The hype around the return of Marshawn Lynch obscures the fact that the Seahawks’ most critical vulnerability is the wounded, reeling O-line.
This week’s pop-up carnival that is the Marshawn Lynch re-hire certainly is entertaining. I mean, his first practice was on 12/24, fercripesakes.
Seeing him hug it out at VMAC with Dave Pearson, the Seahawks’ longtime PR chieftain, after years of annoying each other, was a splendid attempt at sincerity. No one was buying it, but hey, it’s Christmas and the 12-3 49ers show up Sunday. All hands on deck.
Throughout the region, the inevitable question, “What did you get for Christmas?” has been replaced by, “Do you think Marshawn has anything left in the tank?”
It’s a question nobody can answer, including Lynch. But the sheer audacity of the ask makes for compelling theater.
Unfortunately, regarding the game outcome, the answer is secondary to the answer to a more crucial question: “If the Seahawks couldn’t block the Cardinals, what the hell are they going to do against the 49ers?”
Lynch could return fit as his 2012 self, when he gained a career-high 1,590 yards. If the wounded Seahawks line can’t get in the way of kittens, much less rookie demon Nick Bosa, no one could tell.
Against Arizona, last in the league on defense, the Seahawks had a season low of 224 yards of total offense, a season-worst third-down conversion count of one for 12, five sacks of Russell Wilson and no touchdowns in the final 55 minutes.
Obviously, the losses to injury of RBs Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise were large. But the more significant injury was to LT Duane Brown, who was held out of the game and had arthroscopic knee surgery Monday. All went well medically, and there is some hope he could be back in a couple of weeks. The question is whether there will be a season left.
Rather than sub in George Fant at left tackle, where he’s played before but would cost the Seahawks his tight end spot in the jumbo package, the Seahawks gave second-year tackle Jamarco Jones his first career start at the position.
Mistake. The NFL’s leading sackster, LB Chandler Jones, did the Christmas pinata thing with Jones. Even coach Pete Carroll had to publicly acknowledge the trauma, albeit with qualifiers.
“It was hard. It was hard,” he said Tuesday. “He went against a great guy, and it worked him the whole day.
“He did a lot of things that were really good. The sacks that his guy had weren’t all on him. It didn’t all happen because of his protection. He was tested. That was a real test. Chandler is an amazing player.”
Which is a long way of saying they have to do something different Sunday. Asked whether it’s personnel or scheme, Carroll was notably terse.
“Well, we’re going to go about it,” he said. “That’s underway.”
The problem extends beyond Jones.
The Seahawks are still operating with a backup, Joey Hunt, at center, where he will make his eighth start of the season Saturday. At left guard, Mike Iupati, a 2010 first-round draft choice of the 49ers now 32, had to come out temporarily with a neck stinger that likely impaired his play for the rest of the game. And though Jacob Hollister has stepped up admirably at tight end, he began training camp as a fifth-stringer behind Will Dissly, Nick Vannett, Ed Dickson and Luke Willson. Backup Ethan Pocic has missed most of the season with injury. And among the wide receivers, Josh Gordon was lost to drug suspension.
A partial result is that in five of the past eight games, the Seahawks offense has failed to reach the NFL game average of 350 yards, despite the premier skills of Wilson. Now the offense is missing its top three rushers, and needs to break in not only Lynch, but Robin to his Batman, Robert Turbin.
Since it’s Christmas, I’m reminded of some poignant dialogue from my all-time favorite Christmas movie, Die Hard. Bruce Willis’s character attempts via call to a Los Angeles policeman to assess the damage to the building he’s in, occupied by the bad guys:
Is the building on fire?
Sergeant Al Powell:
No, but it’s gonna need a paint job and a shitload of screen doors.
Carroll and GM John Schneider have done what they can with paint and screen doors.
Now the pursuit of the NFC West title relies on scheme. Expect heavy doses of rollouts, read options, naked bootlegs, fly sweeps and flat passes to Lynch. And if ever there was need for a defensive score and perfection from Jason Myers, Sunday is it.
Desperate as it is, regardless of Sunday’s outcome, the Seahawks are still in the playoffs with a minimum 11 wins, a place few outside the VMAC envisioned in August. Carroll is busy coaxing up the optimism because this was the Week 17 target from the git-go: To play the 49ers with the division title on the line.
“Honestly, we talk in reference to this opportunity from April on,” he said. “That’s when we start, way back then, to get prepared for the opportunity to go out here and play good football when this time comes. Every game that we’ve played has prepared us for this.
“The boosters are on and we’re rolling. Right now, this is a blast. This is as much fun as we can have. I love every bit of it.”
A skeptic might suggest his optimism is as sincere as the hug between Lynch and Pearson. But a skeptic has as much chance to survive around Carroll as a bad guy around McClane.
Yippee-ki-ay, Hans Gruber.