The 3 Questions: How much will Lynch’s return impact Seahawks?
Despite the Seahawks’ loss to the Cardinals, they still have a chance to clinch the NFC West with a win over the visiting San Francisco 49ers in a primetime showdown in Week 17.
Here are three questions facing the team in the days ahead.
How much better can the Seahawks be with Marshawn Lynch?
Who saw that one coming?
The Seahawks on Monday signed running back Marshawn Lynch, reuniting the franchise with its former star running back.
Lynch earned Pro Bowl honors in all but one of his five full seasons with Seattle (he was limited by injury in 2015) and rushed for 1,000 or more yards in four consecutive seasons from 2011 to 2014. That stretch of success also saw the Seahawks reach back-to-back Super Bowls and win one. All the while, Lynch embodied the physical, pounding style paraded by Pete Carroll’s teams – and on top of that, he quickly became a fan favorite.
Now at 33 years old, Lynch comes to a Seahawks team desperate for help at tailback. Seattle lost 2018 first-round pick Rashaad Penny to an ACL injury in Week 14, and on Sunday against the Cardinals lost starter Chris Carson and backup C.J. Prosise to a hip fracture and broken arm, respectively. The team were then down to one running back on the active roster: sixth-round rookie Travis Homer.
Lynch hasn’t been with Seattle for two years and hasn’t played at all in 2019, but head coach Pete Carroll is hoping the veteran can provide a boost on offense.
“He’s really excited about the chance to do something helping out,” Carroll told 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant Monday morning. “I think it’s freakin’ great if he can get out there and tote the ball for us. The circumstances rolled just at this time. And he could have four or five games left in him – maybe that’s what we need.”
It’s not clear yet – and won’t be clear until Sunday night – how effective Lynch will be on the field. But off of it at least, his presence makes the Seahawks better than they were the day before. Lynch adds depth to what was suddenly a very, very thin running back room. An even better outcome would see him as a motivator for a banged-up young team that will be an underdog at home.
Can the Seahawks overcome injuries?
Unfortunately for Seattle, Lynch can’t play safety, defensive end, cornerback or left tackle. For that matter, he’s not a starting center or tight end, both of which Seattle lost to injury earlier this season.
Tackle Duane Brown underwent surgery to repair a knee injury Monday. While he has a chance to return in the postseason, he’s expected to be out for a couple weeks. Jamarco Jones appears to be the answer there unless the Seahawks make a move. If safety Quandre Diggs (ankle) and cornerback Shaquill Griffin (hamstring) remain out, Seattle will once again turn to Lano Hill and Akeem King.
Not all hope is lost when it comes to a return for some of those starters, though. Carroll told Danny and Gallant that he thinks edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney (core) will play Sunday.
“I think JD’s playing,” Carroll said. “I don’t think there’s any question he’s going to play. He was close this week but he wasn’t right. Because this is kind of the last game on the schedule, he’s going for it, you know, unless he just can’t. And if he can’t, he can’t. I know he’s fired up and he wants to be part of this thing, too. It’s killing him not to play.”
Even with Clowney, playing short several starters against one of the best teams in the league is a tall order. The 49ers’ front seven is suffocating and their run game is explosive. But outside of their loss to the Cardinals and a Week 7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the Seahawks have registered a takeaway in every contest. Not coincidentally, they’re 11-2 in those games. The best way to ease the burden of those injuries is to get the ball out of San Francisco’s hands.
Does Russell Wilson’s role expand now?
This could really be broken up into several questions, all surrounding Wilson’s role in the offense and the team’s focus on Wilson.
The Seahawks are averaging about 32 pass attempts per game and are passing on 53 percent of plays, up from 48 percent in 2018. Aiding that success has been a productive run game; the Seahawks rank third overall in rushing yards per game (138) and saw a second-consecutive 1,000-yard season from Carson. But without Carson – or Penny, or Prosise – how much of the offensive production falls directly on Wilson’s shoulders? If the combination of Lynch, fellow returning running back Robert Turbin and Homer can’t establish a threat of the run, the team’s struggles with pass protection Sunday become even more concerning against San Francisco.