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Seattle’s unsung hero in Seahawks-Lions: Luke Willson’s blocking

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NFL: NFC Wild Card-Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks running game revival on Saturday night against the Detroit Lions can’t be pinned to just one thing. There was vast improvement by the offensive line which, while they still leaked pressure occasionally, mostly dominated a rather toothless Lions defensive front. Then there was Thomas Rawls, who looked as fresh and explosive as he has since the Week 13 victory over the Carolina Panthers. And then there was the usage of Luke Willson, who saw the second most single-game snaps of his season, and was dominant as a blocker in the run game.

Willson’s 44 snaps - 60-percent of the offense’s time on the field - led Seahawks tight ends, marking the first time since Week 3 that he’s out-snapped Jimmy Graham. But both he and Graham had terrific games at the line of scrimmage. Willson helped spring some of Rawls’ best runs of the night, and Graham was no slouch himself, creating great push on Rawls’ touchdown.

It was something we haven’t much of yet this season, but consistently asking Willson to help out on the edge, or trap block, led to big gainers - he was on the field for runs of 9, 12, 14, and 26 yards - as well as steady four and five yard gains.

To start the second quarter, Rawls takes a handoff out of the I-formation, and with a quick cut near the line of scrimmage takes it up the middle for 12 yards. Willson lines up on the right side of the formation and seals his man out of the play.

The very next play, Willson comes across the formation on a counter, delivering a perfect trap block to spring Rawls for nine yards - a run that was dangerously close to being a whole lot more.

Not to be restricted to just great blocks near the line of scrimmage, Willson saved some of his best work for one of Rawls’ longest runs of the night. A solid combo block from the tight end helps to take out both defensive end Ezekiel Ansah at the line and cornerback Nevin Lawson at the second level as Rawls rumbles for 26 yards.

Against such a paltry defense - Detroit finished 32nd in defensive DVOA - an uptick in production for both the run and pass game should’ve been expected. But Willson and the running game’s performance was more than just taking advantage of a weak opponent.

It was an admission of a weakness to some degree. Similar to the 2013 NFC Championship game - when then-rookie tackle Alvin Bailey repeatedly came in as an eligible receiver to stay in and block against a dominant 49ers run defense - Tom Cable and the offense made a concerted effort to scheme help towards the offensive line, and it payed off. Whether it was Willson, Graham or fullback Marcel Reece - as well as a healthier than before Russell Wilson - the offense tipped the numbers in their favor on each and every running down.

Ironically, Marshawn Lynch’s game against San Francisco that night is up there with Rawls’ performance against the Lions as two of the best in Seattle’s playoff history. And if the Seahawks are to hang with the Falcons in Atlanta this coming Saturday, the running game is going to need another Beast Mode-like effort from the entire unit.