PITTSBURGH -- A lot has to go right for the 2-4 Seattle Seahawks to keep their sinking season afloat while quarterback Russell Wilson recovers from his finger injury.
They need their embattled defense to play like it did in the second half of Sunday night's 23-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers -- only with much more from their pass rush than the lone hit they managed against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger -- to avoid shootouts they're not equipped to win with Geno Smith at quarterback.
They need Smith to excel as a game manager and avoid the killer turnovers like his lost fumble in overtime at Heinz Field. And they need a strong running game to make life easier on their backup quarterback.
Smith's performance (23-of-32 for 209 yards) was the type of mixed bag you'd expect from a good QB2 who's familiar with the system but made two starts since 2014 prior to Sunday night. He led four scoring drives in the second half to help rally Seattle from a 14-0 deficit. He misfired on a few throws, took at least one bad sack and got stripped in overtime to set up Pittsburgh's game-winning field goal.
"It kills him because Geno knew these were extraordinary opportunities for him," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "And he wants to come through and show that he can do it and play and all that. And it kills him that he wasn't able to finish it. But I thought he played tough as hell. And he was clear and calm and poised, exactly like you'd hope he would be. And this game was not too big for him at all. He was right there."
Smith's lone touchdown -- a pitch-and-catch throw to tight end Will Dissly in the flat at the goal line -- typified a predominantly underneath Seattle passing game against Pittsburgh. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Smith's throws traveled an average of 3.25 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, the Seahawks' lowest mark in any regular-season or playoff game under Carroll.
As for the decisive fumble, Smith noted he had both hands on the ball as he scrambled up the middle. But it was exposed enough for T.J. Watt to knock it out before Smith could tuck it away.
He mixed regret and resolve while putting the loss on his shoulders. Smith indirectly took the blame for his fourth-quarter interception that ended Seattle's comeback bid against the Los Angeles Rams last week, even though receiver Tyler Lockett either fell down or got tripped up before Smith's throw arrived.
"We can't keep coming up short," Smith said. "I can't keep coming up short. I put that on myself. Back-to-back weeks, our defense gives us a chance to go out there and score, gives me the ball, and we don't get it done. That's solely on me and I vow to be better."
Carroll all but vowed to hammer the run to help Smith out like he did in the second half against Pittsburgh.
After slogging their way through five punts, 65 yards of offense and no points over the first two quarters, the Seahawks came to life on the opening drive of the third by riding running back Alex Collins to the tune of eight carries for 58 yards and a touchdown.
Starting for the second straight week in place of an injured Chris Carson, Collins gained 101 yards on 20 carries before exiting in the fourth quarter, banged up by a pair of hard hits.
"I knew what we needed to do in this game and we needed to be really balanced, run the football and take the pressure off of Geno having stand back there and drop back and throw the ball against a wicked pass-rush," Carroll told 710 ESPN Seattle on his weekly radio show. "It didn't show up [early] and we didn't get it done. Situations called for to try to battle for the next first down and all of that. We just didn't get it accomplished, and then we did. And you saw us.
"That's how we needed to play. That's how we need to play for the next couple weeks and on into the season. Really, that's how we played when we were at our best for years. And there's a lot of people that gripe and complain about running the football and all that. But you saw, we scored 20 points in the second half ... We did it by controlling the football, which was the strength of our team."
Collins became the first Seahawk to rush for 100 yards or more in a game since Carson had 133 in Week 15 in 2019. But Collins' status for Seattle's Monday night game against the New Orleans Saints is up in the air.
Collins got up slowly after he was taken down on a 16-yard run in the fourth quarter that was negated by a penalty. He carried twice for minus-2 yards on the next series but didn't get another touch, giving way to running backs DeeJay Dallas (who finished with nine touches for 50 yards) and Travis Homer (three for 54) for the remainder of the game.
The Seahawks won't know about Collins' status for the Saints game until later in the week. Carson (neck) has to miss at least two more games -- New Orleans and Nov. 1 vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars -- before he can return off injured reserve. The same goes for Wilson.
Carroll said running back Rashaad Penny (calf) is returning off IR this week. It'll be up to some combination of Collins, Penny, Dallas and Homer to mount a running game Smith and Seattle's offense can lean on.