Thomas Rawls “Royce” is the opposite of rolling. He’s parked in the Seahawks’ garage.
Eddie Lacy’s been deep inside there for weeks.
Neither veteran, former lead running back touched the ball in Seattle’s 33-27 loss at Tennessee. They watched rookie Chris Carson remain in the job they thought they’d fight for, or at least share, this Seahawks season.
Rawls got one snap of the 73 plays Seattle’s offense ran in Nashville. That’s one more than Lacy got.
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At least the 2013 NFL rookie of the year with the Green Bay Packers was active and in uniform. The previous week in the 12-9 win over San Francisco the Seahawks left their splashiest offseason acquisition inactive and in street clothes on their sideline. It was the first time Lacy had been a healthy scratch in his career. That includes in college, at Alabama.
I asked Pete Carroll on Monday if he said anything to either Rawls or Lacy, or both, given they are used to being front-line backs--and expected to be this season, for this team.
"Yeah. It is difficult,” the Seahawks coach said. “They want the ball every snap. I don’t blame them. They are great competitive kids and they didn’t feel like one, they wouldn’t be who they are so.
“It is difficult."
Seattle running backs only got 15 rushes at Tennessee while having to rally with passing and hurry-up offense from a 30-14 deficit in the third quarter. Carroll said that is why Rawls and Lacy watched Carson (41 snaps, 11 carries, 34 yards) and 2016 draft choice C.J. Prosise (27 snaps, four rushes, 9 yards) play instead.
“There wasn’t enough carries to share it, so Thomas and Eddie didn’t get a shot to go. He didn’t get to do much to contribute,” Carroll said Monday. “But, really, we just didn’t get enough plays."
The Seahawks were running and throwing on the opening drive of the second half against the Titans, but with Carson. The seventh-round pick from Oklahoma State ran for 20 yards on four carries. Prosise ran once for a yard. Five runs on a nine-play drive yielded a touchdown pass by Wilson to Carson of 10 yards, on a deft move by the rookie to get away from a Titan after his catch over the middle. The Seahawks’ sharpest, most-balanced drive of the season gave them a 14-9 lead.
But a gassed, mistake-filled Seahawks defense allowed the Titans to score three unanswered touchdowns. There went any idea the Seahawks had of running the ball anymore on offense. Rawls and Lacy remained doing the same thing you did the remainder of the afternoon: watching.
This is what Carroll said when asked in Nashville, following the loss to the Titans that left Seattle (1-2) entering Sunday night’s home game against Indianapolis (1-2), about what prevented Lacy from getting a chance in Tennessee: “How many times did we run the ball about 15 times today? We didn’t get a chance. We ran about six or seven times in the first half. Chris was doing fine. We were going to see how far we could go with Chris and then see if we had Eddie coming off the bench. But it just never got to that.”
Monday, Carroll said: “We came right out the first series of the third quarter right on the money with converting on a couple of third downs and the touchdown play and running and throwing, and everything was on it. The score went ‘Bang, bang,’ and we got behind, and we had to throw the ball to catch up.”
But what about the season as a whole? What in the name of Christine Michael has happened to Rawls and Lacy through three games?
Rawls was the NFL’s leader in yards per carry, 5.6, in his breakout 2015. He was the first undrafted rookie in NFL history to rush for at least 160 yards in two different games of his debut season. Then he broke his ankle in a December game at Baltimore that year. He didn’t fully return until last September--and in game two of that return he cracked a bone in his leg at the Los Angeles Rams. He didn’t get right from that until December. He was Seattle’s lead back entering the preseason, ran twice in the preseason opener Aug. 13 at the Los Angeles Chargers, and got a high-ankle sprain. He didn’t return from that until the second game of this season, two weeks ago against the 49ers.
Assistant head coach and running-game coordinator Tom Cable was asked before that San Francisco game what he expected to get from Rawls’ return to the offense.
Instead, he got a void. Rawls got just five carries for 4 yards. He lost 4 yards on first and goal from the 7-yard line in the first quarter on Sept. 17. He hasn’t had another carry since. The most noticeable thing Rawls on done on the field this season remains standing next to Michael Bennett at the Seahawks’ bench while the Pro Bowl defensive end sat through the national anthem before the 49ers game, Bennett’s protest against the mistreatment of minorities in this country that has grown into a national controversy involving President Trump and the entire NFL.
Lacy rushed for 1,100 yards in each of his first two seasons with the Packers. Then Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy had issues with Lacy’s weight. Lacy got back in shape for the 2016 season and was averaging more than 5 yards per rush--until an ankle injury and surgery that inserted metal in the leg ended his ‘16 season. The Packers let his rookie contract expire, and the Seahawks signed him in March to a one-year, prove-it deal. Lacy wouldn’t even be in Seattle if the Seahawks trusted Rawls could stay healthy and complete a full season as a starting running back. He still hasn’t done that since Rawls was at Flint Northern High School.
Lacy is guaranteed $2,865,000 this season, whether he plays--or, as in the last two weeks--not.
For the season, Rawls has five carries for 4 yards. Lacy has five carries for 3 yards--all in the opening loss at Green Bay.
That was supposed to be his big Packers reunion, but ended up being more Carson’s unveiling for Seattle instead. Lacy hasn’t touched the ball or the field since that day, Sept. 10. Carroll keeps saying Lacy has done everything the Seahawks have asked of him, that he remains a part of the program. But for now he is a $2.8 million player who gets into the game as often as backup quarterback Austin Davis.
Lacy and Davis were the only two Seahawks active for the Titans game who did not play. And Rawls played just one more snap than they did.
It seemed like the only reason Lacy was active for the game was so he wouldn’t be inactive again. He appears to be an asset for a specific role, one the Seahawks have not had the opportunity to use yet this season: a 250-pound masher, closer back whose yards will come while plowing through tired defenses later in games when Seattle has a lead.
The Seahawks have had 90 minutes of second-half play this season. They’ve been leading in only 9 minutes, 41 seconds of those 90 minutes: for 2:35 early in third quarter at Tennessee, and for the final 7:06 of the win over San Francisco. But Lacy was inactive for that 49ers game, and the Titans answered Seattle’s 14-9 lead with a touchdown drive of 2:35 re-take the lead. So in the two games Lacy has been in uniform Seattle’s offense has not had the ball while ahead in a second half. There’s the large reason No. 27 has been nowhere to be found this month.
Rawls, like Lacy, seeks contact and gets many of his yards running over defenders. But he’s more elusive, at least has been when healthy or at least playing. He figured to get the early-game carries, to set Carroll’s intended tone of establishing the run and winning with field position and defense.
Instead the Seahawks so far have chosen to ride Carson, who has been impressing them since the first week of training camp with his decisive, one-cut-and-go! running. He has 37 rushes for 166 yards in a Seattle offense that had improving from being 25th ranked in the NFL in rushing last season as a top priority in 2017. The Seahawks are 18th now, at 96.7 yards per game. Take out quarterback Russell Wilson’s 100 yards through three games on mostly scrambling away from opposing pass rushers and Seattle would be 30th in the league in rushing, at 63.3 yards per game by its running backs.
The Seahawks’ running game was perennial in the top five in the NFL under Carroll before last season. Now, the team is only moving the ball with any consistency when it passes, or lets Wilson create his own yards with scramble runs or improvisational throws in hurry-up mode. The offensive line has yet to show it can provide running lanes with any consistency. Walter Payton wouldn’t have gained many more yards than Lacy did behind the blocking he got in Green Bay in the opener.
The struggling Colts, who won their first game this past weekend holding on to beat the winless Browns 31-28, arrive Sunday. They are 10th in the league in rush defense through three games, for what that’s worth. It’s a game you would figure Seattle could grab a lead and perhaps use Lacy to close, if all went according to Seahawks’ plan. Prosise is getting an ankle examined this week that he injured at Tennessee. That could open more early-game chances for Rawls, though Carson hasn’t done anything to loosen his hold on being the surprising lead back.
Rawls and Lacy will find out Sunday night.
By the way, yes, Carroll has talked to both Rawls and Lacy about not playing. And what was the coach’s message to them?
“Not a message to share with you,” the coach said.