The Seahawks expect lead running back Thomas Rawls to play Sunday in their home opener against San Francisco. He’s been out with a high-ankle sprain since the preseason opener Aug. 13. Ted S. Warren AP
The Seahawks expect lead running back Thomas Rawls to play Sunday in their home opener against San Francisco. He’s been out with a high-ankle sprain since the preseason opener Aug. 13. Ted S. Warren AP

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How much will Thomas Rawls’ expected return solve Seahawks’ rushing riddle?

September 13, 2017 03:28 PM

UPDATED September 14, 2017 12:40 PM

RENTON Thomas Rawls is coming back.

Will he help the Seahawks’ needy running game?

Coach Pete Carroll said before Wednesday’s practice the team expects Rawls, out since Aug. 13 with a high-ankle sprain, to play Sunday in the home opener against San Francisco (0-1) at CenturyLink Field.

“I think he will,” Carroll said. “He has to make it through every day of practice...So we’ll do it one day at a time. But he looks to be prepared to go, so that’s what we are counting on--until we can’t.”

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Rawls was a full participant in practices Wednesday, Thursday and Friday last week, indicating he’d be able to play in the opener at Green Bay. But then Sunday he was inactive for Seattle’s 17-9 loss. This is the third season of his three in the NFL for the Seahawks he has missed games because of an injury.

Seattle’s running backs rushed 15 times for 53 yards against the Packers last weekend -- 14 times for 23 yards taking away the one, 30-yard cut-back romp rookie Chris Carson had in the second half.

Eddie Lacy, signed in March to a one-year, prove-it contract to compete with and complement Rawls as the team’s lead runner, had five carries for three yards and played just seven snaps in his Seahawks debut. Lacy played just seven snaps in his return to Green Bay last weekend--19 fewer than Carson, the team’s seventh-round pick this spring.

I asked Carroll Wednesday what he’s learned so far about how the 250-pound Lacy will fit into the offense.

“I think he’s looked like he’s looked in the past,” Carroll said of the 2013 NFL offensive rookie of the year for an 1,100-yard rushing season for the Packers. “As I think I’ve told you, he’s in great shape. He’s ready to go. He knows what we are doing. We’ve got to make sure to get him space and get him going. He had a couple runs that didn’t get going because of what we did up front (on the offensive line).

“I think he’s doing fine.”

After Seattle dropped from third in the NFL in rushing offense in 2015 to 25th last season, Carroll stated his biggest priority for 2017 was getting back to featuring a running attack that controls field position and thus games. Then came Sunday. The 15 called runs -- not counting two scrambles by quarterback Russell Wilson away from pressure that gained 40 yards -- would have been the second-lowest number of rushes last season, to the 12 runs in the November win over Buffalo.

What’s it going to take for the Seahawks to get the running game going this weekend against the 49ers, whose big, athletic defensive front is their strength?

“I’m just disappointed that we didn’t get the ‘opps’ and that (last weekend), because of a lot of things that happened in the game. We just need to keep doing it. We just need to keep choppin’ wood. That’s what it takes.”

One way the Seahawks can chop more run wood -- short of Carroll ordering offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to call only run plays --against the 49ers is to convert more on third down to have more than just a few plays each series. Seattle was 3 for 12 on third down in Green Bay. The last time the Seahawks played San Francisco, New Year’s Day in last season’s regular-season finale in Santa Clara, they were also 3 for 12 on third down.

They are 11 for 35 (31.4 percent) on third downs in their last three games, including January’s playoff loss at Atlanta. That’s below the 38-percent rate they had last season, 16th in the 32-team league. The loss last weekend was the sixth time in the last 16 games the Seahawks were 30 percent or below on third down. They are 3-2-1 and averaging 75.8 yards rushing in those games.

Seattle averaged 141.8 yards rushing per game in 2015.

“We just stay committed to it, that’s all,” Carroll said of the running game. “We just stay committed to it and keep making it work, make it happen. We’ve never not been committed to it.

“Last year was the hardest ever for us in all of the years that we’ve been here, and part of that is Russell’s availability; Russell makes a difference...

“I don’t even want to go here, because you’ve heard me say this before about the third-down stuff, but if you only hit 25 percent of your third downs, it’s really difficult for you because you don’t get the next first down, and that’s when all of the mix comes and all that. We came up very short on third down in (Green Bay), and that causes you to be in a different mode. And that’s why you get forty-something plays (48 in Green Bay) instead of a full boat of plays. That’s unfortunate.”

And troublesome.