Sunday's game was the first time this season Seattle threw the ball more than it ran it in a game the Seahawks won.
If Seattle’s revived rushing attack this season has been portrayed as the team once again having a balanced offense, it was Sunday that proved the Seahawks have truly achieved that goal.
To Carroll, the emphasis this year to get the running game going again wasn’t really about being a run-only, or even a run-first, team.
It was, instead, about being able to run and pass with equal efficiency when the Seahawks wanted or needed to.
That’s what he felt was missing over the last two seasons as the Seahawks went from having a rushing offense ranked in the top four in the NFL from 2012-15 to one that ranked 25th last season and 23rd the year before, and what led to a massive overhaul of the offensive coaching staff and the decision to take running back Rashaad Penny in the first round.
But having proven the last two months that they can once again run the ball (Seattle entered the weekend leading the NFL in rushing), on Sunday they showed they are still willing — and, maybe more importantly, able — to pass it when needed as quarterback Russell Wilson threw for a season-high 339 yards and the Seahawks put up 20 points in the second half, scoring two touchdowns and two field goals on four second-half drives.
That production offset a rushing attack that gained just 75 yards — the fewest since Seattle had 74 at Chicago in week two – against a Carolina defense that seemed determined to stop the run and force Seattle to throw.
Guard J.R. Sweezy said the Panthers crossed up the Seahawks some with a few new defensive looks designed at containing Seattle’s run.
“They did some stuff today that was different and it worked a little bit,’’ Sweezy said.
Not that Seattle had no luck running it in the second half — each of Seattle’s first two second-half drives, which each resulted in scores, began with Carson runs of 15 (you may remember that one for a certain leap) and then 12 yards.
But take those out and the Seahawks were held to minus-two yards on their 12 other runs in the second half.
The Seahawks countered by throwing it — Wilson was 15-19 for 218 yards and two TDs in the second half when the Seahawks had just 14 runs. Seattle finished with 31 passes to 28 rushing attempts, the first time it won a game this season when it threw more than it ran.
“Sometimes, it (the running game) isn’t going to work and you’ve got to be able to go the other way,’’ Carroll said. “We don’t think we’re not going to throw it. We want to take advantage of it off the running game. It’s no secret, so I don’t mind saying it.’’
And while there is no lack of on-line debate whether a successful running game really helps a passing game, Carroll is a firm believer.
For anyone who wondered why Seattle ran it at all in the second half given the way the Panthers were stopping it, Carroll said, in his view, it’s a basic football necessity to keep running it to keep the defense guessing.
“We keep doing it so that we can use the play-action stuff and get the ball over the top of them,’’ Carroll said. “That’s part of it, and if they’ve got to commit that hard it does give us space to throw the football. That’s how it fits together and Schotty (offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer) has to balance that out and I think he did a great job today.’’
What also paid off was Seattle’s strategy in the second half to make Carolina pay for playing aggressive.
Seattle’s three longest pass plays all came in the second half and all on third or fourth downs — a 54-yard Wilson pass to David Moore to convert a third-and-12 on the first series of the third quarter and set up a Tyler Lockett TD; a 43-yard pass to Lockett on a third-and-five on the final series that set up the game-winning field goal; and a 35-yard TD to Moore on a fourth-and-three that tied the game with 3:33 left.
Of course, what it takes most is a quarterback to make it all work.
The Moore pass was a perfect combination of a number of ingredients coming together as one.
Seattle saw Carolina preparing to blitz while playing press man coverage with backup Corn Elder, in the game for the injured Donte Jackson, covering Moore (Seattle did all it could to take advantage of Carolina’s depleted secondary once Jackson departed). Wilson and Moore made the communication to have Moore run a streak down the sideline, and Wilson — behind pass protection that improved in the second half — made the throw, and then Moore made the catch.
“It was a great job by Schotty and Russ to make sure that we went after the new guy, so it’s always important,’’ Carroll said. “It’s always about matchups, and they were on it.’’
Wilson said the play wasn’t necessarily designed to go to Moore. But the option was there and the Seahawks were able to make it pay off.
More importantly, the Seahawks didn’t doubt that in a game when the running game wasn’t working, they could still win.
To Wilson, though, that was never a question.
“I think that to be able to throw the ball — we can do anything that we want to do,’’ Wilson said. “There is nothing we really can’t do. We want to play tough, physical football. We also want to be explosive in the passing game.’’
An attack that one might call, well, balanced.