the offensive linemen to pass block against defenders who finally had to honor Seattle’s running game instead of just coming after Wilson on every snap.
Carson romped on with a career-high 116 yards in the 33-31 loss to the Rams on Oct. 7. He gained 59 yards on 14 carries and was part of seven consecutive runs to begin the game against Oakland in London Oct. 14, which set up the play-action passes by Wilson down the field that doomed the Raiders in Seattle’s runaway win. Then Carson bulldozed the Lions in Detroit, running over defenders for 105 yards on 25 carries and a bruising touchdown in another relatively easy win.
The plan was the same for Sunday against the Chargers: pound them with Carson early, to set up Wilson for time to throw deep down field later. The Seahawks ran on their first four plays against L.A., Carson went for 15 yards on the game’s first snap, and he carried it five times on the opening drive to Wilson’s touchdown pass to Jaron Brown.
That was the only lead Seattle had all day. Carson left three carries and two drives later with a hip injury. He played just 10 of the offense’s 81 snaps.
Curiously, Carroll said on Monday it is not the same hip injury from the Dallas game that kept Carson from playing in late September at Arizona.
Asked about what his injury is exactly on Sunday in the locker room following the Chargers, Carson told reporters: “I don’t know. It’s just an injury.”
An increasingly important one. The best chance the Seahawks have to upset the Rams on Sunday is by doing what they did to L.A. last month in Seattle: run right at them with Carson, and with Fluker leading his way, to slow the Rams’ elite pass rushers and defensive front. The Seahawks rushed for a season-high 190 yards against Los Angeles on Oct. 7.
Fluker brings as much or more physicality to the offense as Carson does, and with a mammoth presence in the locker room and huddle, too.
Backup center Joey Hunt was the only swing guard active for the Chargers game. That’s why he replaced Fluker and played the final 25 snaps. Former starting left guard Ethan Pocic, replaced for the last month-plus by J.R. Sweezy, was inactive. Seattle typically only keeps seven offensive linemen among its 46 active players on game day.
Hunt is not six feet tall. He gets by more of guile than power. There was no comparison to what Fluker does for Seattle’s offense and what Hunt did against the Chargers, or what he can do while not at his natural position against any NFL defense.
“Fluke is (so valuable to us) in similar ways,” Carroll said Monday. “Much more vocal player than Chris will ever be. (Fluker) has affected us, also, in his toughness and his physical way, and the great spirit that he brings.
“Those guys have both had impact. One, very quietly (Carson), and one more outspoken and more obviously.”
That makes Fluker as important to the Seahawks to play in the Rams game and beyond as Carson. Carroll’s answer on Fluker’s status for this weekend:
Expect Pocic to be active for the Rams game, just in case.
McDougald ‘pretty sore’
The defense also has a key player hurting.
Strong safety Bradley McDougald has been the Seahawks’ most consistent and best player since week one. Sunday he missed 24 of 51 snaps on defense because his knee that’s been sore for weeks tightened and pained him to the point he could not play in the second half.
Carroll said McDougald was still “pretty sore” on Monday, and that he is unlikely to practice this week. That makes McDougald iffy at best against the Rams.
Delano Hill got his most extensive action on defense in two years against the Chargers. The Seahawks’ 2017 draft choice was in for 25 plays, and Carroll said it was the best Hill has looked.
McKissic still on hold
Running back J.D. McKissic, a former wide receiver who can return kicks and catch passes out of the backfield on third downs, is eligible to come off injured reserve now that the Seahawks have played eight games.
But Carroll said McKissic will not return to practice or play this week. The team hopes to have him back practicing next week, for the first time since August.
Next week is a short one for the Seahawks before they play again, on Thursday (Nov. 15) at home against the Packers. So McKissic may not make his season debut until at least the game at Carolina on Nov. 25.
He sustained a Jones fracture, a break between the base and shaft of the fifth metatarsal bone in the foot, during a preseason practice Aug. 21. The fifth metatarsal is the long bone along the outside of the foot connected to the pinkie toe.
He went on injured reserve Sept. 3.