Thomas Rawls can be the Seahawks' next Marshawn Lynch
Thomas Rawls can be Seattle’s next Marshawn Lynch, and carry the team to the Super Bowl.
If you need evidence of the kind of playmaker the second-year running back can be, look no further than the touchdown he scored in the second quarter of Sunday’s night’s blowout win over the Panthers. The intended point of attack is being shut down by the combination of Panthers DT Vernon Butler and LB Thomas Davis each beating their blockers to the gap, and Rawls is somehow able to make a hard cut and take it through traffic all the way to the end zone for a touchdown.
Seattle’s offensive line is truly horrid — the Seahawks rank last in pass-blocking grades and third-from-last in run-blocking — and for just about any other team it would be a deal-breaker as far as them achieving any kind of success. Even for the Seahawks, it’s flirting with that kind of level, and this is a team that has lived with that kind of dynamic for years now.
The team claims it’s not a deliberate attempt to short-change the line — rather a series of individual personnel decisions that just happen to have resulted in them spending less on their line than any other team in football — but conscious or otherwise, this is a team that has eschewed investment on the line in favor of dedicating resources elsewhere.
In the past the combination of quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch was enough to off-set the poor line play, and together with the defense, keep them solidly as Super Bowl contenders each year. This season, though, the line is worse, and there is no Marshawn Lynch.
When Seattle lost the Super Bowl on their final offensive play two seasons ago, what made that decision to pass rather than hand the ball off to Lynch so incredible was that Lynch that season had averaged 3.1 yards per carry after contact. He had broken 117 tackles that season, including the playoffs, by far the most we have seen over PFF’s 10 years of grading. Lynch was able to drag this team forward regardless of the blocking in front of him, which was buying him an average of just 1.6 yards per carry before contact.
This season the Seahawks backfield has been beset by injury — even moreso if you count Wilson’s nagging ankle — and they have had 13 different players carry the ball for them (nine different running backs). At one point things were so bad that they were handing the ball off to backup rookie QB Trevone Boykin at the end of the game to try and salt the win away.
The most significant injuries among the backs were those suffered to Rawls, because in his short NFL career he has shown the ability to replicate what Lynch brought to this offense, and have the same transformative effect on it — turning them from pretenders to contenders.
Injury to Lynch last season thrust then-rookie Rawls into action, and his performance was remarkable. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry while Lynch managed just 3.8. He averaged 3.1 yards per carry after contact (the same as Lynch’s incredible 2014 season) while Lynch averaged just 2.6, and Rawls broke 26 tackles on 147 carries. Only Doug Martin, Jonathan Stewart and Lynch had a higher rushing grade than Rawls last season, and two of those three were handed the ball far more often to get those grades.
The injury Rawls suffered caused the Seahawks to invest heavily in the running back position in the draft, and so far this season he has played just 155 snaps, but this week’s performance against Carolina, and to a lesser extent the week previous against Tampa Bay, showed the kind of impact he can have for the team. Sunday night, he gained 106 rushing yards and averaged 7.1 yards per carry, breaking three tackles and scoring two touchdowns.
Rawls has the kind of quick-cut ability to quickly avoid blown blocks and ad-lib on the fly — exactly the same kind of trait Lynch had before him. He doesn’t get it done in quite the same style as Lynch, who was more physically difficult to simply get to the ground, able to just break through contact and drag players for extra yardage, but he does have the same ability to avoid that initial tackle and keep on trucking.
Wilson, for the second game in a row, didn’t have his best performance on Sunday, and yet the team still hung 40 points on the Carolina Panthers in large part because Rawls was so effective on the ground.
The Seahawks still have an elite defense, and Wilson for much of this season has been exceptional, but on his own the prospect of carrying this team all the way to the Super Bowl always seemed an impossible task given the offensive line in front of him. If he gets reinforcements in the form of Rawls down the stretch — someone who can also perform despite bad blocking — then we have a different story entirely. With this defense, and both a running back and quarterback who can function independent of quality blockers, the Seahawks are very real contenders in the NFC once again.