BY Art Thiel 08:01PM 11/22/2017

Thiel: Rawls remains a Seahawks enigma

After another running back, Mike Davis, was injured, Thomas Rawls gets another chance to to try to do what Tom Cable wants: “Don’t try so damn hard.”

RB Thomas Rawls gained five yards in four carries when the Seahawks beat the 49ers 12-9. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

If you’re a Seahawks fan contemplating a descent into wails and lamentations over the uncontrollable cruelties of pro football, keep in mind that the collective record of Seattle’s opponents through 10 games is 42-58. Yes, the injuries are burdensome, but there is no cosmic conspiracy to derail the Pete Carroll empire.

The Washington Huskies have been mocked for their cupcake schedule, but the Seahawks are the kings of baked goods. They have played three teams with winning records, and are 1-2 against them. If ever there were a petal-strewn meadow trail full of bunnies and fawns toward an NFL playoff berth, the Seahawks surely are upon it.

If, however, they lose Sunday in San Francisco to the 1-9 49ers, know then that you are standing at the gates of Mordor. Wails and lamentations would not only be proper, they would be mandatory.

Unlikely as that outcome seems — Las Vegas says the Seahawks are 6½-point favorites — the Seahawks barely beat the 49ers 12-9 at the Clink in week 2 when Seattle still had a running  game, 131 yards on 37 carries (3.5 ypg).

Rookie RB Chris Carson had 93 yards on 20 carries. But he was lost two games later with a broken ankle. Not only has nothing been the same since, nothing is the same week to week with the ground game.

Next up Sunday is Thomas Rawls, who may soon rival boxer Sugar Ray Leonard for total career comebacks.

Before the Atlanta game Monday, Rawls was putting on his pads in the Clink locker room when an assistant coach told him to stop. He was told he was being listed as a healthy inactive. The Seahawks were going with Eddie Lacy, J.D. McKissic and Mike Davis, newly promoted from the practice squad to starter. Collectively, they would gain 50 yards on 16 carries.

That, friends, is a snub.

“He didn’t take it well, and I don’t expect him to,” Carroll said Wednesday. “I want him to want to be out there in the worst way . . . I’m hoping that he will be a big factor in this game this week.”

The reason Rawls is the latest hope in Seattle’s so-far-futile effort to succeed Marshawn Lynch is only because Davis is hurt. In the third quarter Monday against Atlanta, Davis strained a groin muscle and won’t play Sunday. Rawls is the default choice, not because anyone is dazzled with his seasonal numbers — 125 yards in 49 carries, with a long of 23, and seven receptions for 74 yards.

As much as the offensive line has borne the brunt of criticism for Seattle’s woes, no one after Carson among the running backs has seen fit to take charge of the ball-packing. Through 10 games, QB Russell Wilson is the leading rusher with 376 of the team’s 1,042 rushing yards.

In the absence of any health limitations, Rawls has been an enigma. After gaining 830 yards in his rookie year of 2015 before getting hurt, in 2016 he had 349 yards before getting hurt again. He returned for the playoffs in time to run for 164 yards in the playoff win over Detroit.

But he sprained an ankle in preseason and never regained what assistant coach Tom Cable called Wednesday his groove.

What advice does Cable give Rawls?

“Don’t try so damn hard,” he said. “When guys are trying to make a statement, they overstep on the gas. Just relax and play ball.”

The over-amped Rawls misses openings, over-runs blockers and seeks out rather than avoids tacklers.

“It’s his decision-making based on what the read is,” Cable said. “If it’s the back door, it’s the back door. If it’s not, stay with the front door.

“He’s pressing so hard, it’s hard on him.”

As for Rawls himself, he tried to downplay his dismay over the demotion.

“It was a little unexpected,” Rawls said of the Monday demotion. “But we did what was best for the team. We’ll overcome it.

“Anybody would be (upset). How can you not be, when you’re putting on your pads.”

But he refused to go public with any real crankiness.

“I’m still a part of this team,” he said. “I’m definitely accountable, in this league and organization and with my teammates. Whenever my number is called, I’ll be ready.

“We all know it’s a long season, and we’re probably not where we want to be. But there’s so much brightness to the organization and the run game. We’re still progressing.”

Cable thinks Rawls, as the potential successor to the fabled Lynch, is trying to overcome his injury history with pure physical effort.

“Think about it,” he said. ” A couple years ago, he’s as hot as it gets, he’s marching for a thousand yards, and his breaks his leg, compound fracture. Watching Marshawn, I think he thought he had to be the guy to take over.

“Unfortunately for him and us, he’s trying too darn hard. Make one cut, not three. Take a breath. Stay in the moment. You’re not going to be a thousand-yard runner on one run.”

One of the lesser-appreciated virtues of Lynch was the patience that allowed him to read his blocking for opportunities.

“As many times as you can,” Cable said, “You want to show (Rawls) examples of Marshawn doing it.”

With the easiest foe remaining on the schedule, Sunday is the chance for Rawls to do the hardest thing — slow down in order to speed things up.


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YourThoughts

  • jafabian

    All the RB’s are trying “so damn hard” because of the competition culture that Pete Carroll cultivated. It’s possible that spirit of competition that he loves is backfiring among the running backs. IMO they need defined roles at this point. They should either stick with Lacy as the starter or cut him.

    • art thiel

      Having competition doesn’t meaning trying your hardest; it means doing your best. That often requires patience, at all positions.That’s hard for many to master, and helps explain why they wash out of the league.

      • John M

        Just wanted to say, Art, I really liked the bunny and fawn met too . . .

    • Topcatone

      I’m not sure why the love for Lacy.. Hasn’t shown much at all..

  • DJ

    Thanks Art – Young Mr Rawls should be watching younger Myles Gaskin for a shining example of a patient runner with similar acceleration. GO HAWKS

    • art thiel

      Good example.

      Most of Lynch’s most impressive runs involved turning a potential two-yard loss into a three-yard gain. Never makes a highlight show, but does make for third and short.

  • Kevin Lynch

    Tom Cable sure gives good quotes. It makes sense. Hopefully, Rawls has a big week. I think he will. Great lines, Art, about cupcakes and rabbits and flukey football schedules. I remember when Peyton and the Colts had to face their secondary nemesis San Diego on the road one year. They won. Unfortunately, they had to come back to San Diego in the playoffs and the game slipped away.

    • art thiel

      Cable is often most blunt when he’s at the end of his rope on a particular issue. He joked with Bob Condotta of the Times yesterday, “When’s the last time you played running back? Maybe we’ll try you.”

  • 1coolguy

    Since ALL the RB’s have crappy numbers, I humbly suggest it’s the lousy OL more than the backs all forgetting how to run……………

    • art thiel

      Yes, we’ve been over that a bit this season. But when video reviews show frequent opportunities untaken, the RBs are accountable too.

  • woofer

    Time to bring back Dan Doornink. He didn’t have much natural ability, but got more mileage out of his talent than anybody around.