Following a historic defensive turnaround and two 20-point performances on offense, talk about Russell Wilson’s weapons has died down of late.
But almost as encouraging on the defense has been the slow and steady return of Chris Carson in the second half. He’s not having his statistically best season, though he may be having his most valuable one for the Seattle Seahawks.
In a year that has felt at times like offensive identity crisis for Seattle, Carson is suited perfectly for the job. As the Seahawks prepare for a deep playoff run, I see three reasons why Carson is perhaps the most valuable piece on offense against the upcoming opponents.
Since Week 1, Carson’s never had a game under 4.2 yards per carry. The clunkers are gone, and yes, even Carson has had some. But it’s a bit astounding he’s not had one truly bad game this season, and that includes two of the three best NFL defenses in consecutive games. Against the Washington Football Team and Los Angeles Rams, Carson ran 31 times for 132 yards for a 4.26 YPC.
Derrick Henry has rushed for three-point-something YPC five times this season.
If he’s on the field, Carson is reliably good, one of the most reliably good in the game right now. That floor is especially interesting considering how sporadic the running game has been this year, which brings us to the next point.
Two: Effectiveness over range of use
You’ve heard it before, and we’ve seen it Rashaad Penny: many backs need the ball repeatedly to find their “momentum”. Last season, Penny’s four worst games were his four fewest carries. His four best games were his four with the most carries.
This year, Carson has seen games with 5, 6, 8, 15, 16, and 17 carries. He’s been effective in all of them. Two of those least “used” games came were his two best in the passing game (Week 1 and Week 5).
A quick comparison shows this is hard to do across the league. Other backs lose their juice in a way that Carson seems not to.
Aaron Jones of the Green Bay Packers has had two games with 10 carries, and they were two of his worst on the season. He generally averages closer to 15 carries, and his two best games were 18-168 and 20-145. However on limited touches, he’s got one game with 15 yards and one with 41.
Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings actually works the opposite way this season. On limited touches he’s deadly, but an increased workload tends to make Cook less effective. Cook has seen three games this year with 30 or more carries, a ridiculous pace. Two of those three games saw Cook run for under 3.8 YPC and 0 TD.
Again, Carson has remained surprisingly consistent and effective, even if his smaller usage has been almost as surprising.
Three: Health and team management
However, that’s a third reason this has set up to be an excellent playoff run. Chris Carson has only one career playoff game. Last year he played every game until Week 16 and then was knocked out for the only part of the season that truly matters.
It’s painfully obvious the coaching staff is doing their best to not let that happen again. Carson seems a lock for about an injury per year, and Seattle is hoping he’s used his up. Carson hasn’t seen 20 touches all season, as they do their best to protect him.
This is fine. The Seahawks are still winning games. Carson is the obvious lead back, and he’s obviously ready to go against whatever defense he comes up against.
A healthy Carson gives this offense the perfect scenario of a reliable and balanced attack. He’s shown he can handle playoff defense, he can handle a big workload (historically), and that if the passing game takes off he can still be a dagger when needed.