BY Art Thiel 06:50PM 09/26/2018

Thiel: Seahawks’ biggest change was the big man

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.

Chris Carson had 102 yards rushing thanks in part to the return of J.D. Fluker. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

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.

 


YourThoughts

  • Chris Alexander

    Fluker is a monster of a difference maker. I’m excited to see if the O-line can have a solid performance in Arizona to back up the one they had against Dallas. We need more than a 3.2 yard average from our lead back but the fact that we ran enough to turn that average into a 100+ yard game gives me some hope.

    Interestingly, if Minnesota does us a solid and hands the Rams their first loss on Thursday night then a Seahawks win sets up a chance to take the division lead next Sunday when the Rams come to Seattle. Not saying I think the Rams will lose both games (although they could), just that it would be interesting if that were the case heading into “the big game” in Week 5.

    • Husky73

      Amazing how one win gets folks to take a step back from the ledge.

      • Effzee

        It wasn’t just one win. The whole thing looked a lot different, a lot closer to what was promised. Much easier to step back from the ledge when you see what you expect to see, instead of some willy-nilly herky-jerky wild west nonsense.

        • art thiel

          As I said above, transitions are hard. Carroll will admit same down the road, just not now.

    • art thiel

      The Vikes let you down, but 31 points on a slightly wounded Rams defense suggests a crack in the foundation.

      • Chris Alexander

        I agree. Their offense is scary and their pass rush appears formidable, at least at times. But my takeaway from last night’s game was that they’re beatable. It will take an all around good game from their opponent and/or an off (or at least average) gave by the Rams but … “a crack in the foundation” is a good way to put it. Even with Goff setting a record for passing yesterday in TNF and the Rams having 3 (?) 100-yard receivers, the Vikings were still in a position to send the game to overtime if a rookie defender hadn’t knocked the ball out of Cousins’ hand on the Vikings’ final possession.

  • Ron

    “…we don’t need to rush [Pocic] back under these circumstances.”

    Translated: This game against the Cardinals is a gimme.

    • Husky73

      There are no gimmes. Ask the Vikings.

      • Effzee

        Ask the Mariner’s too. When the Astros came to the AL West, everyone cheered because there would be a new doormat to the division. Every single time a Seattle team enters a game that the populous seems to think is going to be an easy one, it never is.

        • Husky73

          Houston was once known as the DisAstros. They had some of the worst seasons in the last 20 years. It took a total rebuild, starting with drafting and their farm system, to eventually field a powerhouse. I’m too old to endure a few 100 loss seasons from the Mariners. However, they are in the middle, aging, with a high payroll and a weak farm system…..a bad place to be. What to do?

          • art thiel

            Take two and hit to right?

        • art thiel

          There’s an old saying in journalism: Whatever most people think is right, is usually wrong. Not always, of course, but it is remarkable how often that is accurate.

      • Ron

        Seahawks are 5-1 at Arizona the last few years. The Cardinals have 20 points versus 74 given up. We will be facing a rookie QB making his first start.

        Let me know if the Hawks screw that up.

        • Husky73

          I shall.

        • art thiel

          Rookie QBs, especially a cocky guy like Rosen, can either go Manziel or Mayfield. I can’t predict either way on Rosen.

      • antirepug3

        The Vikings went tit for tat with the Rams…for a while and then the Rams pulled away and didn’t look back. The Hawk’s baptism of fire will be against the Rams.

    • art thiel

      Also that Sweezy might be better.

  • DJ

    “…the mandatory minimum for a competitive team” – AMEN
    Yes, it’s a relief and joy to see something logical at the very least happening on offense.
    Nice article, Art! Thank you

    • art thiel

      Thanks. I think they might have found their 5 best O-linemen with Sweezy/Fluker at guards.

  • Bruce McDermott

    Actually, the run-blocking against the Cowboys was pretty poor, especially in the second half. No consistent push, let alone holes. Lots of three-and-outs. What it did do is help avoid the big negative plays that come with a passing attack with that line and Wilson.
    But this was no tour de force performance of run blocking by any means. That includes Fluker. In fact, Fluker’s pass blocking was surprisingly good in comparison.

    • art thiel

      The commitment to run, even when ypg isn’t impressive, alters a defense’s ability to overload. The Seahawks aren’t even an NFL-average rushing team, but against DAL, they were far better than the first two weeks, which were grim.

      My guess would be that newbie Schottenheimer wasn’t comfortable in his first playcalling under Carroll. Nor is Wilson dealing well with the greater priority of staying in the pocket. Transitions are harder than any will admit publicly.

  • woofer

    Getting Fluker on the field is a big deal. And when first-round pick Penny successfully completes his Jenny Craig diet, maybe we will also have a serviceable reserve running back.