The earth is beginning to tremble again at Century Link Field. Six years ago, Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch scored a touchdown known as “Beast Quake”. Seattle fans cheered so loudly, the seismic activity beneath the stadium actually registered as an earthquake on the Richter scale. Nine playoff wins, 2 Super Bowl appearances, and 1 NFL Championship later, fans are beginning to feel shockwaves again. The reason for the excitement is emerging star running back Thomas Rawls, whom some have dubbed “Baby Beast Mode”.
Fantastic Beasts: Comparing the Rushing Attacks of Seattle Seahawks Running Backs Thomas Rawls and Marshawn Lynch
Even though the Seahawks’ season ended with a disappointing loss to a much improved Atlanta Falcons team, 12th man fans have many reasons to be optimistic about the future. A couple strong offensive linemen may be all the team needs to propel them once again to Super Bowl glory. A dominant rushing attack, combined with suffocating defensive play, proved to be the winning formula three years ago. Now, the young Rawls may be the spark Seattle needs to replace the incomparable Marshawn Lynch.
Although no one can match Lynch’s enormous stature, Rawls bears a striking similarity in his strength and style of play. Like his predecessor, Rawls prefers to lower his shoulder, charge straight up the gut, and dare the defense to stop him. Rawls knows the quickest distance between two points is a straight line. He dislikes dilly-dallying with hesitation moves and sweeps towards the sidelines. He spends less time trying to fake out defenders, and more time trying to run over them.
Mutual Friends Both On and Off the Playing Field
For the first time since his injury last season, Rawls was successful in this endeavor in the Hawks’ impressive playoff victory over the Detroit Lions last Saturday. Rawls gained 161 yards on 27 carries, breaking Lynch’s franchise record for most yards in a playoff game.
After the game, Rawls spoke about his relationship with “Beast Mode.” “I still look up to him,” Rawls said. “I remember back when I was younger watching him. I’m just so grateful to be part of this organization. I’m just a kid from Flint [Michigan] with a lot of heart and toughness, and I want to go as far as I can.” Lynch is both a friend and mentor to Rawls, and it shows on the playing field.
The X’s and O’s of “Pizza Theory”
The staple of both players’ rushing strategy are draw plays straight up the middle. In particular, the Seahawks like to use a play called “iso lead”, where the fullback “leads” the tailback in an attempt to “isolate” defenders and clear a path. This play begins in “I formation”, so named because the tailback lines up directly behind the fullback and quarterback, thus “dotting the i”, so to speak. This strategy combines a zone blocking scheme for the offensive linemen, with a man-to-man assignment for the fullback.
The coaches and players call this “Pizza Theory.” The idea is, “If you take my slice of pizza, I will take yours”. If the linebacker penetrates from the left, the tailback will rush right while the fullback blocks the incoming defender.
Helping Hands: The Role of Fullbacks
Recently, the Seahawks signed fullback Marcel Reece to replace injured fullback Will Tukuafu, who also blocked for Rawls last season. Pro Bowl fullback Michael Robinson had the honor of paving the way for Lynch on their way to their Super Bowl victory in the 2013-14 season. Following their victory over the Lions, quarterback Russell Wilson awarded Reece the game ball for his assistance in Rawls’ record-breaking performance.
In a league that is increasingly pass-first, the Seahawks are one of the few teams that utilize a fullback in their rushing game. The primary reason is that this traditional strategy perfectly suits the running styles of both Rawls, and previously Lynch. Attempts to bypass the defensive front by rushing towards the sidelines are rarely successful with the speed of professional linebackers.
Plagued by injury, youthful Rawls has not yet been able to fully develop his phenomenal talent. Next year, he will have the help of injured rookie running back C.J. Prosise, as well as backup running back Alex Collins. The likely addition of new offensive linemen to the roster will also bolster the Seahawks running game.
With all of these returns and additions, Rawls may well have his first full breakout performance next season. The prospect of lifting the Lombardi Trophy like his childhood role model also remains a distinct possibility.