RENTON You know the saying, when you assume you make a (donkey) out of you and me.
And the Seahawks, in this case.
But, hey, the assumption was logical: Christine Michael’s resurgence in his second go-round with the team plus Thomas Rawls’ return from injury would equal a dynamic Seahawks’ running game -- despite the retirement of Marshawn Lynch.
Two games into the season the Seahawks are trying to figure out what’s wrong with their rushing offense. Seattle averaged just 2.8 yards per carry in last weekend’s dismal, 9-3 loss at Los Angeles. It is getting only 3.1 yards per rush so far this season.
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"We've got to get our running game more effective, like we've always liked it to be," coach Pete Carroll said heading into Sunday’s game between Seattle (1-1) and San Francisco (1-1) at CenturyLink Field.
"So we're going to make sure we focus there."
The current view isn’t scenic.
The offensive line with new starters in four of the five positions and a fill-in right guard, J’Marcus Webb, has been generally getting stalemated when not blown back at the line of scrimmage. Sometimes, they have stood around not blocking anyone while their backs have been getting mauled.
Michael shined Sunday at Los Angeles with 6 yards per carry. But even though Rawls was on the sidelines for the final 2½ quarters with a bruised leg from getting kicked by a Ram, Michael got only 10 carries among Seattle’s 61 offensive plays.
Rawls came back to start the Sept. 11 opener against Miami, his first start since he broke his ankle Dec. 13. But last year’s NFL leader in yards per rush (5.8) had just 32 yards on 12 carries against the Dolphins. That mere 2.7 yards per carry was dynamic compared to what happened to Rawls – and the entire offense – last weekend in Los Angeles.
Rawls ran seven times for minus-7 yards. He often had multiple Rams in his face as he took handoffs from quarterback Russell Wilson. Then Rawls got kicked in the leg and stood on the sidelines the rest of the afternoon; his status for this weekend against the 49ers is unknown.
"We just need to get him out there, stay out there, get a feel for the game and start to feel the effect that he brings," Carroll said. "I think that's part of what we anticipated seeing his input, which in compliment to Christian, who is doing a nice job.
"I think it's going to be a nice one-two punch. We just need to get him back out there."
And Seattle and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell simply need to call more running plays.
The Seahawks have thrown 78 passes and run the ball 56 times so far this season. And it’s not like these have been shootouts: Seattle’s had 12-10 and 9-3 games so far.
Throwing it 39 times a game with a quarterback on a sprained ankle in low-scoring, defensive struggles is absolutely not Carroll’s style of Seahawks football.
Wilson is integral to the running game. His read-option plays and frequent keepers around end gain yards and keep defenses from charging in solely on Seattle’s running backs. But the sprained ankle Wilson got when Miami’s Ndamukong Suh charged inside right tackle Garry Gilliam and sacked Wilson in the third quarter of the opener has for now all but eliminated Wilson keeping the ball on running plays.
Against Los Angeles, when Wilson approached a running back to hand off, the Rams mostly disregarded the usual threat of the quarterback pulling the ball out of the back’s belly, keeping it and sprinting past for big gains. Wilson had five carries for 14 yards against L.A. He’s had fewer yards rushing only once in the last two seasons – in the blowout win Dec. 13 at Baltimore when he only ran the ball one time, for 6 yards.
So much for the keeper-option part of the Seahawks’ read option.
Carroll said in Los Angeles moments following the loss his offense’s issues are not along the offensive line. On Monday he underlined that by saying he is not considering any personnel changes among the blockers. That is, other than eagerly anticipating the return of top rookie Germain Ifedi from a high-ankle sprain so he can get back playing right guard, instead of Webb.
Carroll instead cited his team’s lack of conversions on third downs as the offense’s biggest issue. The Seahawks are at 31 percent converting third downs this season. That’s 25th in the 32-team NFL. Last season they converted 46 percent of them, fourth-best in the league.
Seattle was four for 13 converting third-down situations against the Rams. It was five for 16 against Miami.
Having rookie third-down back C.J. Prosise actually play on third downs would help. The third-round pick renowned for his pass catching broke a bone in his hand in the opener and did not play against the Rams.
More than that, Wilson’s sprained ankle and daily ice treatments the last two weeks have had a chilling effect on Seattle’s run game and, thus, its ability to convert third downs.
Wilson’s ankle injury – of which he says he has accelerated the healing and return by perhaps two weeks -- has also curtailed his uniquely dangerous scrambles on pass calls. Those scrambles have accounted for a sizeable percentage of Seattle’s usually NFL-leading rushing yards the last four seasons.
He says the ankle isn’t effecting his running.
The numbers show otherwise – and is another reason for Seattle’s current issues converting third downs and extending drives.
In 16 regular-season games last season, Wilson scrambled 56 times (an average of 3.5 times per game) for 401 of his 553 yards rushing. He averaged 7.2 yards per scramble. He gained 19 first downs on scrambles off pass calls.
Through two games this season, Wilson has scrambled five time (2.5 times per game) for 24 yards. That’s 4.8 yards per scramble. He has yet to gain a first down by scrambling this season.
As usual when the Seahawks play the Rams, defenders flew in often free at Wilson. Wearing heavy, black tape over both ankles for balance, on the few times Wilson took off running after dropping to pass he meekly slid in surrender at the feet of defenders he normally out-runs.
"I had a few runs in there, got down on a few," Wilson said after the Seahawks’ scored their fewest points in a game in five years.
"On scramble plays, you look forward to see what you can get."
Right now, it’s not much. Against L.A. his short scrambles to slides usually meant third and 8 instead of third and 2. Or first and 10.
"Yeah, we had nine third-and-7s and higher. That’s too many," Carroll said of the Rams game, which included a third and 21.
"It goes back to the running game. Remember last year how much we talked about third down, and you saw third down shift and you saw everything change? That’s still the key, and converting and creating a new set of downs and all that is crucial. … By our own doings, we found ourselves in a bunch of third-and-longers.
"We need to control the sticks better and that’s what balancing out the run game will mean to it."
Carroll noted the pass protection was better than usual against the Rams. But that’s a pretty low bar. The Rams had sacked Wilson 35 times in the previous eight meetings, the most by any of Wilson’s opponents.
The Rams sacked Wilson twice last weekend. A third sack, after Michael missed a pass block on the right side, was negated by offsetting penalties. Los Angeles hit Wilson eight times.
The line allowed Miami to sack Wilson three times, sprain his ankle and hit him on nine other plays.
That’s 22 times Wilson’s been hit officially in two games.
That’s no way to heal an ankle.
Or a run game.
Or an offense.
EXTRA POINT: The NFL’s official transactions for Tuesday showed the Seahawks signed former University of Washington wide receiver Kasen Williams back on to the practice squad while releasing offensive tackle Michael Ola and 2015 fifth-round draft choice Tye Smith from the practice squad.