DETROIT, Mich. - Finally healthy, Rashaad Penny provided a glimpse of his game-breaking talent in the final six games of the 2021 season. As it turns out, that may have just been the trailer and Seahawks fans now can witness the full feature film.
After breaking out with an NFL-high 671 yards and six touchdowns in Seattle's last six games to earn himself a new one-year contract, Penny has gotten off to a quick start in his first season as the team's bell cow back. Despite seeing limited carries in the first three games due to lack of possessions and sustained drives, he entered Sunday's contest against Detroit averaging a healthy 4.4 yards per carry and per Pro Football Focus, 106 of his 141 yards came after contact.
For two quarters, Penny was bottled up by a suspect Lions defense, rushing for a mere eight yards on five carries as the Seahawks went into the break nursing a 24-15 lead. But eventually, lightning would strike at Ford Field.
Coming out of halftime, Penny returned to his December 2021 form, shredding Detroit with 143 rushing yards on just 12 carries in the second half alone. While the home team kept scratching and clawing back into the game and cut the deficit to three points late, the former first-round pick served the role of executioner, breaking loose for a pair of long, back-breaking touchdown runs on third down.
Along the way, Penny and his teammates benefitted from a bit of help courtesy of the play clock operator and officials too.
Nursing a 31-23 lead with under a minute left to play in the third quarter, with the two players not on the same page, quarterback Geno Smith misfired a 3rd and 16 throw intended for Tyler Lockett into the turf. At the time, it seemed the Seahawks would be forced to settle for a Jason Myers field goal attempt.
But shortly after Smith took the snap, a faint whistle could be heard through a boisterous home crowd as officials tried to blow the play dead. As announcer Robert Smith pointed out in the broadcast on FOX, some players reacted to the whistle and others didn't. Convening after the incompletion, officials granted Seattle a redo since the play clock did not reset properly after second down.
Amid relentless noise in a hostile environment, Smith relayed calls to his teammates, including Penny. After taking the snap, he quickly handed it off to the back and with the Lions blitzing, Penny rocketed through a huge crease created by a seal block from guard Gabe Jackson and made a cornerback miss in space, sprinting into the end zone for a 36-yard score to push the advantage to 15 points.
The Lions would not go away, however. Moments after tight end T.J. Hockenson rumbled 81 yards on a catch and run down to Seattle's four-yard line, quarterback Jared Goff found receiver Josh Reynolds for a three-yard touchdown and converted a two-point conversion to cut the lead to seven points. After a 25-yard field goal by Myers increased the margin to 10, Goff struck again, finding Hockenson for a four-yard touchdown after he beat safety Ryan Neal in coverage.
With their backs against the wall and their lead dwindled down to 41-38, the Seahawks found themselves in no man's land facing a critical 3rd and 5 at the Lions 41-yard line with under two and half minutes left to play. If they didn't convert, they were in the outer realm of Myers' maximum range and even if he made a 59-yard field goal, the ball would be back in Goff's hands with a chance to win the game.
Just as he did earlier, Smith handed it off to Penny, letting the dynamic back and his offensive line do the rest. Telling reporters after the game that the counter trey run originally was supposed to go inside, he and tackle Charles Cross improvised with the Lions front over-shifted inside and bounced the run outside. With no defender setting the edge, he exploded untouched off of the blocks of Cross and pulling guard Damien Lewis, driving the nail into Detroit's coffin with a 41-yard touchdown.
For the game, Penny produced three runs of 20 or more yards, pushing his total to four for the season. That total could have been higher if not for tripping over a turf monster on a 15-yard run in the third quarter. Dating back to Week 1 of the 2021 season, he has ripped off 15 such runs, trailing only Browns star Nick Chubb (17) and Colts All-Pro Jonathan Taylor (16) in that category.
What has been most impressive about Penny's long-awaited arrival? He amassed that many explosive runs on just 168 carries, while Chubb (309) and Taylor (413) each had at least 120 more carries in that same span. From a percentage standpoint, nearly nine percent of Penny's touches have resulted in an explosive 20-plus yard run compared to 5.5 percent for Chubb and 3.8 percent for Taylor.
Injuries have prevented Penny from racking up 1,000-yard seasons or coming anywhere close to fulfilling his promise. Before his coming out party last winter, many had securely placed the bust label on him after failing to rush for more than 500 yards in any of his first three seasons.
But while other backs in the league have home run hitting ability, when healthy, Penny has been in a class of his own the past two years as the league's version of Hank Aaron or Babe Ruth. Possessing 4.40 speed at 230-plus pounds, he's a stick of dynamite waiting to explode any time he has the ball in his hands and once he's to the second level, good luck catching him as he switches into his third gear.
As the Lions learned the hard way for the second time in less than a calendar year, there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it: Penny indisputably is the NFL's most electric, dangerous runner. As stats bear out, there isn't a back in the league more capable of taking a handoff and going the distance for six points. Emerging as legitimate difference making backfield threat over his past nine games, the Seahawks hope he's just starting his main act as a centerpiece of their post-Russell Wilson offense.
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