If you can overlook the inexplicable in Sunday’s game, there’s a plain old football truth that a large Seahawks asset a year ago, Chris Carson, is drifting toward a liability.
Apart from the blown coaching calls, clock mismanagement, penalties and poor execution that turned the Seahawks for a day into The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the Monday analysis of the 33-27 loss to the Saints can come down to ordinary football production from the prime running backs.
The Saints’ Alvin Kamara was great. The Seahawks’ Chris Carson was not.
That doesn’t mean Carson was, or is, terrible. But there were critical times when each team needed the studhoss to deliver. The Saints’ guy delivered.
Kamara was ruthlessly effective, rushing for 69 yards in 16 carries and a touchdown, and more importantly, catching nine balls for 92 yards, including a score off a screen pass — at 29 yards, it was the Saints’ longest play. In the game plan, he was often the check-down receiver so backup QB Teddy Bridgewater could throw quickly and avoid the rush. One statistical count had 18 tackles missed on Kamara.
“We missed way more tackles than we ever have in a game,” said coach Pete Carroll in his Monday afternoon presser. “It was really one guy — Kamara. He did a fantastic job.
“We didn’t know him well enough to adjust, tackling-wise, to compensate. He was really good. He was a big factor.”
Carson was not. He had 53 yards in 15 carries, but 23 came on the second-quarter play in which his fumble became a scoop-and-score from 33 yards that put up the Saints for good, 13-7.
The next Seattle series, starting from the 32-yard line, C.J. Prosise replaced Carson and carried six times for three yards. With less than eight minutes left in the half, the Seahawks faced a third-and-1 from the Saints 41-yard line. They subbed out Prosise for Carson, and OT/TE George Fant was brought in, signaling a likely jumbo-package run.
Carson plunged into the middle and gained nothing. At fourth-and-one, Carroll skipped over the kicking options — punt the Saints deep, or try a 58-yard field goal with a wet ball — and gave the ball again to Carson.
He lost two yards.
The Saints took over on downs and had their only good drive of the half. Bridgewater threw seven times, completing five, the last being Kamara’s 29-yarder, in which Seahawks bounced off him like Nerf balls. The Saints were up 20-7, accomplishing what coach Sean Payton established as a priority in his week-long bunkering in Bellevue, where the team stayed after losing 27-9 in Los Angeles.
“I thought we took the crowd completely out of it,” he said post-game. “Generally, you have to deal with a lot louder place.”
To have stayed in the game at 7-7, the Seahawks needed to have no turnovers, and ground-game production. Obviously, rushing is a team effort, and the O-line bears some responsibility. But Carson, who earlier slipped at least twice and changed cleats at halftime, was little help.
For the third time in three games, a Carson fumble has led directly to an opponent score. Carroll was asked what he could do to help him.
“Every way possible,” he said. “Because we do believe in him, we’re going to continue to show him that. He’s a terrific football player. We want to make sure to maintain that level of play from him.
“There’s a lot of technical stuff that’s really important, right down to the last instant of play (on the fumble). There’s another thing he could do (tucking his elbow tightly) to ensure he takes care of the ball a little longer.
“He thought it was secure, then bang — the ball comes out.”
Over at the University of Washington Monday, Huskies coach Chris Petersen, who knows a little about running the football, was asked what tools he has available to help cure running backs with the dropsies.
He smiled and was quick.
“Lack of playing time,” he said.
But that wasn’t easy for the Seahawks Sunday. The primary backup, Rashaad Penny, strained a hamstring Friday and was inactive. Prosise had only one more carry, but in the second half, the rushing game became futile after going down 27-7. And there’s rookie Travis Homer, who hasn’t played from scrimmage.
Carroll doesn’t foresee Penny’s injury keeping him out of Sunday’s 1 p.m. game at Arizona. But he can neither bench nor fire Carson because he has a strong resume — he fumbled only four times all last season — and is more powerful and agile than the other backs.
But he’s also on the radar among NFL defenders as the Seattle guy most likely to deliver the goods in each unit’s turnover contest.
“He’s going to have to be really on it,” Carroll said, “because guys are going to come after him.”
Remember how the Seahawks, behind Carson, in 2018 led the NFL in rushing with 160 yards per game? This year, they’re at 110.7 yards per game, ranked 15th. Opponents know what the Seahawks want to do, and they’re coming after Carson. Hard.