It’s too early in the NFL season to label this week’s tilt in Los Angeles a “must-win” game but you’ll be well within your rights to loudly proclaim it a big game at whatever house party or watering hole you’re parked at Sunday afternoon.
After a win at Dallas last Sunday the Rams come into this game fat and happy and looking to build a two-game lead over the Hawks in the division. That’s significant because early season results around the league would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the NFC West is not going to produce a wild-card playoff team this year. Things could change, but it appears as if to get to the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year (and the seventh in eight years under Pete Carroll) the Hawks will have to win the division. Two games back five games in isn’t insurmountable, but it’s also not desirable in any way.
So, how do the Hawks get their first road win of the season against a team coming off a huge win, feeling good, and desperate for success? (The Rams haven’t made the playoffs since 2004.)
We’re a month into the NFL season so it’s worth looking at and thinking about trends and what they may or may not mean. This year the Rams have been better than anyone in the league in scoring points (they average 35 per game). They’ve had to score a lot because their defense is among the league’s most porous giving up 26 points per game.
Where the Rams have been particularly vulnerable is against the run and that fact makes this a very big game for running back Thomas Rawls.
Last week’s column dealt with the inconsistencies and massive personnel changes in the offensive line. By comparison the running back position has been a non-stop revolving door the past two-plus seasons after two-plus decades of stability.
In 22 seasons between 1992 and 2014 five different guys led the Seahawks in rushing. Chris Warren, Ricky Watters, Shawn Alexander, Julius Jones, and Marshawn Lynch racked up miles of yardage and were all durable enough to take the pounding an NFL running back has to learn to live with.
But since Lynch left the Hawks have churned through several guys who (with one exception) all have two things in common: they were off-the-radar low draft picks or undrafted players, and they’ve been unable to stay healthy.
Undrafted Thomas Rawls burst onto the scene in 2015 and picked up the workload as a series of injuries felled Lynch. It appeared the transition from the old guy to the new guy would be seamless. But Rawls suffered a fractured ankle in a game late in 2015 and broke his leg in a game early in 2016.
Christine Michael took over after Rawls broke his leg. Michael defies the low draft pick label since he was taken as a second-round pick in 2013 draft. He also didn’t get hurt as a Seahawk but he never made the job his own and was released last season (the team also traded him to Dallas in 2015 before bringing him back when Rawls got hurt).
By the start of this season Rawls seemed like a forgotten man. He had a sprained ankle in pre-season and had mustered just four yards on five carries (all against San Francisco) before being placed on the inactive list last Sunday night (the NFL’s approximate equivalent of “I like you…but let’s just be friends”).
The Seahawks by now had decided that rookie Chris Carson (a seventh-round draft pick this year) was their guy at running back for 2017. Carson was doing an OK job until HE suffered a broken ankle against the Colts.
In the second half Sunday night the Hawks used J.D. McKissic (undrafted and signed this year after being released by Atlanta) and he made quite the splash in his Seattle debut rushing for one touchdown and catching another.
This week, after all that, Rawls appears poised to get his first start of the season as the Hawks head into a game on the road against a team that has trouble stopping the run.
It may be a good fit for Rawls who has shown the ability to produce in the past but has been held back by injuries. This being the NFL, this might be his last chance to show he can get the job done in Seattle. If not, the revolving door will keep spinning as a team that loves to run the ball searches for a guy who can do just that.