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Splitting RBs in Seattle? Examining Chris Carson & Rashaad Penny


For the second time this season, Chris Carson’s fantasy owners are concerned about his workload because of fumbling issues. This time, his outlook seems to be more uncertain than it was earlier in the season.

Prior to this season, losing the ball was never a major issue for Carson, as he lost fumbles five times in his first two seasons. But ball security suddenly became an issue for him at the beginning of the 2019 campaign, when he lost three fumbles in three games. Some fantasy players started to wonder if C.J. Prosise would cut into his reps while Rashaad Penny dealt with a hamstring injury.

But as he often does with his most important players, Pete Carroll maintained confidence in Carson, and he received 20 or more carries in the next five games. He did not fumble during that stretch. But over the past three games, the ball security problems have returned. Carson has fumbled four times over the past three games, fortunately only losing one. There have also been two botched exchanges this year that have been credited to Wilson, and he has assumed responsibility for. That doesn't change the fact that Carson is now worrying his owners all over again as former first-round RB Rashaad Penny may be ready to step up.

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Carroll Backs Both RBs

Last week at Philadelphia, Carson hit new lows. One of those erroneous handoffs came as part of a back-to-back fumbling sequence late in the game on a day where Carson had season lows in attempts (eight) and yards (26). Meanwhile, Penny came through with the best performance of his career, rushing for 129 yards and scoring on a 58-yard run. The confluence of events led to wild speculation about Penny overtaking Carson as Seattle’s lead RB, and Penny was the third-most added position player in Fleaflicker leagues this week.

In the aftermath of Carson hitting the bottom and Penny soaring to the ceiling performance-wise, Carroll praised Penny and told the media he wanted to see more of the same from the second-year man. When the Seahawks drafted Penny 27th overall, they were hoping at the time that he could emerge as the long-sought-after replacement for Marshawn Lynch.

“Rashaad did great,” Carroll said of his performance at Philadelphia. “I’m really fired up for that. We need his explosiveness. He continues to show up. He has had the real home run type of style of play. We’ve got to give him chances to bring that to us. It wasn’t a surprise that he looked like that. Wish it would’ve shown up a little earlier, but that’s my fault for not getting him in there.”

At the same time, Carroll remained outwardly confident in Carson, much as he did earlier this year when the turnover issues first became a problem. He reiterated that Carson will remain a big part of the offense, and knowing Carroll’s track record of trying to keep faith in his premier players, he will likely to continue to stand behind Carson for now.

“That’s not the case in my mind,” Carroll said about Carson’s problems leading to more work for Penny. “The opportunity to play and to contribute is always there in that spot in particular. Our offensive lineman knocked the ball out of his hands on the first one. The other one, it was a communication problem. It’s a little different than the guy just dropping the ball all over the place.”

In fact, the errors of note came after Penny had already provided his highlights for the day. So it is not a clear-cut case of the turnover problems leading to additional playing time for Penny, as Carroll indicated.  Earlier in the game, though, it seemed that Penny’s speed and explosion were better suited to challenge the Philadelphia run defense. Also, it is conceivable that the Eagles had also not prepared much for Penny, as in the previous game before a bye, he appeared to be a complete afterthought.

In a major Monday night matchup with the 49ers, Penny carried just twice and lost a fumble. So it was somewhat surprising to see him resurface in the following game. But as previously noted, Carroll has an approach of trying to bolster the confidence of many of his players when it seems they might be enduring hard times. He customarily exhibits much patience with his proven or high potential players.

 

The Future May Be Shared

So while Penny may continue to see an increased workload for now, Carson is not going to be relegated to a heavily diminished role. In fact, when covering a Seahawks home game last November in Week 13 against San Francisco, I believed I was seeing the future of the backfield at the time. The two RBs complemented each other ideally. Carson rushed for 69 yards on 13 carries, and Penny rushed for 65 yards on just seven attempts, including a 20-yard TD run.

I would expect more carries per game from each player if this sort of scenario becomes the norm, as that was a 27-point Seattle victory that did not mirror typical game flow. But it displayed how Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer would have ideally liked to utilize the two RBs, and you have to believe the approach may still be in mind a year later.

In the postgame locker room that day, Carson told me he embraced the idea of a dual rushing attack.

“You can’t prepare for just one back,” Carson. “When one guy gets tired, the next guy goes in and you don’t lose a beat.”

Carson’s physical, banging approach works well in tune with Penny’s more explosive and open field style, Penny added.

“I feed off of him. He’ll get the defense tired and then all I have to do is run by them,” Penny said. “It’s just about getting me on the perimeter and in space to make plays.”

Having two effective RBs that can attack the defense with distinctive skill sets would give the Seahawks advantages from pure football perspectives. Defenses have to constantly adjust to the two styles of runners, and Seattle could keep both guys fresh if the approach works out.

That would appear to be where this RB situation may be headed, but it’s also hard to have too much fantasy faith in Penny after just one impressive outing. There are also still lingering concerns about his pass blocking and durability. He should be treated as a fantasy RB4 for now, and should not be started yet at such an important time of year until he builds more on his Week 13 performance.

Plus, Carson has shown too much in the past two seasons to lose a heavy amount of reps. You should still treat him as a fantasy RB2 type, and it would not be surprising to see him bounce back quickly to his better form, either.

This situation will continue to play out on the field on Monday night against Minnesota. Carroll and Schottenheimer probably want a timeshare scenario to continue to evolve. If it does not, Carson could conceivably regain the bulk of the workload in short order. It’s on Penny to force a split workload, and we’ll have to wait and see if he is capable of earning more consistent touches.

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