The Seattle Seahawks didn't have their top two running backs Sunday, with Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde each missing their third straight game. The team was also without center Ethan Pocic, forcing an inexperienced backup into the starting lineup against Aaron Donald and a tough Los Angeles Rams defensive front.
Maybe those absences explain why Pete Carroll didn't trust his offense on a pivotal play early in the third quarter of Seattle's 23-16 loss -- because the coach’s stated reason didn't quite add up.
The Seahawks trailed 17-13 when Russell Wilson was stopped just short of the first-down marker on a third-down scramble. The spot was upheld after an unsuccessful challenge by Carroll, making it fourth-and-inches from Seattle's 39. After trying to draw the Rams offsides, the Seahawks took a delay-of-game penalty and punted.
"That early in the game, when there was so much going on, so many opportunities, I didn't want to give them the ball at the 40-yard line," Carroll said. "That's a turnover. That's just like you just handed them an interception if you don't make it, if they penetrate and make a play in the backfield and get you out.
"There's times where you go for it when maybe the logic doesn't add up the same, but in that one right there, it was too early in the game. I was believing in our guys that we were going to pull it off and have plenty of time to get back and play well, and I didn't want to give them a turnover right there, and I just felt like it wasn't worth it."
Carroll disputed the premise of the question, which noted that Seattle had the NFL's highest-scoring offense entering Sunday.
"The logic of saying because we're such a high-scoring team, we should go for it right there doesn't fit in my brain," he said. "I don't understand that. That's not really the case right there. It's really about playing the game more than the potential of our play and all that kind of stuff.
"The players would love to go for it. I know that. And I'd love to go for it, too. So I have to work against my nature to go ahead and kick that ball right there, but I would probably do it the same way again."
The Seahawks didn’t look like the league's most potent offense to that point, needing the longest field goal in franchise history -- a 61-yarder by Jason Myers -- to head into halftime with 13 points. Without their two most physical running backs and their starting center, they were missing critical short-yardage personnel, especially with an all-world defensive tackle in Donald on the other side. Pocic's backup, Kyle Fuller, was playing through what Carroll later revealed to be a high-ankle sprain.
What makes Carroll's decision a head-scratcher is that even if he had good reason to doubt his offense, what reason would he have to trust his defense? The Seahawks have been setting or threatening records for futility on that side of the ball, allowing the second-most yards (3,646) through a team's first eight games in NFL history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
They were playing without their top two cornerbacks Sunday and had already allowed the Rams to drive 77 and 93 yards for touchdowns. You had to like the Rams' chances of getting beyond Seattle's 39-yard line, regardless of whether they started there (via a failed fourth-down try) or drove there (following a punt).
Not surprisingly, the Rams drove 88 yards for a touchdown.
Carroll was asked if he put too much faith in a defense that hasn't earned it.
"I don't know," he said. "You can say that, but I'm just playing the game, and the game there, it wasn't worth giving them the football -- as well as they had done in the first half -- there. I didn't mind giving them the ball inside the 10-yard line, and we'll go play defense back there.
"I wish we could have ... made it on third down. We missed it by an inch."
That sequence was hardly the sole reason the Seahawks lost. They committed three turnovers, including two more interceptions in another off game from Wilson. But coaching decisions are magnified in close games, especially those that come back to bite a team in a seven-point loss.
For his part, Wilson didn't take a side on the fourth-down decision.
"Obviously, you want to be able to go for it just because you want to convert and get that opportunity to keep going," he said. "But at the same time, we were on the other side of the field, so I don't think it was a bad decision, having to punt it. We tried to draw them offsides and tried to convert on that. They almost went twice, and then unfortunately, we had to punt the ball."
Asked if having Carson would have changed his thinking, Carroll tilted his head and gave a slight shrug -- body language that seemed to convey, "Yeah, maybe."
"At this point, we don't feel the same," he said of Carson's absence. "... We might not have been in fourth-and-inches if he was there. But he's not there, so we have to keep figuring it out. We've got to play with what we've got and try to figure out the game and to keep believing.
"There's no reason to feel desperate, [and that] is what I didn't want to do, and so that's why that happened."