RENTON -- After a tepid start to the season, the Seahawks rushing attack is rounding into form behind improved play from the team's much maligned offensive line.
While this offensive line isn't the same as previous iterations, the group continues to carry the stigma of poor play around like a scarlet letter. Their play on the field, however, is showing its a group much more capable than the porous units of the past.
The Seahawks had running backs go for at least 100 yards rushing in consecutive games for the first time since the 2014 season. Chris Carson rushed for 102 yards on 32 carries in the team's victory over the Dallas Cowboys. Mike Davis then went for 101 yards on 21 carries against the Arizona Cardinals as part of 171 rushing yards for Seattle in last week's win.
"Very encouraging," left tackle Duane Brown said of the group's play. "It means everything to our offense and to our team as a whole. I think we’ve really been having some great chemistry. We’ve been rolling off the ball."
That performance has come with D.J. Fluker returning to the lineup at right guard and J.R. Sweezy jumping in for an injured Ethan Pocic at left guard. While Pocic was back at practice this week and will be available to play Sunday, the Seahawks are sticking with the lineup that's been in place the last two weeks.
"Yeah, I think we’re going to go that way just because of the continuity the last couple of weeks and the way he’s come off the football," Carroll said. "... we feel really comfortable with D.J. (Fluker) and Sweezy playing the guard spots for us."
Sweezy is coming off his first two games at left guard after 75 games and 65 career starts on the right side of the offensive line.
"Sweezy has played a lot of football in this league. He’s played at a high level, been on a championship team. He knows what it takes to be successful," Brown said. "Plugging him in on the left side has been great for me. We’ve been able to communicate and just kind of get some good chemistry over there. He’s a very physical player, which I love, which we love. We’re going to need him this week more than anything. He’s excited about this matchup he has with (Aaron) Donald. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do and see what he can do with the tandem."
With the combo of Brown, Sweezy, Justin Britt, Fluker and Germain Ifedi over the last two weeks, the Seahawks have allowed just two sacks a game and succeeded in getting the rushing game kick-started after a slow first two weeks.
Even Ifedi - who has drawn the most criticism of the group - has played better over that span.
"There hasn’t been a tackle in the league that has had the first three weeks that he had," Brown said of Ifedi. "He had Von Miller and Khalil Mack on the road, he had Demarcus Lawrence here at home and I thought he performed pretty well. Obviously, those guys are going to get there, there are plays when they do well, but he held his own. He’s really been playing with a lot more confidence every week and it’s been big for us, so I’m excited about it."
But the challenge this week is as daunting as any they'll face all season. The Rams' collection of Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers up front is as loaded a group as the NFL can put together. Even without Suh last year, the Rams sacked Russell Wilson seven times and held their rushing attack to just 78 yards, though only 39 of those yards came from running backs.
"That whole front four, they're really good," Sweezy said. "We have a good game plan for them. As long as we execute well, everything will be all right."
Added Brown: "I think first and foremost, they’re both just spectacular players. Suh’s been a great player for a long time. Aaron Donald has been arguably the best defensive lineman since he’s entered the league. ... (We) definitely have to take care of them in order to be productive. They’ve wreaked havoc on some offenses this year, so it’s a great matchup for us. I’m looking forward to it."
If the Seahawks can handle the Rams defensive front, it will mark a significant hurdle cleared for the group.
Defensive end Frank Clark has missed the entire week of practice due to a stomach illness that has forced the team to send him home on more than one occasion. Carroll said they'll wait and see how Clark recovers over the next two days before knowing if he's able to play Sunday.
Guard Ethan Pocic is ready to return to action after completing a full week's worth of practices after an ankle injury sidelined him the last two weeks. He filled in for Sweezy at left guard in practice on Friday as he was absent to attend to his wife, who is having a baby.
Photo Credit: CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 17: Khalil Mack #52 of the Chicago Bears between Germain Ifedi #65 (L) and J.R. Sweezy #64 of the Seattle Seahawks at Soldier Field on September 17, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Seahawks 24-17. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)