The culture within the Seattle Seahawks is written about ad nauseam, but that’s because we’re regularly given illustrations of what sets this team apart from others around the NFL. The Seahawks win on Monday night against the Vikings provided another – maybe even the best – example yet of that culture on display.
On Seattle’s first drive of the third quarter, Chris Carson gashed the Vikings defense for a 25-yard run down to Minnesota’s 5-yard line. He then did something seldom seen from running backs that close to the goal line: He tapped his helmet, subbing himself out so that Rashaad Penny could get into the game.
It took two plays for Penny to find the end zone, ultimately scoring on a 1-yard toss to the left. It was Penny’s third rushing touchdown of the season and second in as many weeks. As far as Penny was concerned, he owed that score to Carson.
“I was like, ‘What the heck? I never get the ball here.’ That just shows you who he is. He spread the love,” Penny said. “Any other running back would stay in and try to punch it in.”
It’s clear that the Seahawks backfield has become a true running back by committee. Carson is still the starter, but Penny earned a near 50/50 timeshare against Minnesota’s fifth-ranked run defense. Carson ran the ball 23 times for 102 yards (his fifth 100-yard game of 2019) and a touchdown (his seventh touchdown on the year). Penny chipped in 74 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. The second-year running back also caught for passes for 33 yards and another score.
By the sound of it, both runners are embracing the workload split.
“It’s great,” Carson said. “We have two different running styles, so it keeps the defense on their toes. They don’t know what to expect. Rashaad has been practicing so hard these last few weeks, really since training camp. He’s just trying to get his feel of the game, and it’s starting to show up.”
Penny and Carson are seen every day at the open portion of practice throwing a football around and chumming it up. It’s evident that the two are friends, which is crucial in a situation like this.
“It’s a brotherhood,” Penny said. “Everybody thinks we’re supposed to hate each other. This is literally love in the backfield.”
And that’s not something to take lightly. Duane Brown has been in the league long enough to know camaraderie isn’t always on that level. It’s a production-based league and skill players know their next paycheck is dependent on putting up numbers.
So while it’s one thing to celebrate a teammates victory, it’s another thing entirely to give up a touchdown that could have been yours.
“That’s not always the case at all. There (can be) a lot of alpha males,” Brown said. “It’s a close-knit group – very unselfish guys. Both are very important to our success. Chris has been phenomenal the last couple years. Rashaad is really finding his rhythm. He’s playing with a lot of confidence now. You can see what it’s done for us.”
Both running backs have their respective areas of improvement. For Carson, it’s holding onto the football. For Penny, it’s working on his consistency and continuing to lose weight down to his target of 225 pounds (he’s currently in the ballpark of 230). He also told reporters that he’s been watching more film and spending time studying linebackers.
Penny’s progress, especially his added burst and speed, has been obvious. He set a career-high with 129 rushing yards last week against the Eagles. His two-touchdown encore against the Vikings on primetime was even more impressive.
“When I know I can get in the end zone, that’s when my confidence grows,” Penny said. “It’s like I have an extra jump to myself.”
Carroll said that there’s no plan going into games of how the workload between the two will be divided. Carson will remain the starter. From there, each guy will have his chance to establish the hot hand. In the best-case scenario, like on Monday night, both runners will be able to power Seattle’s offense.
“If we keep that going, we’re going to be hard to beat,” Brown said. “It’s special. It’s a very special group, and you need that to go 10-2.”