Just five games are left in the 2017 regular season and the Seahawks still have an uncertain tailback situation.
Seahawks fans may be on the verge of seeing their team accomplish a bit of unwitting NFL history this season.
Only seven times since the merger in 1970 has a quarterback been a team’s leading rusher — and only four players have done it (Chicago’s Bobby Douglass in 1972, Philadelphia’s Randall Cunningham from 1987-90, Philadelphia’s Donovan McNabb in 2000 and Carolina’s Cam Newton in 2012).
But with five games left in the 2017 regular season Seattle’s Russell Wilson appears poised to join that list, leading the Seahawks with 401 yards, almost more than double anyone else on the roster (the injured Chris Carson with 208).
Asked Tuesday about preparing for a team with a quarterback as a leading rusher, Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz shrugged it off.
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“If they had one guy that got all the yards and all the carries, it wouldn’t be that way,’’ he said.
But that’s been the crux of the issue — finding one guy to literally take the ball and run with it.
J.D. McKissic was the official starter for the Seahawks against the 49ers Sunday becoming the fifth different player to start at tailback for Seattle this season, the others being Carson, Thomas Rawls, Eddie Lacy and Mike Davis.
Lacy, though, got the bulk of the work, but hardly cemented his hold on the position, gaining 46 yards on 17 carries against a defense that came into the game ranked 31st in the NFL against the run a year after ranking last.
After appearing to sound after the game on Sunday as if maybe Lacy had earned the right to take the job for a while, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll hedged a bit more on Monday.
“Each week is for us right now is a new situation,’’ Carroll said. “We’ll figure it out as we go.’’
It’s not a new spot for the Seahawks, unfortunately, who once had one of the most stable tailback situations in the NFL when Marshawn Lynch started all but three games from the 2011-14 seasons.
Lynch also was the primary starter through the first half of the 2015 season before suffering a sports hernia injury that effectively ended his Seattle career (he would play in only one more game in the playoffs).
In the 34 games since he was hurt against Arizona on Nov. 15, 2015 the Seahawks have started eight different tailbacks — aside from the five this year the others were Christine Michael, Derrick Coleman and C.J. Prosise.
Rawls has the most starts of the bunch with 14.
But on Sunday, despite a week of hints that maybe he would play more in the wake of an injury to Davis, Rawls was on the field for just one snap, that coming in the first half, without getting a carry.
It was the second time this year Rawls had just one snap in a game, the other coming at Tennessee, and continued a mystifying slide from apparent potential star as a rookie in 2015 to now barely able to get on the field with zero guarantees he’ll still be with the team a year from now — he will be a restricted free agent after the season.
Carroll insisted Monday that there is still a place for Rawls in the backfield.
“He’s still in there battling,’’ Carroll said. “Thomas is healthy, and this week we just had to make a choice and we had been anxious to see how Eddie does, so we’ll see how this week turns out.”
Carroll said giving most of the work to Lacy Sunday was in keeping with a plan the team developed a few weeks ago of deciding to try to pick one tailback and stick with him for a while to see if that might jumpstart things. Seattle has spent most of the year alternating tailbacks throughout games.
“Only so many guys can get it,’’ Carroll said. “If we try too much mix then you don’t get enough information. I think that was really evident in how we tried to go about it this week with Eddie.’’
That plan has twice been foiled by injury with Lacy going down after one quarter three weeks ago against Washington and then, after the team activated Davis and gave him the start against Atlanta, Davis being sidelined with a groin injury.
But Davis should be back this week, Carroll said, leaving the Seahawks to try to decide who to start between Rawls, Lacy, Davis and maybe even McKissic, who in general seems more suited to a third down-two minute back role but has the best per-carry average on the team of any of the tailbacks at 4.5 (144 yards on 32 carries).
Describing the state of the team’s tailback situation Carroll used the kind of terms typically found more often in August when the roster is still being put together.
“We are just gathering information and fortunately we got a win and we will keep going,’’ Carroll said. “There is a lot of football left and we are hoping that we can continue to find the very best of it and be really effective, so we will see what happens.”
Good luck to whoever gets the call this week, though. Seattle rushed for just 90 yards Sunday against a 49ers team that came in allowing 133. Now Seattle has to take on an Eagles’ team that ranks first in the NFL against the run at 65.1 and held the Bears to negative-five yards on 13 carries Sunday.
For now, the best running threat remains Wilson, who is on pace for 583 yards. That’s not near a career high — Wilson had a club-record 849 in 2014 when Lynch led the team with 1,306.
But considering that the leading rusher behind Wilson who is currently healthy is Lacy with 176 yards — barely more than his career-high of 150 in 2013 when he was with Green Bay — it might be a total hard for any other Seahawk to top.