The official word came out today that Marshawn Lynch and Brandon Mebane will miss the game against Detroit due to injury. That would normally be reason for Seahawks fans to worry. Not this time. Seattle has a favorable matchup, is playing at home, and gets a chance to see if two young players can build on terrific performances from a week ago.
Julius Jones flashback
The last time the Seahawks played an entire game without Marshawn Lynch was October 23rd, 2011 in Cleveland. He was probable heading into that game, but could not get his back to loosen up and wound up sitting out. The last time the Seahawks went into a game knowing Lynch would not play was a year earlier in St. Louis, before he was acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Bills.
Seattle entered that 2010 season with Julius Jones and Justin Forsett at running back. Neither player possessed the power Pete Carroll was looking for, and Jones was cut after the Lynch trade.
Enter Thomas Rawls
Rawls was arguably the best player on the field last week as he rushed for over 100 yards on just 16 carries. The way the rookie handled himself was nearly as impressive as his bruising runs and powerful cuts. Lynch was active, but was unable to get loose early. He eventually entered the game, but then was injured and left again.
All that meant Rawls entered the game without knowing how much he would be used. That can throw plenty of players. He handled it like a pro. More than that, he attacked the opportunity with all he had. It was easily the most inspired individual performance of the young season for Seattle.
The 5’9″ dynamo will enter the game against the Lions averaging over 6 YPC (6.1). He looked more like a “get the yards that are there” type of runner in the preseason. Robert Turbin was the perfect example of that kind of back. He looked far more like a “get more yards than are there,” back against the Bears.
He showed terrific vision—finding holes at least two gaps over—and dynamic cutting ability to reach those holes efficiently. There was no wasted motion, and it is hard to remember a run where he did not maximize every inch, except one where he stumbled in the open field and fell down. Even that run was already 10+ yards.
Nobody knows what Lynch will choose to do after this season. Nobody knows whether these injuries he is battling will plague him all year. Seattle could not have picked a better two-game stretch between Chicago and Detroit at home to learn what they have in Rawls. The bright lights of Monday Night Football, combined with the anticipation that he will be the starter, will be a new test for Rawls.
Expect the team to give veteran Fred Jackson ample reps, and possibly a snap or two from Derrick Coleman at halfback if needed.
Nose tackle swap
A lesser national story, but almost as important Seahawks story, will be how the team fares without Brandon Mebane at nose tackle. The veteran went down against the Bears and youngster Jordan Hill stepped in to play a great game.
Hill had two tackles for loss in a surprising performance against the run. That has long been a weak spot in his game, while being a plus interior pass rusher in the nickel. I still remember watching him in 1v1 drills during Senior Bowl practices getting pushed to the ground repeatedly by stronger lineman. I watched it again during the same drills in training camp. That translated into almost exclusively a nickel pass rush role as the team tried to put him in the best position to succeed.
He rewarded them with 5.5 sacks over the final 6 games of last season, but was still a liability when teams chose to run against the Seahawks nickel package. Hill was the worst-rated run defender on the team last season, per PFF.
Given the chance to play nose tackle last week against the Bears, Hill showed a different side to his game. On the season, he now ranks 3rd in the NFL in DT/NT run stop percentage. That stat—one unique to PFF—tracks the percentage of plays an interior defender makes a tackle for loss on a running play. Jaye Howard leads the NFL at 31.9%, which is unheard of. Damon Harrison led the NFL in the stat last season with a 12.5% stop rate. Brandon Williams of the Ravens is second in the NFL this year at a 20.7% stop rate.
Hill checks is next with a 15.6% stop rate so far. That is five stops in 32 run snaps. Most of those came against the Bears. Here’s where things get even more interesting.
Hill also leads the NFL in pass rush productivity for interior lineman. He has created pressure on 12.2% of his pass rush snaps. That’s better than Geno Atkins (9.5), Aaron Donald (9.3), Gerald McCoy (7.5) and Marcell Dareus (7.4), to name a few.
This could be Hill’s chance to establish himself as more than a role player. If he can truly be a solid run defender, coupled with his clear pass rushing potential, he could find himself starting down the line.