What more does Rashaad Penny need to do?
That is what Rashaad Penny is thinking.
That’s what was going through his mind while he was on the sidelines again Sunday in the second quarter of the Seahawks’ loss to the Rams at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He was probably thinking it on his flight home late Sunday night.
Will he--and we--be thinking it Thursday night when Seattle (4-5) gets right back on the field to host the Green Bay Packers (4-4-1), with both teams’ realistic playoff hopes for the final six weeks of the regular season at stake?
Seattle’s first-round draft choice’s debut season of few chances, frustration and a broken finger in August continued on Sunday in Los Angeles.
For months Penny hadn’t emerged the way he or the team that made him the third running back the Seahawks have ever drafted in round one, after Curt Warner and Shaun Alexander, expected he would this fall. Then Sunday, on the team’s second offensive possession, Penny bolted around left end for 38 yards, behind a crunching block by wide receiver David Moore outside.
On the next snap the rookie bounced an inside-zone play outside from left around right end. Showing speed and decisiveness he hadn’t in the first eight games, he outran all the Rams to the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown. Just like that, the rookie had arrived.
Then, he departed. Basically gone for more than an hour, a rolling train taken off its tracks.
Penny had only one other carry in the first half, for no gain on a fruitless 2-minute drive past midfield late in the second quarter. Mike Davis got nine rushes in the half, for 50 yards.
Yes, Davis is better in the passing game right now. In particular, he is a better pass blocker. The Seahawks need all those they can get; Wilson’s been sacked four times in each of the past two games, both losses when they fell behind late and the Chargers’ and Rams’ defenses knew Seattle had to throw.
But what Penny’s best at is what the Seahawks are best at, and must continue doing: running the ball.
Penny said in Los Angeles after Sunday’s game that, yes, more inactivity after finally producing got in his head a little bit.
“Definitely. When you don’t get that many opportunities, you know, you look going in like, ‘Man, I can’t do any of these things because I just need the opportunity to,’” Penny said on an exit ramp outside the tiny visitors’ locker room at the Coliseum.
“That’s just me being young. I feel like I’ve grown up the last two to three weeks. I have to say, once my opportunity comes, just go out and ball.”
Penny finished with 108 yards—on just 12 carries. He played only 27 of Seattle’s 68 snaps on offense.
He was running like he could have romped for 175 yards or more, with more chances to.
Carroll admitted afterward: “We’ve been on him, hard.”
Sunday, it became a mystery why they weren’t relying on him, hard. Seattle, on its way to 273 yards on the ground (its most ever in a defeat), ran it seven times in 14 plays from Penny’s touchdown with 3:42 left in the first quarter to 9:15 remaining in the third. Penny got just one of those runs, for no gain in hurry-up offense with 46 seconds left in the first half. Even mothballed C.J. Prosise, so far out of Seattle’s plans he’s been a healthy scratch four times in the last seven games, got a carry in that time--for minus-3 yards.
The Seahawks went from up 14-7 to down 20-14 in that Penny-pinching span.
Monday morning, Carroll told Seattle’s KIRO-AM radio: “We didn’t get back to enough runs there for a little while.”
The coach said the conversation with play caller Brian Schottenheimer on the sidelines became about Penny, and was “let’s get back to him.”
Penny had nine carries for 52 yards over the final 24 minutes of the game. His 24-yard gallop on a shotgun handoff off the right side preceded Russell Wilson’s 23-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett. That put Seattle back ahead 21-20 with 4 minutes left in the third quarter.
“He looked great today,” Carroll said Sunday before the team flew home.
“He looked just like the guy we thought he would look like when we drafted him. He was excellent. All the way back before he got hurt and he missed the month with a broken finger, that’s what he looked like. And today he just busted out.
“We’ve been on him, hard. We’ve been challenging him to get right, work at the right tempo all week, find what it’s like to be pro. Just teaching a young guy figure it out. He’s been very open, very receptive. There’s just a lot that goes into helping a guy find himself. I felt like (Sunday), he needed it so badly. He knows he’s a great player. He just hasn’t been able to demonstrate it the way he wants to. He’s frustrated by it.
“We’ve worked him through it. And I was just hoping that he would get a chance one of these games to get the opportunity to show it. Maybe from this point forward you see him just take off.”
Maybe. That is up to Carroll and Schottenheimer.
Lead running back Chris Carson is going to try to return Thursday when the Seahawks play the Packers at CenturyLink Field. Carson missed Sunday’s loss at the Rams with a soft-tissue injury in his left hip. After the game Carroll said part of the reason the team held out Carson was the give him a better possibility of playing against the Packers, and then again 10 days after that when Seattle plays at Carolina (6-3).
When he returns Carson isn’t going to relinquish his lead role to Penny, Davis or anyone else. Not with three 100-yard games in his last five starts. And the Seahawks aren’t going to stop running first. They have proven to themselves and the league the only way they can win is to establish the run early in games and to stay with it, to play to what their offensive line does best. That sets up Wilson better for play-action passes against defenses that have to honor the run instead of exploiting Seattle’s pass-protection issues on every down.
Plus, the Seahawks are also likely to get D.J. Fluker back Thursday.. The massive, plowing right guard missed the Rams game with a calf strain. He’s the best run blocker on this team that has to run.
Will Penny get more chances to following Fluker against Green Bay, and beyond? It would sure seem he’s earned it.
It’s not that Davis has been bad--11 carries, 58 yards against L.A., after the first 100-yard game of his career Sept. 30 when Carson also missed the win at Arizona with a groin injury.
It’s just Sunday, finally, Penny was better.