When Pete Carroll started talking about the recent improvement of the Seattle Seahawks' running game this season, one of the first things he brought up wasn't the play of rookie running back Thomas Rawls, who had 209 rushing yards against the San Francisco 49ers in Sunday's win, but rather his center, Patrick Lewis.
"We've just become more proficient in doing what we're doing," said Carroll, whose Seahawks now lead the NFL with 148.6 rushing yards per game. "One of the things I'll mention to you is I think Patrick Lewis has really helped us. If you take a look at when he came in, he's done a nice job for us. We haven't changed anything in essence, we just try to continue to grow and to get better and take advantage of the scheme and all that. But we haven't changed as we've gone through the season, we've just improved. But you look back when Patrick started playing, we've played very well since he's been in there and he's been a nice little uptick. So hopefully we'll keep growing."
Lewis wasn't Seattle's starter to open the season, but he eventually beat Drew Nowak for the job, only to injure his ankle in his first start, Seattle's Week 6 loss to Carolina. Lewis returned to the lineup to start the last two games, but left Sunday's game in the second half with another ankle injury. Fortunately for the Seahawks, this injury doesn't appear to be as serious, and Lewis should be back when the Seahawks host the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday.
"He was in the walk-thru today," Carroll said of Lewis, who was a full participant in Wednesday's practice. "We're going to take care of him during the week, but he's going to be fine. He'll be fine."
While the Seahawks still have high hopes for Nowak's potential, Carroll says looking back, the right move might have been to take a look sooner at Lewis, who started four games last season, all victories, including a win at Arizona in which the Seahawks set a franchise record with 596 yards of offense.
"We really set our sights on trying to get Drew going," Carroll said. "We thought that there was going to be a quick upsurge in his play, and it was hard for him in making the transition and all that. So as I look back now, I would've liked to have given Patrick a chance earlier so that we would've compared it. But we still would've wanted to see how Drew would develop. His learning curve is just going to take a little bit longer. It just didn't happen as fast as we needed it to. Just the experience of Patrick playing really helped us."
The news is also positive on Doug Baldwin, who left Sunday's game with an ankle injury, but who should be back this week. Baldwin was held out of Wednesday's practice, but Carroll said, "He went through walk-thru today. He's a little bit sore, but he's not going to miss this game."
As for linebacker Bruce Irvin (knee) and receiver Paul Richardson (hamstring), both are in danger of missing a second consecutive game, Carroll said, though nothing is definite yet.
"(Richardson) is trying to make it back," Carroll said. "It's going to be really close. At best it's a gameday for him and Bruce."
Carroll reiterated what he said Monday about Jeremy Lane, saying the plan is for Lane to be activated off the physically unable to perform list for Sunday's game.
"Jeremy's going to be active," Carroll said. "And if he makes it through the week OK, he's going to be dressing and playing."
Cary Williams "anxious to compete his way back"
Carroll likes what he has seen so far from cornerback Cary Williams, who was replaced by DeShawn Shead in the second half of Sunday's game. Carroll has said this week that Williams, Shead and perhaps Jeremy Lane will all battle for the starting job at right cornerback going forward.
"He's anxious to compete his way back," Carroll said. "I think his attitude looks like it's right on point."
On what Carroll wants to see from Williams, who Seattle signed this offseason to replace Byron Maxwell, Carroll said, "Just consistency. We need to be more consistent and make sure that we're making the adjustments as we're going along and staying with us. He's been playing hard and tough, and trying to get it done and figure it out, but he's new to the system and some of the principles. You've just got to keep coming back to it and all that. So he'll work really hard at it."
Not surprisingly, Carroll didn't give away if Richard Sherman will shadow Steelers No. 1 receiver Antonio Brown, who currently ranks second in the NFL with 1,141 receiving yards, but Carroll had nothing but good things to say about Brown.
"He's been so productive," Carroll said. "He's got 80 catches right now, way out there numbers-wise and all. They've made him by their commitment to him and his consistency and all, they've made him a great player. He's fantastic. He's a big a threat as there is in the league. So I don't know if he's the best, but he's right there.
"He does everything. He's really fast. He plays fast on the field. He accelerates to the ball with great confidence. He makes plays on the sidelines. He makes plays in the back of the end zone. He's a tough guy inside. They put the ball on the perimeter to him on the screen stuff so he can catch and run. He's a punt returner too when they want to use him back there. He's got all those skills. He's just as natural, and fast, and then he's got Ben (Roethlisberger) that knows him and believes in him, and the coaching staff and all that. So he's just an extraordinary threat."
With both teams having won 8 regular season games against the other, this Sunday will feature a rubber match between the Seahawks and Steelers. Journey back to these epic games and also their only postseason face-off in Super Bowl XL.