An offense without Marshawn Lynch as its foundation is not one the Seahawks have wanted to consider for a half-dozen years.
They may have to now.
The team is waiting for results on a magnetic resonance imaging exam of Lynch’s hamstring. The NFL’s leading rusher since 2011 (5,485 yards) was injured catching a pass on fourth down in the second quarter of Sunday’s 26-0 win over Chicago.
Lynch’s replacement, undrafted rookie Thomas Rawls, ran for 104 yards on 16 carries against the Bears. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll says it may be until Friday, following more tests and a couple practice days, before Seattle (1-2) knows if it will be Rawls or Lynch running on Monday night against Detroit (0-3) at CenturyLink Field.
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On Tuesday, wide receiver Doug Baldwin said that if their struggling offense, which has has just four touchdowns in 31 drives so far this season, has to go without Lynch for only the second time since he joined the team in 2010, it’s likely to drop off more.
“Definitely,” Baldwin said. “When you have one of the best running backs in the league in your backfield, the defense has to account for him. And obviously we give him the ball.
“And even if we all, the other 10 players, don’t make something happen for him, he’ll make something happen for us. So you can’t replace a guy like that.
“So yeah, not having him definitely changes the (way) that the defense looks at us. It’s important to have him back there for our offense.”
Asked if their offense, equipped as-is, can withstand playing without Lynch for the first time since Oct. 2011, Baldwin said: “I think we have talent that could take the torch if we needed to. However, it would take a while. The transition would be difficult.
“I would just say I don’t want to see that happen anytime soon.”
This wasn’t the “Angry Doug Baldwin” after he watched film of Seattle’s first victory this season. Seattle scored one offensive touchdown against the winless Bears, who have allowed more points than any NFL team through three games.
This was “Concerned Doug Baldwin.”
“We’re not as efficient as we need to be,” he said. “We are not moving the ball consistently. We have a lot of mental errors and mental mistakes that we need to correct. And we’re awful on third down right now.”
Other than that, things are just dandy on the Seahawks’ offense.
“We’re last in the league in third and 3 to (third and) 6 right now,” Baldwin said. “And … we had two mistakes on third and short (against Chicago) that we should’ve gotten.”
Seattle was 1 for 3 in converting on third downs with a yard to go on Sunday. Through the first three games of the season, the Seahawks have converted just 1 of 6 in third-and-3 situations. Seattle is 0 of 5 on third and 4.
They are just 4 for 16 when it’s been third and 3, 4, 5 or 6 yards to gain for the first down.
Overall on third downs, the Seahawks are 16 for 44 (36 percent) converting this season. That’s tied for 24th in the 32-team league — and is no way to reach the postseason. Russell Wilson has thrown 26 passes on third downs. Only nine have resulted in first downs.
“We’re still kind of finding out where we are this year with it, and it will take us some time before we really zero in on it,” Carroll said. “We’re counting on being good there, so we're going to keep going after it.”
They have almost as many reasons as failures.
The offensive line has starters in three new positions. Center Drew Nowak started just his third career game after being a defensive tackle in college. Communication and pass protection for Wilson have been big problems. In the first half of both the Chicago and Green Bay games, the line failed to get much push along the line of scrimmage for running plays. That’s a bad recipe for third-down conversions.
It’s also a poor way to succeed in the red zone. Seattle traded two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger and a first-round draft choice to New Orleans in March to get 6-foot-7 tight end extraordinaire Jimmy Graham to catch touchdown passes inside the 20. But with the offense failing to establish the rushing plan early and then often failing to give Wilson enough time to wait for Graham to run longer patterns down the field, the Seahawks have touchdowns on just three of eight trips into the red zone. That 37.5-percent TD rate is tied for 28th in the league (with Jacksonville).
Asked if this third-down problem was an assignment issue, lack of execution, the practice music blaring too loudly, Baldwin turned coy.
“Nothing that I can discuss with you guys,” he said.
The lack of sustained drives has created the lack of touchdowns. The Seahawks’ four offensive TDs through three games is tied with St. Louis and, you guessed it, Chicago for last in the NFL.
Since Baldwin has been Wilson’s go-to guy on third downs for years, does he take the Seahawks’ troubles so far this season personally?
“Passing the football is personal to me,” he said. “So whether it’s third down, first down, second down or fourth down, I take it personal.”
Want to know why the defending two-time NFC champions were slogging through a 6-0 game at halftime with the malfunctioning Bears in their home opener? Check out these plays in the first half:
▪ Third and 4 in the red zone, first quarter: Wilson took off up the middle quickly after an early season full of pass-rush pressure. The sack made Seattle settle for one of Steven Hauschka’s four field goals last weekend — and eight through three games.
▪ Third and 1 from the Seahawks 48, first quarter: Five plays after Lynch entered for the first time after getting injury treatment, he tried to run behind left tackle Russell Okung and left guard Justin Britt. He slammed into blitzing, unaccounted-for Bears cornerbacks Alan Ball and Kyle Fuller instead for a loss of a yard. Seattle punted.
▪ Third and 1 from the Bears 27, second quarter: Lynch gets stopped for no gain up the middle by defensive linemen Jared Allen and Jarvis Jenkins.
Daunted by those last two plays — and after Lynch got stuffed on fourth and 1 in overtime to end the loss in the opener at St. Louis — the Seahawks got tricky to convert on fourth and 1 near the end of the first half. They lined Lynch up at fullback in front of tailback Baldwin and motioned Lynch to left wing. Wilson completed a short pass to him in the left flat.
Of course, befitting Seattle’s woes converting this season, Lynch hurt his hamstring on that catch and run.
“We just want to be more consistent,” Baldwin said. “I think that’s the general message that we’re all preaching and receiving right now, is that we need to be more consistent.”