Grounds for concern

Posted Dec 4, 2010

The Seahawks host 1-10 Carolina on Sunday. But if Panthers do anything well, it’s run the ball, which plays into what has been a recent problem for the Seattle defense: Stopping the run.

New week. Different opponent. Same challenge.

For the Seahawks’ defense, that means Priority One in Sunday’s can’t-afford-to-lose game against Carolina Panthers at Qwest Field is stopping the run.

Against the 1-10 Panthers? Yes, because that is the thing their offense does best – especially with the return of Jonathan Stewart last week after missing two games because of a concussion to join Mike Goodson in a running-back-by-committee-and-situation ground game.

“These guys want to run the football, and they bring it at you pretty forcefully,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “We better be right on game day, or it will be very difficult.”

The Seahawks’ problems against the run in recent games have been well-documented. In the Week 8 loss in Oakland, when the Raiders ran for 239 yards, it was adjusting to the losses of end Red Bryant (second quarter) and nose tackle Colin Cole (fourth quarter) during the game – when the Seahawks already were playing without tackle Brandon Mebane. The following week, when the Giants ran for 197 yards at Qwest Field, it was dealing with the loss of Bryant for the season and Cole for what has now been five weeks. Two weeks later, in a loss at New Orleans, Carroll pointed to poor tackling as the key factor in the Saints rushing for 112 yards. Last week, when the Chiefs ran for 270 yards at Qwest Field, the coach-indentified culprit was players overcompensating while trying to make a play and losing their gap integrity.

“We’re playing hard, we’re just not playing as smart as we need to all the time,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “And I don’t mean smart (as in) they don’t understand the defense. It’s more smart (as in) just trust your teammate. Trust your teammate is going to be there and just take care of your responsibility and we’ll be in good shape.”

Being in good shape leaving Qwest on Sunday is directly linked to the job the defense does against Stewart and Goodson.

“They’re a good running team,” Bradley said. “I mean they got 151 yards off 22 carries last game. It’s not like they did it 45 times for 151 yards. So yeah, they’ve caught our attention with the running game.

“They’re got good backs and are doing a nice job.”

Stewart is no stranger to football fans in the Pacific Northwest and Seattle. During his ridiculously productive career at Lacey’s Timberline High School, he rushed for 7,755 yards and 95 touchdowns. At the University of Oregon, he went off for 251 yards against the University of Washington.

The 235-pound Stewart also is no stranger to Carroll, either. He was coaching at USC while Stewart was running roughshod over the Pac-10.

“Jonathan Stewart is a guy that I’ve known for years and really respected him as a tough, hard guy to get on the ground – with speed,” Carroll said. “He’s a load. He has matured into a monster of a running back.”

Stewart ran for 1,133 yards, with a 5.1-yard average, last season. This year, he has 306 yards and a 3.8-yard average.

Stewart has been in Qwest only once – for a high school game between Bellevue and De La Salle. So he obviously is looking forward to what he labels “a homecoming experience.”

“But at the same time going in, of course, it’s my job now,” he said. “You kind of just take that approach professionally.”

Goodson? He’s not as well-known in these parts. But Carroll also has a history with the 6-foot, 212-pound back who grew up in Texas and went to Texas A&M.

“Mike Goodson is a guy that, man, he was on my radar,” Carroll said. “I’ve known this kid for a long time. I knew him when he was growing up and through high school. He was one of the top – if not the top guy – that we recruited at the time.

“So for him to be such an explosive running back doesn’t surprise me one bit. He really does run the ball well. He’s made a lot of guys miss. He’s run around the defenses. He’s run over guys.”

And this season, he has finally gotten an opportunity to do it in the NFL. Playing behind Stewart and Williams as a rookie last season, Goodson carried 22 times for 49 yards. This season, he has 325 yards and a 4.3-yard average.

“So they’ve got a really good 1-2 punch,” Carroll said.

Which sets up the punch-line assessment Panthers coach John Fox offered this week when asked the difference between Stewart and Goodson.

“About 30 pounds,” he deadpanned.