In each of their past two Super Bowl seasons, the Seahawks rode a top-five rushing offense into the playoffs, where they’d beast their way through the tournament (fourth-and-goal in Super Bowl XLIX notwithstanding) behind Marshawn Lynch’s 20 carries per game at more than 4.7 yards a pop.
It’s not like Seattle and its 25th-ranked run game forgot that blueprint in 2016; Pete Carroll took out Thomas Rawls insurance in the form of re-signing Christine Michael and spending three of his 10 draft picks on backs.
Injuries to Rawls and third-rounder C.J. Prosise, Michael falling out of favor and an offensive line incapable of generating movement muddled the plan during the season, forcing Russell Wilson to attempt a career-high 546 passes — easily his biggest year-to-year spike in five seasons.
Thus, it wasn’t until Saturday night, when Rawls’ Lynch-like 27-161-1 set off his own earthquake in the form of a new postseason franchise rushing record, that Seattle’s vision came into focus. With a powerful interior of Mark Glowinski and rookie Germain Ifedi flanking Justin Britt in front of him, Rawls was simply unstoppable. He showed off power, patience and explosiveness, logging more than 100 yards before intermission and forcing Detroit to stack the line at the expense of creating voids for Russell Wilson to then attack.
It’s nothing new, but it was surprisingly effective after a season wherein they oftentimes were resigned to abandon their powerful identity. It’s also the biggest advantage Seattle has headed to Atlanta, as Dan Quinn’s Falcons permitted 4.5 yards per carry and didn’t have to contend with Rawls or Prosise, the latter slated to resume practicing tomorrow, in the Week Six meeting, a controversial 26-24 Seahawks victory.
More good news for the Seahawks' offense, should it require another shootout like Week Six, is the emergence of Paul Richardson in Tyler Lockett’s absence, and presence of Jimmy Graham, who just missed 100 yards in the first meeting against a young Atlanta ‘D’ with issues defending tight ends. Moreover, it's not quite Aaron Rodgers-esque, but Wilson is up to 10 touchdowns vs. one interception over his past four games, plus he just shed his knee brace and has hinted he’s ready to further bolster Seattle’s rediscovered ground game if needed.
The bad news for the Seahawks is Atlanta, unlike Detroit, is built to attack the void left in the deep middle by Earl Thomas. The Seahawks have Richard Sherman to contend with Julio Jones in what could be the best individual matchup of the divisional round (Jones got the best of Sherman in round one, but Sherman got the benefit of a no-call that could’ve changed the outcome). Yet Matt Ryan has constructed his MVP candidacy by spreading the ball around to an array of explosive weapons, and Steven Terrell, DeShawn Shead and others have been exposed by lesser units.
The Seahawks also failed to muster a consistent pass rush Saturday despite Matthew Stafford playing behind an inexperienced O-line with two rookies and a third-string right tackle. Conversely, as strong as their line played blocking the run, the Seahawks know Vic Beasley and the crowd noise at the Georgia dome loom; falling behind could spell major trouble.
Up next: Seahawks @ Falcons, Saturday, 3:35
In Week Six, Seattle built a 17-3 halftime lead before ceding 21 unanswered in the third quarter, also known as the Ryan-to-Jones show. They'd escape, thanks largely to a Thomas pick, two big drives from Wilson and, of course, the Sherman pass interference that wasn't called on Atlanta's final play.