At 4-4, Hawks know they’re run­ning out of mul­li­gans

The Olympian - - Sports - BY GREGG BELL gbell@the­new­stri­bune.com

The Sea­hawks are about out of mul­li­gans.

And it’s largely their own fault. They are 4-4 be­cause they gave away the first two games, at Den­ver and at Chicago. They still feel they should have beaten the first-place Los An­ge­les Rams last month, when they lost by two points at home and a hold­ing penalty pushed them out of field­goal range.

Now Seat­tle is just about out of games they can af­ford to lose. That is, if they want to get back to the play­offs for the sixth time in seven years. It’s go­ing to take six more wins to en­sure a re­al­is­tic chance at a wild-card play­off berth. The Sea­hawks have eight games left, in­clud­ing Sun­day’s re­match with the Rams (8-1) at

WE’VE JUST GOT TO START MAK­ING OUR PLAYS AND STACK­ING WINS. WE CAN’T WIN TWO GAMES AND LOSE TWO.

Sea­hawks line­backer Bobby Wag­ner

the Los An­ge­les Coli­seum.

So the sense has to be dif­fer­ent this week­end for Seat­tle. Dif­fer­ent than the usual “ev­ery game is a cham­pi­onship op­por­tu­nity” coach Pete Car­roll in­stills in his play­ers.

“I think it’s al­ways like a sense of ur­gency,” All-Pro line­backer Bobby Wag­ner said. “But def­i­nitely sit­ting at 4-4, you un­der­stand your mis­takes are lim­ited. You can’t throw away some of these games.

“We have a lot of home games (in­clud­ing Thurs­day night against Green Bay, then four of the last five in the reg­u­lar sea­son at Cen­tu­ryLink Field), which can def­i­nitely work in our fa­vor.

“We have to start mak­ing plays. It’s not about the ur­gency. It’s one thing we should have re­gard­less where we’re at in the sea­son. We’ve just got to start mak­ing our plays and stack­ing wins. We can’t win two games and lose two.”

To avoid los­ing two, after last week­end’s 25-17 loss to the Charg­ers, Wag­ner and the Sea­hawks must slow down the NFL’s top-ranked of­fense with the league’s lead­ing rusher, Todd Gur­ley.

Wag­ner and Pro Bowl out­side line­backer K.J. Wright must limit the hor­i­zon­tal plays and runs after un­der­neath catches the Rams do more and bet­ter than any­one else in the NFL. Hav­ing strong safety Bradley McDougald in the mid­dle would be a big help for Seat­tle. Its most con­sis­tent de­fen­sive player this sea­son is ques­tion­able and will be a game-time de­ci­sion be­cause of a sore knee.

On of­fense the Sea­hawks must also try to ap­proach the sea­son-high 190 yards rush­ing they gained against Aaron Don­ald, Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brock­ers on the Rams’ star-packed de­fen­sive front in the first meet­ing Oct. 7.

Prob­lem is, the Sea­hawks may not have their two most im­por­tant play­ers in their run­ning game this time.

Chris Car­son, who had a ca­reer-high 116 yards against the Rams last month, is ques­tion­able to play be­cause of a soft­tis­sue in­jury in his left hip. Car­roll said Fri­day he had “noth­ing to re­port” on Car­son, other than that his play­ing sta­tus will be a game-time de­ci­sion.

Mas­sive right guard D.J. Fluker has been the Sea­hawks’ best run blocker as Seat­tle has fea­tured in­side power, pulls and wham blocks. He’s been the tough, ex­u­ber­ant spirit in the hud­dle and locker room. That’s made him pretty much in­valu­able to Seat­tle’s of­fense.

The last time the Sea­hawks played the Rams, Fluker pan­caked the mighty Suh onto his back while Car­son ran past them for a touch­down last month.

But Fluker’s hurt, too. He is ques­tion­able with a strained calf. He will be yet an­other crit­i­cal, game-time de­ci­sion.

How im­por­tant are those two de­ter­mi­na­tions be­fore kick­off? The Sea­hawks are 0-3 when Car­son doesn’t get at least 10 car­ries. They are 0-3 when Fluker misses game time be­cause of in­juries. Both hap­pened last week­end in the sec­ond half of the loss to the Charg­ers, when Rus­sell Wil­son had to throw a sea­son-high 39 times, ex­actly op­po­site how this of­fense func­tions best.

Wil­son got sacked four times, his most since weeks one and two when Seat­tle didn’t have Fluker, ig­nored Car­son and in­ex­cus­ably threw it 73 per­cent of the time.

What also hap­pened last week­end: Ten more penal­ties, of­ten crush­ing ones such as the false start by left guard J.R. Sweezy be­fore the last, un­timed down. That pushed Seat­tle back from the 1-yard line to the 6. It changed what was likely to be a shot­gun­run play to Mike Davis, the backup to Car­son, to a more-des­per­ate pass that the Charg­ers tipped just be­fore it went off re­ceiver David Moore’s chest in the back of the end zone to end a push for over­time.

This past week, of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor and play caller Brian Schot­ten­heimer took re­spon­si­bil­ity for the flags. And he re-in­sti­tuted the train­ing-camp edict that play­ers who false start in prac­tice run sprints.

“We have to be bet­ter. I told the guys it starts with me,” Schot­ten­heimer said. “We have to con­tinue to em­pha­size it. I have to do a bet­ter job of ex­plain­ing why penal­ties cost you games. This league is (so close) a lot of times, teams lose games, they don’t win games. We’ve talked a lot about that this week. ...

“It’s some fo­cus. And these guys play tremen­dously hard. They give us ev­ery­thing that they have. But they need to play smarter in terms of not shoot­ing our­selves in the foot. They know that. It starts with me. I’ve got to do a bet­ter job of hold­ing them ac­count­able.

“We’ve talked about a lot this week and hope­fully it shows up this week­end.”

The Sea­hawks must run to keep the Don­ald, Suh, Brock­ers and new Rams edge rusher Dante Fowler from tee­ing off on Wil­son— and more specif­i­cally Seat­tle’s of­fen­sive line. It has yet to prove it can pro­tect Wil­son when it doesn’t have Car­son and the run­ning game to set de­fenses back and make them pause be­fore charg­ing at Wil­son.

It’s not that the Sea­hawks and specif­i­cally right tackle Ger­main Ifedi sud­denly got ex­cel­lent in pass pro­tec­tion through­out four wins in five games from late Septem­ber un­til last week­end. It was that Seat­tle was run­ning more and more ef­fec­tively and thus pass­ing less.

The Sea­hawks’ line­men were do­ing less of what it is worst at do­ing.

That needs to hap­pen again on Sun­day. Even if Jared Goff, Gur­ley and the Rams’ top-ranked of­fense take a lead early.

“We weren’t one-di­men­sional and they couldn’t fo­cus on the pass,” left tackle Duane Brown said of the Sea­hawks’ first game against the Rams. “They have a very tal­ented of­fense, and most teams, when you get down by a cou­ple scores, you have to air the ball out a lot. And that’s when they pin their ears back.

“We were in the game (Oct. 7) the whole time, just go­ing tic for tac. They had to be fo­cused on the run game and couldn’t quite rush the passer like they wanted to.

“So that’s go­ing to be cru­cial for us, to be able to do that again to be suc­cess­ful.”

Do­ing it again. That’s a theme these mostly young, new Sea­hawks are stress­ing on their way into the Coli­seum Sun­day.

“We’ve got to be a lit­tle bit more con­sis­tent,” Wag­ner said.

“I feel like we will. We’ve grown a lot. We’ve had a lot of young play­ers grow through this process, ex­pe­ri­enced a lot of things, ups and downs, through this course of the sea­son.

“I think we’re ready to kind of make that jump. And it’s a jump that we need to make.”

JOSHUA BESSEX joshua.bessex@gate­line.com

Line­backer Bobby Wag­ner says the Sea­hawks’ up­com­ing sched­ule could work in their fa­vor. After Sun­day’s game at Los An­ge­les against the Rams, Seat­tle will play five of its fi­nal seven games at Cen­tu­ryLink Field.

JOSHUA BESSEX joshua.bessex@gate­line.com

Sea­hawks run­ning back Chris Car­son, top, who had a ca­reer-high 116 yards against the Rams last month, is ques­tion­able to play Sun­day be­cause of a hip in­jury.

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