John McGrath

John McGrath: Seattle Seahawks get glimpse of their Beast-less future without Marshawn Lynch

There wasn’t much running room for Seahawks running back Thomas Rawls (34), who was often engulfed by a multitude of Lions defenders whenever he touched the ball Monday night at CenturyLink Field.
There wasn’t much running room for Seahawks running back Thomas Rawls (34), who was often engulfed by a multitude of Lions defenders whenever he touched the ball Monday night at CenturyLink Field. Staff photographer

SEATTLE — Without turning a page Monday night, the Seattle Seahawks began a new chapter: Their 13-10 victory provided fans a glimpse of what the offense will look like when it’s no longer built around Marshawn Lynch.

As far as we know — and with Lynch, we never know much — the hamstring injury that kept the running back on the sideline against the Detroit Lions will not put his season in jeopardy. He’ll return next week and likely resemble some version of vintage Beast Mode, his angry aggression compensating for the half-step every nine-year NFL veteran loses.

But nothing can turn back age, not even rage. Lynch is 29, and in the unlikely event he decides to play football beyond 30, it might not be with the Seahawks.

In other words, the strange sight of a stat box showing the Hawks putting the ball in play 63 times — and not once giving it to Marshawn Lynch — will become the norm.

So who plays the leading man in “Beast, the Sequel”?

Thomas Rawls was given the role against the Lions, a reward for his Lynch-like pummeling of the Chicago Bears last week. The reward was not without some pressure: There are fewer daunting ways to make a first career start than the nationally televised stage that is Monday Night Football.

Rawls, furthermore, grew up in the heart of Lions country — he’s from Flint, Michigan — and had to realize how many friends and relatives were watching on TV.

“I wasn’t nervous, I was excited,” Rawls said afterward. “A chance to play on prime time, on a Monday, that’s something you dream about as a little kid.”

Between the rookie’s excitement and a Seattle offensive line that again was besieged, Rawls was held to 9 yards on eight attempts in the first half. Although the Seahawks went into the locker room with 55 rushing yards, the brunt of those were picked up on scrambles by quarterback Russell Wilson and a 16-yard burst by reserve running back Fred Jackson.

But when Jackson hurt his ankle in the third quarter, the Hawks’ ground game was down to Wilson running for his life and Rawls running for his future.

“Every yard was tough,” said Rawls, who finished with 48 of them. “The Detroit Lions play great defense, clogging up the running lanes and being relentless up front. But one thing about our offensive line and the receivers — and our backs, too — is that we trust the process.”

Like Lynch, Rawls is more inclined to attack defenders than elude them — a style with benefits both practical and psychological. The practical benefits can be quantified by the letters “YAC,” or yards after contact.

Lynch averaged 2.53 yards after contact over 280 carries last season, which is to say more than half of his rushing yards were accumulated on broken tackles.

But the psychological benefits of initiating a collision — forcing the action, as it were — are just as important. Moving a pile forward means defenders are getting pushed backward.

Getting pushed backward two or three times a possession can drain a defense of its will, and helps explain why Lynch typically is more effective in the fourth quarter than in the first.

Whether Lynch’s successor turns out to be a rookie overlooked in the 2015 draft or a more conventional prospect down the road, there’s no denying the nagging ailments he has dealt with this season — neck, calf, back, hamstring — are portents of the future.

Lynch brings to mind the once trustworthy car that turns into a clunker once the odometer reaches six digits. The steering goes, then maybe the fuel pump -- unrelated breakdowns caused by the very related problems of wear and tear.

No. 34 will return to the backfield Sunday when the Seahawks take on the Bengals in Cincinnati, but life after Lynch is an inevitability, and it’s closer than you think.