Just when the Seattle Seahawks started to find consistency on defense, and some semblance of a passing game, the ground attack has started to become … well, grounded.
After averaging 166.3 yards per game, and 4.9 per carry, during the first three games of this season, the Seahawks have seen those numbers plummet to 82.3 and 3.7, respectively, in the past four.
The Seahawks' run game hit rock bottom in Sunday's win over the San Francisco 49ers, with just 39 yards on 28 carries.
"We expect to run the ball better," starting guard Mike Wahle said Monday. "We have to put ourselves in situations where we have opportunities to run the ball.
"That's what was so frustrating about (Sunday). We were in command of that game for 90 percent of the game, and we still weren't running the ball as well as we should. That's what's frustrating."
In Sunday's game, Seattle had just three carries that went for more than three yards. Seven carries resulted in lost yardage. After starting halfback Julius Jones gained 14 yards on his first carry, he was stopped behind the line of scrimmage on four of his final five carries and finished with nine yards on the day.
Jones, who had back-to-back 100-yard performances in his first two starts, has a total of 156 rushing yards in the past four games.
"I was disappointed in how we ran the football," coach Mike Holmgren said of Sunday's performance. "We have been better at that."
The easiest excuse is the tendency of opposing defenses to stack the box because of Seattle's problems in the passing game. San Francisco spent a good part of Sunday pushing eight defenders up to the line in an effort to stop Seattle's run game.
"You could always say there's eight guys in there, but you can't use that as an excuse," Holmgren said. "You still have to run the ball in there. We have (in the past)."
Other than that, it's hard to pinpoint why the Seahawks' run game has sputtered. Sunday's opponent, the 49ers, ranked 23rd in the league in run defense. The unit is relatively healthy and has actually stabilized since Floyd Womack took over for injured Rob Sims in Week 2.
As Womack said this week: "We know we still have the backs to do it, and we know we still have the linemen to do it. We've all just got to get on the same page."
Wahle said that Sunday's game was a matter of the San Francisco defense getting the better of many one-on-one battles.
"They've got some good players on defense," said Wahle, who had costly holding calls wipe out long runs in back-to-back games against Green Bay and Tampa Bay. "But we certainly have to block better than we did.
"Our margin of error is much too small right now. We have to make the most of every opportunity, and we didn't do that yesterday. We had missed assignments and technical breakdowns."
The line is not the only problem. The runners haven't made as many big plays as they did early in the season. Jones broke runs of 20-plus yards in each of the first three games but has gone over 14 yards just once since then. Maurice Morris had a 45-yard run in the Tampa Bay game but has otherwise been ordinary. And fullback Leonard Weaver's best plays have come on pass receptions.
The run game, which was one of the few areas where the Seahawks were having success, is likely to be a point of emphasis this week.
"In the NFL, sometimes it's easier to improve after a win," Wahle said. "Guys are more receptive to learning. We'll work hard this week, and we know we'll have a tough test (against the Philadelphia Eagles) this week."
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