Right as I was getting ready to leave for my niece's first birthday party this afternoon, I heard the news that Marshawn Lynch would be a late scratch. In the past, this would have caused me to fret muchly but instead, my immediate reaction was:
Marshawn out. Rawls' time. I'm ready.— Jacson (@JacsonBevens) November 22, 2015
Or, at least, I thought I was ready. I had expectations that Thomas Rawls would step in and provide 80-90% of Marshawn's production, as he's shown himself capable of that so far this season. What I didn't expect was the second highest single-game rushing performance in Seahawks history (209, trailing only Shaun Alexander) or 255 yards from scrimmage, the 32nd highest total by a running back in NFL history.
Thomas Rawls, runner. Thomas Rawls, receiver. Thomas Rawls, hammer. Thomas Rawls, punisher. Thomas Rawls, undrafted free agent. Today's game marked just the fourth time he's received at least 16 carries in a game and the third time he's rushed for over 100 yards. Marshawn Lynch has never had 160 rushing yards in a single game, Rawls has done it in each of his last two starts. In those two games, Rawls has amassed a staggering 424 yards from scrimmage; the most Marshawn Lynch has ever had in back-to-back games is 316. On the season, Rawls now has an amazing 604 rushing yards on 101 carries which, at the time of this writing, was the 12th most in the NFL, despite ranking 32nd in carries. Lynch, by contrast, has 417 yards on 111 carries.
Now I'm not saying this to disparage Lynch in any way, as he has been an absolute blessing to (and personification of) this franchise and will reign in our hearts and Valhalla forevermore. Rather, I mention it to illuminate just how hard Rawls is balling out and to show that for the first time ever, Seattle has a clear contingency plan for Marshawn. It is hard to overstate just how important having a guy like Rawls is. Assuming that what we're seeing in him isn't a fluke*, he not only provides a clear recipient of Lynch's torch for when that ever-nearing precipice finally arrives but gives Seattle a ton of capital in doing so.
*It might be, but his 169 yards in Cincinnati came against a team that allows ~90 rushing yards per game otherwise and his 255 today came against a 49ers team that entered the game 10th in the NFL in opponents' yards per carry
Having someone that can produce 200 yards from scrimmage in a game is a decidedly rare thing, no matter what system you're in. Combining that productive ability with dependable blocking, receiving, and stamina (33 touches today) gives you one of those endangered three-down backs without sacrificing the physical attitude they've gotten from Lynch the last few seasons. Beyond that, he comes at the type of penny store discount ($440k this year, $530k next year ) that gives Seattle much needed cap flexibility.
If this is Lynch's last season in Seattle, and each missed game makes that possibility more real, replacing him with Rawls saves the team ~$11 million in cap space at the position (not counting mitigation dependent on how he leaves). He's the player we were all hoping Christine Michael would be but at an an even greater bargain. Furthermore, if Rawls is that guy, that's at least one draft pick saved next year, and who knows how high that pick on the "next" RB would be. Look, it's all conjecture at this point -- we don't know if Rawls is capable of handling an NFL-sized workload every week, for example -- but it would be a disservice to the performance we saw today if we didn't take a minute to appreciate what it might mean.
You'll forgive me for not spending much time on game flow, as the outcome was never in serious doubt. Russell Wilson had his best game in a long time, maybe since last year. He completed 24 of 29 passes (a career-best 82.8%) for 260 yards, three touchdowns, and no turnovers. His first TD pass to Tyler Lockett was his finest throw in a month. He looked calmer in the pocket than I can remember and threw with an accuracy of old.
He was judicious with his running, not forcing anything but taking what was there when the opportunity presented itself to the tune of 33 yards on six keepers (not including kneels). His passer rating of 138.5 was the third highest of his career and his best single game mark since the Monday night game vs New Orleans in 2013. He was marvelous today which was even nicer to see than normal, as he was coming off his worst game of the season.
The prime beneficiary of Wilson's performance was Seattle's other rookie star performer, the aforementioned Tyler Lockett. That first touchdown was just further evidence of some things we've always known about him- that he's a threat to score from long distance and that he only needs a sliver of space in order to separate. His second teeder, however, showed us a facet of his game we've never seen before- the ability to drive it home, to get through three defenders in three yards. Tyler Lockett is the type of player that could make tacklers miss in an elevator but to see him lower his adorable little head and power into the endzone was inspiring.
Four catches on five targets for 48 yards and two TDs for the "return specialist" Seattle reached for in the draft. Lockett now has 25 catches on 33 targets for 308 yards and 3 TDs. That means Russell Wilson, when targeting Lockett, has a passer efficiency of 121.8. His ceiling just keeps inching higher. Fun note: all four Seahawks touchdowns were scored by rookies.
Doug Baldwin had another nice game, as he was the only Seahawk to really shine on offense last week. Baldwin was targeted a team-high six times, catching all of them for 60 yards. He has been as steady as you could possibly hope a receiver to be. Jimmy Graham was only thrown to thrice, but he not only caught every target, he turned all three into first downs.
Collectively, Seattle was 8 of 13 on non-kneeling third downs, a previously-unseen efficiency that allowed the offense to stay on the field long enough to rack up 508 yards- yards that were split just about as evenly as you possibly could: 253 passing, 255 rushing. If you're the type to hound Bevell after bad games, you got no choice but to give it up for this one. 250/250 games are incredibly rare, regardless of opponent.
Ultimately, none of our jaws would be agape at these numbers if it weren't for the performance of the offensive line. I'm no savant at breaking down individual blocking responsibilities as they're happening, but it was easy to see how well this group worked in unison (penalties not withstanding) today. Rawls was obviously fantastic but he was also given the luxury of gaining some momentum before contact, as his squad of brutes held their blocks long enough for him to blow by. The heavy lean that a productive run game provides put the Niners' out of sorts when Seattle passed and, much like we saw when these teams played a few weeks ago, Seattle effectively moved the pocket to give Wilson time. One of the best games we've seen from this unit and hopefully, it's a performance that's repeatable against good teams.
I thought the Seahawks looked great in their base defense today, generating pressure, eliminating the run game, and consistently playing downhill. Then for some reason they switched to the softest prevent defense you'll ever see for a while, then switched back and resumed dominating. Now, all of this comes with the obvious Blaine Gabbert / 49ers caveats, but the fact is that Seattle's defense did what we expected them to do against San Francisco's beleaguered offense, with the exception of that weird stretch in the middle where they played like they were allergic to gold helmets.
In all, the Seahawks defense held San Fran to a wormy 306 yards, almost all of which came on a three-drive stretch between the end of the second quarter and beginning of the third. The 49ers managed just 59 yards on the ground and only ran 52 plays overall. Seattle didn't force any turnovers but the weird anti-turnover-differential sample size keeps growing and it didn't hurt them in this one. To that end, however, the Seahawks did drop like five more interceptions today, bringing their season total to 147.
Cliff Avril continues to storm castles like a got dang dragon. Two more sacks for Seattle's 2015 defensive MVP.
Seattle has now gone 7-1 against the 49ers in their last eight meetings, outscoring them 196-78. That's a rough average final score of 25-10 and even that is closer than the games have seemed. Personally, I hope they get good again. Was more fun that way.
Elsewhere in the NFC, the cards fell overwhelmingly in Seattle's favor for the second straight week. The Falcons, who represent the easiest team in the playoff picture to reel in, blew a 14-point lead at home to the Matt Hasselbeck-led Colts and lost 24-21. The Falcons are now 6-4 after a scorching start and are only one game ahead of Seattle. In Minnesota, the Vikings lost to the Packers, as they fell to 7-3 and out of first place in the NFC North. The Vikes will be an easier team to catch than Green Bay, as GB holds the tie-break over Seattle and the 'Hawks still have Minnesota on their schedule. The Bears lost to the Brock Osweilers, falling to 4-6 in the process while the Eagles laid a rancid egg in front of their home crowd, falling to the Buccaneers by four touchdowns and joined Chicago at 4-6. The Rams were also unable to hang onto a two-score lead against Joe Flacco and a bunch of janitors and fell into the 4-6 morass with Chicago, Philly, and New Orleans. Tampa Bay was the only team that Seattle's jockeying with to win, and sit tied with the 'Hawks at 5-5, one game out of the #6 seed.
All of a sudden, it looks real doable again doesn't it? Such is the ever-transforming week-to-week reality of the NFL. Next up are the Pittsburgh Steelers, who will be Seattle's third straight opponent that is coming off their bye week. A mostly healthy Ben Roethlisberger presents the latest in a series of tests against top-tier quarterbacks. Seattle's gonna have to pass one of those exams if today's victory is going to mean anything. In the meantime, onward and upward.
The cigar of choice was on old favorite of mine, the Gurkha Evil- an indulgent and appropriately-named stick for today's opponent. As always, the best place to get them is at www.Famous-Smoke.com. Cheers!