SEATTLE – It was the most obvious question in the aftermath of Thomas Rawls and the Seattle Seahawks running their way to another playoff victory.
Where has that kind of a run game been hiding for most of the season?
“I really had a sense it was going to happen,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said wryly after the Seahawks’ 26-6 win over Detroit on Saturday night. “No, I didn’t. But I’m telling you, that’s the game we’ve been looking for.”
Nothing has been more inconsistent for Seattle than its run game. Hampered by injuries, blocking issues and plain ineffectiveness, the belief was if the Seahawks were going to make a run in the playoffs it would be because of Russell Wilson’s arm and the passing game.
There was no evidence the kind of performance Saturday night was about to happen. In the final three games of the regular season, Seattle averaged 79 yards per game rushing, 2.9 yards per carry. That included a lackluster 87 yards in the regular-season finale against San Francisco, the worst rush defense in the NFL.
So what changed against the Lions to where Rawls got 27 carries and set a franchise playoff record with 161 yards rushing?
“Nothing magic,” Seattle right tackle Garry Gilliam said. “It was the same scheme that we’ve run all year. It was the same people running the same plays. It was a matter of locking in.”
For Rawls, that meant getting a significant dose of carries early on. In the final six games of the regular season, Rawls had more than 15 carries once. Rawls had 15 carries for 107 yards by halftime against the Lions. The dominance on the ground also gave Seattle a major advantage in time of possession, holding the ball for more than 36 minutes.
“We just haven’t been able to get him enough opportunities,” Carroll said. “You can see what happened, as soon as he gets going, and he gets feeling it, and he looks exactly like the guy that we saw last year. He just had a hard time getting rolling, for a number of whatever reasons, it doesn’t matter now.”
For Seattle’s offensive line, that meant more straight ahead blocking and pushing around of a Detroit defensive front that finished the regular season 18th at stopping the run.
“I’m really fired up for the guys up front,” Carroll said. “They had a lot of garbage come their way, a lot of talk about them, and they’re really pumped up about what they did.”
Whether Seattle can sustain that kind of success on the ground will be crucial against Atlanta. The Seahawks have just one playoff victory under Carroll when they rushed for less than 100 yards. And in that victory – last year’s wild-card win at frigid Minnesota – the Seahawks finished with 97 yards on the ground.
The Seahawks had just 72 yards rushing in the Week 6 win over the Falcons. Rawls was a spectator that day while still recovering from a fracture in his leg and Wilson was limited to being a pocket passer dealing with a sprained MCL in his left knee. Christine Michael, now with Green Bay, was Seattle’s leading rusher with 64 yards on 18 carries, but 21 of those yards came on one carry. His other 17 rushes netted an average of 2.5 yards per attempt.
Stopping the run has not been one of the Falcons’ strengths. Atlanta allowed at least 100 yards rushing in five of its last six games to finish off the regular season. And Seattle knows what the formula of getting the run game established does for the rest of the offense.
“It opens up everything for us,” wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. “I’ve told you guys before that everything runs through our run game. When Thomas Rawls is doing that, they can’t help but put another safety in the box, and then that gives us one-on-one matchups on the outside.”
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