It’s been quite the couple of weeks for Pete Carroll’s running backs. The changes since last season include (but are not limited to) the retirement of Marshawn Lynch, the departure of Bryce Brown and Fred Jackson, the non-tendering and then re-signing of Christine Michael, the drafting of CJ Prosise, Alex Collins, and Zac Brooks, the recovery of Thomas Rawls from a broken ankle, the conversion of George Farmer to running back, the signing of Troymaine Pope, Brooks being released, Michael becoming the starter after Rawls broke another bone, Pope being released, Prosise being injured, Prosise returning, Rawls returning, Michael being released, Pope being re-signed, Prosise being injured again, Pope being injured, Farmer being activated ... It’s been quite a year.
The two keys though are the health of Rawls and Prosise. For now, only one of them is healthy again.
After having over 800 rushing yards in his rookie season with the Seattle Seahawks, Rawls returned from a fractured fibula to rush 14 times versus the Philadelphia Eagles in a 26-15 victory for the Seahawks in Week 11. Rawls gained 57 yards on the ground but two missed opportunities would have allowed him to gain much more. The first I blame Will Tukuafu, while the second I blame Rawls for missing the read.
Here are those plays:
Seattle runs "lead slam" to the left at 11:22 remaining in the second quarter. With fullback (46) Will Tukuafu lead blocking, Rawls follows him through the B-gap between left guard (63) Mark Glowinski and left tackle (74) George Fant. Tukuafu misses the block and Rawls gets tackled by the line of scrimmage for a minimal gain.
Another missed opportunity happened at 10:09 remaining in the second quarter. The Seahawks run off-tackle to the left. Rawls reads the end man on the line of scrimmage, then cuts inside of the left tackle based on his block.
In the second level, center (68) Justin Britt has inside leverage on the playside linebacker (95) Mychal Kendricks. This tells Rawls to cut back inside. Instead of cutting to his right Rawls cuts to the left. This is a misread that cost the team at least 10-15 yards.
As a side note, watch the backside defensive tackle (91) Fletcher Cox penetrate between the right guard and the right tackle. Clearly there is a miscommunication between (76) Germain Ifedi and (79) Gary Gilliam on who should be cut blocking the backside linebacker. Fortunately, this didn't negatively impact the play.
Outside of these two plays, Rawls mostly gained what the offensive line blocked for him. He didn't miss any other major reads, but he didn't show the same level of domination he did last year versus the Pittsburgh Steelers and the San Francisco 49ers that I broke down here or the Cincinnati Bengals that I broke here.
In the second quarter with 10:45 remaining, Seattle ran a counter to their outside zone. This play is similar to the split zone where the offensive line zone blocks to the right. Using the flow of the defensive line against them, Rawls steps up to the line and then cuts at a 90 degree angle across the formation.
Normally in a split zone, you have a pulling tight end to cut your backside defender. In this play design, however, wide receiver (16) Tyler Lockett seals the end man on the line of scrimmage and opens up the edge for Rawls to gain 18 yards.
Before this game, rookie running back C.J. Prosise* had control over the lead running back position. He needs to get healthy and stay that way to maintain control, though.
On Sunday, the Seahawks play the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay. Gerald McCoy is a dominant defensive lineman and has the speed and power to penetrate through Seattle’s running scheme. Britt has played well this season and deserves to be extended but is injured this week and Glowinski, Ifedi need to improve their interior run blocking. McCoy will be a huge test.
In a few weeks, doctors will re-evaluate Prosise’s scapula injury but he’s expected to miss the rest of the regular season. Let’s hope he returns healthy to give the Seahawks a boost going forward in case Rawls can’t firmly establish himself as the starter over the next few weeks.
*Edit: With how Prosise was running, what the coaches were saying about his progress, and how he gained first carries in the game, I made the assumption that he was the lead back going forward pre-injury even with Rawls returning to the lineup. I didn’t realize this would become such a controversial point of view. I apologize for the misinformation.