Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks have finally found their long-lost offensive identity.
Since massive guard D.J. Fluker returned from injury in Week 3, and the team started handing the ball regularly to running back Chris Carson, the Seahawks have been pounding opponents on the ground.
That will be the Seahawks’ goal again Thursday night, when they host dangerous Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at 5:20 p.m. at CenturyLink Field. The game will be broadcast on Q13 Fox, with the Gameday pregame show starting at 3:30 p.m.
On Sunday in Los Angeles, even without Fluker and Carson the Seahawks ran for a season-high 273 yards.
Carroll was more than pleased with the effort.
“It was clear that we were really running the football and able to do what we wanted to do in that regard,” he said this week. “It kind of gave us a feeling about the game and the way to play it.”
It’s how Carroll has always wanted to play it: Run the football successfully and keep it away from the other team.
Packers coach Mike McCarty has noticed.
“It’s totally different, in my opinion,” he said. “You see the impact of (offensive coordinator) Brian Schottenheimer and (line coach) Mike Solari on their offense and it definitely starts in the run game, just the volume and variation is higher. Obviously, the production speaks for itself.”
With the Packers at 4-4-1 and the Seahawks at 4-5, neither team can afford to lose.
Green Bay enters the game with the 22nd ranked rush defense, allowing nearly 121 yards a game. But Carroll expects the Packers to be ready to play in prime time.
“We know that they have great leadership and they’ve got a great coach and their staff,” he said. “They’ve been a winning program for a really long time and we don’t think of them as anything other than that.”
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson attributes much of the team’s rushing success to versatility and depth.
“That’s a great thing about our offense right now,” he said. “We’ve got a stable of running backs that can step in, play and do great.”
The stable got deeper Sunday, when first round pick Rashaad Penny put together the best game of his young career, carrying the ball 12 times for 108 yards and a touchdown.
“It was just great to see him play football and contribute,” Carroll said. “This is the guy we’ve been watching and we saw in camp and all of that.”
With Penny’s emergence, the Seahawks have now had three different players rush for 100 yards or more in a game this season. Carson has done it three times and Mike Davis also accomplishing the feat.
The team’s focus on the ground game has also taken pressure off Wilson after he was sacked 12 times in the team’s first two games, both losses.
The Seahawks are now leading the NFL in rushing, something they’ve done only once in franchise history, when a bruising combination of Marshawn Lynch and Wilson helped the team grind out 2,762 yards in 2014.
Their current streak of rushing for at least 150 yards in six consecutive games is a team record.
Perhaps it’s even more impressive considering the era.
The Seahawks and Titans are the only teams who have ran the football more times than they’ve passed it this season.
Seattle leads the league with 41 more runs than passes.
The Packers, by contrast, have passed the ball 162 more times than they’ve run it.
If Seattle can sustain long drives, it could limit the opportunities Rodgers gets against the Seahawks’ young secondary.
Running the football has been a focus for Seattle since Carroll arrived in 2010. His desire to do so led to the trade for Lynch. Since Lynch’s departure, the team has been desperately searching for a replacement.
For now, it seems they have it, at least by committee.
Whether that will translate into another run to the playoffs — or even a win Thursday against the Packers — remains to be seen.
Carroll, as usual, appeared excited about the possibilities.
“This is a huge matchup again,” he said. “It’s Thursday night; it’s all that kind of stuff.”