Seahawks running game on verge of franchise-worst season

The Seahawks are running out of time in this season, and they’re running out of options on an offense that is preparing Charlie Whitehurst to start the most important game of the season.

The one thing Seattle is not running? The football. At least not effectively.

That has been the one miserable constant this year, something that was as true when the Seahawks were 4-2 as it is now that they’ve lost seven of the past nine games.

Seattle doesn’t have a single 100-yard rushing performance this season. Not one. That’s bad even by the meager standards of Seattle’s recent rushing history.

Shaun Alexander managed two triple-digit performances in 2007, his final year as a Seahawk. Justin Forsett had a couple a year ago. But unless someone hits triple digits in Sunday’s regular-season finale, Seattle will finish without a 100-yard rushing game for the first time since the strike-shortened season of 1982 when the season consisted of nine games.

Is the rushing game the biggest disappointment of Pete Carroll’s first season in Seattle?

“Let’s talk about that when we get out of the whole season and look back, if we could,” Carroll said. “But there’s been some spots, you know, we thought we were making progress.”

And then there are times like Sunday in Tampa, Fla., when it is abundantly clear that running gets this team nowhere. Not even against a Buccaneers team that was allowing 4.9 yards per carry entering the game, most in the league. Seattle averaged 3.2 yards per carry in Tampa.

“It just didn’t happen,” Carroll said.

That was clear when Seattle faced fourth-and-one in the first quarter, lined up Matt Hasselbeck at receiver and snapped the ball directly to fullback Michael Robinson and then had to rely on his second effort to convert the first down. And it’s why Seattle ran misdirection on third-and-goal, quarterback Hasselbeck faking a handoff before running to his left. He scored on a 1-yard touchdown, but a strained muscle in his hip and rear on the play makes him a longshot to play this week.

The Seahawks are averaging 85.5 rushing yards this season, which would be the lowest of any season in franchise history. The Seahawks need to gain 109 yards on the ground against St. Louis to avoid that distinction.

And, yes, Seattle will in fact, try again to run the ball on Sunday in a game that will determine the NFC West title and a trip to the playoffs.

“Always,” Carroll said. “Not that it has to start at any one point of the game, but we have to try and be dedicated to the balance that we always believe in.”

That’s more hope than faith at this point.

Forsett was the last Seahawk to hit triple digits as he ran for 130 yards in St. Louis on Nov. 19, 2009. The high-water mark this season is Marshawn Lynch’s 89 yards against Arizona on Oct. 24.

The reason for the struggles goes beyond the players carrying the ball, though. Rookie left tackle Russell Okung has never been completely healthy this year, and the Seahawks have never started the same line configuration in more than three consecutive games at any point this season.

The result has been continued difficulties in getting any traction on the ground. Running the ball is essential to winning this time of year, when the weather gets cold and the games get close. At this point there’s not much left to do, but try and try again.

“Whether we’re there yet or not on this night, we’re going to keep working toward that and develop it,” Carroll said. “Because it’s going to be a heartbeat of our program over time. We’re not just going to back off the thought that’s what’s necessary.”