The Seahawks celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the 2013 Super Bowl XLVIII championship team with a 37-27 win over the Carolina Panthers in Week 3. Despite playing without multiple offensive linemen due to to injury, Seattle's backfield put up their best performance of the year to help the Seahawks end a special week in style.
The first two weeks of the 2023 season saw Seattle held under 100 yards rushing in both contests, finishing 1-1. A season ago, the Seahawks averaged 119.6 yards per game on the ground, led by running back Kenneth Walker III. The Michigan State alum became just the second Seattle rookie, along with Curt Warner, to eclipse 1,000 yards in his first season (1,050). In April's draft, the team added physical UCLA alum Zach Charbonnet with the No. 52 selection, building a formidable duo for the future. But the Los Angeles Rams and Detroit Lions respectively held Seattle's ground attack under 90 yards in their prior two games. On Sunday, Seattle got the run game going early with Walker, who made the most of his opportunities. Walker gained 97 yards on 18 carries (5.4 YPC), scoring two crucial touchdowns to secure the win after Seattle trailed at halftime. Through the air, Walker caught three passes for 59 yards. It didn't take long for Walker to get going early, forcing several missed tackles and creating yardage after contact. Charbonnet also showcased his physicality, bulldozing through defenders on nine carries for 46 yards (5.1 YPC). In the fourth quarter, the UCLA alum bowled through several defenders before knocking Panthers safety Sam Franklin through the endzone to set up a score. The duo combined for 143 yards, the first 100-plus yard game for Seattle this season.
In addition to facing a hungry Carolina team looking for its first win, Seattle dealt with several injuries to its offensive line. Lucas was placed on injured reserve earlier in the month and Cross was ruled out (toe) prior to the contest. Right guard Phil Haynes was also ruled out (calf) before kickoff. Rookie Anthony Bradford stepped up to fill in, before another injury would cause Seattle to look to its interior depth. Left guard Damien Lewis went down early in the contest, before making his way back into the game. Late in the third quarter, Bradford would go down himself with an injury, though he quickly returned to the game. At one point in the contest, there were four starters replaced on the offensive line, with center Evan Brown being the only Week 1 starter on the field. Yet the grit and preparation by Seattle's reserve linemen helped create 442 yards of total offense.
Coach Pete Carroll praised his backfield duo for producing despite a slow start early.
"It's such a statement really about the coaches keeping those guys together," said Carroll. "And getting our guys that step in to play front level ball. Didn't run the ball well at times early. It looked like we might be struggling. Really Kenny and Zach, they were really on it. They're so different, and uniquely different. I loved seeing Zach show himself today and show you how tough he is and how explosive he can be, a great asset for us. So that was a really good part of our day."
Carroll continued with his elation with the offensive linemen group stepping up through injuries.
"Yeah, thrilled about that," said Carroll. "The commitment to it. You could see our style from our two guys. Like I said, they're much different, uniquely different, but man, they've both got explosions in them. The physical run that you see Zach make, again, that's kind of (what) we've already learned about him, so when it happens again, man, he just reinforces it. I'm really fired up about those two guys. That's the kind of day. It's the right numbers. We completed I don't know, 23 or something passes, ran 33 times. You know, those numbers really stand for consistency. So that's what we're going to stay with it."
Quarterback Geno Smith completed 23-36 passes for 296 yards and a score. The West Virginia alum discussed the performance of the offensive line and backfield in the second half following the win.
"Yeah, I think the O-line just really took the game over," Smith said. "I thought in the second half the way we ran the ball, you know, helped us finish those drives in the end zone. So in the first half we moved the ball. I think we had a one-two punch today, and that's always a positive sign for the offense. But as we always talk about, we want to score touchdowns. Today in the first half we didn't do as well, but that's the good part about our team and our offense. We kept battling and showed a better showing in the second half."
Smith continued by sharing the importance of the pair to Seattle's offensive success.
"Man," said Smith. "It's awesome to have those two guys. Just to see them run, just to see Zach finish runs. I mean, he's just out there running guys over. Ken is out there just juking guys and making guys miss left and right. I'm having to go out there and make blocks for him. It's super fun just to have guys like that. Obviously it starts with the O-line and the way they block, you know, getting up to the second level. To have two runners that are equally dynamic and explosive, man, it's great for our offense and our team."
Following the win, Walker shared his feelings on co-leading Seattle' best rushing performance of the year.
"First off," said Walker. "It starts off with the O-line. They did a great job, and made my and Zach's job easier. Also, I want to give credit to Zach, because he had a lot of physical runs and he made a lot of plays. I feel good about the way we ran the ball tonight."
The second-year back happily explained the balance he and Charbonnet possess on the field.
"I feel like it's a great balance," said Walker. "Zach can make plays, just like I can make plays. Whichever one of us is in the game, I believe that we're going to produce."
The success of Seattle's rushing attack had a mirror effect on the Seahawks run defense, holding Carolina to just 44 yards on the ground. Walker discussed playing complementary football on offense, defense and special teams.
"I feel like when we play complementary football," said Walker. "That's what wins games. Offense, defense and special teams playing together. It makes it hard for another team to beat us."
Seattle's ground success helped tire out the Panthers defense, while the passing game got going. Smith connected with 9 different targets Sunday, including both backs. Wideout DK Metcalf chimed in on the importance of success on the ground to open up the playbook.
"It just opens up everything," said Metcalf. "The play-pass, and then just the pass in general, because the defense is not just barreling down, they're looking for the run, basically. So, it's easier for us to pass. It's easier for the O-line to block guys who aren't just barreling down their throat every play."
Charbonnet addressed the feeling of the game slowing down, after playing in his second home matchup.
"Definitely since preseason and coming up until now," said Charbonnet. "Definitely started off nervous but starting to get down our offense more and be more comfortable the more games we play."
The duo will look to keep its momentum going next week, as Seattle travels east to face the New York Giants.
Check out some of the best action shots from Week 3 vs the Panthers at Lumen Field on September 24, 2023. Game action photos are presented by Washington's Lottery.