The Seahawks’ rushing attack has been absent, and an injured Russell Wilson hasn't been able to bail the offense out. Which means the return of Rawls, out with a leg injury, could be essential for any kind of postseason run.
He is not a household name, famous face or anything close to a star.
His resume doesn’t pop like some of his celebrity teammates’, and it’s tough to say if it ever will.
He is Thomas Rawls, the second-year running back who has been sidelined since breaking his fibula in Week 2. And for the Seahawks, he might be the difference between failure and success.
[Updated 2:51 p.m.: In his Monday news conference, coach Pete Carroll said Rawls could return next week before Seahawks face Bills on “Monday Night Football.”]
Perhaps it seems odd reading about a player who has been injured for a month and isn’t scheduled to return for at least a couple weeks. It’s just that, over these past few games, the Seahawks’ absent rushing attack has been particularly glaring.
And given quarterback Russell Wilson’s health, which clearly is impacting his play, the passing game isn’t able to bail the offense out on command. Which means Rawls returning to last year’s form could be essential for any kind of postseason run.
This isn’t an overreaction to a rough Sunday night, by the way. This is recognizing that Seattle has failed to score a touchdown in two games this season. And if the Seahawks had not found the end zone in the final minute vs. Miami, it would be three games. That isn’t a rough patch — that’s a genuine problem.
Some might squawk, “But what about Weeks 3 through 5, when the Seahawks scored a combined 90 points?!” Well, two of those games were against bottom-seven defenses (San Francisco and Atlanta) and the other was against the Jets, who have the NFL’s sixth-worst pass defense.
“OK, but what about that San Francisco game, when Christine Michael had 106 yards on 20 carries?” Sorry, but at 185.1 yards allowed per game, the 49ers have the league’s worst rushing defense … by more than 45 yards per game.
Silly as it might seem for a team sitting at 4-1-1, the Seahawks haven’t proven much offensively this year. And given how bad the 49ers have been, it’s hard to say there’s been a truly impressive rushing performance.
Does this fall squarely on Michael? No. Seattle’s offensive line is the lowest paid in the league, and there have been plenty of times this year that’s been obvious. But it does suggest that Rawls’ success last year wasn’t merely the result of the Seahawks’ system — it was because he was really good.
Filling in for an injured Marshawn Lynch, Rawls led the league in yards per carry at a whopping 5.6. He had four games with more than 100 yards and two with at least 169.
He didn’t appear to be a fluke. There wasn’t evidence suggesting opponents were on the verge of figuring him out. Before he broke his ankle against Baltimore, he had racked up 44 yards on six carries.
Having said that, he did struggle in his first two games this season, logging just 25 yards on 19 carries before suffering a hairline fracture in his shin vs. the Rams. But that was a pretty small sample size, and given how he didn’t play in the preseason, he might have just been shaking off rust. So now the question is whether Rawls can rediscover that rookie brilliance at any point this season, because if he doesn’t, the Seahawks’ offense might be out of luck.
The truth is, Wilson just doesn’t look right. His mobility is limited, which means he can’t offset inferior blocking with his elusiveness. And if the running game isn’t established, opposing defenses can zero in on him even more. Remember that historic five-game stretch Wilson had last year? Well, Rawls averaged more than 100 yards rushing through the first four, and the game he missed was against the lowly Browns. The Seahawks need to run the ball well for Russell to excel, and right now they aren’t.
Fortunately, all they need is a little boost.
Seattle’s defense is so good that the offense just has to be is serviceable. As much anticipation as there was around Wilson after his 2015 season, he doesn’t have to put up monster numbers for his team to contend for a championship.
If Rawls comes back healthy and makes Seattle a middle-of-the-road running team (as opposed to 27th in the league, where it is now), that should provide just enough points for the defense to protect. But if he doesn’t, it’s hard to imagine the running game suddenly improving, which would make it hard to imagine this team playing in February.
In the meantime, the Seahawks will try to make do with the players they have. But the difference between being good and great might come down to a player they get back.