Chris Carson carried the ball 32 times in the Seattle Seahawks’ 24-13 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, the most carries by a Seattle running back since Marshawn Lynch had 32 in a 22-17 win over the Baltimore Ravens. That was a memorable win for the Seahawks, and the last time that I remember so many people talking about the “importance” of a solid ground game that has a single player who can tote the ball that many times.
Also, the Seahawks were bad in 2011. Remember that? They were good in the years 2012-2016 and at no point did they need Lynch to carry it 30 times. Thomas Rawls carried it 30 times in a 2015 win over the San Francisco 49ers, but he also gained 209 yards that day so why take it away from him?
On Sunday, Carson didn’t even gain half of that. No, the more effective running back in Seattle this week was actually Ezekiel Elliott and his team just lost by 11 points.
Carson had 102 yards on his 32 carries for an average of 3.18 YPC. Overall, the Seahawks gained just 113 yards on 39 total carries. That’s really bad from an efficiency standpoint, but the fact remains that if you’re winning the game, you’re more likely to be running the football. Despite an ugly YPC, teams usually win when they finish a game with that many carries.
They don’t necessarily win because they had 35 carries, they had 35 carries because they were winning. Since 2015, there have been 77 instances of a team carrying it at least 35 times but gaining less than 150 yards and those teams are 72-4-1. (The one tie was the Arizona Cardinals in their 6-6 game vs the Seahawks.) Drop that to 35 carries and less than 120 yards, and you’ll see that since 2015, teams are 25-1, including Seattle after today.
It didn’t matter that they didn’t run the ball well, it only mattered that they were winning and they had the luxury to keep running the ball in the fourth quarter. What mattered for the Seahawks instead was that they held Dak Prescott to 3.5 yards per pass attempt. They forced three turnovers, including two interceptions, and didn’t turn the ball over once. Carson was effective in a way, but even Duane Brown said after the game that they “left yards on the field” because the running game wasn’t doing enough.
And we all saw that because when you rush for less than 3 YPC as a team, you’re not setting the world aflame with your ground attack. I mean, it was Elliott who had all the big runs ...
The Cowboys rushed for 8.7 YPC today and they lost and it wasn’t even close. Elliott carried it 16 times for 127 yards, meaning Seattle again had a pretty poor run defense (saved in part by Bradley McDougald’s forced fumble on Elliott), but overall the defense did the thing it needed to do: shutdown and attack Prescott. That worked and again it was proven that the running game doesn’t really matter that much; at least not when you’re talking about the success and volume of the rushing game itself. If you want to make an argument that a running game does something else to effect other parts of the game, that’s a different story altogether, but if you’re looking at the actual effectiveness of the ground game on the box score, then Sunday’s box score for the Seahawks and Cowboys clearly makes the rushing game look meaningless once again.
And if a quality rushing attack helps teams do other things, then why did Elliott’s 7.9 YPC do nothing to help Dak Prescott complete a pass downfield like Dallas actually needed?
No, the Seahawks won because Russell Wilson completed some really difficult throws in coverage. Because the defense shutdown Prescott, forced three turnovers, and sacked him five times. Carson helped run the clock down after they had already sealed the win, and that’s how he did his part. Kind of. Carson carried it nine times on the final three drives and gained 21 yards, with 11 of those coming on a single play. It was because Seattle had consecutive three-and-outs that the Cowboys even had a chance to get back into the game at all. He’s a closer who was given a 5-run lead and allowed 3 runs. It did the job, but it certainly wasn’t the best job you could have asked for.
I love the way Chris Carson plays. I think he’s the best running back for the Seahawks and he has the potential to be one of the five best running backs in the NFL. I just think that only takes you so far and the real key to football in 2018 is how you pass the ball.
You can focus on the running back who won the game and say “That’s why they won the game” but then you’re just ignoring three other key components: Russell Wilson was good, Dak Prescott was bad, and Ezekiel Elliott was good.
The good QB won, the bad QB lost.
The good RB lost, the far less efficient RB won.