2015 Seahawks Re-Watch, Week 11: My Name is Thomas Rawls
At 4-5, the Seahawks had once again fallen below .500, for remarkably the third time of the season. With it came the typical second-half-of-the-season nomenclature, such as how every game was a, “must-win,” and it very nearly was. In a weak NFC, the Seahawks still had a pathway to the playoffs, but the opportunities to avoid a 7-9, 8-8, 9-7 season—the void where a team felt neither good or bad—were narrowing. Their “backs up against the wall,” it was time to respond, but what the Hawks and their fans wanted was more than a response. It was something more than wins all together. They wanted the hyper-confident, fun-loving, trash-talking tsunami of personality and charisma and talent that propelled the team to two straight Super Bowl appearances. It was long time for the Hawks to be reborn, and 2015 was on the line if they could not.
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Thomas Rawl’s stat line against the San Francisco 49ers was a scene stealer by itself—30 carries for 209 rushing yards and two touchdowns—but the numbers only hinted at the production. Rawls, an undrafted rookie, in only his third start, went from a freight train of potential to an all-purpose, every-down back, a rarified package. Rawls was so quick to the attack point, and so decisive, that he was through the gap before the defense could even square up for a tackle. Once a defender was out of position, Rawls would turn on the power. Fighting off arm-tackles and shin grabs, he would plant his feet forward, producing meaningful yards after contact. As the game went on, he turned into a first down machine, moving the chains again and again. Hell, he even did a little read-option with Wilson.
His dominance commanded such respect, he even came to run the play-action for himself. In the fourth quarter, 49er safety Jimmie Ward crashed to the line of scrimmage to establish early position on Rawls. Ward stayed with Rawls on the snap, but Ward soon gave up, as Rawls was not given the hand-off. Rawls went slightly limp, slowing down, serving as a minor obstruction to Ward. Ward’s eyes were so stuck on the ball, he gave no notice to Rawls escaping upfield. While Rawls did this, tight end Luke Willson had also played as if he would run block, but like Rawls, he soon become disinterested, and snuck into the open field. On his third progression, Russell Wilson threw to an open Rawls. With Willson as lead-blocker, 49ers linebacker Michael Wilhoite had to slow up, giving Rawls time to secure the ball and cut inside on the over-pursing Wilhoite. Rawls took off in a straight line for the end zone, finding Willson at his front to obstruct cornerback Marcus Cromartie.
The result was a touchdown.
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Marred by poor play and harsh criticism, as Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson had been met with contact in the backfield frequently, no unit benefited from Rawls more than the offensive line. Already a unique group with a Frankenstein-like reputation, several of the starters were converts to the position. Center Drew Nowak was originally signed as a defensive tackle. Guard JR Sweezy and sixth-round draft pick Kristjan Sokoli were defensive players in college. Garry Gilliam was a tight end for part of his college career (and made one of the most momentum changing touchdown catches in Seahawks history). Having a line with a lot of potential but not necessarily a lot of experience, in many ways a collection of misfits and riffraff, 2015 was only going to see so much improvement. What the offensive line needed was for their jobs to become easier, to have to hold their blocks for less time, and Rawls was the boost the line needed, the gust of wind at their backs.
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From the opening kick-off, all three phases of the game had an urgency and tempo that this enigma of a season had yet to produce. It was no longer time to figure out how to re-become what existed in the past. The only way forward was by evolution and growth. Thomas Rawls was the best example, but the day was hardly his own. Fellow-rookie Tyler Lockett brought in two touchdowns. One was on a deep pass right into his waiting arms, to get the game to 7-0, and then Lockett hauled in a slant and fought his way—through three tacklers—to the end zone.
Even the defense changed. Defensive coordinator Kris Richard, who had endured weeks of Cary William’s poor coverages, benched the veteran. It happened after Williams gave up a thirty-six yard gain along the sidelines. As the 49ers brought two tight ends, Garrett Celek and Vance McDonald, upfield simultaneously, Williams had to decide to cover inside or out. Incorrectly, Williams chose the in, allowing McDonald to escape. Out of position, Williams obstructed Earl Thomas from his coverage on Celek. Thomas recovered, beating Williams in a race to McDonald. The next man up was DeShawn Shead, who had seen increasing levels of responsibility and playing time, and most likely earned the promotion after forcing a fumble on a kick-off only minutes earlier.
The final score was 29-13.
Previous posts in the Re-watch Series:
Week 1, The Rams…Again | Week 2, The Pack Attack | Week 3, The Good News Bears? | Week 4, Kam’s Big Comeback | Week 5, The Cincinnati Heartbreaker | Week 6, Lockette’s Great Grab | Week 7, Karper-can’t | Week 8, Sherman Shines | Week 10, The Tales of Two Halves