The Seahawks decided they didn't need a running game to beat the Buffalo Bills Monday night. The question now is if they can continue to win that way.
In all that happened Monday night — another Richard Sherman/officiating controversy, amazing catches by Jimmy Graham, a dramatic last-minute defensive stand — what might have the biggest long-term ramifications on Seattle’s season was revealed in a comment made by coach Pete Carroll Tuesday.
“We do know that we don’t have to run the football to win football games,’’ Carroll said during his regular day-after-game radio show on ESPN 710 Seattle.
In fact, the Seahawks barely had a rushing yard per point Monday, gaining just 33 yards in an eventual 31-25 win over the Bills.
It was the second-lowest rushing total in a win in Seahawks history and lowest since 1996 (32 in a 23-16 win over Houston).
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It was also the third-lowest rushing total of the Carroll era, behind a 20-yard effort in a 42-24 loss to Kansas City in 2010 and a 31-yard game 24-0 defeat at Pittsburgh in 2011.
Seattle is now averaging just 75.4 yards rushing for the season, 30th in the NFL and on track to be the lowest in team history, has gone five straight games without topping the 100-yard mark rushing and is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry, also on track to be the worst in team history. Seattle is on pace for just 1,206 rushing yards — the team low for a full 16-game season is 1,392 in 1989.
It’s a startling drop from the last four years when Seattle finished each season ranked among the top four rushing teams in the NFL. Consider that it’s almost 100 yards less per game than when the Seahawks set a team record in rushing at 172.6 per game.
Carroll quickly added to his comment about the game proving the Seahawks can win without running much that “but we want to (run the ball).’’
But Carroll also made a somewhat surprising admission that with the team now at the midway point of the season, he can’t guarantee the running game will ever return to its former state.
“It’s not where we want it to be at all,’’ Carroll said. “And we’ll see — maybe it doesn’t come around at all. I don’t know. We are going to shoot for it. I’m not leaving the thought of trying to balance this thing out.’’
But Monday night also appeared to show that Carroll got tired of waiting for that to happen
After an anemic running game (74 yards on 17 carries) helped lead to a tepid offensive performance in a 25-20 loss at New Orleans on Oct. 30, Carroll said he gathered with coaches and quarterback Russell Wilson on the flight back to Seattle to devise a gameplan that beat the Bills.
With Wilson’s pec, arm and ankle getting healthier, and receivers such as Jimmy Graham, Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett also healthy, Carroll decided it was time to accentuate their play-making ability in the passing game, also knowing that the Bills would often leave their defensive backs in man coverage.
“Sometimes you’ve got to make adjustments in a big, more significant way,’’ Carroll said. “We had to make some significant declarations where we are, what’s going on, what’s coming up.’’
Carroll compared it to the switch the team made during its bye week a year ago, when after a 13-12 win over Dallas the Seahawks decided to go with more of a quicker passing game and more empty set formations designed to spread the field and create one-on-one matchups.
“It’s knowing really with the end of the season coming up we’ve got to cut it loose if we are going to have a chance to have our guys at their best,’’ Carroll said.
That led to Wilson completing 20-26 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns — his first touchdown passes since Oct. 2 — with Graham topping the 100-yard mark for the third time this year (eight for 102) and Baldwin catching six passes for 89 yards and also drawing two 24-yard pass interference penalties that each set up Seattle scores.
Carroll said that led to deciding early in the game that “we don’t need to run it right now. Let’s just keep throwing it. And so we did.’’
But could the Seahawks really win a Super Bowl with one of the most anemic running attacks in the NFL?
Well, the 2011 New York Giants won a Super Bowl despite ranking last in the NFL in rushing that season at 89.1 per game (though it’s worth remembering that one key to their late-season surge was reviving the rushing attack — New York gained 100 or more yards in six of its last nine games including playoffs).
But solid running games usually go along with long playoff runs and Carroll says the Seahawks hope to eventually find theirs.
“We are not backing off of it at all,’’ he said.
The problems Monday remained the same as all season — Wilson is still not running as much as previous seasons due to his injuries, the offensive line is a work in progress and for now appears to be better at protecting the passer than run blocking, and running back Christine Michael has leveled off after some promising outings early while filling in full-time for the injured Thomas Rawls. (Michael had just one yard on five carries and didn’t play in the fourth quarter with Carroll saying the team wanted to see what rookie C.J. Prosise could do, instead. Prosise finished with nine yards on three carries).
The hopes for a running game revival — now that the trade deadline is passed and there won’t be any All-Pro left tackles coming in to save the day — rest in a return to full health by Wilson, a return to the field by Rawls and continued improvement from an offensive line that feature three first-year starters, including both guards (Germain Ifedi, Mark Glowinski).
“There were not a lot of quarterback-involved runs,’’ Carroll said (Wilson had three carries for 10 yards). “So when that returns to us, you can see the impact (Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor had in rushing for 43 yards on eight carries). Look at the other guys.’’
As for Rawls, he’s expected back for the Nov. 20 game against the Eagles in Seattle with Carroll deciding a short week and long trip to New England won’t allow Rawls enough time to get ready for the Patriots.
Whether the running game returns when Rawls does remains to be seen.
What’s clear is that Carroll and the Seahawks are beginning to make plans in case it doesn’t.