Seattle Seahawks

Fourth-and-1 change, Carroll’s words indicate Chris Carson remains Seahawks’ lead back

Lead backs don’t do what Chris Carson did — twice — in Pittsburgh.

Lead backs do what Carson did to seal this win.

Chris Carson remains the lead back.

That’s the bottom line coach Pete Carroll wanted all to take from the Seahawks’ running game following Sunday’s 28-26 rally past the Steelers. The win has Seattle 2-0 for the first time since their Super Bowl-winning season of 2013.

Yet there are many, conflicting layers to that bottom line.

Carson lost two fumbles deep in the Seahawks’ end of the field. Both directly led to Pittsburgh touchdowns. Last season’s 1,110-yard rusher for Seattle broke Carroll’s first rule in his run-first offense: protect the ball.

“I own it,” Carson said at his locker following Seattle’s first win here since 1999. “If I’m going to be the guy around here, I can’t make those mistakes, you know what I mean?

“It’s something I’ve got to correct.”

Carson’s first fumble came in the final minute of the first quarter. He allowed Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt to fly in from his right side and punch out the ball at the end of a 2-yard run. It was as if Carson, running behind extra blocking tight end George Fant, never saw Watt. The Steelers had possession at the Seattle 22-yard line, then scored the game’s first points.

“We’ve got to get to business right there and get that out of our football,” Carroll said.

The second fumble, with 5:49 left in the game, turned a 28-19 Seahawks cruise into a two-point sweat. It was officially charged to quarterback Russell Wilson because of a press-box ruling that Carson did not receive the hand-off from the quarterback. But Carson talked about his fumbles, plural.

Carson got hit low by blitzing cornerback Mike Hilton just as Wilson was handing him the ball. Hilton was there so quickly because Seahawks tight end Nick Vannett whiffed trying to pick up the Steeler outside the right end of the formation.

“We got hit on the exchange. That’s not his fumble,” Carroll said.

After that second turnover, Carson stood on the sidelines and watched Rashaad Penny get the first three carries of the Seahawks’ decisive drive to win the game in the final 5 1/2 minutes.

It looked like a changing of the guard.

Penny had already scored an electrifying touchdown in the second half. His 37-yard run came off a sharp cut past blitzing Steelers linebacker Mark Barron then elite speed to the outside opposite the play’s flow. The team’s first-round draft choice in 2018 was on his way to his game-high 62 yards on 10 carries. An average of 6.2 yards per rush tends to elevate a back to the top of the depth chart.

Carson had 15 carries for 61 yards rushing, plus three more receptions on top of the six he had in the previous week’s opening win over Cincinnati.

So, yes, when Carroll decided during the 2-minute warning time out to go for the first down on fourth and 1 at the Steelers 33-yard line and Pittsburgh out of time outs, it was Penny lined up behind Wilson in shotgun formation. Carson remained on the sideline.

Then Carroll reconsidered, maybe for the long haul of the final 14 games of this regular season, and beyond. The coach called time out, on top of the 2-minute warning.

He said afterward that Carson was his guy for that situation, but it was only after Seattle’s time out that Penny left the field and Carson re-entered the game.

In the huddle, left tackle Duane Brown had a message for his teammates.

“I told the guys, ‘Give us everything you’ve got. Let’s get this first down right here, and it’s over,’” Brown said.

When they broke that huddle, the Seahawks changed from shotgun to a power formation, with extra tight ends including third tackle George Fant. Wilson went under center Justin Britt for one of the only times in the game. Carson was the lone running back for the first and only time after his latter fumble.

Wilson took Britt’s snap, turned around and handed the ball to Carson. He plowed straight ahead to easily get the first down. Wilson then executed two kneel-downs, and Brown was correct: the game was over.

“I just appreciate them for that. It shows that they really had trust in me, even though I had those two fumbles,” Carson said.

Carroll spoke decisively after the game, as if to quell any question on who will be the lead back for Sunday’s home game against New Orleans (1-1).

“There was nobody I was going to there but Chris on that one,” Carroll said.

“It was an interesting situation, you know,” Carroll said, chuckling. “We wanted to go for it there, though. We had decided that. It was just a matter of how we were going to do it.

“That was a good call, a fantastic job by the guys up front just knocking them off the ball to get that first down to win the game.”

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.
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