The Seahawks lost to the Panthers on Sunday night in no small part because of how well Carolina was able to run the ball.
And had the 30-24 defeat in which Carolina rushed for 223 yards been a one-off occurrence, it would have been frustrating enough as is, but what was particularly troubling to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and his players is that the Panthers beat the Seahawks in pretty much the same manner that the Raiders did two weeks ago, and that Tampa Bay did in Munich before the bye—by running the ball frequently and with a lot of success.
"They ran the ball really well in the fourth quarter," Carroll said. "We respected them that they would try to do that, and when they went to it, we couldn't get off the field… When it came down to it in the fourth quarter, we didn't have what we needed to have to get it done. Really disappointed in that because we focused on the areas that we're looking at. The running game on offense and running game on defense were both focus points for us. We have to get this thing turned, and we're still on it."
As Carroll noted, the running game issues showed up on both sides of the ball, with the Seahawks managing just 46 rushing yards on 14 carries, with 29 of those coming on a 16-yard Travis Homer run and a 13-yard Geno Smith scramble. But with running backs Kenneth Walker III and DeeJay Dallas both sidelined by ankle injuries, those struggles were a bit easier to stomach than was the fact that the Seahawks have allowed at least 161 rushing yards in four straight games, including 283 in a loss to the Raiders and now 223 to Carolina.
"They ran their game," Carroll said. "That's their running game. We were trying to knock them back, and we couldn't get it done. We tried everything that we had to get it stopped, and we were not able to stop them… Our guys are trying. They're working hard to get it done. We went through all of the process during the week to line it up so we knew what they were doing. We were not fooled by anything today. We were on it. But you have to play the line of scrimmage and get off the blocks and play together. Everybody has to fit together. It's always about those fits. It wasn't good enough. It just plain old wasn't good enough."
The fact that, as Carroll pointed out, the Panthers didn't do anything that caught the Seahawks off guard, made the result that much more frustrating for a team that fell to 6-5 with Sunday's loss.
"We've got to fix this (stuff), because, you saw what happened, and it's been the same thing the past two weeks," said safety Ryan Neal, who had 11 tackles. "Teams see it, and they're going to attack it, and they're probably going to give us the same thing. When it comes to stuff like that, all you can do is just look at the film, and we've got to fix it. You know what I mean? It's gotta get fixed. Point blank, period."
In game that started about as poorly as possible for the Seahawks—they were down 10-0 early after a Geno Smith interception set up a Panthers touchdown, and down 17-0 midway through the second quarter—the Seahawks actually settled in pretty well to make a game of it. Touchdown passes to Tyler Lockett at DK Metcalf made it 20-14 at halftime, and a field goal on the opening drive of the third quarter cut the deficit to 20-17. Most significantly, the defense seemed to have settled in after Carolina's early scores, allowing only a field goal and six first downs after those early Panthers scores.
But when the Defense needed a stop most with Carolina taking over with a three-point lead early in the fourth quarter, the Panthers were able to march 74 yards in 10 plays, taking 5:26 off the clock on drive that ended with a touchdown run that extended the lead to 10 point. On that possession, the Panthers ran the ball seven times for 68 yards, part of a 145-yard second half for Carolina's rushing attack.
"It was super frustrating," Neal said of that drive. " (Expletive) unbelievable. It makes you sick in the stomach. Stuff like that, I'm not going to sleep on that tonight, because that just irritates my soul. When you come into the game knowing that's how they're going to play, you just have to strap up and be ready to go four quarters. It's going to be a four-quarter game, and teams like that, that's how they like to play. We have to dig deep, we have to look within, and we got to respond."
The Seahawks will need to dig deep and respond in rapid fashion, because they host the 49ers on Thursday, a team that is averaging over 130 rushing yards per game, and that ran for 209 yards on Sunday in a win over Tampa Bay.
"That's teams' recipe to beat us, just run the ball," said safety Quandre Diggs. "We play it well, we play it well, and then all of a sudden, we keep leaking yards. That's our kryptonite right now. Until we stop that, teams are going to continue to do it, and we just have to take a stand."
The Seahawks played Sunday's game without Shelby Harris, who was inactive due to illness, and lost nose tackle Al Woods to a heel injury in the second quarter, and their absences were no-doubt a factor, but regardless of who is available and who isn't, the Seahawks defense expects better of itself.
"Guys have to make tackles," said outside linebacker Bruce Irvin. "When we fit it right, guys aren't making the tackles, and when we don't fit it right, the ball gets through. It's a combination of missed fits and guys not making tackles. Until we get this figured out, we are going to have four weeks of guys pounding the ball on us… It's not communication, it's not anything, it's just man on man. You have to beat your man, get off the block, and make the tackle. That's what it comes down to, it's a mentality. I don't care about play calls or anything, at the end of the day, it's man on man. You have to whoop your man in front of you and make the tackle. That's what it comes down to."
As frustrating as the recent stretch of games have been, three losses in four games on the heels of winning four straight by double digits, the Seahawks know they can still be a playoff team if they can fix some issues, most notably their run defense.
"We've got the guys and we've shown the world that we've got it, but we've got to put it together at times that it matters," Neal said. "When you look across the locker room, even when I look at it now, I still think we're a playoff caliber team. I still think we've got guys that play—I still think we can go toe to toe with anybody, but it makes it frustrating because you want it so damn bad, and when it doesn't come together, it just makes you upset. We've got to find a solution, we've got to find it yesterday, because the time is now."
While the fix will take improvement from everybody, players and coaches alike, as the head coach, Carroll said it's ultimately his responsibility to get the defense back on track.
"I have to do more, I have to do better," he said. "I have to help our defense better, and I'm really disappointed. I've been looking at the running game for a long time, and there were no new plays. This was the same stuff, and we just have to do it better… It's the manner (of the losses). This really happened on the ground. I'm really disappointed, in that because I pride myself in thinking we can scheme our way into all kinds of good things to offset that, and I've got to do better."
Check out some of the best action shots from Week 14 vs. the Carolina Panthers at Lumen Field on December 11, 2022. Game action photos are presented by Washington's Lottery.