Second-year Seahawks running back Chris Carson used his strength and physicality to plow into the end zone from one yard out on fourth down last weekend. But Carson didn't fully adopt and embrace that running style until his senior year of college.
Chris Carson didn’t know it was fourth down until after the play.
He didn’t know it when Russell Wilson took a shotgun snap and stuffed the football between Carson’s arms at San Francisco’s 1-yard line. He didn’t know it when defensive tackle D.J. Jones plunged his 321 pounds of body weight against him like an iceberg at the line of scrimmage. He didn’t know it when he shook Jones off, trudged to his left and felt linebacker Elijah Lee swallow his right leg like a bear trap at the 2-yard line. He didn’t know it when left tackle Duane Brown shoved him from behind and helped Carson drag Lee across the goal line.
He didn’t know it until he arrived on the sideline, after tying last Sunday’s game early in the fourth quarter, and heard fellow running back Mike Davis say, “That is crazy. It was fourth down.”
“I was like, ‘Oh, yeah,’” Carson said with a smile this week. “I didn’t even realize it.”
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Not that it really matters. In a breakout sophomore season, the 5-foot-11, 222-pound running back has wrecked unfortunate defenders on just about every play.
“A lot of guys tell me that that’s my game, that’s my style,” Carson said. “So when they see me do that it brings the energy up.
“I mean, I play the same way each down.”
He used to play a little differently. Prior to Nov. 19, 2016, Carson considered himself more of a finesse runner, relying on jukes and nifty feet to gracefully elude defenders. He squatted 600 pounds, but he rarely used that strength to punish defenders. And during a workout in his senior season at Oklahoma State, fellow running back Rennie Childs told him so.
“I kind of took it personally,” Carson said, “like, ‘OK, I’m going to show you.’”
In the following game, against Texas Christian, Carson rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown, averaging 8.6 yards per carry.
He discovered something new about himself along the way.
“From then on, I was like, ‘Dang, I like that feeling better,’ to run somebody over versus trying to juke somebody,” Carson said. “So I just stuck with that from there.”
The Seahawks are happy that he did.
The 49ers defense — namely, Jones and Lee — are definitely, painfully not.
“It’s just a play that ignites the whole sideline,” Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said of the resilient fourth-down run. “You just appreciate him because you see how relentless he is and how much effort (he gives). For me, you’ve seen this before. You watched Marshawn (Lynch) do it all the time. So when you see that, it’s like, ‘I know this feeling.’
“So you’re watching a person who’s not going to be stopped get to wherever he wants to go. You always respect that, and honestly you want to play against guys like that. Because that makes the game fun.”
The Lynch comparisons don’t end there. With two games left this season, Carson has accounted for 913 rushing yards, 4.5 yards per carry and six touchdowns. He’s just 87 yards shy of becoming Seattle’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Lynch gained 1,306 yards in 2014. It would also be Carson’s first 1,000-yard season since his senior year at Parkview (Ga.) High School in 2012.
Considering that rookie running back Rashaad Penny may miss his second consecutive game with a knee injury, Carson’s chances of reaching that milestone seem comparable to the Seahawks’ current playoff odds (which are hovering north of 90 percent). The team can also turn to Mike Davis, J.D. McKissic or the newly signed Bo Scarbrough as well.
But coach Pete Carroll made it clear he’s not afraid to let Carson carry the load.
“Chris is a wonderfully instinctive runner and really, you just keep throwing it at him and he’ll find a way to do something good,” Carroll said this week. “We don’t want to wear him out, but sometimes you’ve just got to go, and he’s answered the call.”
Carson continues to answer the call, which is something he couldn’t say last season. After suffering a broken leg and missing the final 12 games of 2017, the 24-year-old runner and former seventh-round pick said his only goal this season was to remain healthy throughout.
He has made major strides in that area, playing in 12 of 14 games — including the last five.
But what would a 1,000-yard rushing season mean?
“I don’t know,” Carson said. “If we make the playoffs, it’ll mean a lot.”