While we’re not ready to go biblical and suggest it’s the mark of the beast, halfway through the NFL season something strange is, well, afoot with the 5-3 Seahawks’ running game since the departure of Beast Mode, Marshawn Lynch.
Despite a heavy offseason investment in the position, the Seahawks’ four primary running backs on the active roster cumulatively have rushed for 316 yards on 111 tries (2.8 yards per carry).
After a year of retirement leisure before joining the Oakland Raiders, Lynch has 323 yards on 86 carries (3.8 ypg).
More significantly, the NFL’s No. 2 running back in terms of yards per carry (5.6) is Alex Collins of the Baltimore Ravens. His yardage total of 521 is 10th in the NFL, and he didn’t start the first two games.
You may recall Collins was the Seahawks’ fifth-round draft choice in 2016 after starring at Arkansas. In his rookie year he had 39 carries for 152 yards, as well as 14 receptions for 112 yards, including playoffs.
But the Seahawks after training camp figured they had armored up the position by hiring Eddie Lacy and drafting Chris Carson. Along with holdovers Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise, plus the find of back/receiver hybrid J.D. McKissic, a waiver claim in December, the Seahawks figured they had stanched the post-Lynch bleeding that required a club-record use of 18 running backs in 2016.
So in September, they said goodbye to Collins on the roster cut-down to 53, partially justifiable on the grounds of dubious ball security. No other team was impressed enough to claim him, so he signed as a free agent with Baltimore and was put on the practice squad. Once starter Danny Woodhead was lost to injury, Collins seized the chance.
In fairness, the offensive lines at Oakland and Baltimore are much better than the one in Seattle, a narrative with which Seahawks fans are familiar, having lost starters LT George Fant and LG Luke Joeckel to injury, and adding Wednesday LT Rees Odhiambo to the injured reserve list (surgery to both hands).
Then there’s RT Germain Ifedi, who leads the NFL with 12 penalties on a team that has an NFL-high 82 accepted fouls, a crime wave that has the National Security Agency, Interpol and the Mossad giving Seattle the side-eye.
Setting aside the line woes, the Seahawks still don’t have enough healthy backs, after a groin-muscle strain that will keep Lacy out of the Thursday night game in Arizona against the 4-4 Cardinals.
The healthy RB list includes Rawls, McKissic and, ahem, Prosise, whose career list of owies soon will be taught as a trauma course at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He’s been out since Sept. 24 with a sprained ankle.
Add up the problems and it’s small wonder that the Seahawks offense largely has been: “Here’s the ball, Russell — do something.”
The withering even had Carroll, the man of 10,000 sunrises, a little downcast this week.
“I am surprised somewhat that we aren’t farther along in these areas,” he said, referring to the penalties and the run game. “These are things that we really can control. We have a chance to be good.
“We have been putting up a ton of yards, moving the football like crazy for a while now (their 378.6 ypg is fourth in the NFL). We have a chance to have a good season and we got to get at it. We can’t have any slippage. The season is wide open for everybody at this point.”
The starter will be Rawls, who through eight games has 98 yards in 39 carries, a woeful comedown from the playoff game against Detroit 11 months ago, when he had 161 yards on 27 attempts.
But against a Cardinals defense ranked 23rd at 350 yards a game, and behind a remade line that had its dubious shakedown cruise Sunday in the 17-14 home loss to Washington, there’s a decent shot at revival.
“We love Thomas. He’s going to be our guy,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “We’ll ride with him. He has history with us, and has done a great job.
“We’ll see if we get C.J. back And we’ve gotten some big plays out of J.D. We love those guys. Those are our guys and we’ll ride with them.”
Not that there is much choice in a short week. After passing on retaining Lynch and Collins, a series of injuries has again made a hash of the playbook, except the Forrest Gump part where it says, “Run, Russell, run!”
Cable boiled down the solution in simple terms for the second half of the season that doesn’t involve new plays or players.
“At the end of the day, for this whole team: Do right, play smart,” he said. “However you want to say it — yelling, screaming. They are grown men, they got to learn to adjust and do the right things and play smarter.”
Since Carroll’s arrival in 2010, the Seahawks are 6-1 on Thursdays, part of a 20-3-1 record in all primetime games, outscoring opponents 627-316. In the same period, the Seahawks in November/December games are an NFL-best 32-10.
The football bible says the Seahawks have entered the realm when they follow the “Do Right, Play Smart” liturgy and shed the mark of the beast. It’s right there, in First Carrollians.
Art Thiel is co-founder of sportspressnw.com.