RENTON, Wash. - A month ago, it seemed the Seattle Seahawks were in control of the NFC West race.
In the time since, the Seahawks (7-6) have punted that away, thanks to three losses in four games, an inability to stop the run and failure in defending their home field.
The latest stumble came Sunday when Carolina became the second straight team with a losing record to walk into Lumen Field, run through Seattle’s leaky defense and leave with a victory. Carolina’s 30-24 win was highlighted by 223 yards rushing, two weeks after Las Vegas rushed for 283 yards while beating the Seahawks in Seattle.
It’s a formula that has exposed Seattle’s defensive limitations for several weeks now. And when quarterback Geno Smith has an off game like he did Sunday and Seattle has no run game of its own to lean on, it added up to another frustrating and disappointing performance.
"That’s teams’ recipe to beat us, just run the ball. We play it well, we play it well, and then all of a sudden we keep leaking yards," Seattle safety Quandre Diggs said. "That’s our kryptonite right now. Until we stop that, teams are going to continue to do it and we just have to take a stand. There is not too much that you can really say."
There’s no simple solution for Seattle and no expectation that the game plan of its opponents is going to change until the Seahawks go out and stop someone. Seattle’s run defense is now 31st in the league in yards allowed with only Houston being worse. Of the 2,086 yards rushing allowed this season, 838 have come in the past four games.
And it’s not going to get easier with San Francisco next on Thursday night and a situation in which Seattle could end up watching its division rival celebrate an NFC West title on the Seahawks’ home field.
Perhaps the only bright spot for Seattle in the loss to Carolina was a pass defense that allowed just 105 net yards. That’s largely because Carolina didn’t need to throw with its success on the ground.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Even though injuries have left the running back group severely thinned, the continued problems go back more than just a couple of weeks. Seattle hasn’t seen one of its running backs rush for more than 37 yards since Week 9 at Arizona. Kenneth Walker III seemed poised for a big day against the Rams a week ago before suffering an ankle injury that knocked him out for the game. While Seattle’s run defense is a major problem, it also needs to get its run offense restarted.
"We need more turns. We need to run the ball more and so we need to make our conversions to give us our chances to do that," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said.
Perhaps the most underappreciated wide receiver in the NFL had another spectacular touchdown catch that seemed to get overlooked with the problems on defense. Tyler Lockett set a franchise record with a touchdown catch in his sixth straight game and very few have been better in his career.
Lockett’s toe-tap grab at the back of the end zone will likely be on his career highlight reel. It was his eighth TD catch of the season, matching his total from 2021.
"Any other guy you might be, like, well, did he get his feet in or did he not, but with Tyler you are just 100% sure he did," Smith said. "He is that good. He has done that over and over again."
Fair or not, defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt is wearing a significant chunk of the blame for the continued inability to stop the run. Hurtt was being praised a couple of months back for the adjustments Seattle made following a concerning first few weeks when the run defense was a problem. But offenses have since adjusted and Seattle has been slow to counter those moves, leaving them exposed and overwhelmed when it comes to stopping the run.
"I don’t care about play calls or anything, at the end of the day, it’s man on man," linebacker Bruce Irvin said. "You have to whoop your man in front of you and make the tackle. That’s what it comes down to."
There’s a bit of optimism Walker (ankle) could return against the 49ers, but backup RB DeeJay Dallas (ankle) seems likely to miss his second straight game. ... DT Al Woods left Sunday’s loss late in the second quarter with an Achilles injury. Carroll said it appears to be an aggravation of an old injury, but he was unsure his status for Thursday. ... DE Shelby Harris was still sick Monday, but Carroll was hopeful he’d be ready by Thursday.
6-1 — Seattle is 6-1 in home Thursday night games in Carroll’s tenure. The lone loss came last season against the Los Angeles Rams in a game where Russell Wilson suffered a finger injury and Smith played the fourth quarter.
There’s no time for Seattle to dwell on the loss with a visit from division-leading San Francisco on Thursday night. The 49ers can clinch the NFC West title with a win.