Only a few weeks ago, unofficially retired running back Marshawn Lynch met Seahawks general manager John Schneider for lunch.
Per Jay Glazer of Fox Sports, the 33-year old Lynch scheduled the meeting to speak with Schneider about a potential return to Seattle, who had just lost second-year back Rashaad Penny to a season-ending torn ACL. Schneider was willing to listen, but told the former Pro Bowler that it would require extreme circumstances to re-sign him.
But with starter Chris Carson and reserve C.J. Prosise succumbing to season-ending injuries in a devastating 27-13 loss to the Cardinals in Week 16, the stars aligned for "Beast Mode" to return. The Seahawks quickly worked him out and signed him on Monday, bringing back one of the franchise's most iconic players.
Lynch's first test after climbing off the couch and putting pads back on? He'll be tasked with taking on a key role in the backfield as Seattle dukes it out with San Francisco looking to clinch an NFC West division title.
Last appearing in an NFL game in October 2018 for the Raiders, Lynch was on pace for his first 1,000-yard rushing campaign since 2014 before landing on injured reserve with a groin injury. According to coach Pete Carroll, he had surgery and spent several months rehabbing before turning up his workout program in recent weeks with hopes of playing again.
Can the aging Lynch provide a boost to Seattle's ground game? There's no denying he's well past his prime and it's been over a year since he's played, but if last year's film is any indication, he's still got plenty of ammunition left to shine in a rotational role.
Observation #1: Defenders still make business decisions when tasked with tackling Lynch.
Power backs tend to age a bit more gracefully than backs who are reliant on athleticism to make defenders miss, so it shouldn’t be surprising Lynch has continued to lower the boom against oncoming tacklers well into his 30s. He still boasts two of the most powerful pistons in the NFL and it typically requires multiple defenders to get him to the ground.
Case in point? Lynch became a superstar for his penchant for breaking tackles in bunches and earned that reputation with the famous “Beast Quake” run against the Saints in the 2010 Wild Card round. When it comes to refusing to go down and dragging would-be tacklers, his highlight reel is legendary and he continued to add to it when he dragged a pile of Rams defenders into the end zone on a 10-yard touchdown run in last year’s season opener.
Looking at another example of Lynch’s prolonged power and tackle-breaking ability, the veteran back put the Raiders on his back in overtime against the Browns. Already past midfield, Lynch took the handoff out of a strong I-formation and cut back outside, slipping through a tackle and then turning upfield seeking contact. He lowered his shoulder against the defensive back and kept his feet driving, spinning with multiple defenders trying to latch onto him and falling forward for an additional couple of yards to pick up the first down.
Lynch nearly added another "Beast Quake" to his resume against the Browns last season. With the seas parting in front of him, Lynch exploded through a huge running lane and started to run back towards the sideline. Refusing to go down, he broke through a shoestring tackle attempt by the safety and then looked to be spinning out of another tackle attempt. But much to his disdain, officials blew the whistle and ruled him down, which led to Lynch showing off his very marginal punting skills.
Observation #2: While he’s lost a step or two, Lynch still has enough burst to bust explosive runs.
When Lynch was drafted by the Bills back in 2007, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds, exhibiting outstanding straight line speed for a downhill power back. Nearly 13 years later, it’s safe to say the former Cal star doesn’t possess the same wheels he once did, but he still has enough juice to occasionally bust an explosive run.
Rushing for over 1,200 yards in four consecutive seasons from 2011 to 2014 for the Seahawks, Lynch made his mark running between the tackles primarily on inside and outside zone. But his longest run in 2018 for the Raiders actually came on a toss sweep out of shotgun. Taking the pitch to the left from Derek Carr, Lynch first evaded a crashing edge defender and followed a nice block by receiver Martavis Bryant to get to the sideline. Showing surprising burst, he cuts back inside and drags two tacklers for extra yardage on a 58-yard run.
Earlier in the season against the Broncos, Lynch displayed unexpected explosiveness on a play that looked dead in the water after the snap. Crashing off the edge, slot cornerback Chris Harris entered the backfield untouched and had a chance to bring Lynch down for a loss, but the back sidestepped his tackle attempt and then cut back to his right. Bolting through a huge crease, he accelerated to the sideline before eventually being pushed out on a 32-yard gain that was nullified by an unnecessary holding penalty on receiver Seth Roberts.
Observation #3: Despite waning athleticism, Lynch remains light on his feet and exhibits excellent vision.
As exhibited on that last play, as well as a recent workout video posted on social media, Lynch still has excellent feet. He may not be as quick as he was in his prime, but he can still execute sharp cuts and slip through tackles. To offset inevitable athletic decline, he also has a strong feel for cutback lanes on zone runs and showcases top-tier vision.
Ironically playing his last game with the Raiders against his new/former team, Lynch exhibited both quickness and vision on a 13-yard run against the Seahawks. With Jared Cook wham blocking across the formation and sealing Quinton Jefferson, Lynch abruptly cuts back to his left, working off a down block by the left tackle to find a seam. After brushing off Barkevious Mingo’s tackle attempt, Lynch finished his run with authority as he always does, running over Tedric Thompson for an extra two yards.
On inside zone, the running back’s read is typically the play side defensive tackle. If he shoots inside, the back will cut outside. If the tackle rushes upfield, then the back will cut back inside. With the defensive tackle riding the block down the line, Lynch cuts back off the block by Rodney Hudson and then makes another quick cut back outside with lots of green in front of him. He gets tripped up, but still picks up 11 yards thanks to his vision and underappreciated shiftiness.
Observation #4: It’s not always pretty, but Lynch still excels at creating yardage with shoddy blocking.
Lynch rushed for less than four yards per carry in five of his six games with the Raiders last season, but that doesn’t explain the whole story. Oakland’s offensive line had two rookies playing at the tackle positions and injuries ravaged the interior of the line, turning a once-dominant unit into a shaky one at best. Considering what was in front of him, Lynch made the most of his opportunities and turned several dead runs into quality yardage. Two plays stand out in particular.
The first example came against the Broncos with the Raiders using 11 personnel with one back and one tight end. Oakland dials up a zone run and Denver quickly thwarts it, leaving Lynch with little to work with in front of him. Creases closed up quickly, forcing Lynch to cut back with Von Miller crashing off the edge. But as he’s done so many times throughout his career, “Beast Mode” isn’t going down on the first tackle attempt, shrugging off Miller at the line of scrimmage and then powering through a tackle attempt to turn the run into a five-yard gain.
An even more impressive example came against the Browns later in the season. Running inside zone out of shotgun, Lynch doesn’t have much to work with and looks to be bottled up, as Cleveland’s defense did a good job of filling gaps and keeping outside shoulders free. But great backs make yardage for themselves and that’s just what Lynch does here. With the hole in front of him plugged up by the defensive tackle, he cuts back outside and shoots past the edge defender. He breaks through an arm tackle by the linebacker and then finishes off the run with a powerful stiff arm against Myles Garrett before going down after an exhilarating 13-yard run.
Observation #5: Though he didn’t catch many passes in Oakland, Lynch remains a serviceable receiver.
During his first stint with the Seahawks, Lynch wasn’t just one of the best runners in football. He was a reliable receiving weapon for Russell Wilson, catching 158 passes for over 1,300 yards and scoring eight touchdowns in six seasons with the team. He also had some crucial receptions in the playoffs, including catching five passes for 63 yards during Seattle’s run to a second straight Super Bowl appearance in 2014.
The Raiders, on the other hand, didn’t use Lynch much as a receiver last year. The biggest reason why? Unlike during his time in Seattle, he was splitting reps with Doug Martin and Jalen Richard, who emerged as Oakland’s third down back. Lynch played less than 50 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in three of the team’s six games a year ago and wasn’t on the field much in obvious passing situations.
When Lynch did have the ball thrown his way, he remained a competent receiving option, catching 15 of his 20 targets for 84 yards and a 75 percent catch rate. And as expected, he dished plenty of punishment after the catch, as he gave then-Dolphins rookie safety Minkah Fitzpatrick a rude welcome to the NFL by lowering his shoulder and knocking him backward on a tackle attempt.
Playing with Wilson once again, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Lynch catch a few passes on Sunday night, though fans shouldn’t expect anything but check downs or dump offs to him at this point of his career. But if you're a defender charged with trying to bring him down, better bring your hard hat.