Third quarter Saturday night, my News Tribune colleague Dave Boling told me what he was noticing on the Seahawks’ offensive line.
Less, if not any, zone blocking.
And as I paid closer attention, he was of course dead on. Veteran line coach Tom Cable had his most maligned unit in Seattle – even more than the mayor’s office or city council – plowing the Detroit Lions’ defense with straight-ahead, nothing-subtle, drive-your-guy-into-the-goal-post blocks.
“Tom really emphasized going at these guys,” said rookie right guard Germain Ifedi, who put Detroit defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson on his back, on his heels and on his way with the rest of his Lions out of the playoffs.
“Not as much mirroring them coming off the ball. We really worked this week on going forward and not really side to side. We wanted to go forward.
“I thought (Saturday) was a good start in the playoffs. And we’re trying to build on it.”
As Boling wrote about late Saturday, the results were revitalizing:
▪ A Seattle playoff-record 161 yards rushing from Thomas Rawls, his most since November 2015.
▪ A team total of 177 yards on a season-high 38 carries, the most since 44 rushes on Nov. 22, 2015, against San Francisco -- the same day Rawls romped for his career-high 209 yards.
▪ Russell Wilson’s play-action passing game returning. Doug Baldwin benefitting with 11 catches in 12 targets for 104 yards and a touchdown he stole from even-more-open Jermaine Kearse in the end zone in the fourth quarter. Paul Richardson made three stupendous catches, including one for another touchdown with one arm while getting interfered with by a Detroit safety.
▪ And the Seahawks rolling the Lions 26-6 to advance to next Saturday’s divisional round of the NFC playoffs at Atlanta.
“We had our identity,” Rawls said. “We wanted to run the ball. We wanted to do it on the ground. We wanted to maintain our identity and stay true, and that’s exactly what we did and showed.
”We’ve been running the ball. The offensive line has been doing a great job, a tremendous job. And we know that the defense is going to hold us down and those guys did a great job."
Baldwin appreciated the balance, the run setting up the pass, for a change this season. Seattle entered the playoffs having called 609 passes and 369 runs. That was almost opposite the 60-40 or 55-45 split the Seahawks had in favor of run over pass for the last four seasons -- while in the top four in the NFL in rushing.
“It opens up everything for us. I’ve told you guys before that everything runs through our run game,” said Baldwin, who became Seattle’s all-time postseason receptions leader with 50. “When Thomas Rawls is doing that, they can’t help but put another safety in the box and then that gives us one-on-one matchups on the outside. You saw Paul Richardson take advantage of it, Jermaine, myself. We had a lot of opportunities in the passing game because of what Thomas was doing on the ground.
“I have to give a lot of credit to our offensive line. They were doing a hell of a job tonight, an unbelievable job tonight."
Pete Carroll apparently wanted to keep that cat that finally put the claw in the inconsistent offense inside the Seahawks’ playoff bag.
When I asked Seattle’s coach if this change to more straight-ahead blocking against Detroit’s 18th-ranked rushing defense perhaps better fits his offensive line that has three first-time starters and has been seen as the anchor keeping the Seahawks from soaring, Carroll ... well, he didn’t like that too much.
“We didn’t do anything different tonight,” Carroll said. “I know you think we changed the whole game plan and we changed schemes and everything; we didn’t.
“We just did really well tonight, and guys were on it. I’m hoping ... I’ve been in support of these guys for quite some time now, really the second half of the season. We’ve had a couple games that weren’t the way we wanted. But, really, go back and look at some of these numbers here for maybe six out of the last nine games or something like that, there have been a lot of runs.”
Seattle had rushed 26, 30, 22, 29, 26, 30, 27 and 25 times in the last eight games before Saturday night. But in more of the angle, sliding blocking in Seattle’s normal zone-run schemes, the Seahawks had produced only 72, 78 and 87 yards in its last three games of the regular season. Those were all against sub-.500 teams. The 87 on New Year’s Day was against a San Francisco defense that was last in the NFL in rushing and overall defense this season.
“We’ve been making some yards, and Russell’s contributed to that as well,” Carroll said of quarterback ditching the knee brace he’d been wearing since he sprained it Sept. 25. “These guys have been coming on. Last week (at San Francisco) I thought was our best pass-protection week. Really, they pass protected very well (Saturday). The reason we got sacked a couple times (Saturday) is that we just couldn’t get the ball out. Russ couldn’t get the guy he needed to get open. They did a couple nice things in coverage. I thought the pass protection was good again.
“And these guys are growing up,” the coach said of his offensive line. “They’ve been working at it. They’ve been battling all year long and they’re kind of tired of hearing it. So, they’re feeling pretty good about it.”