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Teams aggressively punching at Chris Carson

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NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Seattle Seahawks Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

As a freshman at Butler Community College in 2013, Chris Carson was an absolute monster carrying the football. However, he had a fumbling problem that led to him being benched in favor of Ty Suggs, in spite of outproducing Suggs by a good margin. Suggs, it appears, never went on to play football beyond his time at Butler, while Carson has obviously gone on to success at Oklahoma State and now with the Seattle Seahawks.

His fumbling problem has returned, though, and through nine games this year he has more fumbles than all other running backs, tight ends and wide receivers on the Seahawks combined.

Further, that count of five fumbles for Carson does not include the second fumble in the Week 2 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers which came as Russell Wilson was handing the ball to Carson. That fumble was assigned, per NFL rules, to the quarterback because all fumbles that occur during the process of the handoff are assigned to the quarterback. Thus, Carson now leads all non-QBs in fumbles with five so far this season, and yet, at least at this junction, he appears to be of no risk of losing the starting job.

That fact raises two questions.

The first is how much it would take for Carson to lose his job. The Seahawks obviously see some value in Rashaad Penny, as they reportedly turned down a third round draft pick from the Detroit Lions at the trade deadline in exchange for Penny.

However, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday the Seahawks didn’t pull Carson for a single snap, even after his second fumble of the day. That was similar to the game against Pittsburgh when Carson was briefly shown the bench, but when it was 4th & 1 with the team needing a first down to ice the game, it was Carson in the backfield to take the handoff with Penny on the bench.

Thus, the question becomes how large is the gap between Penny and Carson? If Pete Carroll and the rest of the coaching staff, who preach ball security and avoiding turnovers continue to run Carson out in spite of an NFL-leading number of fumbles for a running back, how much does all the preaching about protecting the ball really mean? Further, if the gap between Carson and Penny is so great that not even an NFL-leading five fumbles is enough to have the team make a move, why not accept a third round pick for a player whose twelve yards on four carries Sunday would seem far from irreplaceable?

The second question that is raised is how many more fumbles will Carson have over the rest of the season, with teams now appearing to target him for punch outs? Defensive players and coaches across the league watch film, that’s no secret. And, just as the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Falcons appear to have made specific decisions regarding how to attack the Seahawks offensive line, defenders seem likely to continue to attempt to punch the ball out of Carson’s hand.

Both fumbles on Sunday came on punch outs, and it seems extremely likely that every defensive coach and every defensive players will likely be focused on punching the ball out when Carson has it going forward.

If that proves to be the case, and Carson’s fumble issues continue, how should the team proceed? Should Carson be sent to the bench to address these fumbling concerns and let the team ride Russell Wilson’s shoulders the rest of the way? That’s obviously not the preferred style of play for Pete Carroll, but between Wilson’s continued development as an elite passer and Carson’s devolvement into an elite fumbler, that might be the what comes of the situation.

In any case, whatever the team decides and however the team determines is best to approach and address Carson’s fumble issues, the simple fact is that it could prove to be a huge detriment to the team going forward. The question is how large a detriment.