RENTON — Coach Pete Carroll recently lamented the state of the Seahawks’ running game, saying, “I don’t feel like we’ve found the rhythm at all.”
Carroll hoped starting running back Chris Carson would return for Sunday’s game at Green Bay to help get the rushing attack on track.
Instead, Carson will miss a fifth consecutive game because of a neck injury after Carroll said Friday the team decided to hold him out.
Carson returned to practice off injured reserve Wednesday, opening a 21-day window for him to be activated to the 53-man roster or returned to IR for the rest of the season.
Carroll said Carson did not have a setback but added that, “I just don’t feel like it’s time to do it yet; he hasn’t had enough time to evaluate it. He had two good, hard days, and we just quite didn’t clear it enough. He’s dying to play, but we need to make sure that we are doing the right thing, so we are going to take care of him this week and see what happens next week.”
The Seahawks again will go with the quartet of Alex Collins, Rashaad Penny, Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas on Sunday. They are averaging just 102.9 rushing yards per game, which ranks 21st in the NFL, and will face a stiff test against a Green Bay run defense that allowed a combined 161 yards to the Chiefs and Arizona the past two games.
Carson helped get Seattle’s running game off to a good start in the season opener at Indianapolis, rushing for 91 of the team’s 140 yards in a 28-16 win.
But the Seahawks have rushed for more than 106 yards in a game just once since — with 144 at Pittsburgh — and have been held to a combined 159 yards on 53 carries the past two games against the Saints and Jaguars, or 3 yards per carry.
Collins has taken on most of the load. But after a 101-yard outing at Pittsburgh, he has 79 yards on 26 carries in the past two games. Carroll said Collins has been battling a groin injury but should be healthier thanks to the bye last weekend.
And with Carson out the Seahawks have hoped for a breakthrough from Penny. The team’s first-round draft pick in 2018 is finally recovered from a calf injury that held him out five games.
But Penny has just 16 yards on 13 carries in the past two games.
“We’ve been spotty,” Carroll said. “Alex has done a nice job. I really think we’ve watched Alex the last two weeks, making it through the game. He had a groin issue; I don’t think he was at top speed either one of the last two games. He was good enough to play. As we saw him, even though he had a good game a couple games ago yardage-wise, I’m hoping that he’ll pop back and be a little more juiced up than he was these last couple. He sucked it up and played. He’s been the most effective part of it. I like what we’re doing in our run game scheme-wise, but we have to find the consistency.”
Carroll was disappointed with the way the Seahawks were unable to use the running attack to close out the Jacksonville game. Though they won 31-7, the Seahawks went three-and-out on their only two drives in the fourth quarter and rushed for just 27 yards on nine carries in the second half.
That meant the defense was on the field for 35 plays in the fourth quarter.
“Where it really shows up to me is at the end of the game,” Carroll said. “We didn’t run the ball well in the fourth quarter. That’s when you really want to hammer the football. When you’re running the ball well, the fourth quarter is the time when you put games away, you eat up clock, and you kind of send the message that you got your act together. I don’t feel like we’ve done that yet. Except for the Pittsburgh game. Pittsburgh was the game where we really — that’s what it’s supposed to look like in the second half.”
The inconsistent running game also feeds into a few other offensive issues. Seattle’s average time of possession of 25:47 is last in the NFL, and the Seahawks are 31st in the NFL in third-down conversions at 31.33%.
One reason for the third-down issues is that Seattle is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry on first downs (405 yards on 112 attempts), setting up a lot of second-and-long plays, which too often turn into third and long.
One thing the Seahawks think will help is the expected return of receiver Dee Eskridge, who has missed the past eight games because of a concussion. Eskridge is targeted for a key role in the team’s package of fly and jet sweeps and he had two runs for 22 yards against the Colts — gains of 9 and 13 yards, each on first down — before being sidelined.
But the Seahawks had also hoped for the return of Carson, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2018 and 2019 and signed a two-year contract in March worth up to $10.4 million.
Seattle has gotten 232 yards on 54 carries out of that deal. And any mention of neck brings the inevitable concern over whether the injury will linger.
Carroll, though, believes Carson will be back soon — just not this week.
“He looked really good running the ball in practice,” Carroll said. “We banged him around some so that he could get a gauge on it, but it just doesn’t seem like it’s time yet where we’re sure where he is on it. Now that he’s been back, let’s get another week of practice and see what he looks like next week and see how he fares. It’s not going back to square one. We’re really taking advantage of the fact that we’ve got some stuff and some information this time around. Let’s see how he responds next week.”