CHICAGO -- It was obvious in both their words and actions that offseason priority No. 1 for the Seattle Seahawks was reviving their running game.
They spent a first-round pick on tailback Rashaad Penny to pair him with Chris Carson, replaced Jimmy Graham with better blocking tight ends in Will Dissly and Ed Dickson and beefed up at right guard with D.J. Fluker, whom they considered a difference-maker in the run game.
Dickson and Fluker have both been injured, but that doesn’t begin to explain why the Seahawks have neither run the ball well nor all that often during their 0-2 start.
Seattle’s 138 rushing yards and 38 rushing attempts are both the fourth-fewest of any team. According to ESPN charting, they rank 30th at 29.3 percent in non-dropback percentage, which measures designed runs.
This all reached its head-scratching peak in the second half of Monday night’s loss to the Chicago Bears, when Seattle had all of nine rushing attempts through three quarters.
This was despite those nine attempts gaining a respectable 35 yards. And it was despite Khalil Mack and the Bears getting constant pressure on Russell Wilson en route to six sacks. Wilson, at times a sitting duck while attempting 36 passes, could have benefited from more run plays to help slow down Chicago’s pass-rush.
And it’s not as though the Seahawks were forced to abandon the run because of a huge deficit. They trailed 7-0 after the first quarter and 10-3 through the start of the fourth.
It was the same case in their opener against Denver. Carson and Penny combined for only 14 attempts in that 27-24 loss, leading offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to say last week that he needed to do a better job of sticking to the run.
There are usually understandable, if not justifiable, reasons for curious in-game coaching decisions, even when the knee-jerk reaction for many observers is to chalk it up to incompetence or brain cramps. Carroll said it was at his direction that the Seahawks came out throwing at the start of the third quarter, believing they could exploit a matchup and turn the game on a big play.
They instead went three-and-out on consecutive possessions, throwing on all six plays.
"I got [Schottenheimer] to take a couple shots and look at a couple things and got him out of rhythm a little bit," Carroll said. "But after the first two drives we got back in and worked it. It was my fault. I got him trying a little bit too hard to take a couple shots and see if we could bounce back and get back into the game quickly and shouldn’t have done that."
Carson’s usage Monday night was especially curious, as was Carroll's explanation for it. Carson finished with six carries for 24 yards -- all in the first half -- compared to Penny's 10 carries for 30 yards. Penny played 20 snaps to Carson's 19. This was even though Carroll had said Carson had taken a clear lead in the tailback battle after their respective performances in the opener.
Carroll gave a confusing explanation postgame, saying he went with Penny more in the second half after Carson appeared winded as a result of having to pull double duty on special teams because of injuries at other positions. But Carson only played two snaps on special teams. Carroll later said on his 710 ESPN Seattle radio show Tuesday that he misread the situation, and that while Carson did look tired to him, he didn't realize at the time that Carson had been pulled off of some special teams duties by coordinator Brian Schneider, because he was running the ball well earlier in the game.
Casting a cynical eye, it’s enough to make you wonder if Carson did something to find himself in the doghouse.
Either way, it was a bizarre episode in what’s been an unexpected early-season trend for the Seahawks.