Seahawks look to improve run game

RENTON — Consider it yet another sign of progress for the Seattle Seahawks.

A day after his team went across the country and won its season opener, a day after his defense held one of the NFL’s most explosive players in check for four quarters, a day after his young quarterback turned in another impressive performance, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll spent much of his Monday press conference answering various forms of a question that basically boiled down to: “Hey, Pete, what’s wrong with your offensive line and running game?”

So before we address that, let’s get it out of the way that, yes, the Seahawks won a gritty game in the dreaded 10 a.m. PT time slot. And yes quarterback Russell Wilson was brilliant, and yes receiver Doug Baldwin looked like he’s ready to return to his 2011 form. And yes the defense was pretty spectacular in holding Cam Newton to one of the least productive games in his career.

But seriously, Pete, what’s up with the running game?

After all, the Seahawks averaged 161.2 yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry in 2012, and Marshawn Lynch gained 1,590 yards on the ground, the third best total in the league. Yet on Sunday, the Seahawks managed just 70 yards on 26 carries, including 43 yards from Lynch on 17 carries. It’s hardly cause for panic one game into the season, but with one of the league’s best defenses looming in the form of Week 2 opponent San Francisco, you can bet fixing the run game will be a big focus this week.

“They wound up doing all right as the game wound up,” Carroll said of his line. “We needed to help them a little bit scheme wise, some things we needed to fix in the run game that against that opponent didn’t work out right for us. Really I don’t think it’s anything, we just need to get back to business and we’ll make this go in the right direction.”

Carroll said some of the blame fell on him, because the Seahawks were doing some things differently in the running game and didn’t adjust quickly enough when that wasn’t working.

“We have grown and we’ve adjusted some,” he said. “Not everything worked out just the way that we would have liked; we didn’t run the ball as well. In our program, as you guys know, that’s a huge focus, so we were disappointed. We plan to go right back to business and get it done this week. We can’t go like that, we’re not going to football that way. We have to do something about it this week against a tremendous defense.

“I contributed to that. I’ve got to make sure that I help out and do the right things to help us make sure we get us on track on what’s really important to us. We didn’t zero in early enough where we could make the adjustments that we normally make. It just took us a while.”

What’s all the more curious about Seattle’s run-game struggles is the fact that the line figures to be better than ever this year. No longer is this a young line learning offensive line coach Tom Cable’s system. No longer is the lineup made up of new players — four of the five starters Sunday were regular starters for most of last season and J.R. Sweezy split time with John Moffitt as a rookie. Yet what should be a cohesive unit struggled to open running lanes for Lynch and Robert Turbin (Lynch averaged just 0.8 yards per carry before contact, according to Pro Football Focus). That game was not, however, a reflection of where Seattle stands with its line, according to Carroll.

“We’ve come a long way,” Carroll said. “… We’re improving. It didn’t really show up in this first game but it will over the long haul. It’ll pay off.”

And of course the Panthers deserve plenty of credit as well. It’s early still, but Carolina’s front-seven looks like it will be very difficult on opposing offenses all year long.

“They’re just good up front,” Carroll said. “Their linebackers played really good. Luke (Kuechly) is great, (Jon) Beason is a monster, their guys up front were terrific. They’ve got a good front seven, now. They’ll play with everybody. I think they’ll hold down the run all year long. They’re that good.”

Injury update

Other than the usual bumps and bruises, only one player came out of Sunday’s opener with an injury, and that was a hamstring injury to backup safety Jeron Johnson that Carroll called a “minor strain.”

The bigger question is who might get back after missing the opener. Carroll gave a positive outlook on defensive end Cliff Avril, who sat out with a hamstring injury but was close to being able to play against the Panthers.

“We’re planning on him being part of it this week unless he has some kind of setback,” Carroll said. “That’d be a nice little boost to get him back in the game.”

Cornerback Brandon Browner, who also missed the Carolina game with a hamstring injury, is able to run, but his status is less clear.

“He ran hard in pregame, but not full speed,” Carroll said. “We want to make sure we can get him back to full speed. … he ran today, he’ll run tomorrow, Wednesday we’ll see how he does, we’ll try to get him for Thursday’s practice.”

Defensive end Chris Clemons, who is working his way back from an ACL tear, will do more in practice this week, Carroll said, but his return may still be a couple of weeks away.

“He’s really champing at the bit to go now,” Carroll said. “He’s telling us he can go, he’s ready and all of that, so he’s exactly where you want your player to be. We are having to hold him back until he can really prove it, then come back after that work and feel good, so we don’t know how long that’s going to take. It may take a couple more weeks, we don’t know.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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