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Tom Cable changed the Seahawks’ run formula to power Thomas Rawls’s big day

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Seattle mixed in traditional power and isolation concepts with its usual zone scheme

Wild Card Round - Detroit Lions v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

For the Detroit Lions, the season is over. There is no tomorrow. The Seattle Seahawks, however, do get a tomorrow. They also get a next week—Saturday at the Atlanta Falcons to be specific. The Seahawks earned a tomorrow because they advanced in the playoffs, but you can’t spell tomorrow without T-O-M.

Two guys named Tom had a lot to do with Seattle’s advancement Saturday night. One of them, Thomas Rawls, rushed for 161 yards on 27 carries, both season highs that signal not only the explosive form Rawls showed as a rookie but also a level of endurance not seen in any of Rawls’s efforts so far this season. Rawls had 100 yards in the first half against the Carolina Panthers last month, true, but he only carried the ball three times in the second half of that game after yet another injury scare.

The consistency we saw from Rawls Saturday was as impressive as the big plays, and probably more important going forward in the postseason.

Speaking of going forward, Rawls was also assisted by the performance of Seattle’s offensive line, which displayed a unity and drive off the ball that had also been missing most of the season. Yes, the Lions have an abysmal defense and struggled to stop the run all year, but whereas Rawls had been frequently facing negative yards before contact in the regular season, Detroit’s defensive line only managed to stop the runner for no gain or a loss four times in Saturday’s game. The Seahawks group created more push and moved with a coordination they haven’t shown much this season, and that allowed Seattle to remain invested in running the ball to finish the game.

Part of that was the matchup, but several observers also noticed something different about the line’s tactics beyond the results.

Everyone knows Tom Cable is a disciple of the zone blocking system developed by Alex Gibbs and implemented by the Denver Broncos in the 1990s and Atlanta Falcons in the early 2000s, where Cable was an assistant with Gibbs when Atlanta had the highest-volume rushing attack in NFL history in 2006. The characteristics are lateral movements by the linemen, rather than traditional forward push or complicated pulls or blocking stunts, and subtle reads by the runner. Marshawn Lynch famously had trouble reading the holes early in his Seahawks career, before Cable instructed him to run with more patience.

Cable has said the same thing about Rawls in 2016, but with elimination now on the line apparently Cable was willing to alter this scheme for the Seahawks offense, at least for one week. It seemed to suit the talent on the line and make quick cuts easier for Rawls.

Ray Roberts, who played tackle for both Seattle and Detroit in the ’90s, indicated the Seahawks have experimented with this mix earlier in the season, but it seemed to surprise most people who noticed the shift, including the Tacoma News-Tribune’s Gregg Bell who said fellow reporter Dave Boling alerted him to the difference. But Bell also described Pete Carroll as evasive about the topic.

“We didn’t do anything different tonight,” Carroll told Bell. “I know you think we changed the whole game plan and we changed schemes and everything; we didn’t. We just did really well tonight, and guys were on it.”

Bell portrayed the dissimulation as if Carroll was trying to keep the adjustment a secret, but that seems silly since obviously the Atlanta Falcons will watch the coaches tape. Either way, it will be interested to see if the maneuver was specific to the Lions matchup or something that can continue to propel the offense in the divisional round and, perhaps, even deeper in the playoffs.