SEATTLE, WA - Throughout the three days prior to kickoff against the Cardinals, coming off a disappointing 16-point performance in a loss to the Rams, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll emphasized the need for his team to find more balance offensively.
Without Chris Carson or Carlos Hyde for each of the past three games, Seattle's replacements in the backfield barely averaged three yards per carry, leaving quarterback Russell Wilson vulnerable orchestrating a one-dimensional attack. As the defense continued to struggle, Carroll called his team's performance "unrecognizable" each of the past two games.
But thanks in large part to the return of Hyde on Thursday night, the Seahawks re-discovered their identity with a physical, bruising ground game that set the tone from their first possession, easing pressure off of Wilson and opening up the passing game as a result.
"It felt like the Seahawks," Carroll told reporters after the game. "It felt like the Seahawks that we've all seen over the years. Carlos did a great job tonight. He did exactly what we needed. We needed him to run hard and run tough, knock people backwards and make extra yards with his juice. And the guys up front responded with him."
Leaning on Hyde early, the veteran back made his presence felt right away, moving the chains on a pair of third down conversions to help Seattle sustain a 12-play, 75-yard drive. Wilson capped it off with a 25-yard touchdown strike to DK Metcalf, who came open on a crosser in the end zone to give the home team a 7-0 advantage.
After a pair of drives were stalled by penalties, Hyde took on a starring role on the Seahawks second touchdown drive early in the second quarter. Following a five-yard run, he caught a dump off pass from Wilson, lowered his shoulder, and delivered a truck stick to linebacker Haasan Reddick to pick up two additional yards, firing up players and coaches alike on the sideline.
Moments later, Hyde received the handoff on an inside zone play and quickly cut back against the grain, slipping through an arm tackle and exploding into the secondary for a 17-yard gain. On the very next play, Wilson delivered a perfect strike to Tyler Lockett on a fade the back right corner of the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown to retake the lead 13-7.
"It's my first game back," Hyde commented. "I just wanted to play clean. I'm not trying to do anything out of the ordinary. Just run the ball, protect Russ and just keep it going. Catch the ball well. That was just my mindset coming in."
Admitting he was a bit winded on the first few drives, Hyde got his feet underneath him and as the game progressed, the Cardinals became less interested in trying to tackle the punishing 230-pound back. Defenders started to make business decisions.
After Arizona answered with a lengthy, clock-chewing touchdown drive to open the second half, Seattle went right back to its bell cow. Though he had a seven-yard run wiped out by a holding penalty on center Damien Lewis, who was making his first start at the position, a taunting penalty on Dre Kirkpatrick gave them new life and a fresh set of downs.
Immediately after the penalty, the Seahawks dialed up another inside zone with Lockett coming across the formation in fly motion. Immediately after taking the handoff, Hyde got downhill with a crease opening in front of him and then bounced outside, racing towards the sideline before finishing the 15-yard run with authority, plowing over cornerback Patrick Peterson just in front of the goal line.
On the ensuing play, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer let Hyde finish the drive as he cut off a down block by tight end Will Dissly and powered through safety Chris Banjo's tackle attempt for six points as the Seahawks expanded their lead to 23-14 with 5:23 left in the third quarter.
"The run, that is just part of my game – running physical, running hard," Hyde remarked. "Guy gets in my way right there at the end zone, I got to go through him right there. Don't take anything away from Pat Pete. Great player right there. But he was in the way of the end zone so unfortunately, had to lay the boom on him."
Finishing with 79 yards on just 14 carries and adding a pair of catches for 16 yards, Hyde ran like the Tazmanian dare devil every time he had the ball in his hands, aggressively seeking out contact while also displaying plenty of wiggle in open field to elude tacklers. He also added an explosive element that had been missing from Seattle's ground game in recent weeks, producing three rushes of at least 15 yards behind a makeshift line that was missing three starters at one point.
But Hyde's biggest play may have been late in the fourth quarter, ultimately saving three points on the scoreboard in a tight contest. After bobbling Wilson's pitch on a toss play to the left on 2nd and 7 from Arizona's 12-yard line, the ball fell to the turf and the back quickly dove to recover the fumble with multiple Cardinals defenders in the facility.
Though Seattle couldn't find the end zone after suffering an 11-yard loss on the play, Jason Myers came on and nailed a 41-yard field goal, pushing the lead to seven points. Arizona attempted one last comeback, only for Carlos Dunlap to devour Kyler Murray for a game-clinching fourth down sack inside a minute to play.
Thrilled to be back on the field after being sidelined for a trio of games, Hyde should have extra help coming in the form of Chris Carson, who Carroll indicated on Monday would be back to play against the Eagles in Week 12. Rashaad Penny also waits in the wings, potentially ready to return to practice from the PUP list this week, giving the Seahawks a three-headed monster in the backfield.
If there's anyone who will appreciate having all three runners back in action, it's Wilson, who rebounded from two dreadful, turnover-filled outings to complete 82 percent of his passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns in Thursday's win. As the star quarterback noted after the game, their presence opens up Seattle's entire playbook and makes game planning for them that much more difficult.
"You could see the field that Carlos gives us," Carroll remarked. "That's what we've been looking for. That's what we've been talking about. That's what Chris brings. And we are a whole different team and style when those guys are pounding away at it."
With six games left to play in the regular season, it's an outstanding development for the first place Seahawks, who will look to maintain their re-established balance in coming weeks to keep opponents on their heels and make a push for the top seed in the conference.