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Running out of time
Most people are ready for the NFL preseason to end. Pete Carroll is not among them.
In his first summer as coach of the Seahawks, Carroll could use more time to sort through some issues and make personnel evaluations before the team kicks off its regular-season Sept. 12 against the San Francisco 49ers at Qwest Field.
“There are a lot of teams that wish this would be over sooner and I wish we had a couple more weeks,” Carroll said Monday after putting his team through a 55-minute walk-thru, the first step in a short week before the Seahawks play their preseason finale Thursday night against the Raiders in Oakland.
“We have so much work to do. This week, even as short as it is, it’s still really important to us. … This is another opportunity for us to get better. It’s also a final opportunity for us to make our final choices on some guys, too. So it’s going to be a critical ball game for a bunch of players.”
Carroll, as usual, is not tipping his hand on how much the starters might play, if at all. But they already have done some things that please their coach.
One of Carroll’s mantras is, “It’s all about the ball.” His starters have played to it in the first three preseason games. The No. 1 offense has yet to turn the ball over, while the No. 1 defense has forced four turnovers – and also turned in a goal-line stand.
“That has a lot to do with Matt’s decision making, so he’s embraced the approach,” Carroll said of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. “And the running backs have embraced the approach of how important it is to take care of the football, and the receivers have as well.
“As long as we do that, we’re going to be in every game. So Matt has taken a leadership position in leading the charge in taking care of the football the way we want to and prioritizing properly. … I’ve been thrilled about the way Matt is taking to it all.”
One area that Carroll is less than thrilled with is the running game. The Seahawks are averaging 69 rushing yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry.
Each of the top three backs has been giving an opportunity to start. First up, it was incumbent starter Julius Jones, who ran for 13 yards on five carries in the opener against the Tennessee Titans and has 33 yards on 12 carries overall. Next, it was Justin Forsett, who also ran for 13 yards on five carries against the Green Bay Packers and has 50 on 18 touches in three games. Against the Vikings in Minnesota on Saturday night, Leon Washington got the nod and gained 16 yards on six carries. He has 35 yards on 10 carries in two games.
Consistent? Well, yes. But not the kind of production Carroll is looking for, and the team needs.
An offshoot of the struggles in the running game is the inefficiency on third downs. Against the Vikings, the Seahawks converted only two of 15 third-down situations and they are 15 of 46 after three games. Too often, the offense has been faced with third-and-long because the running game has yet to click.
Saturday night, the No. 1 offense did not convert a third down – but four of the seven situations it faced were at least third-and-8. On those plays, Hasselbeck threw an incomplete pass and was sacked, while the running game produced gains of 3 yards on third-and-8 and 4 yards on third-and-19.
It’s a situation that also is making it difficult to sort out the situation at running back.
“I’ll say what I’ve said all along, it’d be nice if it did,” Carroll said, who quickly added, “But it doesn’t matter to me that it hasn’t. I don’t think we’ve had enough success running the football to really allow the guys to distinguish themselves.”
What the backs have shown in practice has yet to carry over to the games.
“They’ve all run hard,” Carroll said. “I’ve looked at all their runs in groups to make sure that I can see them and the styles they run, to see if there’s anything going there. Right now, these guys are all battling. They’re all really good football players.”
About the only thing that has sorted itself out is that Carroll likes what he sees from Forsett as the third-down back, because of his ability to catch the ball, find running room on draws and willingness to block in blitz pickup.
“He has the edge on that aspect of it,” Carroll said. “But to me, that doesn’t mean he’s a third-down back and the other two guys are first- and second-down guys. I don’t see it that way.”
But then Carroll also doesn’t see the offense needing a “feature” back.
“We’re just going to go with the guys that give us the most juice, that are making things happen and that are doing well,” he said. “It gets frustrating sometimes for those guys and all that. I’ve been through that before, but I’m not real worried about that.
“I want them to be hungry to get out there and fighting for their snaps and giving it everything they have to maximize (their carries) when they get them.”
If only Carroll had a couple more preseason games to continue sorting through the process before the Seahawks begin playing for keeps.