Everyone’s going gaga over the resurgent rushing performance of Thomas Rawls and the offensive line in Seattle’s 26-6 win over Detroit. But the proof will be in Atlanta.
As expected, the Seahawks are headed there for a rematch with Dan Quinn’s Falcons and a chance to redeem their 2012 playoff loss. To do it, they will have to run the ball as well as they did against the Lions — when the linemen seemingly channeled former All-Pro Steve Hutchinson after he raised the 12 flag.
Yeah, the Hawks beat Atlanta 26-24 in Week 6 without a running game (Christine Michael led an attack that garnered just 76 yards). But they wouldn’t have won without Earl Thomas, who had a stellar game despite the defense’s breakdowns in the third quarter.
Thomas won’t be around to help combat Matt Ryan’s prolific offense this time, which is where the running game comes in: Seattle needs to play keepaway.
The Seahawks’ offensive linemen reportedly increased their focus last week and came out four hours before game time to get on the same page. On top of that, the Seahawks ran out of the I-formation much more than usual, using Marcel Reece as the lead blocker. The result: 177 yards, the second most of the season behind the 240 (including a 75-yarder by Tyler Lockett) in a 40-7 win over Carolina.
The question is: Can they do it again?
One factor they were missing in the Week 6 game was a healthy Russell Wilson. He was hobbling around on a sprained knee and ankle — no factor in the running attack. But he is healthy now — able to put pressure on defenses if necessary. In the playoff loss in Atlanta to end the 2012 season, Wilson ran for 60 yards (while throwing for 385), so he knows how to run in the Georgia Dome.
Chancellor and Sherman have bad memories of the Dome from that 2012 game, which ended when the Seattle defense gave up the game-deciding drive in the final 30 seconds.
There are bad memories from the earlier game this season as well. The Hawks’ secondary got burned several times when they tried to match up Sherman with Julio Jones and the Falcons’ scheme beat them. Sherman blew up on his team after the first one, but the scheme messed up the defense a couple of other times as well. Hopefully Kris Richard learned from that and won’t have Sherman shadow Jones again.
The Hawks also figure to be healthier overall this time. Kam Chancellor and Frank Clark missed the first meeting and Michael Bennett left in the third quarter with a knee injury that ended up costing him five games. So, while the Hawks certainly will miss Thomas over the top, they might be able to get enough pressure on Ryan to make up for it.
But it will help immensely if Rawls and the line can repeat what they just did against Detroit.
Some other thoughts from the win over the Lions:
The Hawks’ passing game has so many possibilities even with Lockett out. Paul Richardson channeled Lockett, wearing a towel with his number, with the best game of his career. He showed he is a great third WR option, and the Hawks also have some great options with their tight ends and Reece. They ran a great play vs. Detroit in which they lined up to run it and then split all of their tight ends and Reece wide to create mismatches. Wilson hit Jimmy Graham for a first down. The injury to Reece will be worth monitoring.
In Super Bowl XLIX, a frustrated Doug Baldwin pretended to poop out the football after scoring. So his butt catch on the last TD drive vs. Detroit seemed pretty apropos with that history in mind. Then he hilariously stole a TD catch from Jermaine Kearse — a move that made you wonder if even Baldwin was sick of Kearse getting so many red zone targets. But Baldwin looked like he was going to cry about it after the game, saying he ran the wrong route and felt terrible for stealing the TD from Kearse. Dude, Kearse has had the great fortune of being on the receiving end of two of the most perfect winning throws in Seahawks playoff history; he has gotten his share of postseason touchdowns. Don’t cry for him.
Devin Hester arrived to a bit of hype last week, displacing Richard Sherman as punt returner. Then he proceeded to do his best Sherman imitation, just fair-catching everything. The fact was not lost on Sherman, who joked about it in his usual serious and unfunny way after the game.