RENTON, Wash. – There wasn’t much coach Pete Carroll disliked from the Seahawks’ 17-9 wild-card playoff victory Sunday over the Eagles.
But the one thing there was to grouse about really stood out – the running game.
Seattle was held to 64 rushing yards overall, by far the lowest total of the season, and just 19 yards on 17 attempts from running backs Travis Homer and Marshawn Lynch.
“We were not good enough running the football,” Carroll said. “Not nearly to our standards.”
Of Carroll’s 176 regular-season and playoff games with the Seahawks, they’ve rushed for fewer than 64 yards only 15 times.
Given the Seahawks’ desire to run the ball, they likely can’t continue to play this way if they want to stick around in the postseason.
One change on the horizon as Seattle prepares for a divisional playoff game Sunday at Green Bay – play Marshawn Lynch more.
“He will be more involved from this point forward,” Carroll said at his Monday news conference.
Lynch played 18 snaps Sunday, 28%, compared to Homer’s 44 in the second career start for the rookie.
Those were comparable numbers to the 49ers game, when Lynch played 23 snaps, 31%, in his first game back with Seattle, while Homer had 50.
Homer wasn’t necessarily the issue, though he did have a fumble the Seahawks recovered. Carroll said the biggest reason Seattle struggled to run was the Eagles winning battles up front.
“We didn’t have much space,” Carroll said. “We allowed penetration from them, and I thought those guys (the running backs) did fine.”
If Homer wasn’t to blame, it makes sense to rely more on Lynch, who has 10 playoff rushing touchdowns, seventh most in NFL history, as the Seahawks play in a venue of which Carroll said “there is no tougher place to play.”
Carroll said there was no real plan when Lynch was brought back in the wake of season-ending injuries to Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny and C.J. Prosise.
“We were taking this one day at a time,” Carroll said of Lynch’s return.
But Lynch has answered every question so far, in terms of how he’d physically handle playing again at 33 years old after 14 months off, picking up the offense and just generally fitting back in.
“He’s going to play more this week,” Carroll said. “He’s ready to and he’s had enough time with us, and he feels confident about what he is doing and the plan, and we can get him in and out of there and have those two guys really go at it.”
Pounding away at the Packers might make more sense given an early seven-day forecast calls for snow showers in the morning and a high of 27 Sunday – and Green Bay’s run defense was not as statistically stout this year.
Green Bay allowed 4.7 yards per carry, 24th in the NFL.
In a broader statement about the strategy behind running, Carroll made a comment Monday possibly foreshadowing the plan of attack this week.
“Sometimes the weather is such that you can’t throw it and that’s why you’ve got to have the running game and have to be committed to it to have it available at any time,” he said. “That’s the whole point.”
No one has doubted Seattle’s commitment to its running game. Some have questioned, such as during the wild-card playoff defeat last season against Dallas, if Carroll isn’t sometimes too stubborn about sticking with the run.
But that wasn’t an issue against the Eagles.
Seattle got just 14 yards on seven carries from Lynch and Homer in the first quarter, then handed those two the ball just 10 more times the rest of the game, one of which was Lynch’s 5-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, and two of which were carries on the final drive, when Seattle was forcing the Eagles to use their timeouts.
Seattle countered its running game ineffectiveness by attacking the Eagles through the air, particularly taking shots deep in man coverage to DK Metcalf. Carroll noted that an early wind died down a little Sunday by the 1:40 p.m. kickoff. Russell Wilson responded by completing 18 of 30 passes for 325 yards and a touchdown, with Metcalf setting an NFL rookie record with 160 receiving yards in a playoff debut.
Seattle ended up with a 30-26 pass-to run ratio, which included five runs out of six plays on the final drive. It was only the fourth time this year Seattle had more passes than runs in a game it won.
But Carroll said Seattle has always tried to do whatever it takes to win, even if the Seahawks have usually run the ball at a higher percentage than most teams during his 10 years as coach.
“It’s always been that (way),’’ he said. “We don’t want to just run the football – we want to do everything.
“But if you don’t really go for the commitment in your running game, it’s hard to ever get it. So in situations where you are not finding the running game available, we still kept trying to keep the rhythm going and balanced it out pretty well. But it did give Russ a chance to really work the play-action stuff, and he was able to find the space he needed to make plays. I thought he took advantage of the opportunities. But it does feed off, one off of the other.”
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