Seahawks fans could be waking up to a bit of coal in their stocking on Sunday with Pete Carroll confirming Thursday that three of the team's best players may be unable to play in the final (regular season) home game of the year.
Carroll characterized left tackle Russell Okung as "questionable" to play against the St. Louis Rams Sunday and cautioned that Kam Chancellor and Doug Baldwin could join Seattle's best offensive lineman on the sideline.
The most surprising news for most Seahawks fans is the inclusion of Baldwin, the hottest receiver in the NFL, on this list of walking wounded.
Baldwin, who is tied for the NFL with 13 receiving touchdowns this season, is dealing with a sore hamstring which kept him out of practice Wednesday and Thursday.
"I think so, yeah," Carroll responded optimistically when asked if Baldwin would be able to play Sunday.
"We'll find out, he's going to do a little more work [Friday]," Carroll said. "He'll go all the way to game time, but he feels very good. But we're still going to be slow to bring him back. So he'll do some stuff tomorrow, and then we'll take it all the way to game time on that."
Carroll was similarly cautiously optimistic about Okung and Chancellor.
"We're going to wait and see," Carroll said when asked Thursday about his Pro Bowl left tackle. "He couldn't do anything today. He's questionable at this point I would think, and we'll see what happens. See if we can upgrade him, or downgrade him, whatever happens, all the way to game time."
Carroll also expressed some doubt Chancellor would be able to return this week as he's still dealing with a painful tailbone injury which kept him out of practice Thursday after he went through a limited workout the day before.
"He was better yesterday, Carroll said when asked about Chancellor. "Didn't make a lot of progress today, so we'll have to wait and see. Couldn't work today."
Though the 6-8 Rams may seem like simply the latest push-over for a red-hot Seahawks squad gaining momentum as the playoffs approach, Carroll sounded wary of Jeff Fisher's bunch - which, of course, beat the Seahawks in Week One and that was without rookie Pro Bowl running back Todd Gurley.
"Well, this is a really talented team." Carroll said when asked to assess the Rams. "It's no surprise to see them play at a high level. They've played a fantastic game this past week against Tampa Bay in all phases. They can run it, they've got a terrific running game. They've got flashy, bigtime catchers, and the tight ends can catch the ball as well. They still have a really good pass rush, they have a very aggressive defense, and their special teams are loaded up. So this is a really difficult team, and we respect them as much as anybody we play."
Like a lot of coaches prior to a game, Carroll was a bit effusive in his praise of the upcoming opponent. However, the losses of Seattle's top receiver, offensive lineman and run-supporting defensive back is especially troubling against a team like St. Louis, whose strengths happen to be at cornerback, the defensive line and running the ball.
Should Baldwin be unable to play against the Rams, the Seahawks would likely feature Tyler Lockett (one of seven Seahawks named to the Pro Bowl) and perhaps elevate fellow undrafted free agent Kevin Smith into more action. Veteran Alvin Bailey would start at left tackle if Okung couldn't play. Kelcie McCray, who played well in his first NFL start last week, would again get the nod at strong safety for Chancellor.
The Seahawks have beaten the Rams 10 consecutive times at CenturyLink, though many of them have been defensive slugfests. Sunday's matchup is looking increasingly likely to be more of the same, with the Seahawks hoping the result turns out in their favor again while fighting to remain ahead of the Minnesota Vikings (who host the NY Giants Sunday night) in the chase for the fifth seed in the NFC playoff picture.