Leaky run defense downfall of Seahawks on verge of missing postseason

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The stats are both representative of where the Seattle Seahawks stand with one regular-season game remaining and also embarrassing for a Pete Carroll-led defense.  

Since Week 11, the Seahawks have allowed a league-worst 1,102 rushing yards and a league-high 13 rushing touchdowns. 

The Pittsburgh Steelers were certainly aware of those numbers, which is why they leaned on the 1-2 punch of running backs Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren to carry the team to a 30-23 victory over the Seahawks at Lumen Field on Sunday.

Harris finished with 122 rushing yards and two scores while Warren added 75 yards and a score. Pittsburgh rushed for 202 rushing yards and finished with a season-high 468 total yards against Seattle’s defense.

According to Next Gen Stats, Harris gained 118 of his rushing yards after contact, the second-most in a game in his career.

The Seahawks dropped to 8-8 with the loss, and now need to beat the Arizona Cardinals next week on the road, along with getting some help from other teams to make the playoffs for a second straight year.

The Steelers improved to 9-7 on the season and remain in the AFC playoff hunt heading into the final week of the regular season. The Steelers clinched their 20th consecutive season with a .500 or better record, leaving them one year shy of matching the longest stretch of its kind in NFL history.

Pittsburgh is 8-2 in one-score games this season.

Last offseason, Carroll and the Seahawks made moves in the draft and free agency to improve the team defensively. And while at times those moves have proved fruitful, Seattle has regressed down the backstretch. Now with their season on the line, the Seahawks will face one of the best running teams in the league next week in the Cardinals.

“The principles that we stand for and teach, we’re going to come back to them again and see if we can pull it together,” Carroll told reporters after the game.

On Sunday, the Steelers effectively used heavy personnel to run the football. With a big, physical back in Harris leading them, Pittsburgh used at least two tight ends on 18 attempts for 88 yards and two scores.

“They just got into a groove in that 13 personnel [one running back, three tight ends] and big bodies and trying to run the ball,” Seahawks safety Julian Love said. “And as the game goes on, guys get more aggressive, trying to push to make plays, make stops. And that’s when gaps start to open up more when you’re not staying within yourself.” 

Najee Harris rushes for 122 yards and two TDs to lead Steelers

Najee Harris rushes for 122 yards and two TDs to lead Steelers

Last season, the Seahawks faced a similar scenario in Week 18. Seattle had to defeat the Los Angeles Rams, and then they got help when the Detroit Lions went to Lambeau Field and beat the Green Bay Packers in the final game of the regular season. 

Quarterback Geno Smith knows anything can happen at this point of the season.

“We’ve still got opportunities in front of us,” Smith told reporters after the game. “And so, nobody is going to feel sorry around here. We’re going to pick it up and keep going.” 

Smith finished 23-of-33 for 290 passing yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions, posting a 106.9 passer rating. However, Smith did give up a fumble on a strip sack by Steelers outside linebacker Nick Herbig with Seattle trailing by a touchdown with more than seven minutes remaining in the game. It was Seattle’s first turnover in three weeks and led to a Chris Boswell 21-yard field goal. 

The Seahawks also had to deal with running back Kenneth Walker III reinjuring his shoulder and having to leave the game, along with center Evan Brown (concussion) and right tackle Abe Lucas (knee).

Receiver DK Metcalf picked up the slack offensively, finishing with five receptions for 106 receiving yards, but the Seahawks had trouble creating balance with the running game.

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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