Marshawn Lynch injured his hamstring in Seattle’s Week 3 game versus the Bears. Since Lynch’s injury, Thomas Rawls, the undrafted rookie from Central Michigan, has performed admirably in place of the star running back. Versus the Bengals, Rawls totaled 169 rushing yards on 23 carries (7.3 ypc) and one touchdown. 169 rushing yards is actually the most yards a Seahawks’ running back has rushed for since Shaun Alexander ran for 201 yards versus the Green Bay Packers back in 2006.
To start we will look at Rawls’ first rush attempt in the game. The situation is 1st and 10 on the Seahawks’ 20 yard line. The Seahawks run off-tackle lead to the left from the “I” with 21-personnel (2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR).
Center #62 Drew Nowak and left guard #68 Justin Britt combination block nose tackle #94 Domata Peko, while fullback #40 Derrick Coleman lead blocks through the weakside B-gap. Rawls realizes that linebacker #50 AJ Hawk has filled his gap responsibility, so Rawls bounces the ball outside the pocket. Rawls outruns defensive tackle #97 Geno Atkins in the backfield and gains seven yards on the play.
The most important block was made by left tackle #75 Russell Okung who seals the edge after AJ Hawk gets taken down by the fullback at the line of scrimmage.
Later in the same drive, Rawls, on second down and 6, gains 23 yards on the ground on an inside zone run to the left. The Seahawks are in shotgun formation with 12-personnel (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR) versus the Bengals’ Cover 1 defense.
The Seahawks run inside zone with seven men on the line of scrimmage using two tight ends in the play each on opposite sides of the formation. This allows the Seahawks to dual-combination block the Bengals’ two defensive tackles #97 Geno Atkins and #94 Domata Peko.
After the snap, Rawls takes the handoff and looks to the backside-A gap between the center and the right guard. Watch as right guard #64 JR Sweezy completely turns his body away from the blocker and attempt to seal out his defender and widen the gap between himself and the center. This is on purpose.
Rawls decides not to take this hole and looks to his left working his way laterally up the left side of the formation. He decides to cut behind his second read left guard #68 Justin Britt who releases from his combination block on Atkins to seal out strongside linebacker #59 Emmanuel Lamur. Rawls hops through the hole, cuts to his left, and sheds the tackle of cornerback #24 Adam Jones for a 23 yard gain.
Even though Rawls gained 23 yards on the play, I think Rawks chose the wrong hole. After rewatching this play multiple times, he should have taken the first gap between the center and the right guard initially instead of working his way laterally left across his blockers as the hole was definitely big enough to get through and rush up the field for a first down. Additionally, by this stillframe (below) both of the edge blockers have their men sealed out of the play.
Maybe Rawls wasn’t confident in his blockers and the hole in front of him. Or maybe Rawls was actually instructed to use the first outlet only as a safety valve to set up the second gap by the left guard. Both are possible. We won’t know for sure, but by inspection it appears as if Rawls should have taken the first gap instead of cutting laterally potentially getting stopped in the backfield.
Finally, let’s take a look at Rawls’ 69 yard touchdown in the 3rd quarter that put the Seahawks up by 10 points 17-7. The Seahawks are in I-formation slot right versus the Bengals’ 4-3 Over Cover 1 with free safety #20 Reggie Nelson deep over the middle. The Seahawks run off-tackle lead to the right.
After the snap, the two Bengals’ defensive tackles attempt to run stunts, but get bullied together by the Seahawks offensive lineman powering them down the line of scrimmage. Rawls sees the mob of bodies and cuts backside. The backside defender, in this case defensive end #90 Michael Johnson (highlighted in red), is supposed to be sitting here to protect against this cutback lane. Instead, Johnson plays WAY too far outside leaving a large gap.
Why? After the snap, Johnson thinks that Russell Wilson might have kept the ball so he prepares for a naked bootleg staying far outside his lane responsibility. This is what opens the hole at the line of scrimmage for Rawls to speed right through. Just a simple mental mistake by the Bengals’ defender.
Rawls breaks into the second level and starts speeding up the field. Three defenders converge to tackle him while wide receiver #15 Jermaine Kearse is up the field to provide a body between Rawls and cornerback #24 Adam Jones. Rawls cuts outside and then back inside all within the same five yards. THIS is the single most important part of the play.
I highlighted in blue, cornerback #24 Adam Jones who widens to not allow Rawls to get to the sideline. This is actually what opens up a lane for Rawls to run through for the touchdown. If Rawls did not widen the outside defender, he would have run straight into Kearse or he would have been tackled by free safety #20 Reggie Nelson ending the play with just a 15 yard gain. Instead, Rawls angles to the sideline and shakes the safety off of his back for the long 69 yard touchdown. A beautifully executed open space run by Rawls for the touchdown.
This touchdown showed everything you want to see in your starting running back: vision, patience to set up your blocks, open space running ability to create lanes, speed, and strength to shake off tackles by the opposing team.
From all reports it looks like Marshawn Lynch will be returning to play against the Panthers. Lynch has been the workhorse running back for the Seahawks’ since 2011 finishing in the Top 5 in the league in rushing attempts each of those years averaging 295 carries per season. The emergence of Thomas Rawls gives the Seahawks more flexibility in Darrell Bevell’s offense. Rawls allows the Seahawks another option in case of injury, but as a vessel to help extend Lynch’s lifespan in the NFL by giving him a portion of his carries while trusting he can make the most out of it.
Follow Samuel Gold on Twitter: @SamuelRGold.