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Clayton: Seahawks still trying to find their best RB options 10 games in

J.D. McKissic provides a versatile option at running back for the Seahawks. (AP)

The Seahawks’ loss to the Washington Redskins trimmed their margin of error to pull off a trip to the Super Bowl. The Monday night loss to Atlanta endangered their chances of making the playoffs.

What started as a season of great optimism for the Legion of Boom has now entered a part of the season in which there is reason for doom. And while the Seahawks still have a great chance of making the playoffs, their Super Bowl hopes are getting smaller.

Stelton: Seahawks get glimpse at their defense for the rest of the season

What Pete Carroll must do is focus the players into just winning the NFC West over the Los Angeles Rams and hoping things break right after that. Being three games behind the Philadelphia Eagles and two games behind the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints, the Seahawks are now looking more as a fourth seed from the NFC in the playoffs – if they beat out the Rams – and that means two tough postseason road games if they win their first-round game and aspire to get to the Super Bowl.

With the past two 10-win seasons, the Seahawks have learned the difficulty of getting playoff road wins. A wild-card spot would make it even tougher.

Let’s look at what the Seahawks learned during the loss to the Falcons.

The Seahawks are still trying to identify their best running backs 10 games in. They found some solutions with the speed of J.D. McKissic and the power of Michael Davis; they combined for 48 yards on 13 carries and seven catches for 64 yards. They followed blocks well, plus they gave screen pass options for Russell Wilson that haven’t been there before. It hasn’t worked out with Thomas Rawls, who was a healthy scratch, and Eddie Lacy, who has just 130 yards and a 2.5 yard per carry average. McKissic and Davis offer hope until Chris Carson can make a return from a broken ankle. Unfortunately for the Seahawks, Davis suffered a groin injury that will keep him out of the San Francisco 49ers game Sunday, so the backfield is down to McKissic, Lacy and Rawls for this week.

The secondary showed it has adequate depth. The Seahawks are technically down three starters in the defensive backfield: Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and DeShawn Shead. When Shaquill Griffin suffered his game-ending concussion against Atlanta, the Seahawks were down to their fourth, fifth and sixth cornerbacks, but Jeremy Lane, Byron Maxwell and Justin Coleman played like starters on a normal team. They limited Matt Ryan to 195 yards passing, one of the few times he’s been under 200 yards. And while they were beatable on third down, the hope is that the group will get better over time. Before the injuries, the Seahawks were one of the better nickel defenses in the league, giving up only 4.7 yards per play in nickel. Maxwell did well considering he hasn’t been in the system for a couple of years and only had three days of practice since coming back. The secondary looks good enough to get the Seahawks into the playoffs.

Believe it or not, there is some progress along the offensive line. If you look at the big picture, the offensive line is much like the backfield and the secondary. It’s November and the line is trying to find itself. Duane Brown is a significant upgrade at left tackle and he fought his way through the Falcons game despite a bad ankle injury. Ethan Pocic might have had his toughest game, but he’s still a promising rookie. Run blocking was better, and McKissic and Davis did a good job of following blocks.

Those calling for a change in returners can be silenced. Tyler Lockett returned kicks like a Pro Bowler Monday night. He had five returns for 197 yards. Lockett said after the game the return team focused on getting up the wedge better and Lockett concentrated on following his blocks better. When the league moved kickoffs to the 35-yard line, the number of returns dropped due to the ease for kickers to get touchbacks. This year’s change of putting the ball on the 25-yard line is giving kickers more chances to pop high kicks that are harder to return. As a result, only three kickoffs have been returned for a touchdown this year. Return yardage is down to an average of 21.2, while in 2012 it was 23.9. In 160 games, there have been only 597 kickoff returns; that’s less than two per game per team. Lockett now ranks fourth in the league with a 25.9 yard average.

Once again, the success of this team comes down to Russell Wilson. His uncharacteristic turnovers early in the game forced him to scramble to make the comeback. He ran for 86 yards and passed for 258. His will to win gives the team a chance to win every week. He’s having an MVP season.

Want more John Clayton? Listen on-demand to his weekday and Saturday shows as well as his “Cold Hard Facts” and “Clayton’s Morning Drive” segments on 710 ESPN Seattle. Also, check out the latest episode of his “Schooled” podcast and look for his columns twice a week on 710Sports.com.

John Clayton on 710 ESPN Seattle
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