For those of us who have been saying that Thomas Rawls is a significantly better running back than Christine Michael, we’re going to get our opportunity to either see if we were right or if the difference is minimal. (This is not debatable: The Rawls that we saw before his broken ankle last season is on another planet from Michael. Maybe that will prove to not be true anymore, maybe the injuries have transported him from planet “RUNNINGBACK-713 Q” back to Earth, but the guy from a year ago absolutely deserved to be first in line ahead of Michael and most other NFL running backs.)
Head coach Pete Carroll noted that Rawls is finally at 100-percent and that he practiced all week, meaning he’ll be let loose with zero restrictions against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday night. Courtesy of ESPN’s Sheil Kapadia:
"He’ll get the ball quite a bit in this ballgame, and we will not restrict him at all," Carroll said. "He’s ready to go, and we’ll see how it goes."
Since returning two weeks ago, Rawls has 26 carries for 95 yards, an average of 3.65 yards per carry, plus three catches for 31 yards. But as Samuel Gold pointed out this week, he played better against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers than his 38 yards would indicate. As Sheil points out, the Seahawks gained 57 yards on nine runs out of shotgun formation and Russell Wilson was at the top of his running game, gaining 80 on the ground including 30 on two zone read plays.
What sort of competition will Rawls face?
The Panthers are great against the run, ranking fifth by DVOA. They then face the Green Bay Packers (seventh), Arizona Cardinals (11th), LA Rams (10th), and San Francisco 49ers (30th). So other than the final game, at which point Rawls may be on the bench in favor of Troymaine Pope because there’s a greater-than-95 percent chance Seattle will have clinched the NFC West by then, Rawls basically couldn’t be facing a schedule more consistently-good against the run. That’s sort of where he needs to separate himself from the average running backs like Michael and not only gain more than what his offensive line gives him, but take away more than these defenses usually allow.
The player we saw last season can do that, as he gained 169 yards against a Cincinnati Bengals defense that was ranked eighth in DVOA against the run. Can he pull out another big game and pick up where he left off before breaking his ankle against the Baltimore Ravens almost one year ago? Carolina will be without linebacker Luke Kuechly, defensive end Mario Addison, and safety Kurt Coleman, so the Seahawks will get their shots and it sounds like they’ll be taking a lot of them on the ground.