For the first time this season, J.D. Fluker hoisted his 350 pounds into the argument Sunday against Dallas. The Seahawks ran the ball 39 times and won. Not a coincidence.
We pause a moment in the breathless accounting of Earl Thomas’s thoughts and deeds to consider another bit of Seahawks preposterousness: Sunday against a solid Dallas defense, they allowed only two sacks of Russell Wilson and had a 100-yard rusher for what is believed to be the first time since Fred Flintstone’s rookie year.
In the big football picture, the feats should be considered the mandatory minimum for a competitive team. But the Seahawks have been so far adrift last season and in the first two games of 2018 that the returns of basic goods are greeted with proclamations and huzzahs.
“If we had run the ball (in the first two games), results would have been different,” coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday of the road losses in Denver and Chicago. “I’m never going to let myself off the hook for not figuring that out. But sometimes the game doesn’t let that happen. You can’t just call the run. You got to make first downs.”
It also could be that if one believes that running the ball makes for first downs, Carroll may have confused symptom with cause. Then again, the explanation may be simpler: D.J. Fluker started for the first time this season.
The 350-pound right guard was hired in free agency specifically to fill pavement cracks with defensive linemen and linebackers. Partly because he missed the first two games with a hamstring strain, the Seahawks had 64 yards on the ground against the Broncos and 74 against the Bears. The fact that they had 113 against Dallas isn’t exclusively due to his return, but the deed was done despite missing starting C Justin Britt and starting LG Ethan Pocic, and having J.R. Sweezy starting at left guard for the first time in his career.
Big man for the big lift.
“I was excited,” Fluker said. “I wish I had played those two games. Really happy to get back sooner than later.”
The return of Fluker and the move of Sweezy likely will prevail again Sunday — the Seahawks travel to 0-3 Arizona (1:05 p.m. FOX) — and perhaps more often. A sprained ankle kept Pocic out of practice Wednesday. Carroll didn’t sound in a rush to get him back.
“It’s going to have to show itself that he’s really ready to go for us to change,’’ Carroll said of Pocic. “Those guys did a good job and we don’t need to rush him back under these circumstances. We’re just getting started with D.J. back in and Sweeze on the other side.”
Since his acquisition, Fluker has been an object of much admiration from Carroll.
“He loves the game,” he said. “He loves practicing. He’s got one of those personalities that’s always upbeat, always looking to play tough, always wanting to push – the harder you push him, the more he likes it and he’s vocal about it.
“He’s going to be the first guy picking up (RB Chris Carson) in the end zone, or whoever it was. It’s infectious and it’s refreshing. I love that he’s on our team.”
Fluker said some of his pushing included Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. The previous Monday, he and the other linemen lobbied the coaching staff to do what they committed to do as far back as January.
“It started at the beginning of the week,” Fluker said. “We all were asking, all five of us, to run the ball. Told the coach, we’re gonna make it happen. And we did — 39 carries.
“We did a great job.”
RB Chris Carson had a career-high 32 carries — most by a Seahawks back since 2006, when Shaun Alexander set the club record with 40 — and even though his 102 yards made for a modest 3.2-yard average, the Cowboys were forced to take him seriously.
“They couldn’t cheat,” Fluker said. “You want Russ to be comfortable, so you have to have the run with his passing. The defenders in the middle have to know we’ll run the ball, instead of being one-dimensional.”
Carroll said the ability to call for more runs was due to the absence of negative-yardage plays from penalties and sacks. Entering the game, the Seahawks had given up a league-high 12 sacks.
“It was obvious how his presence out there, how he and J.R. played well together, showed up,” he said. “But it was how we didn’t take the negative plays. We were on schedule throughout. That was huge — no first- or second-down and 20.
“We want to run the ball in every situation, but we didn’t allow ourselves by the way we functioned.”
The 39 runs were accompanied by a mere 26 passes, and no one was more thrilled about it than QB Russell Wilson.
“Russ came to the sideline once and said, ‘Keep that thing going.'” Fluker said. “We gave him confidence.”
The Cardinals are so woebegone that the Seahawks, 4-0-1 in their past five games at University of Phoenix Stadium, should be in position to test out the revised line to make sure it is not, well, a fluke, before the first large test of season the following week at home against the unbeaten Rams.
The run game is nowhere near the days of Beast Mode. But the fact that it may soon be introduced in public unaccompanied by titters and guffaws is a milestone.