Many fans have wondered this season what exactly Seattle Seahawks running back Thomas Rawls did to get into the dog house so far that the team would bury him on the depth chart. When digging into the details, the answer seems simple: his pass protection is not great.
In Week 1, Rawls was inactive with an ankle injury, and in Week 2 he was splitting snaps with Chris Carson until this play happened. On that play, Rawls appears to give a half-hearted attempt to block San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Arik Armstead, and the play ends with Armstead sacking Russell Wilson. As is seen by the game clock in the video, that play took place with just under 9 minutes left in the third quarter, and by my count, Rawls played zero snaps after giving up that sack.
The following week against the Tennessee Titans Rawls saw the field for a single snap and then was a healthy scratch in Week 4 against the Indianapolis Colts. That means that after failing to block Armstead, Rawls played a single snap over the next nine and a half quarters.
And then Chris Carson was injured late in the game against the Colts.
Carson’s injury led to Rawls seeing far more action, averaging 36 snaps per game in the subsequent four games. That increased playing time ended abruptly, however, after the Thursday night game against the Arizona Cardinals. With 8:30 to go in the third quarter against the Cardinals, Rawls was on pace to finish with 33 snaps, which was right in line with his average over the prior month. However, then the play on which Karlos Dansby nearly killed Russell Wilson happened, and Rawls was on the field. On the next play C.J. Prosise was inserted into the game at running back, but injured his ankle.
From that point forward, even with the running back corps depleted as a result of an inactive Eddie Lacy and an injured C.J. Prosise, Rawls was in the game for only seven more snaps, or 35% percent of the remaining plays in the game. That was after having been on the field for over 50% of the team’s offensive snaps up to and including the Dansby hit, while Prosise had been available.
This is not to say that Rawls had a pass protection assignment on the Dansby play, but he was on the field. Out of the huddle he lined up wide to the left, but perhaps based on the defensive alignment he was to shift into the backfield to provide protection, or it’s possible that he had a responsibility to signal to Wilson something regarding the defensive alignment. Alternatively it’s entirely possible that he did nothing wrong, and the change in snap counts was nothing more than a halftime adjustment. In any case, since that play on which Dansby hit Russ so hard that Wilson had to have his jaw realigned, Rawls has been on the field for all of about a dozen snaps in just over seventeen and a half quarters of Seahawks football.
Thus, in short, Rawls was given a chance to play in Week 2, but appears to have been benched after failing to prevent a sack of Wilson. Then, after Carson was injured Rawls saw his playing time increase significantly, right up until the play in the Arizona game where Dansby sent Wilson into the concussion protocol.
Now, it’s entirely possible that the performance Rawls showed on the ground in the Arizona game – 10 carries for 27 yards – was simply the final straw for the coaching staff in regards to his inability to contribute meaningfully in the running game. The Arizona contest capped off a five game stretch in which he ran for 121 yards on 44 carries for a less than stellar 2.75 yards per attempt, and it is completely reasonable to believe that is the reason he is not seeing the field.
Whatever the reason, there are two games left in the regular season, and that is two more weeks for fans to wonder how the Lacy versus Rawls drama for the last active running back on gameday plays out.