The Seattle Seahawks ran into a brick wall in the form of the Dallas Cowboys defense. And they kept running into it over and over and over and over in a 24-22 loss.
The Seahawks' brand of run, run, pass game scripts worked well against some mediocre defenses during the regular season. It got destroyed against a good D in the playoffs. Yet, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and coach Pete Carroll kept banging their head against the wall.
Seahawks running backs attempted 21 rushes on the night for 59 yards, 2.8 yards per carry. Outside of one Rashaad Penny 28-yard scamper, the crew was completely held in check. Take out that lone long dash (which was immediately followed by a run for -7 yards by the rookie), and Seattle running backs earned 31 yards on their other 20 attempts, 1.55 yards per carry. Lead back Chris Carson got bottled up better than ketchup, generating 20 yards on 13 attempts, 1.5 YPC, with a long run of five yards.
With a ground-heavy approach, the Seahawks generated six three-and-outs on the night, including their first three drives of the game.
The game script essentially boiled down to: run for no gain, run for minuscule gain, ask Russell Wilson to spin magic on third-and-long.
Wilson was asked Sunday during the team's locker cleanout following the loss if he wanted to throw the ball more early given how ineffective the running game was versus Dallas.
"I think that when you reflect back on it, we were throwing it pretty well in the game," he said, via The News Tribune. "I think we could have kept doing that some more. But also, you want to stay true to running the ball, too. So, I think that, like I said, this game was kind of similar to the Carolina game I felt like a little bit. They did a pretty good job of stopping us on the run and in that game we had to throw the ball and make some plays. I think this game was kind of similar in that sense, if we could have done that a little bit more maybe earlier. But I think also too, we could have been better. We could have been better on some of the runs and some of the things we were doing. That's part of the game. Sometimes you shoot, sometimes it doesn't go in. Sometimes you shoot and it keeps going in."
Sadly for Wilson, in football, shooters can't shoot if they don't have the ball. And the Seahawks didn't put the pigskin in the hands of their Super Bowl-winning quarterback nearly enough until it was too late.
It's notable that Wilson pointed to the Carolina game to compare to Saturday's loss. In that tilt, the Seahawks stormed back on the strength of a big passing plays to Tyler Lockett and David Moore on a day the ground game was stymied. Wilson's 31 passes against the Panthers were tied for the most in a win for the quarterback this season.
It's one thing to have a run-centric game plan. It's another not to adjust in-game when it's not working.
The Cowboys entered the night with a top-five run defense and a middling pass D. The Dallas pass defense actually played poorer down the stretch of the season, as well, ranking No. 31 in success rate the last month of the season, per Warren Sharp. The coaches should have entered Saturday night ready to change gears if the run game came up small.
They did not.
Watching Wilson march right down the field at the end of the game only exacerbated the reality that the Seahawks should have put the ball in their signal-caller's hands earlier -- he generated 8.8 yards per attempt on 11 first-half passes, after all.
"We got up-and-down the field so quick, those type of things just show what we're capable of, what we can do," Wilson said of the splash plays on the final drive of a come-from-behind bid that fell short.
Carroll prides himself on being a smash-mouth running team with a stout defense that can win ugly games. Saturday night he got out-uglied by a better defense. He lost while not giving his star quarterback enough chances to make plays until it was too late. And that is why the Seahawks will be at home for the rest of January.