It wasn’t the rushing yards that led Seahawks to win. It was (finally) the commitment to run

Gregg Bell

The News Tribune

Edge rushers that actually have to pause and read run or pass blocking.

Opposing defenses that can’t be as carefree to swarm a besieged quarterback and offensive line.

More manageable, easier-to-convert third downs. Controlling field possession. And thus, the game.

Wow, so this is what can happen to opposing defenses facing a consistent, threatening running game.

Who knew?

The Seahawks finally, actually, on Sunday did what they’ve been promising for nine months. It took until their third game of the season, against Dallas at CenturyLink Field, but really, consistently ran the ball on offense. No, they really did. Thirty-nine times in 67 total plays, in fact.

From beginning to end, from the first quarter through the fourth, Chris Carson ran 32 times for 102 yards.

“Chris Carson is a star,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “He can do everything.”

Not only were those 32 runs the most carries and yards of Carson’s two-year career. They were his most, he said, since he was in junior college five years ago. It was Seattle’s first 100-yard game since Thomas Rawls had one in 2016. Carson became the first Seahawk with at least 30 rushes in a game since Rawls in 2015.

“I think the last time I had that I was probably a junior in college or high school,” Carson said.

Seattle controlled the game and field position with the run, and the rest of the day with its defense. It allowed just one touchdown, collected three turnovers and sacked Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott five times.

Wilson didn’t have to try to win the game by himself, for a change. He took advantage of the additional opportunities all the running opened for the passing game. Such as his 52-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett. That was past a Cowboys safety that was far too close to the line of scrimmage to cover Lockett deep down the right sideline on the play.

The result: Seattle had as many third-down conversions Sunday (seven) as it had this season entering the game. And, thus, a 24-13 win, the first victory of 2018.

It’s one that set the blueprint for how these Seahawks want—need—to play the rest of the year.

“That’s the kind of game we want to play,” left tackle Duane Brown said.

“This is what we want to get done. This is the type of mentality we want to have. We know Chris is going to continue to run the way he’s running. The coaches have the faith in us (to block this).

“We just have to keep it going.”

Yes, they really have to. Including Sunday at Arizona (0-3), and beyond.

It wasn’t the yards. Heck, Seattle averaged fewer than 3 yards per rush on Sunday (39 carries, 113 yards rushing).

It was the commitment to run, on all downs and distances. On first and 10. On second and 10. On third and 1—by a fullback, even. Tre Madden got a first down that way against Dallas, on his first carry of the season.

Coach Pete Carroll got to the number he seeks for what he believes is, as calls it, “winning football” back to Vince Lombardi: 55, the total number of rushes and pass completions. Wilson completed 16 of 26 throws, and Seattle won.

Unlike in the previous games, losses at Chicago and at Denver to begin the season, play caller Brian Schotteneheimer and the Seahawks continued running even when the yards weren’t piling up.

The cumulative effect of all the running: opposing pass rushers weren’t swarming Wilson, for a change.

The Cowboys entered Sunday second in the NFL with nine sacks. They were blitzing more than ever under coordinator Rod Marinelli. And early in Sunday’s game Dallas hit Wilson on his first two drop backs. On their first defensive drive it appeared the Cowboys would become the third consecutive team to sack Wilson six times in a game.

But then Schottenheimer and Carroll made good on their vow since January to base their offense on the run. It became Carson up the middle for 5 yards. Carson around left end for 5 yards. Rashaad Penny off right tackle 5 yards. Carson outside left for 13 yards—on second and 22.

Yes, the Seahawks were so committed to rushing, finally, Sunday they ran it on second and 22.

By late in the second quarter Carson had rushed 14 times. That was one more than the lead back had carried it in the first two games combined.T

The affect on Dallas’ blitzing pass rush was decisive. Cowboys edge rushers Demarcus Lawrence (sacks in his first two games this season, 14 1/2 last season) and Randy Gregory had to take a second to read run keys, to read how Seattle’s linemen were firing off the ball, instead of disregarding keys and just rushing at Wilson. Dallas ended up with two, inconsequential sacks on 28 drop backs by Wilson, instead of a half-dozen, game-changing ones.

“When you have a balanced attack, that’s what happens. When you are able to be not one-dimensional, they can’t just pin their ears back and rush the passer,” Brown said. “That’s kind of what the games we got into became in the first couple weeks.

“We weren’t in that type of game today. They had to read more, to see what was going on in the backfield. And those kind of rushes make it a lot easier on us.”

What also made it easier on Seattle’s blockers and running game: D.J. Fluker played.

The massive, road-grading right guard the Seahawks signed as a free agent this offseason to fit this proclaimed return to the run in 2018 made his Seattle debut. He missed the first two games with a hamstring injury. As advertised, Fluker took his Cowboys and planted them in the turf.

By the second half, Fluker was yelling at his teammates to keep running behind him. As if, there was no other logical place to go.

“He’s tough as nails,” Wilson said of his guard who is wide as I-5. “I love his energy. He loves football.”

Fluker said of Carson: “He did a helluva job.”

And vice versa.

Carson ran 14 times for 56 of his 102 yards while running behind Fluker, either up the middle or on the right side of Seattle’s line. That included on Carson’s 5-yard touchdown run that made it 24-6 Seahawks in the fourth quarter.

“I think we can go for at least 150, or 130,” Fluker said. “(If) we just have to keep our communication great and be able to counteract more and keep everything balanced to take the pressure off Russell, we’ll be fine.”

Fluker’s debut moved J.R. Sweezy to left guard, after Sweezy started the first two games at right guard. Usual starting left guard Ethan Pocic was out with an ankle injury that had him in a walking boot much of last week. Center Justin Britt missed the Cowboys game with a shoulder injury. Joey Hunt played for him. Britt was active on an emergency basis, an indicator that perhaps he can return this week. But Sunday at Arizona it again may be Sweezy for Pocic at left guard, Fluker at right guard.

That sure worked against Dallas.

“I was really fired up to get Fluke back in there,” Carroll said. “You guys don’t know a whole lot about D.J. yet, but you’ll learn. He’s such a spirit on this club. He’s so tough and he’s so mentally right about loving to play this game.

“We just missed him the first two weeks. He just has an energy about him that we’re really excited about.”

Just like they were about a running game that, for one game, anyway, they used like they’ve said for nine months they would.

“We took a really good, positive step forward, and it’s obvious what we did and how it happened,” Carroll said after the reviving win.

“We think we can build on that.”

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith runs Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson out of bounds on a 1-yard scramble in the fourth quarter on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Wash. (Bettina Hansen/Seattle Times/TNS)

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith runs Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson out of bounds on a 1-yard scramble in the fourth quarter on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Wash. (Bettina Hansen/Seattle Times/TNS)