DANNY ONEIL

O’Neil’s Three Things: Rawls is back, but is the Seahawks’ offense?

Dec 6, 2016, 11:01 AM
Seattle's offense bounced back from an awful showing with a season-high 40 points and 534 yards Sun...
Seattle's offense bounced back from an awful showing with a season-high 40 points and 534 yards Sunday. (AP)
(AP)

A week after suffering what was one of their worst losses in years at Tampa Bay, the Seahawks posted what was their most dominant win since they beat Denver in the Super Bowl.

So what do you make of it? Here’s our attempt to make sense of this up-and-down team.

Three things we learned:

Thomas Rawls is back. He had already returned. Twice, in fact. First was in Week 1 when he completed his comeback from the broken ankle he suffered last season in Baltimore. Then he returned from a hairline fracture in his leg for Game 10 against Philadelphia. But he wasn’t truly back. Not until the second quarter of Sunday night’s game when Rawls ran not only with energy, but effectively. He gained 103 yards in the first half and scored two touchdowns, including one on a 45-yard run. Think his teammates noticed? “He’s arrived,” center Justin Britt said. “I feel like you kind of saw it all week in how much he’s worked and to see how his work ethic returned to being who he is, you could see that all week. It’s just a lot of fun to have him healthy and on your team.”

Cam Newton isn’t over his struggles against the Seahawks. In Newton’s first four seasons in the NFL, he finished with fewer than 150 yards passing in only five games. Two of those were games against the Seahawks. In fact, he did not throw for more than 200 yards in any of the three regular-season games he played against Seattle, all of which were in Carolina. Then came last season when the Panthers won in Seattle in Week 6. And then the playoffs, where the Panthers beat the Seahawks again, scoring 31 straight points in the first half. Well, the brick that Newton threw up on Sunday night was a reminder that he’s either a long way from Superman or the Seahawks are indeed his Kryptonite. Here are Newton’s regular-season stats vs. Seattle: 177.6 passing yards, a 52.1 completion percentage and a passer rating of 69.8. His team is 1-4 in those games. In all other regular-season games: Newton is averaging 238 passing yards, a 59.3 completion percentage and a passer rating of 88.2. His team is 48-36-1 in those games. In other words, the Seahawks seem to have his number.

Justin Britt is the key to Seattle’s offensive line. In the one game he missed, Seattle allowed a season-high six sacks against a decidedly mediocre Tampa Bay defense. He came back and the Seahawks rushed for a season-high 240 yards against a Panthers defense that ranked No. 2 against the run entering the game, having allowed fewer than 80 yards rushing per game. Now, in the interest of accuracy, it must be pointed out that Carolina was missing linebacker Luke Kuechly and safety Kurt Coleman, but it’s also clear that Britt’s return made a huge impact not just because of his play, but because of the continuity that he provided. It’s not a coincidence that rookie guard Germain Ifedi had his best game of the season once Britt returned.

Three things we’re still trying to figure out:

How will Earl Thomas’ injury impact the Seahawks? He is one of the five best football players on Seattle’s team. If Kam Chancellor is the heart of the Seahawks’ defense and Richard Sherman its spokesman, well, Thomas embodies not just the instincts but the confidence to act on them. As fast as Steven Terrell is, he’s not going to have Thomas’ range or the experience in reading opponents, but in a weird way, Thomas’ absence is going to increase the opportunities that Seattle’s defense gets. There’s a whole chunk of plays down the seams of Seattle’s defense that opponents were hesitant to attempt with Thomas at the back. Expect them to test Terrell. Carolina certainly did on the first play after Thomas’ injury. Expect to see more of that.

Is Seattle’s offense really back? That seems to be the consensus after the Seahawks rolled up 40 points on Carolina. We’re just going to disregard that five-point clunker the week before in Tampa Bay just like we forgot about the previous eggs Seattle laid this season. And maybe that’s really true this time, and the ground game that is gradually gaining steam is going to hit full stride for the final month of the season. But let’s not forget that we thought the offense was fixed when the Seahawks won three straight after their 9-3 loss in Los Angeles. And we thought it was fixed again after the Seahawks went from scoring one offensive touchdown in the span of nine quarters to winning another three in a row. So maybe we shouldn’t be so ready to pronounce the offense cured of all that ails it after beating the last-place team in the NFC South.

Is Seattle’s place-kicking situation straightened out? Making four field goals from inside of 40 yards and converting four point-after tries is not usually cause for commendation, but in Seattle this season, those PATs and chip-shot field goals have been anything but gimmes. It wasn’t just that Hauschka made the kicks, though. It’s how he made them. “The ball was elevating quick,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He spotted the ball really well.” This season has been an adventure, from errant long snaps as far back as August to the failure to convert four point-after attempts to that game-winning field-goal attempt that Hauschka yanked left in Arizona. But Sunday’s performance hinted at the possibility that maybe Seattle has come out on the other end of those struggles.

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O’Neil’s Three Things: Rawls is back, but is the Seahawks’ offense?