Last year the Seahawks made it to the second round of the playoffs, won double-digit games for the fifth straight season and continued to play excellent defense. What kept them from advancing further in the 2016 playoffs was the lack of a reliable running game. Going back to 2012, the Seahawks had a top-five running game every year except 2016, when they ranked 25th in the NFL.
So what was missing compared to years past? The popular answer is the play of the offensive line, but I would argue it was on the running backs. While the Seahawks have had a dominant running game before, they have not had a dominant offensive line. They have, however, had a dominant running back.
Marshawn Lynch averaged almost 1,400 yards per season from 2012 through 2014, and Thomas Rawls (830 yards) and Lynch (417) combined for over 1,200 yards in 2015. The success they had in the running game during those years was due to a decisive running back that hit the gap at 100 mph, not because the offensive line was blowing opposing defenses off the ball.
That is why 2016 was a different story for the Hawks’ running game. The leading rusher last season was a player that is two teams removed from the Seattle roster. Christine Michael ran for 469 yards, but he was released by the Seahawks mid-season, picked up by the Green Bay Packers and is now with the Indianapolis Colts.
This is why running back, not offensive line, is the most important storyline for the 2017 Seattle Seahawks.
The good news is that the Seahawks may have a deeper roster at running back than at any other position this year. Let’s take a look:
• Thomas Rawls. I would be tempted to name Rawls the favorite in this battle because he did have some very good games last year, including a 161-yard performance against the Detroit Lions in the first round of the playoffs. But he was thinking too much and that affected his ability to pull the trigger and make quick, decisive cuts that are a big part of Tom Cable’s running game. Look for less hesitation and more north/south running this year if Rawls is to return to the player he was in 2015.
• Eddie Lacy. Certainly the most established player in this group. A second-round draft choice out of Alabama for the Green Bay Packers in 2013, Lacy has two seasons of 1,000 yards or more and a Pro Bowl under his ever-expanding and contracting belt. That leads me to his biggest liability and why he fell out of favor with the Packers: his weight. He has earned two substantial weight-clause bonuses that were penciled into his contract when the Seahawks signed him during the offseason, so I don’t doubt that he will stay in shape. The question then becomes how quickly he picks up the offense.
• C.J. Prosise. He is my favorite but a dark horse in this race. He’s big (6 foot 2, 230 pounds), an explosive runner, has great hands and likes to lower his shoulders downfield to dispense punishment on defenders. In two games last year (against New Orleans and New England), Prosise caught and ran for over 100 yards. Because of his size and willingness to hit, he is an every-down back in my opinion. He’s an underdog because he has trouble staying healthy, though. Last year he missed part of training camp and appeared in only six games because of a variety of injuries that included a broken scapula. That’s the bone that sticks out in your back – I think. He missed the first two days of camp this year due to a tummy ache. They say the best ability is availability. Let’s hope he’ll have it.
• Alex Collins. He did not come to camp in shape last year. This worries me because you would think that being in good enough shape to get through practice would be the first thing on your workout list, but he was a rookie and sometimes rookies are dumb. I like the kid and he has great feet and churns his legs on contact.
• Chris Carson. He looks really good in practice. If I had a dime for every player that looked good in practice, I would’ve paid someone to type this article for me.
All five are legitimate contenders.
Here’s what I can tell you about playing against a team that has a punishing running game: It’s demoralizing. It’s one thing when an offense completes long pass plays to move down the field. It’s another when a team runs the ball down your throat. You feel like you’re on the wrong end of a bar brawl. It wears you down physically and psychologically. Hopefully one of these five runners can provide that for the Seahawks offense.