DK Note: I wrote this article just over a year ago, a little bit before the Seahawks were set to face off against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX. I'm proud of it, and hopefully you think it's worth a re-read.
Lynch, who incurred a $100,000 fine this season for his refusal to speak with the media (apart from defiant repetitions of "yeah" and "thanks for asking"), will surely be the center of attention in Glendale. And, maybe he should be. Lynch is a fascinating character who speaks in a charming Oakland patois and whose catchphrase "just 'bout that action, boss" was borne about one year to the day. His unforgettable chat with Deion Sanders, live on the NFL Network should, in my mind, go down as one of the best athlete interviews of all time.
In a day where cliches and coach-speak rule the day, Lynch first went "beast mode on FCC regulations" by dropping an s-bomb, then showed genuine emotion, talked about his feelings toward the media ("I ain't never seen no talking win me nothing; been like that since I was little; was raised like that"), bragged about his team ("they going to have to stop all of us. You feel me? I'm a piece to it, but we got some dogs"), referred to "Beast Mode" in the third person ("Beast Mode love, and appreciate that"), then shut it down and hasn't spoken much to the media proper in length since.
As a result, the anticipation has built. Will Lynch again refuse to speak, likely drawing a hefty fine (which he buoys by doing commercials with, say, Skittles, for instance), or will he have something to say?
Honestly? I don't care. At all.
All that stuff is filler. Ultimately, I watch the NFL because I appreciate, and revel in the talent, toughness, athleticism, power, and skill that its players possess and harness in becoming world-class at one of the most physically demanding sports on the face of the planet. I think that Marshawn Lynch embodies this ethos.
The butterfly effect
The trade that brought Marshawn Lynch to Seattle almost didn't happen.
Lynch, after running the ball prolifically at Cal, was the 12th overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft, heading to Buffalo to begin his NFL career. Despite back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons his first two years as a Bill, he soon found himself out of favor with the front office there after a series of minor off-field run-ins with the law, and became "replaceable" after Buffalo selected C.J. Spiller with the ninth overall pick in 2010.
When Pete Carroll and John Schneider took over in Seattle that year, though, the two of them became somewhat obsessed with bringing Lynch to Seattle. Schneider had, by his own admission, coveted Lynch in Green Bay as a scout there and felt comfortable trading for him based on the background work he'd done, including taking Lynch to dinner with then-fellow-Packer scout and now-GM in Oakland, Reggie McKenzie. Of course, Lynch went 12th, thwarting that plan (the Packers chose 16th that year), but Schneider would not forget his close miss.
When he teamed up with Carroll in Seattle, the first goal was to manufacture a culture of toughness, a take-you-on-in-the-parking-lot physicality and force of intimidation.
"We went after [Marshawn] for a long time," Carroll said recently, harkening back on the fateful transaction. "I just kept bugging John and bugging John.
"I mean, it was eight or nine weeks or something; we had been on it through the offseason and all of that. John probably called [Buffalo GM Buddy Nix] back ten times to get this done. There were a number of times when John would look at me and say 'Look, I just called them last week,' and I'd say, 'Oh, come on, let's try again. You never know.'
"We were very persistent about it and finally the opportunity arose for us. This is what we had hoped. We had hoped that he would be a big-timer and that we would make him fit in and feel comfortable and like his surroundings, and really contribute in a big way..."
But first? They had to get Lynch to Seattle. "I think John just wore them out," Carroll said with a laugh. "I think that he wore them down after a while."
Imagine if Carroll and Schneider had only called nine times -- and Buddy Nix, who finally relented under irritating peer pressure from Schneider, had just decided to keep Lynch in his backfield mix. Would this Seattle team be the same?
Well, let's consider that since 2010, no player in the NFL has scored more touchdowns (62) than Lynch. Only one player has more rushing yards (LeSean McCoy), and only four players have more yards from scrimmage. It was that one extra phone call that got him to Seattle.
One more attempt at badgering a peer into admitting a defeat, and eating a huge investment in offloading a first-round pick that hadn't panned out. The trade came on a Tuesday in Week 5 of the 2010 season, two days after Nix had allowed his coaches to play Lynch in a divisional game, which tells you his mind had not been made up on trading the disgruntled running back.
Four years later, Lynch has led the Seahawks to the brink of their second straight Super Bowl win.
A melding of minds
It didn't happen overnight. Lynch got off to a relatively slow start in Seattle as he went from a straight-ahead, man blocking scheme to the Seahawks' horizontal-running zone scheme.
"I think it was a few weeks into our time being here," that Lynch really hit his stride, Pete Carroll remembered recently. "He had been in more of a man blocking scheme -- powers, downhill stuff, leads, and counters, stuff like that. I don't think that there are running backs that can't adapt to that -- they just have to get accustomed to the style. I think he was molded into a terrific zone runner and he still loves to run off tackle powers and man block plays, but he's more equipped for it now, but I don't think it took him very long."
It took Lynch working with offensive line coach Tom Cable, and buying completely into what the Seahawks wanted him to do for them.
"We made a deal, " Cable recollected. "Because this is a system that asks backs to do things a certain way. Once you get in and through the line of scrimmage, then do your thing. You can do all the craziness you want then. But you've got to do it this way from A to B. And he bought in from A to B. And after that, what you do from C on is you."
Part of that trust to go all in with Cable's system was a mutual respect between two, borne from, well, a certain attitude.
"Being from Oakland, all I knew about him is he punched people," Lynch said of Cable's history as the head coach of the Raiders, a tenure which included a report that he sent assistant coach Randy Hanson to the hospital with a broken jaw. "That's my kind of person."
That philosophy translates to the football field, though, and that's what's important.
"People are enamored with spreading people out and throwing the ball 50 times a game," Cable said after the 2014 season, but for the Seahawks? "Let's do whatever we need to run it 30-plus times a game. We'd rather get you in a fist-fight than be cute. If we throw it 20 times, that's perfect. We just won a World Championship doing it."
Culture of toughness
Cable looks the part in representing Seattle's punch-you-in-the-mouth, relentless and mercilessly physical brand of football. Carroll, a surfer dude from Southern California, and John Schneider, baby-faced and gregarious, do not. Nonetheless, Carroll and Schneider set out to build a team that would not only win getting off the bus, but would "play anywhere, out in the alley, where ever. Punch us in the face, and we can take it," as Schneider put it in 2012.
The acquisition of Lynch was a huge part of this, and his assimilation into the system was the key. Once that was in place, Lynch could go out, be himself, and set the example for his teammates. It didn't take long for the whole team to take on Lynch's persona.
"I don't know if anything is more symbolic than what we've done with Marshawn and him playing the way he's played and him being the guy he is," Carroll said last week. "I think he really is the key element to putting this thing together from the attitude perspective at least."
It permeates the offense, and you see his offensive line start to feed off of him as the game goes on.
Per Pro Football Focus' tracking, Lynch broke 101 tackles in 2014, the most since PFF started tracking that metric in 2007.
"When we got here," Schneider said in 2012, "We talked about an identity, and creating an identity, and getting ourselves into a position where we were a consistent championship caliber football team. In order to do that in this league, you need to knock people around. You need to play strong, tough, smart, physical football.
"We thought, in acquiring Marshawn, that he would add that, not only on the field, but in the locker room as well and in the way he practices. He's done that, and you're always concerned about the way running backs don't hold up from a durability standpoint, but this guy - he is a seriously tough individual. He's the kind of guy that only knows one way to run, and that rubs off on the other guys, the other players here. So, he brings an identity for us."
"It rubs off on our defense."
If you doubt this, you should watch the Seahawks' sideline after choice Marshawn Lynch runs.
For example, after he busted off a big run vs. the Niners late in the season, safety Earl Thomas came over to let him know how that play made him feel.
"He's a dog -- his whole demeanor. He's a man amongst boys out there," Earl said after the game.
"Marshawn is the heart of our team," Michael Bennett emphasized on Monday. "The way he runs, he's just so tenacious that it makes a big difference on our team. The tackles that Marshawn breaks, it just makes it very special."
After Lynch's now-legendary BeastQuake 2.0 run, Richard Sherman maybe said it best: "He's really just showing the world that he's a bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, continue to say bad, man."
This is a refrain that you hear consistently from Seattle's defensive players -- that they feed off Lynch throughout the game. It's not just Beastmode's offensive cohorts that lean on him to lead the way -- it's the entire team.
This reaction to a big Lynch run vs. the Panthers in the divisional round shows you how Seattle's defensive players feed off of Lynch from the sideline. Stiff-arm, stiff-arm, broken tackle, then, stoic. His intensity is contagious.
Bobby Wagner's out on the field. Kam Chancellor is hyping, Richard Sherman is bouncing up and down. Football is a roller coaster of emotion, and any time that Lynch can get this out of players on the sideline, you know what it's doing for players on the field.
"That team thrives off the way he runs," 49ers safety Antoine Bethea told CBS' Pete Prisco last week. "You know he's a serious player when your defensive coordinator tells you before the game that it will take all 11 of you to get him down."
"Look at the Giants game"
The concept of intimidation in the NFL is a weird thing. It almost feels like it shouldn't, or couldn't exist on the highest level, but it absolutely does. These are professional athletes, the most-alpha of all alpha dogs, and yet, there are a few players that come along at any given time that can legitimately frighten these world class competitors. As former NFL quarterback Hugh Millen told The Seattle Times' Jayson Jenks for his excellent story on Lynch, there are "maybe 5 percent of players" in the NFL that "can intimidate on some level." Lynch is one of them.
"You can see it," Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse told Jenks. "I see it every time when a defender like a safety or corner sees Marshawn, they turn it down. Look at the Giants game."
"Everybody's like, ‘Where's he going to go? Am I going to have to be the one to tackle him?' " Seattle right tackle Justin Britt added. "People don't want to tackle him. They don't. Watch the Giants game."
Before I show you what these Seahawks had in mind when they tell you to turn on the Giants game, now would be a good time to point out that when Marshawn was first born, Delisa Lynch, his mother, was told that her son had absorbed the placenta of a twin brother and had been nourished by both in utero.
The midwife told her at the time to not be surprised if Marshawn turned out to be an "amazingly strong child."
Maybe it's because Lynch was born with the strength of two men, or maybe he just has more mass than a normal human being, but either one sure explains how two objects hurtling toward each other at approximately equal force can have such a one-sided result.
I mean, look at how easily he tosses Antrel Rolle (#26) aside at the end of the run. Is this a normal human? As Patrick Willis related to the San Jose Mercury News, after hitting Lynch full-bore and failing to bring him down back in 2010, "I said to myself, 'Yeah, this man, he's got something special in him.'"
Even with a one-score game in the fourth quarter, the Giants felt Lynch's presence. Veteran corner Zach Bowman (#31) makes below what players like to refer to as a "business decision" in avoiding actually trying to stop the offensive player from getting into the endzone (typically the goal of the defense). Live to play another down, I guess.
Lynch is a misunderstood artist
Lynch may be best known for his aversion to the media, which has earned him the ire of some national pundits, and his onfield alter ego, persona, state of mind -- whatever you want to call it -- known as "Beast Mode." But, because much of his legend is built around Beast Mode, he's probably perceived inaccurately nationwide.
"Beast Mode" evokes the image of a wild, undisciplined berserker that only succeeds because of a lack of fear or pain. In part, that seems apt, but if that's how you're picturing Lynch as a runner, you're off base. He's an incredibly smart, talented, nuanced, and complete football player.
As former Seahawks and Patriots linebacker Chad Brown told Dave Mahler of 950 KJR on Monday, Lynch "possesses every single running back skill: He runs with power. He runs with elusiveness. He's got great feet. He's got a great stiff-arm. He can lower his shoulder. When he gets in the open field he can smooth it out and run past you. He can pass block. He's got good ball security. He runs with the ball in the correct hand."
And that's what footwork -- lateral agility, quick feet, change of direction, balance -- when you put that together with Lynch's power, in my mind, that's what makes him an elite back.
This, was a 9-yard gain.
THIS. WAS. A. NINE. YARD. GAIN.
"He's got great lateral quickness, but his running style is the same when he's making a move or just running straight ahead," Chargers safety Eric Weddle told CBS' Pete Prisco. "It's always the same movement. It's unique in that sense. Rarely does he get his body out of whack where he can't run with power."
This first step below isn't normal. A defensive tackle has blown up the backfield and Lynch cuts on an absolute dime a half-second after taking the handoff, moving downfield quickly and explosively. This is almost Antonio Brown level foot-speed and change of direction.
"[Lynch] has extraordinary control of his ability to move his feet," Pete Carroll said glowingly earlier this year. "There are really a couple of cool runs ...where you see him hop over a guy and he's like a skier, like a slalom skier almost. He can hop out and get back on, sometimes the outside foot, sometimes his inside foot. He will hop from the same foot to the same foot, really unusual foot work that you don't see many guys have command of.
"It makes him unusually shifty and then he's a load and he's tough and he's aggressive. He has run so physically, consistently tough. It takes marvelous instincts and savvy to do what he does. He also has this ability to move laterally and to navigate through issues that very few people do."
Lynch, like his team, peaks at the right time
Pete Carroll wants his team to play better than you, for longer than you. That means they get better as the game goes on, and by the fourth quarter they're playing their best offense while choking you out on D. As Mike Tanier put it so eloquently,
The Seahawks gather momentum until they steamroll all in their path. There are many explanations for this, like their physicality and their offensive need to set up big plays by establishing rushing and option threats. The splits represent an accretion of problems for the opponent: field position getting progressively worse, tiny mistakes getting magnified by stingy defense and opportunistic offense, the Seahawks settling for field goals to mount a 12-3 lead while you desperately need to convert 3rd-and-17 for a catch-up touchdown. The chamber fills with sand, then you suffocate.
Bigger picture, the Seahawks get better as the year goes on, and by playoff time, they're rolling. Marshawn Lynch is no different. He is now one of seven players in NFL history who have rushed for more 100 yards in five or more playoff games, joining an esteemed group that includes only Terrell Davis, Emmitt Smith, John Riggins, Thurman Thomas, Marcus Allen, and Franco Harris (!!!).
According to Pro Football Focus, Lynch forced 15 missed tackles in the NFC Championship Game against the Packers and 110 of his 157 rushing yards were after contact. Those 15 missed tackles are a playoff record, beating the previous record that ... Lynch set in last year's playoff game vs. the Saints.
His demoralizing ability to break tackles and rack up postseason yards means teams will, eventually, sell out to stop him. That happened on the final play of the NFC Championship Game, when the Packers sold out and stacked the box with nine defenders. Russell Wilson checked out of the run in to a post route bomb and won the game.
"We had a run play, and you saw how many people were lined up in the box - the whole team minus me and the defender," Jermaine Kearse, the receiver that caught the game winner, said. "That shows you the impact that he has on the game. Players respect him enough to put [nine] guys in the box just to stop one player."
"Honestly, this is exactly what I had hoped for," Carroll boasted of the coup that saw Lynch come to Seattle for a fourth- and fifth-round picks. "I hoped it would turn on out like this. I hoped that he would get a new lease on life, we would get the benefit of him jumping into a situation where he was going to be appreciated and understood and utilized and I just hope that it would turn out like this now.
"I can't tell you I thought it was going to be three years of a thousand yards and ten plus touchdowns or whatever the heck it is. I didn't know that. I think the really exciting part of it is how he's responded to the opportunity. He's maxed it out and he's captured us, really our club with his leadership and his toughness and his style of play and our fans as well. So I couldn't be happier for the way it's turned out for the club and for him and he's maxed out this opportunity.
"It's been a beautiful thing."