The 3 Questions: How can Seahawks bounce back against Carolina?
The Seahawks have one final road trip before they close out the season with back-to-back games at CenturyLink Field. Despite a 28-12 loss to the Rams they’d probably like to forget, this team at 10-3 still has everything to play for, including the NFC West title and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
To get there, they’ll need to start with a win over the 5-8 Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
Here are this week’s three questions:
How much can C.J. Prosise and Travis Homer contribute?
Just when Rashaad Penny was stringing together his finest performances as a Seahawk, the second-year running back suffered a significant ACL sprain in Week 15. The Seahawks haven’t yet placed Penny on the injured reserve, but Pete Carroll said Monday the team will miss the 2018 first-round pick for the rest of the season (later, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport clarified Penny’s injury as a torn ACL that will keep him sidelined until July’s training camp).
“A guy like that, you just don’t replace him,” Carroll said. “You go to the next guy and he brings what he has. He had an explosive play when he got hurt. Unfortunately, we missed him and we’re going to miss him the rest of the season.”
The next guy is C.J. Prosise, who has always boasted tremendous upside but also owns a lengthy injury history. Also available – likely in a smaller role – is rookie Travis Homer, who is most known to Seahawks fans now for his role in Seattle’s fake punt against Minnesota two weeks ago.
A challenge to running back depth is a less than ideal situation for Seattle’s offense in particular, but it’s not a bad opportunity against Carolina’s 29th-ranked run defense.
How healthy is the rest of this team?
Running back depth isn’t the only concern heading into Week 15. Seattle’s linebackers are also banged up.
Starting outside linebacker Mychal Kendricks was inactive against the Rams with a hamstring injury. Based only on Carroll’s comments to 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant Monday morning, Kendricks could be yet another game-time decision in Carolina.
“I don’t know until we get through the week,” Carroll said of Kendricks’ status. “So it’ll probably be very late in the week before we’ll know how he’s doing.”
Rookie Cody Barton started in Kendricks’ place but he was also briefly forced out of the game in Los Angeles.
“Cody strained his knee a little bit and had a little bit of an ankle thing,” Carroll said. “We’ve got to figure it out. He’s going to get an MRI (Monday) and we’ll find out where he is. He was able to go back in the game, tough as nails, and finish it. But I don’t know.”
There were also less serious injuries to linebacker K.J. Wright (dislocated finger) and defensive tackle Al Woods (knee).
How will the Seahawks – and Russell Wilson – bounce back?
Week 14 was just the Seahawks’ third loss this year, but it’s hard to argue this wasn’t their worst performance. Seattle’s offense struggled to find momentum, its receivers struggled with drops, and the unit was kept out of the end zone entirely for the first time since a Week 1 loss to the Green Bay Packers in 2017. Meanwhile the Rams converted on four of five trips inside the 20, and unlike a handful of weeks this year, the Seahawks couldn’t mount a comeback in the second half.
Some mistakes – such as pre-snap penalties – are more easily fixable than others. It’s unlikely an offense that sat near the top of the league through 13 weeks will come out with the same lackluster performance in Week 15, but it’s also unclear exactly where they Seahawks missed a step.
Russell Wilson was leading the MVP conversation for the first six weeks of the season, but has thrown an interception in each of his last four games. Those picks aren’t all of equal concern; one came in a win, one was a tipped pass, and another was on a last-second Hail Mary attempt. But for the Seahawks to win their next three contests and secure the top seed in the NFC – something that’s still a very real possibility despite their loss to the Rams – they’ll need Wilson at his best.
A healthier Tyler Lockett could make that easier. Lockett had a career-high 18 targets for 13 receptions, 152 yards and two touchdowns against Tampa Bay in Week 9, but over the four games that followed, he’s suffered a bone bruise that required an overnight hospital stay, played through illness and had just eight catches on 15 targets.
The Rams game may have been the start of Lockett heading in the right direction. He caught four passes on six targets for 43 yards, all of which were his highest marks over the past four games.
“He was clearly back in action and feeling good and physically right, just passed being sick the week before and all that,” Carroll said of Lockett’s performance against the Rams. “I think we should expect him to continue to contribute in a big way.”
Week 15 could also bring a bigger role for Josh Gordon, who saw 37 offensive snaps and was targeted five time against the Rams, the wide receiver’s most since being claimed by Seattle last month.
Seattle’s offensive line will have its work cut out against Carolina’s front seven, but a franchise in turmoil might also provide the break the Seahawks need. The Panthers rank second league-wide in sacks (47), but for as good as they are getting to the quarterback, they rank 24th in total defense.