By ART THIEL
SEATTLE — Bad 48 hours for Pete Carroll.
Besides the loss in Los Angeles last week, Pete Carroll and the Seahawks were punished again by the NFL for practice-rules violations. But getting a running game this Sunday at home against the 49ers would make it all better.
The Seahawks coach returned Saturday to Los Angeles, where once he was king with his bad-ass USC teams. But after being out-coached again by new nemesis Jeff Fisher, he left town embarrassed partly because he discovered his latest bad-ass team is not bad-ass without Marshawn Lynch.
Coming home to Seattle Monday morning, Carroll was embarrassed again by learning he was fined $200,000 and, more important, a fifth-round draft choice, for being a serial NFL rules-breaker when it comes to off-season practices.
Almost as dubious, he’s pinning a lot of his franchise’s immediate recovery on the return of a player, Germain Ifedi, who has yet to prove himself in a single down of regular-season football. He might be the best first-round pick Carroll has made, but short-term, he’s at least as likely to be the Human Holding Penalty.
After the game Sunday, Carroll said, “Really disappointed.”
After news of the NFL fines Monday, he said, “Really disappointed.”
Given all this disappointment, if one were deeply cynical, one might pose the question he once posed to Jim Harbaugh: “What’s your deal?”
But at 1-1, as is Sunday’s opponent, the ever-tumultuous 49ers — as well as the rest of the NFC West — Carroll and the Seahawks don’t deserve to be pushed over Disappointment Falls just yet. Much remains to be seen.
There is, however, one observation that is clear after two games regarding the production of 15 points, second-lowest in the league.
Defenses facing a healthy Lynch and a healthy QB Russell Wilson, plus a threat at tight end, had a miserable time loading up against Seattle’s offense.
A few times, defenses would get away with deployments against a Seattle strength. But as the game wore on and defenses wore down, Wilson’s brain and legs and Lynch’s power did not. Their virtues were nearly unmatchable in the fourth quarter, which were the biggest reasons the Seahawks offense was so capable so late.
But, with Lynch retired, Wilson hurting and — all due respect to his remarkable rehab — TE Jimmy Graham just a guy for now, well, one touchdown in 22 possessions isn’t all the fault of the offensive line.
It’s true that in the second half of 2015 the Seahawks devised a workaround by compensating for Lynch’s injury absence and poor line play with a short-pass emphasis that worked well.
At least, until teams scouted it.
A brief review is illuminating.
The new look produced a five-game run averaging 34 points a game. Then they smacked into the Rams Dec. 27, who won in Seattle 23-17 in part by holding the Seahawks to 59 yards rushing (the Seahawks had 67 yards Sunday).
The Seahawks won the final regular-season game 36-6 against an Arizona team that already clinched the division title and had no incentive except to avoid injury.
Then came the playoffs and the coldest football game in Minnesota history. The Seahawks won 10-9 despite 226 yards of offense and conversion of five of 14 third-down attempts. That result was followed by the debacle in Carolina. The 31-0 deficit was the biggest of the Carroll era. The Seahawks were 1-for-4 on third-down conversions in the first half.
The Seahawks won the second half 24-0, but only because Carolina eased. If that half is thrown out for the same reason the whole game against Arizona is tossed — both opponents ceased caring — the Seahawks have not had a good offensive game since a 30-13 drubbing of feckless Cleveland Dec. 20.
Carroll Monday emphasized third-down failures, saying the Seahawks Sunday had nine situations of third-and-seven or longer.
“That’s too many,” he said. “It goes back to the running game. Remember last year how much we talked about third down? That’s still the key.”
Of course that’s true. But Carroll is identifying a symptom, not a cause. The cause is the inability of the Seahawks’ front to make lanes consistently for the running game, which no longer has a savvy power runner whose most under-valued virtue was getting a two-yard gain out of what would have been a two-yard loss for any other back.
Good defenses — as in the past six they’ve faced — have scouted the Seahawks’ short-pass game sufficiently to disrupt it in the first five yards. In the past six quarters, it’s been even easier to disrupt with Wilson hobbled.
In the first quarter Sunday, on the Seahawks’ lone scoring drive, Wilson was in shotgun and RG J’Marcus Webb and RT Garry Gilliam were set to double-team Aaron Donald, the Rams’ Terminator of a defensive tackle. Upon the snap, Donald shoved an arm on each Seahawk and simply threw them away, catching Wilson running on a failed pass play for a two-yard loss.
I know Donald is the best there is, but a double-team that gets windshield-bugged?
All Carroll could commit to regarding change was praying for Ifedi’s return from a sprained ankle to replace Webb at guard. There’s no Alvin Bailey or Paul McQuistan on this roster; all three backups are rookies.
With Ifedi, “we felt like were intact with the running game and things were strong in the first four” preseason games, Carroll said. “Then we had — there was some adjusting we had to do right there” with Ifedi’s ankle injury the Wednesday before the opener. “It’s a big shift. You take a step back to get forward, and we had to do that. Two weeks into it, now we need to go. We should be in pretty good shape.
“Germain, he’s real close to getting back. He looks to be a tremendous factor for us. When he comes back out here, I wouldn’t be surprised if you see a little difference, because he was that impacting.”
Maybe so. The 49ers gave up 46 points to Carolina Sunday, so they might be the opponent to help the Seahawks get well. Ifedi might be the guy who improves the Seahawks’ lagging bad-ass quotient.
Otherwise, Carroll has an offense that cannot do what Lynch explained with the eloquence of the Oakland street: “I know I’m gonna get got, but I’m going to get mine more than I get got.”