The 3 Questions: Will Seahawks’ run game rebound in Green Bay?
The Seahawks’ road to the Super Bowl must go through Green Bay.
Seattle will face off against the 13-3 Packers this Sunday for its first divisional round game since 2016.
The team has reason for confidence after a 17-9 win over the Philadelphia Eagles last weekend, but there are a few important questions they’ll face as they prepare for the NFC’s No. 2 seed.
Can the Seahawks run on Green Bay?
The Seahawks finished the regular season ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing offense with 137 yards per game, and along the way Chris Carson reached his second consecutive 1,000-yard season. It’s no surprise, though, that Seattle’s average rushing yard total has dropped since the loss of Carson and his top two backups, Rashaad Penny and C.J. Prosise, to season-ending injuries. To make matters worse, the Seahawks have also had to play through the temporary losses of left tackle Duane Brown (minor knee surgery) and left guard Mike Iupati (neck).
Sixth-round rookie Travis Homer was unable to replicate the production from his Week 17 debut as a starter (62 yards on 10 carries), finishing with just 12 yards on 11 carries against Philadelphia’s third-ranked run defense. Marshawn Lynch, who rounds out Seattle’s new duo at running back, finished with just seven yards but did have a bulldozing goal-line run to notch one of the Seahawks’ two touchdowns. Ultimately, it was quarterback Russell Wilson who accounted for the bulk (45 yards) of Seattle’s 64 rushing yards against the Eagles.
On the one hand, it’s impressive that the 33-year-old Lynch has two touchdowns in as many games back from retirement and that the 5-foot-10, 202-pound Homer exudes such an aggressive style and can contribute as a pass catcher. But fair or not, Seattle needs more production on the ground against Green Bay – and head coach Pete Carroll knows it.
“We’re not good enough running the football,” Carroll said Monday. “Not nearly to our standards.”
Seattle is facing an uphill battle with injuries, but working in their favor is the fact that Green Bay’s defense wasn’t as consistent against the run during the regular season as Philadelphia’s was. The Packers allowed an average of 120 rushing yards in the regular season, compared to 90 rushing yards allowed on average by the Eagles.
Can Duane Brown and Mike Iupati return this week?
The return of two veteran offensive lineman would certainly help the Seahawks’ efforts to the run game back on track, but is it possible Brown and Iupati can make it back by Sunday?
Brown is recovering from recent knee surgery, and there’s some optimism that he can return during the postseason. During Carroll’s press conference Monday, he wouldn’t commit to Brown playing in Green Bay, nor did he rule it out.
“I can’t tell you until we get him back out here,” Carroll said. “He’s doing some stuff with the guys right now. I don’t have any updated information for you. We’re trying to see if he can get back.”
Iupati has been dealing with a stinger that worsened before last Sunday’s Wild Card game. Like Brown, his status will likely remain undetermined until late in the week, but fans shouldn’t be too surprised if George Fant and Jamarco Jones are called upon to start once again.
Fant and Jones played well in place of Brown and Iupati against the Eagles, though – at least in pass protection. Wilson was sacked just once by Philadelphia, a team that had sacked Seattle’s quarterback six times in an earlier regular season meeting.
“Jamarco played a terrific football game… (and) George played really well on his side. Those guys did a really good job for us,” Carroll said to 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant on Monday. “That doesn’t happen with the protection like that unless those guys are playing good football. If (Brown and Iupati) don’t make it back, we’re gonna take a step ahead, we’re gonna stay like we were this week. (Jones and Fant) came through in really good fashion and we’ll count on those guys to play really well again.”
Will the Seahawks have Round 2 of Sunday’s pass rush?
The Seahawks’ defense registered seven sacks against the Eagles, its highest total since Week 12 (coincidentally also a 17-9 win over the Eagles).
The return of safety Quandre Diggs from a high-ankle sprain and more snaps for edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney, who has been dealing with a lingering core injury, certainly helped.
“(Clowney’s) impact with the rest of the guys and the way he was playing – I don’t know if it was all in his numbers,” Carroll said after Sunday’s game.
Seattle’s head coach also called Diggs a “steadying force.”
It’s unclear how much the return of both players, or injuries to Philadelphia, helped boost the pass rush. Given Seattle’s up-and-down season with pressures and sacks, though, it’s hard to expect the same numbers this Sunday.
If the defensive line can’t get pressure on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, there’s another area where Seattle has excelled this season: takeaways.
Though the Seahawks struggled to accumulate them over the last three weeks, the defense has been otherwise consistent about forcing turnovers. Seattle’s plus-12 turnover differential ranked third league-wide during the regular season, and they ranked fifth in interceptions (16) and third in forced fumbles (14).