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Seahawks Grades: Thomas Rawls, Alex Collins and the run game vs 49ers

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Is Alex Collins the answer to reviving the running game in the playoffs?

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

With the Seattle Seahawks offense struggling all season to run the ball, one would think that the regular season finale against the NFL’s worst rush defense would be a great way for them to get back on track for the playoffs, right? Wrong. Really, really wrong.

The San Francisco 49ers have allowed a league-worst 4.8 yards per rush attempt, a league-worst 166 yards per game, a league-worst 25 rushing TDs, and a league-worst 22 runs of 20+ yards. So how did Seattle fair against the lowly 49ers?

  • 24 attempts
  • 87 yards
  • 3.6 yards per attempt
  • 1 touchdown
  • Long of 26 yards.

Not what you would expect to see heading into the game. If you only include the running backs, there were 17 attempts for 71 yards for 4.2 yards per attempt. Thomas Rawls had eight carries for 14 yards and a long of seven. So on his other seven runs, he only averaged one yard per carry. Luckily, Alex Collins picked it up in the second half and had seven carries for 55 yards.

Day and night considering back in week three, Christine Michael had 106 yards and two TDs and the entire team ran for 127 yards against the 49ers. So what was the difference? A Niners team that still had some fight in them for their coach and GM that were getting fired? Or was it a continued lack of consistency across the entire offensive line, tight ends, and running backs? I’d say a little bit of both.


This week in Seahawks Grades we’re going to do it a little differently, rather than look at a single players performance, we’ll take a look at all 24 running plays and see what stands out and see why the running game failed so badly.

Here’s the play chart of every run.

Now for a closer look at a handful of plays that stood out.

Play 4: Rawls left guard for 4 yards

The run goes to the opposite side of the blitz on the right corner. The entire line gets decent push and washes the DL to the left. Germain Ifedi works to the second level but the misses the linebacker who ends up tripping Rawls up for the tackle. Rawls looks good here, being decisive as soon as he sees a hole and makes a good cut to hit it. Four yards running into an eight man box is a win.

Play 8: Rawls left guard for 1 yard - Touchdown

So far this season, the jumbo goal line package with Rees Odhiambo in as an extra lineman has not been successful. Here they run to the left of the line and they get good push which they haven’t done all year at the goal line. Odhiambo makes a great block and then Marcel Reece comes in and gets a great lead block on the linebacker. Luke Willson also gets a decent block.

Play 12: Collins right guard for 26 yards

As great as Collins looked, this play isn’t necessarily him. He was a benefactor of the line finally making all their blocks and the right play call against the defense. None the less, Collins makes a good cut and hits the hole hard and surprisingly shows some strength, making it difficult for the defensive backs to bring him down, all while covering the ball. Kudos to Paul Richardson for hustling down trying to get a block on the safety.

Play 14: Collins up the middle for 4 yards

Go watch play 12 again and key on Luke Willson. On that play he has a decent wham block after failing on a wham block in play 8. Here, he fails again, which has happened way too many times throughout the season, especially for a guy in his fourth year. The other thing to watch is Ifedi. He has a stalemate with the defensive tackle as he wasn’t low enough. Watch though how he doesn’t just plant to anchor which can lead to him being bulled over, instead he keeps moving his feet trying to drive the defender even though he doesn’t have leverage.

Play 15: Collins up the middle for 17 yards

When the offense comes out and lines up with a twins or trey look with all the receivers with very wide splits to the boundary, its almost a run every time. It’s a great way to spread the defense out, and if executed right, gives the running back 5+ yards before the secondary can get to him. Darrell Bevell calls these kind of run plays several times a game. These formations with the read option are very effective.

Two things on this play. First is Mark Glowinski, who actually picks up the defensive tackle from the opposite side stunting over which opens the hole for Collins. Second, is Collins patience on the play. Watch how he approaches the line of scrimmage, waits for the blocks to be set up and then explodes through the hole.

Summary:

The Seahawks running game was not good last Saturday. The play calling wasn’t an issue but there were one or two times that Russell Wilson should have audibled rather than running into a loaded box. No one player played great, or played terrible. It seemed as though everyone had their chance to mess up. Overall as a unit (line, running backs, tight ends) I’d give them a C-. Opportunities were there, they just weren’t cohesive as a unit.

Take Aways:

  1. Thomas Rawls doesn’t look quite like himself, and I don’t think it’s injuries that are holding him back. The best way to describe it, is in comparison to how Wilson gets when he sees phantom pressure and bails out of good pockets too early because the offensive line has been terrible. In the same way, Rawls isn’t trusting his blocks, and you can’t blame him for it after he routinely gets hit in the backfield immediately after taking the hand off. There were a few times when he was tackled at the line after running into a pile, I though he could have made a jump cut and had a good run that we’ve seen him make before. This brings us to Alex Collins.
  2. Alex Collins right now looks like the best back to run behind the offensive line. He has shown great patience waiting for blocks and made some great cuts. Fortunately he hasn’t had the bad experience behind the line that Rawls has, which allows him to trust his blocks. Also, the 10+ pounds that he’s lost since the beginning of the year has done wonders for his burst, agility and even his strength. Nothing against Rawls as I love the guy, but I’m hoping Collins gets 8-10 carries against the Lions.
  3. Willson remains to be underwhelming as a blocker, especially in space and on the move. He doesn’t have the strength to be a solid in-line blocker so he’s repeatedly used as an H-back, with wham blocks to seal off backside defensive ends. More times than not he fails on these blocks. After all this time with Tom Cable, his technique is still terrible. He did have another touchdown, his second of the year on a great play call by Bevell and a better throw by Wilson.
  4. To continue on Willson, here’s his stats for the year: 15 receptions, 129 yards for 8.6 yards per reception and two touchdowns. For his career over four years, he’s averaged 19 receptions, 244 yards for 12.8 yards per reception and two touchdowns. There’s been a lot of talk on if the Seahawks will try to re-sign him. I say that they won’t. That kind of production (along with underwhelming blocking) is not what John Schneider pays for. Willson might get a contract anywhere from $3-5M a year, but I’d be very surprised if Schneider brings him back unless it’s for much less.
  5. While we’re talking about tight ends, Jimmy Graham is still underrated as a blocker. He had several good blocks again, which is happening every week.
  6. With how difficult the zone blocking scheme can be, I think next year they need utilize some power blocking. They don’t need to abandon the ZBS, but big, strong and athletic lineman would be more suited to the power scheme where they can overmatch their opponent. Where with the ZBS, Alex Gibbs said he can turn a garbage man into a guard. So if you don’t need special athletes for the ZBS, why not use a scheme to maximize their athleticism. To highlight this, Germain Ifedi (and George Fant at times) are so quick and athletic, they sometimes immediately over step their assignment on zone blocks, allowing defenders to shoot the gap. They used some power blocking last year when Rawls was lighting it up, in between the tackles, maybe they’ll use it in high leverage games, like maybe, the playoffs?! Just a thought.
  7. Marcel Reece needs to be brought back next year. He’s been great in his limited snaps, very versatile and great blocker and receiver!
  8. Glenn Dorsey for the 49ers was impressive to watch. He’s 6’1”, 297 lbs and routinely clogged up the middle. He moved across the defensive line and held his ground against double teams and was a big reason why the running game had issues.