BY Art Thiel 08:41PM 01/01/2017

Thiel: Seahawks still have little running game

Pete Carroll said the run game — 87 yards on 25 carries — was OK, but it was against the NFL’s worst rushing defense. The Seahawks won, but little about it inspired confidence for the playoffs.

Jimmy Graham set up the go-ahead TD with a basketball-like blockout of his defender. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest file

Fights. Ejections. A general manager and a coach fired around the game. Russell Wilson pulled with the game still in the balance. A long snapper injured, fercripesakes.

After a wild Sunday that saw the once formidable San Francisco franchise collapse in heaps around them, the Seahawks surveyed their own damage. While much lighter than the rivals, they must conclude that after mini-camp, OTAs, training camp, four exhibitions and 16 regular-season games, they still have no decent running game for the postseason.

For the fifth year in a row, they have won at least 10 games (10-5-1). They are again NFC West champs. They have a No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs, and will play No. 6 Detroit at home at 5:20 p.m. Saturday.

But after a tepid 25-23 win Sunday over the 2-13 Santa Clara Tire Fires, who were 11½ point underdogs, the worry lines around this edition of the Seahawks run deep, even if Detroit is 9-7 and losers of their past three.

Naturally, the congenitally positive Pete Carroll was having none of it.

“All the worries you guys have, I ain’t got ’em,” said the Seahawks coach defiantly. “We’re going to go play football the way we know how to play.”

The way the Seahawks know how to play is to run the ball. But there is no arguing around the fact that against the worst rushing defense in the NFL, the Seahawks Sunday managed 87 yards on 25 carries, including 14 on eight by the No. 1 running back, Thomas Rawls. Two late bursts by rookie Alex Collins of 26 and 17 yards inflated the final figures.

Carroll tried to suggest the meagerness isn’t crippling.

“It was enough of a run game to play off of it in play-action,” he said, referring to forcing the defense to take the run seriously. “We got out on the edge with it. We weren’t getting good spacing early on and (assistant coach Tom Cable) really did a good job to help us.”

Perhaps that’s true. But the Seahawks again started slowly, with 10 yards of offense in the first quarter, falling behind 14-3. Against the injury-bedraggled 49ers, it wasn’t a crisis.

But the Seahawks were ahead only 25-16 halfway through the fourth quarter when Carroll decided to pull Wilson and several other starters to protect them from injury heading into the playoffs.

Normally a team that chooses to throttle back has a running game to burn the clock. But rookie backup QB Trevone Boykin, who jumped in mid-series, was forced to the air. On one drop-back, he lost control of the ball and the fumble was covered by the 49ers at the Seattle 35.

Four plays later it was 25-23 with 5:42 left. Instead of re-inserting Wilson, Carroll stuck with Boykin. Fortunately for the Seahawks, the kid rose up and hit four of six passes to pick up three first downs over 53 yards and avert a San Francisco possession with a shot at a game-winning field goal.

The Seahawks had no business fooling around so late with the 49ers, who earlier in the day fired general manager Trent Baalke, then after the game fired coach Chip Kelly. The post-Jim Harbaugh 49ers are a flaming clown car, with Sunday reaching a nadir.

“Despite my feelings for Trent and Chip, I felt the decision to change our football leadership was absolutely necessary,” owner Jed York said in a statement after the game. “The performance of this team has not lived up to my expectations or those of our fans, and that is truly disappointing.”

It wasn’t so disappointing that they didn’t have a shot at beating the Seahawks. Once it was apparent in the fourth quarter that Atlanta was going to win its game against New Orleans to secure the No. 2 NFC playoff seed, putting it out of reach of the Seahawks, Carroll made the uncomfortable decision to worry about the next game instead of the one in front of him.

“Because I’m just not making the decisions to do everything I can possibly do to win the game,” Carroll said of his decision to keep Boykin in after the turnover.  “I’m never in that frame of mind. And I’ll always challenge that thought. I hate backing off at any time, ever. I can’t remember doing it very many times, ever.

“We just thought we needed to do something to protect ourselves for next week.”

But for a tense few moments, Carroll risked putting the game in jeopardy if Boykin, who couldn’t trust the run game, made another turnover to give the Niners a short field.

“It worked out fine,” Carroll said. True, but the absence of dominance in the final game, after the 34-31 loss at home to Arizona eight days earlier, did little to inspire confidence that the matters were in order for the postseason. The Seahawks finished 22nd in the NFL in rushing at 100 yards a game.

As for Wilson, he understood why he was coming out.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to trust coach and his opinions,” Wilson said. “He knows what he’s doing.”

That, of course, is the faith upon which what this playoff drive rests. Missing FS Earl Thomas on defense and WR Tyler Lockett on offense, and having an offensive line sometimes still on training wheels, will require the maximum from Carroll’s ability to play to strengths and hide weaknesses.

Otherwise, the Seahawks will be playing a different kind of game than the one they know how to play, at the time of the season when familiarity and order are paramount.


YourThoughts

  • Tman

    “started slowly…10 yards of offense in the first quarter”.. That’s one of at least 2 good belly laughs in the same article. Thank you and Happy New year!

    • art thiel

      Backatya, Tman.

  • Angel Nanton

    This isn’t a team that is blitzing its way into the playoffs as in years past. Everyone sees their warts. We all want to see a defense that is lock down, where does that exist in the NFL? Seattle’s D is right at the top in all categories. The best team in the NFL is New England, Seattle beat them. Same team. Every team gives the Hawks their best shot, and if Hauschka could kick a little higher, maybe we are 12-4, not 10-5-1. Everyone was extolling the wonders of Tampa Bay who kicked our butts. To beat Seattle, New Orleans, needed massive help from the refs. Neither are in the playoffs. Seattle has a great shot at the Super Bowl, and Detroit will be the first to fall. Dammit Art, you don’t gamble, do you? Bet the Lions, take the 7.5 points, and Hawks will march into Atlanta and beat the Falcons.

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    • art thiel

      Of course it’s true that every team has shortcomings and injuries. And the Seahawks have wins over NE and ATL. But the Seahawks aren’t able to sustain the thing that they want to do: Run the ball. A home game vs DET, the weakest team in the postseason, is certainly winnable. After that, it’s going to be too hard against the any NFC that remains.

      • John M

        Another ‘right on’ report, Art.

        Though I’ve bemoaned the O-line for a couple years (or more), after watching the Hawks play16 games this year I’m convinced the problems go deeper. It may be true that if they had Dallas’ line they could cover many of their ills, but they have seldom looked sync’d up. RW has been very good on long throws in the past – not this year. And even shorter routes – when the line has been able to hold – he can’t seem to find an open receiver and he misses more mid-range stuff. Regarding Earl: great player, but where was he in the first 3-4 games? Anyone count the number of tackles he missed this year before getting hurt? Both those guys are married this year and either have a child or one on the way; changes your thinking a bit. There’s been a sea change and Pete knows it better than any of us – maybe that’s why he gets a little testy lately. A positive has been seeing some of the young players develop . . .

        • art thiel

          Wilson career completion pct. 64.7
          Wilson 2016 completion pct. 64.7

          This year would have been higher except for a knee sprain, ankle sprain and strained pec.

          But I bet those injuries are because he got married.

          • John M

            OK, you win . . .

    • Kevin Lynch

      “Everyone sees their warts”. And everyone sees their stats. The top 5 QB’s they played this year (Brees, Brady, Rodgers, Ryan, Palmer in 2nd game) averaged 31 points against Hawk defenses. Now there is no Thomas, who played in 3 or 4 of those games. New Orleans needed “massive help from the refs”, you say. But so did the Seahawks to beat Atlanta at home. Now it will have to be on the road, where the Hawks were 3-4-1 this year. If Hauschka had made all his kicks they could be 12-4. If they lost the Atlanta game and one of the several other close games they played, which they probably deserved to lose, they would be 10-6. They just have not been dominant against the top teams and QB’s.

  • Matt712

    The beleaguered o-line should certainly get some of the blame, but injuries and a glaring lack of commitment by the OC to the run game have been the biggest reasons for its drop off this year. I still believe execution is the greatest factor in success or failure on the field, but Bevel’s style of play calling runs counter the identity the players (and fans) would like to have. Sure, part of that is personnel, but no defense ever honors a run game against an empty set backfield.

    The other huge problem this year falls squarely on the shoulders of John Schneider. He could’ve paid Clint Gresham with money with loose change found under his couch cushions or the lint trap in his dryer, for crying out loud. Instead he chose to gamble away the delicate balance between snap, hold and kick. And the team has paid dearly.

    • art thiel

      Frese was doing OK until he got hurt Sunday. He couldn’t bear much weight on his ankle. High sprain.

  • Jamo57

    With these countless bowl games on TV over the holidays, every time I see a RB that looks big and powerful I imagine him with the Hawks next year. Unfortunately Alabama’s is an underclassman.

    • art thiel

      Breaking news: Average backs become great behind an average O-line.

      • Nads

        Well then, if the Hawks manage to develop an average O-line next year (as opposed to the crappy one of this year) perhaps we will see some greatness from their average backs.

  • Effzee

    I think we rushed 3 times in the second half before Collins’ two nice runs. I can’t think of a single football tenet Bevell actually prescribes to. He opened up the second half of the final game of the season with a lead, against the worst defense in the league, with a lame duck coach hired by a fired GM, and a clear and obvious need to establish the run, deplete the clock, and go into the playoffs healthy. So what does he do? Opens up the second half passing on 9 of the first 10 plays. Again, for the millionth time, this problem is not new. I have no idea why or how the words “We want to be a run-first tema” ever escape the lips of Pete Carroll, when he does absolutely nothing to make sure this is the case. This season, and the offensive offensive performance, are 100% on Bevell. he has been calling these stupid, stupid plays, with seemingly no rhyme or reason, ever since his arrival here. Marshawn Lynch covered up for the stupid, stupid play-calling by personally carrying the offense on his back by turning the stupid, stupid play called into something.

  • Paul Harmening

    “…little running game.” Need heap big back then, huh? I was daydreaming while watching the Peach Bowl of Scarbrough running the ball for the Hawks someday.

    • art thiel

      You weren’t the first. But he’s at best average as an NFL back, which isn’t terrible.

    • John M

      They signed a Scarbrough, he’s called a Reece. Looks pretty good as a changeup . . .

  • Diamond Mask

    As long as we have Russell Wilson we have a chance to go all the way. Go Hawks!

    • art thiel

      Actually, that’s true.

  • woofer

    Anybody besides me think that the past few games Russell has just been going through the motions? I mean, he’s got the fat contract, the profitable endorsements and a celebrity sweetie waiting at home by the fire with his robe and slippers. Plus a team with key injuries and and a weak OL that will need a miracle to get to the Super Bowl. Russell will say all the right things and compete against the Lions, but I suspect he’s no longer a true believer in this season’s chances. Boykin played harder against the Niners than Russell did. Hawks’ offense is persistently lethargic, and that usually reflects the QB’s mindset.

    • art thiel

      Not. At. All.

  • Effzee

    I think we rushed 3 times in the second half before Collins’ two nice runs. I can’t think of a single football tenet Bevell actually prescribes to.

    He opened up the second half of the final game of the season with a lead, against the worst defense in the league, with a lame duck coach hired by a fired GM, and a clear and obvious need to establish the run, deplete the clock, and go into the playoffs healthy. So what does he do? Opens up the second half passing on 9 of the first 10 plays. Again, for the millionth time, this problem is not new. This was the problem with a highly paid O-Line, and with this year’s squad of miscreants, and in every season in between.

    This season’s ineptness, and the offensive offensive performance, are 100% on Bevell. He has been calling these stupid, stupid plays, with seemingly no rhyme or reason, ever since his arrival here. Marshawn Lynch covered up for the stupid, stupid play-calling by personally carrying the offense on his back by turning the stupid, stupid play into something less completely stupid. I mean seriously… We go down the field to try to score an opening drive touchdown and then go shotgun with an empty-backfield on 3rd and 2 from the 12 yard line?! >:

    I have no idea why or how the words “We want to be a run-first team” ever escape the lips of Pete Carroll, when he does absolutely nothing to make sure this is the case. Come on, Pete! Get with your own program, man.

    • art thiel

      Do you think stupid, stupid Bevell might know more than you about his personnel against Niners’ scheme? This stupid, stupid man was smart enough to help beat the Pats in New England, or was that you that called the game?

  • DJ

    As said about the weak offensive line, “will require the maximum from Carroll’s ability to play to strengths and hide weaknesses”. I couldn’t agree more! But I don’t think that’s possible. Honestly, I’ve been surprised and disappointed at the lack of covering up for weaknesses in the “O” line this season. It’s almost a “sink or swim” mentality. For instance, the rare use of leading blockers, etc. If I’m missing something, please let me know.
    After hearing Carroll’s positive comments about the line play of yesterday, which is really contrary to the actual play, it’s obvious that he’s ready to sweep this subject under the rug and move on. I hope for the best in the playoffs, and we’ve seen some spurts of solid play, but Seahawks’ management has got to be getting tired of the continual “O”line tinkering – it’s just such a hinderance and puts too much burden on Russell that his greatness can’t be taken advantage of. It’s also chewing up running backs. I wouldn’t be surprised if this trend was foreseen by Beast Mode and factored into his decision.

  • lesniako .

    I love it, Art, that you respond in writing to the view of the people who comment on your articles. I can’t think of any other columnist who does that. It completes the circle – a very good thing. Thanks.