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Originally published November 4, 2013 at 6:44 PM | Page modified November 5, 2013 at 11:06 PM

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Seahawks searching for answers in run defense

Seahawks have given up at least 200 yards rushing the past two weeks, against teams featuring rookie running backs.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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RENTON – At its best, the Seahawks defense is 11 moving parts working as one.

Just a single misstep by a player, though, can cause the whole thing to go awry.

“Everybody is tied on a string on our defense,’’ said safety Earl Thomas. “When somebody messes up, it just opens up a hole and you get gashed.’’

That’s happened with alarming frequency the past two weeks as Seattle has allowed 200 yards rushing against both the Rams (200) and the Buccaneers (205), something the Seahawks had done only once during the 2011 and 2012 seasons.

The Seahawks have won the past two weeks but that doesn’t minimize the urgency to get the problem fixed in time for Sunday’s game at Atlanta.

“We’ve got to keep working hard at it,’’ Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Monday. “And it’s a big, dedicated effort because we don’t want to go that way.’’

The task should be easier this week at Atlanta. The Falcons are last in the NFL in rushing at just more than 64 yards per game.

But then, the Rams and Bucs also ranked near the bottom in rushing entering their games against the Seahawks. And each featured rookie running backs (the Rams’ Zac Stacy and Tampa Bay’s Mike James), who each rushed for career highs as each team took the Seahawks to the wire despite being at least a two-touchdown underdog.

Thomas called it “a humbling experience’’ and took a lot of the blame, saying that as the team’s free safety he is in charge of making sure the back end of the defense is in proper spots.

“I’ve definitively got to play better to put the guys in better position to tackle better,’’ he said. “I’ve just got to do a lot of stuff better.’’

Carroll, though, said everyone shared fault.

“Unfortunately, we missed some reads on a couple of new plays that they ran,” Carroll said. “They (the Bucs) did a nice job in changing it up and we weren’t as sharp and the ball got out on us. ... We’re just off a little bit and we have not fixed it in these two weeks.’’

Carroll said he preferred to think of it more as a blip than a trend, noting that two weeks ago the Seahawks held the Arizona Cardinals to 30 yards rushing.

In fact, after that game the Seahawks ranked sixth in the NFL in run defense, allowing 91.6 yards per game, appearing to have made good on their offseason vow to improve. Now, Seattle has slipped to 19th, allowing 116.2 yards per game.

Seattle started K.J. Wright at middle linebacker and Malcolm Smith on the weak side against Arizona (and against Tennessee, as well, when the Titans rushed for 66 yards) with Bobby Wagner out with a sprained ankle. With Wagner back, Seattle has returned to its projected starting lineup of Wagner in the middle and Wright on the weak side.

Carroll said everything would be evaluated but noted, as did Thomas, that singling out any one spot as the problem is difficult.

Thomas said if there was a trend it was in facing runners willing to wait for plays to develop.

“Patient running backs,’’ he said of what the Rams and Bucs had in common. “I think when we have an impatient running back we have a lot of success because we are so aggressive. Right now, that aggressive nature, they are using it against us.’’

Carroll said center Max Unger and defensive end Red Bryant each suffered concussions against the Bucs. Because the Seahawks won’t know until at least Thursday if Unger and Bryant will be available, they will have to prepare to play without them against the Falcons.

Lemuel Jeanpierre would start in place of Unger; Michael Bennett is Bryant’s listed backup.

• Carroll said quarterback Russell Wilson “got hit pretty good’’ but isn’t expected to miss practice time this week.

• Carroll said WR Percy Harvin had a good rehab day Monday but that he is “not counting’’ on him playing against Atlanta.

• Carroll said again that tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini will likely return to practice Wednesday but that he doesn’t expect Giacomini to play this week at Atlanta. By rule, Okung can’t play until the Nov. 17 game against Minnesota.

200-yard club

Seattle has allowed 200 or more rushing yards six times in the 57 regular-season games coached by Pete Carroll since he took over in 2010. Two have come in the past two games:

YardsOpponent, date Final score
270 vs. Kansas City, Nov. 28, 2010Chiefs, 42-28
243vs. Minnesota, Nov. 4, 2012Seahawks, 30-20
239at Oakland, Oct. 31, 2010Raiders, 33-3
208at Tampa Bay, Dec. 26, 2010Buccaneers, 38-15
205vs. Tampa Bay, Nov. 3, 2013Seahawks, 27-24 (OT)
200at St. Louis, Oct. 28, 2013Seahawks, 14-9

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or On Twitter @bcondotta.

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