The Seattle Seahawks (8-3-1) defeated the Carolina Panthers. The Arizona Cardinals (5-6-1) defeated the Washington Redskins. The Los Angeles Rams (4-8) announced a contract extension for coach Jeff Fischer and were rewarded by a shellacking from the New England Patriots, 26-10. The San Francisco 49ers (1-11) lost to the Chicago Bears.
The Rawls Royce and The Popemobile
No position on the Seahawks was of greater concern and uncertainty than that of running back, where a string of injuries cost the offense its versatility. The backfield carnage started with CJ Prosise’s wrist injury and was followed by Russell Wilson’s ankle, Thomas Rawl’s leg, Wilson’s knee, Prosise’s shoulder, Troymaine Pope’s ankle, and then, momentarily on Sunday, Rawls in the concussion protocol. Finally, on Sunday, the offense played its first game with both Wilson and Rawls at full strength since week 14 of the 2015 season. What resulted was a running explosion of 240 yards, the strongest performance of the season and a rebound from a season-low 33 yards only a month prior. This dramatic improvement has hardly been formulaic. Against the Patriots and the Eagles, Prosise was the leading rusher. Against the Buccaneers, it was Wilson. Against the Panthers, it was Rawls. This running game is not only resurfacing but is no longer built for one specific person or one specific philosophy. It wants lots of weapons with lots of options and the personnel is there, if these guys can stay on the field.
Prosise’s and Wilson’s performances almost feel like slow motion juxtaposed to the eye-popping displays of instinct and speed from Rawls.
The offense is 2nd and two near the fifty yard line. Russell Wilson (3) audibles the play, instructing fullback Will Tukuafu (46) to the high side of the field. [On the high side, wide receiver Tanner McEvoy (19) is outside with tight end Brandon Williams (86) inside. Underneath Williams is left tackle George Fant (74) and left guard Mark Glowinski (63)]. When Tukuafu moves, Carolina linebackers Thomas Davis Sr (58) and AJ Klein (56) adjust high as well. At the snap, McEvoy heads upfield while William’s takes out defensive lineman Shaq Thompson (54) and Fant fails to drive back defensive lineman Kony Ealy (94). The space between Williams and Fant should allow for Tukuafu to plow in there and take out Klein, which–in theory–should spring Rawls; however, while these steps do happen, the result is more a wall than a running lane.
Recognizing the breakdown, Rawls cuts inside with a step so quick it almost looks like a cheat code in a video game. Davis attempts to square up on Rawls but finds himself stood up by center Justin Britt (68). Rawls makes another quick cut, this time between Glowinski and Britt, effectively running away from defensive end Wes Horton (96). Lastly, Rawls attempts to make another out-cut on Daryl Worley (26), but upon realizing the angle isn’t there, Rawls transforms into a human missile. Driving himself straight into Worley, he booms his way for a few extra yards.
Returning to action only two weeks removed from a high ankle sprain, Pope was given eight carries and showed some of his potential on a run for 18 yards.
The three offensive lineman to pay attention to here are beneath center Britt. They are Germain Ifedi (76), Bradley Sowell (78) and Rees Odhiambo (70). At the snap, Ifedi does a solid job on Kyle Love (77), while Sowell and Odhiambo team up on Ryan Delaire (91), a combination block that pushes Delaire so far down field it’s like he was put on ice skates. Odhiambo comes off the chip block on Delaire to obstruct Klein, who is threatening from the outside. In-between this, a tiny lane emerges for Pope to snake through. At 5’10” and with a running style that allows him to get speed while practically remaining in a squat, Pope’s physique proves to be too tricky for the defenders, none of whom can get beneath his pad level without putting themselves off-balance in the process.
Assuming Rawls and Pope can stay healthy, in addition to having Wilson as a running option, this trio of undersized rushers might just be the most dangerous backfield in the NFL.
And he runs away from guys too!
In Earl, We Trust
I was waiting for a signature play from Earl Thomas before showcasing him this year, but since his season is over, let’s take a look into what could’ve been an interception in the second quarter. [I dislike choosing plays where all the major players are not visible simultaneously, but Thomas didn’t get a play like that on Sunday. In the image below, Thomas is barely off screen, above and beyond Kam Chancellor (33)]. After the game, Thomas informed Richard Sherman that he had made a read on this play. So what did he see and why did he see it?
Don’t get upset at your tablet. This is not an animated gif.
Thomas (29) surveyed the field to decide what his role would be on this play. To his outside left was cornerback Richard Sherman (25), who had coverage on wide receiver Philly Brown (10). Thomas ignored this receiver because A) Brown was way over there and B) Richard Sherman. To the outside right of Thomas, wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr (19) was covered by cornerback DeShawn Shead (35). Thomas needed to be conscious of this matchup, as he may have needed to retreat if this was a deep pass along the sideline or attach himself to Ginn Jr if the receiver came across the field. Still, Thomas was probably not too worried. Shead could handle this assignment. In the backfield was running back Jonathan Stewart (28) and tight end Ed Dickson (84). Both were in the position to run and/or block or exit the backfield as a receiving threat. In particular, Thomas needed to worry that Ginn Jr would run up field, dragging DeShawn Shead with him. This would open up a space between Shead and the defensive line that Stewart or Dickson could operate in. If they got upfield, Thomas might be the first tackler they encounter. The last concern for Thomas was Greg Olsen (88), lined up in the slot and who wasn’t covered up by a defender. Thomas knew Chancellor would take Olsen high and KJ Wright (50) would take him low. Lastly, Thomas was likely aware that neither linebackers Mike Morgan (57), Bobby Wagner (54) or Wright would bring pressure and would be available to cover underneath should Stewart or Dickson attack there.
Thomas concluded that the defense had enough overlap to cover the portions of the field that could be attacked, giving him some freedom to ad-lib should the opportunity arise.
At the snap, Thomas saw Stewart and Dickson remaining in the pocket to pass protect, meaning there would be no dump-off receiver. Quarterback Cam Newton (1) attempted to look-off Thomas by staring down Ginn Jr on his initial read but Thomas was not fooled. When Newton bailed on Ginn Jr for Olsen, Thomas took off to intercept the pass before Cam could even wind up to throw it. Up to this point, Thomas had read the field perfectly, anticipating the actions of all the major players. What Thomas could not know was that Olsen had beaten Chancellor on his seam route. Chancellor was not running step-for-step with Olsen but was beneath him, in a position to make a play on the ball. Chancellor and Thomas were now on a collision course. When Newton under threw the pass, they both sharpened their trajectory to the ball and then collided into each other like outfielders tracking a hit in baseball.
Get well and come back next year, ET. The greatest defense of this decade needs you.
Some Spring Cleaning
If a narrative is shaping to 2016, it’s how the Seahawks are ditching all their baggage. With victories against the Atlanta Falcons, the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers, the team has about put any past playoff losses behind them. In the next two weeks, they’ll have another opportunity to clean the slate against the Green Bay Packers and the Los Angeles Rams. Both teams dished out losses to Seattle in 2015 and two of them (only the first Rams loss) were part of a series of stinging defeats where the Seahawks could not hold a fourth-quarter lead. At Lambeau, the Hawks will meet a flailing yet somewhat resuscitated Packers. With Sunday projected to be 33 degrees and snowy, it’s the perfect opportunity to get a cold weather game under their belts and to bank a big road victory, a nice confidence booster to a unit who is 2-3-1 when traveling. Defeating the Los Angeles Rams the following week would be a massive psychological victory for the Hawks. The Rams are reeling and are 1-7 over their last eight games, yet they are 4-1 against the Seahawks over their last five. If there was ever a time to dispatch these guys, it’s a Thursday night home game.
Assuming the Seahawks can clean house with the Packers and the Rams, then the only final puzzle piece in a season of redemption and rebirth is a Super Bowl victory, a needed triumph to wipe away 2014 and cement this generation of Seahawks as one of the greatest squads in NFL history.
Thanks for reading!
In case you missed it…
Week 1, On One Leg | Week 2, The Spread Will Save the Seahawks, Exactly Like It Did Last Year | Week 3, Could Trevone Boykin Be The Future? With Doug Baldwin, He Might. | Week 4, Kam Chancellor’s Modified Role Improves Entire LoB, Takes Defense to New Level | Discombobulated But Still Dangerous, The Cardinals Lie Ahead – Seahawks Bye Week Special | Week 6, Seahawks Defense Comes Up Strong, Team Passes First Test | Week 7, Defense Wins Championships But This Vanilla Offense Needs An Attitude | Week 8, As Injuries Mount, Seahawks Still Poised For A Super Bowl Run | Week 9, The Hawks Deal Blows To The AFC East, Real Test Comes This Sunday | Week 10, Bam Bam Kam Is Prosise-ly What The Hawks Need, Finally Time To Put The Hurt On The NFC | Week 11, Seahawks Dash Eagles Playoff Aspirations, Red Hot November Continues | Week 12, Seahawks’ Offense Was Outgunned and Outcoached, Did Buccaneers Call Psychic Hotline?