Pete Carroll has been envisioning a game like this since at least last winter.
With Chris Carson coming off a big 2018 season, an obvious question heading into 2019 was one of what the future held for 2018 first-round pick Rashaad Penny.
So when Carroll was asked about the roles of Carson and Penny at the NFL scouting combine in February, he said he wanted to see "a one-two punch, and I don't know who's one and who's two, and it doesn't matter to me… Those two guys, they're good football players, and we love what they bring. They're not the same, their running styles are different, but there's plenty of room for both of those guys."
For much of the 2019 season, Carson once again was the clear-cut No. 1 back with Penny playing a limited role, but that started to shift last week when Penny rushed for a career-high 129 yards against the Eagles. Then in Monday night's 37-30 win over the Minnesota Vikings, the Seahawks got the true one-two punch they've been envisioning since they drafted Penny last season.
Carson led the way, rushing 23 times for 102 yards and a touchdown, his fifth 100-yard game this season, but Penny also played a huge role, rushing for 74 yards and a score on 15 carries while also catching four passes for 33 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown.
With those two leading the charge, the Seahawks rushed for a season-high 218 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry against a Vikings defense that came into the game ranked sixth in run defense, allowing 94.2 yards per game.
"Having those two as a one-two punch, we couldn't ask for anything better. They run behind their pads, get downhill, get to the second level, and we appreciate them," said left tackle Duane Brown. "… It's incredible. Our running game has been the staple of our offense, that's the foundation, and both of those guys are amazing backs. They're really coming on, Penny especially. Chris has been great throughout the year, Penny is really coming on the last few weeks, and having that one-two punch is really going to help us moving forward."
Said guard D.J. Fluker, "That's phenomenal. We have a one-two combo now. It's great to have versatility."
Monday's win, which improved the Seahawks to 10-2 and saw them move into first place in the NFC West, was their fourth straight in which Seattle's running game was able to function well against a top run defense. Heading into their Week 9 meeting, the Buccaneers ranked first in the NFL in run defense both in terms of yards allowed and yards per carry allowed, and the Seahawks rushed for 145. The 49ers and Eagles are also among the league leaders in run defense, and the Seahawks gained 147 and 174 in those two games, and now they have gone over 200 rushing yards for the first time this year.
"It's about a will to win," said Fluker. "It's about the want-to, it's about the drive. We do it every time in practice, we do it in the walk throughs, we do it on the weekends, we do it on Sunday—well today was a Monday—but it's just about having the drive, having the want-to, having the guys coach us up, having us compete, that's what it's about."
While Carson is the clear starter, Carroll has maintained throughout the year that they don't have any problem seeing how things play out in an individual game and going with the hot hand, which in part led to Penny's big game last week. This week Penny came in the game early, replacing Carson after a few plays on the first drive, then he had to play more than expected for a stretch of the first quarter when Carson had to be checked for a concussion. Carson was cleared and quickly returned, and the two had a fairly even split in playing time and touches going forward.
"You guys keep asking me, but there's no plan on this one, they're just playing," Carroll said. "And when we see how the game goes, we might give a guy a few more here or a few more there. We don't know, because they're both really good. We love them and we just play them. Chris is the starter, so he winds up getting some more carries, but they're playing as one-two, and I don't know who is one and I don't know who is two. They're doing great… It is awesome. It is so much fun to see those two guys battling it out. I think Chris got 100 and Rashaad got 70-something, that's fantastic. I thought Rashaad looked so fast tonight. He just looked so explosive. The screen play was a beautiful call, and beautiful execution, and it just showed that burst that he has and why he's so exciting."
And lest you think the competition for carries would create any animosity between the two backs, Penny would like to bring to your attention to a moment in the third quarter that helps illustrate the relationship those two have.
With the Seahawks driving early in the third quarter, Carson took a handoff from the 30-yard line and gained 25 yards, setting up first-and-goal at the 5. Almost any running back, no matter how tired, would want to stay in the game there and finish the drive, but Carson instead tapped on his helmet to signal he needed a break, a gesture that meant a lot to Penny. Two plays later, both of them Penny runs, the Seahawks were in the end zone following a 1-yard touchdown run.
"That could be an easy walk-in for the guy," Penny said. "He called me in and the next play I scored. That just shows the guy he is, he cares. The love I have for him is real deep… Any other running back would stay in and try to punch it in, but that shows you the guy he is. I'm a big fan of his."
Carroll has long believed in the importance of having a balanced attack so that his offense can function at a high level regardless of what a defense is doing, and on a night when the Vikings did things to try to take away the deep ball—Russell Wilson did still manage to throw for 240 yards and two touchdowns, including a 60-yarder to David Moore—the running game came through in a big way.
"It was a special night," Wilson said. "I think the offensive line did a tremendous job. They were so physical all night. We were able to run the ball extremely well. (Minnesota) kept playing two-high shell, just super deep. They didn't want any shots thrown on them. So we said, 'OK, we'll just run it and do what we do really well.' Sure enough, we just kept going, kept going with it… We've got two great backs. You've got guys who are star running backs in the league. You see Penny hit the corner and his speed and his power that he runs with. Downhill, you see Chris Carson, what he's been able do his whole time he's been a Seahawk. It's been great just having those two guys run the football that well."