Week 10 Players to Watch: Seahawks vs. Rams
Bradley McDougald and K.J. Wright sound and appear likely to start again.
Chris Carson and D.J. Fluker appear less likely to because of injuries, though the two vital men to the Seahawks’ offense have a legitimate chance to start Sunday at the division-leading Los Angeles Rams, as well.
And defensive tackle Shamar Stephen has been away for “special treatment” to ail an injured foot.
Yes, there are better ways for the Seahawks (4-4) to try to pull a road upset at the Rams (8-1) than what they will be dealing with this weekend. Likely right up until kickoff at 1:25 p.m. Sunday afternoon at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
The upshot of coach Pete Carroll’s explanation Friday after the team listed those five starters as questionable to play in L.A. is that McDougald and Wright are on the playing shade of questionable. But Carson and Fluker are not.
McDougald has been the Seahawks’ most consistent player on defense since the season opener while starting every game at strong safety. He’s made numerous tackles in the open field on receivers after catches on third downs to end drives, and he has separated receivers from catches with big shoulder hits to end opponents’ drives.
The Rams specifically target the middle of the field, McDougald’s area of responsibility, with crossing routes and plenty of horizontal action over the middle on Jared Goff’s passes and Todd Gurley’s runs. So having the standout veteran in the middle instead of 2017 draft choice Delano Hill making his first career start on Sunday will be a large step toward slowing down Los Angeles’ top-ranked offense.
“He worked (Friday). So we’ll see how he comes out of that,” Carroll said of McDougald. “I’m sure he’s, like, questionable on the chart right now. We’ll figure it out. Those will go to game day.”
Carson did some extensive sprinting on a side field Thursday during the first 20 minutes of practice that are open to the media. When I asked Carroll if Carson was better on Friday than he was on Tuesday or Wednesday, Carroll said: “He is. He is looking better, yeah.
“I have nothing to report to you (about Carson’s status for Sunday).”
Asked if he would characterize Carson and Fluker as game-time decisions to play the Rams, Carroll shrugged and said “yes.
“Fluke’s going to game time, too, for us. We’ve had to hold him out the whole time (from practices this week), and we’ll see how he does when we work him out at the stadium.”
The Seahawks’ offense has been at its most efficient and the team has won when Fluker has blocked for Carson, and in one fill-in start in Arizona Sept. 30 number-two running back Mike Davis. Seattle is 0-3 this season when Carson has had fewer than 10 carries in a game, including the home loss to the Chargers last weekend when Carson missed the second half with his soft-tissue injury in his left hip.
The Seahawks are 0-3 this season when Fluker, the massive road grader at right guard, has missed games or game time. Seattle’s best run blocker missed games one and two because of a hamstring injury, and Seattle lost at Denver and Chicago while throwing 73 percent of the time. The Seahawks lost to the Chargers when Fluker missed the final 25 plays with a calf injury, and while Russell Wilson threw 39 passes and got sacked four times. Those were Wilson’s most passes and most times sacked since the week-two loss at Chicago.
The Seahawks romped for a season-high 190 yards on the ground with Carson and Fluker in their 33-31 loss to the Rams at CenturyLink Field in week five.
Carroll wouldn’t comment of what the starting offensive line would be if Fluker can’t play Sunday. But expect Ethan Pocic to start at right guard, or for J.R. Sweezy to move from starting left guard back to right where the seventh-year veteran had been his entire career until September 23, and Pocic to be the left guard. The Seahawks moved Sweezy from right guard, where he started the first two games for the injured Fluker, to left for the win against Dallas. Pocic started this season’s first two games at left guard, then got benched for Sweezy when Fluker made his season debut against the Cowboys in week three.
Wright got what apparently was a rest day for his knee Thursday. The Pro Bowl weakside linebacker has started the last two games after missing the first six of the season following knee surgery in August. He practiced Friday, a light workout.
“He worked today. Did a good job today. Looks good,” Carroll said.
“He got enough done to look like he is ready to go.”
Starting defensive tackle Shamar Stephen has been away all week getting what Carroll called “special treatments” of his injured foot.
“All the reports from Shamar are that he feels great,” Carroll said. “We’ll have to wait and see again. That will go to game day.”
Stephen has started seven of eight games this season next to Jarran Reed. Stopping the run inside against Gurley and the Rams’ staple of outside-zone rushing plays would be a lot easier for Seattle with both starting defensive tackles in there Sunday.
And so it goes for a battered team trying to pull off a big upset.
“We understand that we have to play really good ball to be in the challenge of this,” Carroll said.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to go. ... We’ll see how this goes, but looking forward to this challenge.”
Southern California’s difficult week
Carroll was the coach at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles before the Seahawks hired him in 2010. He still has extensive ties there, including his community-based nonprofit, A Better LA.
L.A.’s metropolitan area has been rocked this week by a mass shooting at a bar in the suburb of Thousand Oaks that killed 13 people, then wildfires that have raged through the city’s Ventura County plus neighboring Los Angeles County. Those fires forced the evacuation of nearby Malibu.
On Friday the Rams cancelled practice after 20 players and coaches had to evacuate their homes.
“There’s a lot going on in Southern California, a lot of hardships, a lot of difficulties,” Carroll said following the Seahawks’ indoor practice Friday. “Even today, stuff started up again down there. We just wanted to extend our awareness of that, and concern. Hope everybody is doing OK. I know there are a lot of challenges.
“There’s nothing we can do about it up here, but we certainly do see what’s going on. And want to make sure we send our regards, and hope that people make it through it and find their best way through it. Some tough times.”