On Christmas Eve in 2019, the Seahawks signed a pair of running-back relics in Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin.
It was a desperation heave disguised as a stocking-stuffer.
Not that Pete Carroll and Co. had much of a choice.
Earlier that day, Chris Carson — Seattle’s top running back, with 1,230 rushing yards, 4.4 yards per carry and seven scores in 15 games — was placed on injured reserve because of a fractured hip that ended his season. And Rashaad Penny — who contributed 370 rushing yards, 5.7 yards per carry and three rushing touchdowns — had suffered a season-ending injury, an ACL tear two weeks earlier.
And so, with the playoffs looming, the Seahawks tentatively turned to their ghosts of Christmas past.
Which explains why their leading rusher in said playoffs was none other than quarterback Russell Wilson.
In a pair of playoff games — a 17-9 wild-card win over the Eagles and a 28-23 loss at Green Bay — Wilson scrambled for 109 yards on 16 carries. The recently retired, 33-year-old Lynch managed 33 rushing yards and 1.8 yards per carry, though he did find the end zone three times. Rookie sixth-round draft pick Travis Homer added just 25 rushing yards and 1.8 yards per rush, and Turbin didn’t factor into the offensive equation.
Essentially, the Seahawks limped into the postseason without anything resembling a rushing attack.
But, a year later — as the 12-4 Seahawks prepare to host the Rams in a wild-card game Saturday — offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has more presents to play with.
“It’s exciting,” Schottenheimer said last week, when asked about his team’s restocked running-back depth. “You guys see the way Chris (Carson) is playing. Last couple weeks, he’s running so hard and he’s making so many impactful, explosive plays. He’s got to be a nightmare to tackle. I look at some of these DBs that have to try to wrap him up at the second level, and he’s getting stronger. He’s getting stronger, and that’s one of the benefits — if you can find one — of missing some time. You’re stronger. You feel good. Your legs, your body is not as beaten up as it usually is this time of year.
“Carlos (Hyde), what he’s brought to us … another physical, physical player. But the guy that I really think is going to have a breakout moment at some point is going to be Rashaad.”
Since returning from injury on Nov. 30, the 5-foot-11, 222-pound Carson has rushed for 358 yards, 4.77 yards per carry and two touchdowns, adding 140 receiving yards and another score as well. Hyde added 356 rushing yards, 4.4 yards per carry and four touchdowns in 10 games, and Penny — who returned in Week 15 — provides fresh legs and an impressive burst for a 236-pound body. The 26-year-old Alex Collins even notched an 8-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of last weekend’s 26-23 win over San Francisco after being elevated from the practice squad.
Though Hyde missed the San Francisco game because of flu-like symptoms, and Penny left after experiencing second-half cramps, all are expected to be available against the Rams.
The same can be said of the Seahawks’ preferred offensive line — Duane Brown, Mike Iupati, Ethan Pocic, Damien Lewis and Brandon Shell — with Seattle being 5-0 when all five have started this season, scoring at least 31 points in each game.
It’s true, the Seahawks have a multitude of weapons — including wide receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, of course.
But their balance may be what ultimately prevents another early exit.
“It doesn’t matter how we do it. We’re looking for the W,” Schottenheimer said. “DK’s going to still be out there. Tyler’s going to be out there. We’re going to have our backs. So we don’t care how we do it. We still believe we’re one of the top offenses in the NFL.”
They’ll have to be, to overcome a Rams team that ranks first in the NFL in scoring defense (18.5 points per game) and third in rushing yards allowed per game (91.3). Of course, the division rivals split their two games this season — with the Rams claiming a 23-16 victory in November, and the Seahawks snaring a 20-9 win in Seattle last month.
Is it any coincidence that Carson, Hyde and Penny played only in the latter?
“This is what we want to do each and every week. We want to run the ball,” Carson said after gaining 79 total yards in the win over the Rams. “So we’ve got me, Carlos, Penny. We’re stacked up at running back. We got the guys to do it — the guys up front, receivers.
“This is big, to have everybody healthy this time of year. It’s a good thing.”
Especially when you consider the Seahawks’ playoff struggles last season with the ghosts of Christmas past.
“I just love the way (Carson) does it,” Carroll said last week, when asked to compare Carson’s style of play with prime Lynch. “There’s only one Marshawn. Marshawn is one of a kind, and he was an extraordinary everything — in player and mentality and everything he was about. One of a kind.
“But as far as hitting the line of scrimmage and letting guys know who you’re playing against and leaving the message behind when he hits you, and the creativity, and his hand-eye coordination and beautiful catching ability, all that kind of stuff, (Carson) is what we’re looking for. That’s why Carlos was such an important get for us, too, because Carlos is very similar in that regard. Both those guys really bring it, and we love that style of play. It adds to us and gives us the approach that we can play off of.”