Why the Seahawks’ running game is especially critical now

Oct 13, 2021, 12:38 PM

Seahawks RB Chris Carson...

Seahawks RB Chris Carson runs for a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings. (David Berding/Getty Images)

(David Berding/Getty Images)

The 2-3 Seattle Seahawks have a big primetime showdown in Pittsburgh against the Steelers on Sunday night, and for the first game since 2011, Russell Wilson will not be the Seahawks’ quarterback.

Should Seahawks stick with Geno Smith at QB or bring in Cam Newton?

Not only did the Seahawks fall to the Los Angeles Rams last Thursday to drop below .500, but they lost Wilson to a right middle finger injury. That injury required surgery, and Wilson is expected to miss anywhere from four to eight weeks as he rehabs.

With Wilson out, the Seahawks turn to backup quarterback Geno Smith, who led two scoring drives in relief of Wilson last week, completing 10 of 17 passing attempts for 131 yards and a touchdown.

With Smith taking over as Seattle’s starting quarterback for the foreseeable future, former NFL quarterback Jake Heaps of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy made it clear on Monday that he thinks Smith can do a good job with Wilson out.

Heaps: Why Smith can successfully lead the Seahawks until Wilson returns

On Tuesday, Heaps said people were thrilled with Smith’s play against the Rams, especially because the offense was basically in pass-only mode while in an up tempo/quick offense due to the Seahawks’ trailing by multiple scores when Smith entered the game.

But that almost certainly won’t be the gameplan on Sunday against the Steelers.

“That is completely unrealistic to ask Geno Smith to replicate from start to finish. That’s just not going to happen. That’s never been Geno Smith and he will not be that guy,” Heaps said. “It doesn’t mean he can’t be successful, it doesn’t mean he can’t help the team win football games, but if you’re (Seahawks coach) Pete Carroll, if you’re (offensive coordinator) Shane Waldron, this is the perfect opportunity to – I really point to Pete Carroll – really try and focus on that running game and really try to establish the run and exert your will with Chris Carson and Alex Collins.”

The Seahawks, for years, have been known for having a physical running game in a balanced offense, even with Wilson at his best. And Carson, after missing the Rams game with a neck injury, appears to be on the right track to re-assume his role as Seattle’s lead running back against Pittsburgh on Sunday.

“You’re going to need to have that balance in order to win this football game,” Heaps said. “If you are firmly looking at Geno Smith to march this team up and down the field through the air, you’re going to be in for a rude awakening.”

While it may be obvious that leaning on the run game is critical when you have a backup quarterback under center, Heaps said it will be especially big against the Steelers.

The Steelers, like the Seahawks, are 2-3. But unlike the Seahawks, their defense has been solid, ranking ninth against the run, 19th against the pass, 10th in scoring defense and 16th in total defense. The Seahawks, for comparison’s sake, are second-to-last in run defense, third-to-last in pass defense, 22nd in scoring defense and dead last in total defense.

While Pittsburgh ranks in the top 10 in terms of stopping the run, it allowed over 100 yards in a loss to the Green Bay Packers and just under 100 yards in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. They also allowed over 100 yards on the ground in a Week 5 win over the Denver Broncos. Getting the running game going will be especially important, Heaps said, because the Steelers have one of the most dangerous pass-rushing units in the NFL.

“They were able to establish the run. They were able to get the run game going and that allowed them to get to their play-action pass (game), to slow down some of that pass rush,” Heaps said. “And it’s not going to be easy.”

Stacy Rost, Heaps’ co-host on Jake and Stacy, asked if the likelihood of the Steelers keying in on the run with Smith at quarterback and Carson expected back means that there are areas of Pittsburgh’s defense that the Seahawks can take advantage of, primarily in the passing game. Heaps doesn’t think that’s the case, but he said that doesn’t mean that star receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett can’t have good games against a “good but not great” Steelers secondary.

“(Metcalf and Lockett) are good enough to win some of those matchups out on the edge, but it’s not one of those games where the Seahawks will be able to throw for over 300 yards,” Heaps said. “… It really, for me, comes down to how can they utilize the run game in a variety of different ways? Because we’ve seen them, at times, become really stubborn.”

Heaps pointed to the Seahawks’ Week 2 loss to the Tennessee Titans as a prime example. During that game, the Seahawks managed just 77 yards on the ground on 18 carries, with Carson accounting for 31 yards on 13 touches and Collins gaining 25 yards on his lone rushing attempt of the afternoon.

The Seahawks were insistent on running out of 12 personnel – one running back and two tight ends – even though it clearly wasn’t working, Heaps said. He hopes Seattle will not make the same mistake again in Pittsburgh.

“Can they do it from spread formations? Can they do it from 12 personnel?” Heaps said. “Can they be very creative in the running game in order to make it successful? Because the Steelers are not going to get beat by (the Seahawks) just lining up and playing ‘smash mouth football.'”

Listen to the full discussion at this link or in the player below.

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