I wanted to write this article shortly after the game against the Bears in which Marshawn Lynch had broken the record for most consecutive games with a touchdown, once held by Shaun Alexander. As luck would have it, I couldn't get around to it until after the Week 16 game against the Niners in which Lynch ended both their streak of zero rushing touchdowns allowed this season, and games without a 100-yard rusher dating back to 2009.
I say it was luck because I now have a specific play to reference when making my point about Lynch's value to this football team. We know Marshawn is a free agent after this season and we know he will be paid a good contract to be part of the foundation, hopefully of a championship run in Seattle.
Let's be honest though, if we were going off the first five weeks of the season, Marshawn hadn't done too much. It wasn't until the Dallas game in Week 9 that I saw marked improvement in his game. In my opinion, until that game he seemed slow and too indecisive to make plays at his position, particularly in the compressed space of the redzone.
However, in the Dallas game, outside of the good blocking and consistently starting plays properly for the o-line, Lynch looked more aggressive and asserted his will to push the pile when he had to. I don't have the exact number, but I bet after that performance he logged very few negative runs and at least 5 more runs of 3-4 yards per game when the blocking wasn't anything more than OK.
It's come out recently that Lynch and Cable sat down at about that time and decided to make a change, and Danny mentioned this yesterday as well.
Tom Cable said, "We made a deal - you have to do it the way I tell you to do it, I ask you to do it. And he's done it. So a lot of credit, to me, goes to him because he was willing to kind of maybe push his ego or push own beliefs, to some extent, aside and then embrace something new.
Because this is a system that asks backs to do things a certain way. Once you get in and through the line of scrimmage, then do your thing. You can do all the craziness you want then. But you've got to do it this way from A to B. And he bought in from A to B. And after that, what you do from C on is you."
This is the difference we're seeing. From that same article, his lead back Michael Robinson had this to say:
"Marshawn never misses a one-read, he's always right on the mark. He definitely makes you want to block for him. There are some guys you just don't know. But with Marshawn, he makes you want to block for him and you take pride in blocking for him."
Since midseason or so, after committing to the Seahawks' desired style of running, this is what Lynch has done:
DAL - 23 rushes for 135 yards and a TD
BAL - 32 rushes for 109 yards and a TD
STL - 27 rushes for 88 yards and a TD
WAS - 24 rushes for 111 yards. Reception TD.
PHI - 22 rushes for 148 yards and 2 TD.
STL - 23 rushes for 115 yards and a TD.
CHI - 20 rushes for 42 yards and 2 TD.
SF - 21 rushes for 107 yards and a TD.
ARI - 19 rushes for 86 yards.
This change in philosophy has allowed another skill we all knew existed to surface and become a big part of Lynch's rushing success. Tackle breaking isn't a skill to learn. It's an art, that's rare, whether it's with Lynch's raw power or LeSean McCoy's shiftiness, and only a few backs in any given decade have this skill. It's what makes Lynch so special once he gets to C, as Tom Cable puts it, above.
It made me think about all the best runners in the league - touchdowns also aren't easy, even in the redzone, but the ability to break tackles or win a one-on-one matchup is so important to the overall touchdowns stat. It's part of the reason Lynch scored a TD in 11 straight games this season.
This skill alone in my view, the ability to break tackles in one-on-one situations makes him a must have for any team looking for a franchise guy. If you want to score touchdowns and have consistently good runs of four to five yards, you need a tackle breaker to get that done week in and week out, not a speed back in Chris Johnson, or guy who needs a patch of space to get started like an Arian Foster. A true tackle breaker will cause defenses problems and cause good defenders to hesitate just enough to help their blocking as well.
All it takes is half a step of indecision versus a full step of commitment by the running back to turn a well defended play into a 20 yard gain.
The evidence? Check out Lynch's touchdown run against the 49ers. Lynch makes his move right away, running to the corner away from the Niners' strength. However, he has to break a tackle in order to score that TD; Leon Washington, despite all his shiftiness and speed, isn't making that play and neither is Justin Forsett, but then, neither are Julius Jones or Maurice Morris going to make that kind of play either. Shaun Alexander built a career on those one-on-one battles, haunting safeties, corners, and linebackers and I see Lynch winning those same types of matchups, -though with a truly more violent approach-, it's still giving similar results.
I'm sure a lot of people are of the view that re-signing Lynch is a must, but some are of the view that we've seen what happens with guys like Shaun, Chris Johnson, or Larry Johnson. Runners who get paid tend to falter. Well, in at least Shaun and Larry's cases, their o-lines were old and needed replacing; three of the five linemen that helped Shaun achieve his MVP season were retired or gone after his second season in the new contract. I know that KC lost it's coaching staff and two of it's Pro Bowl linemen moved on, from what I remember. I don't know much about Chris Johnson's situation, but I never really liked him as a running back. Speed is great, but it didn't seem like he had much agility or other things to make that speed even matter at times and though he had a 2000 yard season he was often making his yards on 3-4 runs a game. When I watched Chris Johnson, other than that time he ran over Brian Russell's "roll over and he won't kill you" attempt at a tackle, he didn't seem to break many tackles in space or around the line of scrimmage.
When you look at Lynch's case, he's young and his o-line is young, with loads of upside. It's the perfect combo to do a deal like this.
Some will also look at the contact and ask about durability. It's certainly a reasonable concern, but I think to equate him with a guy, for example, like Marion Barber, is a bit much. Marion wrestled the starting role away from Julius Jones in Dallas because he made aggressive decisions and played through contact. He faded with a bunch of lingering issues that started to take away his ability to last even more than about ten carries a game. Everything was a battle for Barber, he resists everything, including logic. Typically one of the common things you'd see Barber do is stand stiff, tall and exposed in a gang tackle and sometimes he'd knock himself free, but at a price apparently.
This is not how Lynch runs even though the styles seem similar.
If you watch Marshawn this year, he plays lower in a crowd. Often rolling his shoulders forward to make himself a bit smaller. In one-on-one cases, this is less necessary. This is probably a result of Pete's coaching after the Saints game last year where Marshawn had fumbled twice. Pete said this on Brock at Salk the day after the game. "That's one of those things where Marshawn has just gotta go with the contact instead of resisting or fighting it in that situation."
He's more careful about picking his fights and plays contact much better than he ever has before in college or in the pros, it's much more selective violence, but it's still violence and it has a very real chance to set records. So what kind of deal would I do? Five years at about 5.5 to 6 million per year. I think he provides that much value and the end of his contract could be structured in such a way that he would play for incentives.
I think we've seen that decisive strong running types like Willis McGahee and Ricky Williams are still effective enough to make some key plays for their teams despite not being the top guys, instead, playing specialty roles on 3rd downs and short yardages. I'd personally love to see Lynch finish his career here with some notches on his belt that say superbowl and just a few memorable plays bigger than Beast Quake.