DANNY ONEIL

Role reversal: Seahawks haven’t run the ball well, but Cardinals have

Oct 21, 2016, 11:07 AM
Long known for their running game, the Seahawks rank 24th in the NFL in rushing this season. (AP)...
Long known for their running game, the Seahawks rank 24th in the NFL in rushing this season. (AP)
(AP)

It’s hardly a surprise that there’s a fourth-ranked rushing offense involved in Sunday night’s prime-time game.

That the fourth-ranked rushing offense belongs to Arizona and not to Seattle might be as close to shocking as you get in the NFC West, and it is a most unexpected plot twist leading up to what might be the most important game in the division this year.

A Seattle win would go along way in staking the Seahawks’ claim to return to the top of the division. The Cardinals win and they’ve officially gotten up off the mat from a disastrous start in which they lost three of their first four games, and they’ve done it by taking a page out of Seattle’s playbook. The Cardinals have been running the ball, David Johnson ranking No. 3 in the league with 568 rushing yards and first in total yards from scrimmage with 833.

“He’s the most explosive player on their team right now,” coach Pete Carroll said.

That’s a significant change for the Cardinals, who’ve been one of the best big-play teams in the league under coach Bruce Arians. Arizona completed 66 passes for 20 yards or more last season, tied for third-most in the league. Currently, they’re tied for 13th in that category with 19.

“It’s been not as easy as in the past,” Arians said in a conference call this week. “We’ve missed some, they’re there, we just haven’t hit them. We’ll get our opportunities and we just have to keep throwing at them.”

Now it’s Johnson who’s the primary concern for a Seattle defense that has been exceptional at stopping the run outside of one period: the fourth quarter against the San Francisco when Carlos Hyde rushed for a pair of touchdowns.

Even last week against Atlanta when Seattle’s defense seemingly evaporated in the third quarter it wasn’t the ground where Seattle gave way. Of the 252 yards Atlanta gained in that quarter, only 32 were on the ground and 18 of those came on one play.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks are still trying to get traction in their running game. They rank 24th in rushing yards per game. They’ve been in the top five in that category in each of the previous four seasons. Perhaps even more telling, they rank 20th in the league in rushing attempts, which tells you two things:

1) The Seahawks run it less often than your average team.

2) When they do run it, they’re running it more poorly than your average team.

That doesn’t sound like the Seahawks. Certainly not the Seahawks under Pete Carroll. Part of the reason is that Russell Wilson has been limited by injuries. He’s run for 35 yards in five games, which is pretty much what he averaged in a single game last season. Not only that, but Thomas Rawls and rookie C.J. Prosise – who figured to be two of the top three backs in Seattle’s rotation when the season started – have been hurt, though Prosise may be back on Sunday.

That’s just one more wrinkle in this matchup that has been anticipated since the schedule was announced, but is unexpected in the way it has shaped up.

These two teams account for the four playoff berths from the NFC West over the past two seasons. The Seahawks won the division in 2014, the Cardinals claimed it last season.

But on Sunday, it’s the Arizona team known for the explosive passing game that’s going to try to keep running the ball while the Seattle team that has rushed for more yards than any other team over the past four seasons will try to stop running in place.

And like any race, this one very well could come down to the closing kick.

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Role reversal: Seahawks haven’t run the ball well, but Cardinals have